Indiana Must Become Committed, Careful and Consistent
The sweat and tears have barely dried from the painful loss at Duke on Wednesday as the Indiana Hoosiers find themselves in the midst of the hardwood battles once again. Over the next eight days, three teams will come into the walls of Assembly Hall in Bloomington trying to take advantage of an Indiana team that at times has looked like an out-of-town driver without Waze or Siri. Will the current version of the Indiana University basketball be able to map their way through the turmoil and challenges and expectations of Hoosier Hysteria?
Tonight’s game features a visit from Morehead State with the game time at 7:00pm ET tonight. The Eagles are 5-1 and bringing a four-game winning streak on their resume. Wednesday treated Morehead State a little more kindly than it did Indiana, with the Eagles gaining a 60-46 win over St. Louis. Morehead State is coached by Sean Woods, a former Kentucky player, and have lost just once, a one point heart-breaker at Illinois State.
Morehead State is the strongest of the next three opponents for the Hoosiers. They are one of the best teams in the country at forcing turnovers. The team shuffles their players in and out, even more so than Indiana, with eleven players averaging ten or more minutes per game. Junior Corbin Collins, a 6 foot 3 guard, is the team’s only scorer with double figures, averaging 12.5 points per game. The Eagles also crash the boards with a fierce intensity. They are the fourth best offensive rebounding team in the country right now, and will surely try to take advantage of second chance opportunities just like Duke did.
The second of the three games pits the Hoosiers against in-state rival Indiana-Purdue University at Fort Wayne. The Mastodons are 7-2 at this point but have played a different caliber of basketball team than the Hoosiers. The school competes in the Summit League and has never played in the NCAA Division I tournament. Today the Mastodons are playing the Utah Runnin’ Utes, their toughest opponent to date, and are down 67-52 midway through the second half. The Mastodons have three players averaging in double figures in scoring.
The final game of the trio features the McNeese State Cowboys who enter this weekend with only one win out of six attempts. Their only win was a 80-79 barn-burner against the Dillard Bleu Devils. The Cowboys are not a big team, with 6-foot-9 little-played reserve Matthew Moss their tallest player. McNeese State is averaging just over 69 points a game, but is giving up about 77 points.
How will Indiana bounce back from its worst loss of the season so far? What effect will the cries for Crean’s head on a platter from so many of the Hoosier Nation have upon this fragile basketball team? What does Indiana need from this series of basketball games? Let’s look at three major things.
First, it is imperative for Indiana to get an intense, committed effort from the players and coaches for forty minutes in each of the games. There are times when this Hoosier team looks as if it could beat anyone in the country. The first ten minutes of the Duke game gave glimpses of grandeur and a modest lead. But there are other times when they look as if Bloomington North High School could beat them by twelve. The starting five need to come out of the blocks dominating the flow of the game and the guys off the bench need to prove why they are playing at a BigTen school and not a community college. And if a player cannot do that against these three teams, does he deserve to be in the rotation shuffle against Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue?
Thomas Bryant needs bounce back from a lackluster effort against Duke. He is not the first Hoosier freshman, nor will he be the last, to be over-powered in one of his first tests against the best of college basketball teams. Bryant needs to stand head and shoulders above the players on these other teams, not only for his own confidence but for the confidence it will give to his teammates. Crean brought Bryant in to fill the middle. It’s time for Thomas to announce to all that it was a good choice.
Second, Indiana has to take better care of the ball. If there was a highlight in the Duke fiasco, it was the lower turnover count. Indiana made progress first with Alcorn State and then the Blue Devils, but needs to become consistent in making better decisions throughout the heat of the moments of the ballgame. Yogi Berra would have said that half of the turnovers in a game are 90% mental. Indiana’s game face needs to be 100% mentally prepared to do the right thing with the ball.
Finally, Indiana must play consistent defense as a team and as individuals. Crean should scrap the mix-em-up defenses that seem to confuse no one but the IU players. Without wanting to continually harken back to the “good ole days,” Coach Bob Knight’s Indiana teams were known for playing a tough man-to-man defense. But those who faithfully watched his teams know that with constant switching and help defense, the players often looked as if they were playing a tough match-up zone.
This Indiana team needs to be more aware of the entire court on defense. Many times it appears that their peripheral vision leaves blind spots that result in giving up easy baskets. Most of the problems stem from habits and lessons the players should have learned from an eighth-grade coach: cutting off the baseline, aware of back-door cuts, knowledge of where every offense player is, blocking out players on the boards, and talking to each other about possible screens and adjustments that need to be made.
For this team to be successful, the players need to dominate the flow of the game as a team. They have the talent and ability to overwhelm the vast majority of the teams they play. In the next eight days, they need to start proving that they also have the discipline and desire to do so.