BLOOMINGTON – What's up with Indiana's fall from basketball grace?
It boils down to two key factors: team immaturity (this is reflected in the never-ending turnovers) and bad shooting.
Coach Tom Crean gets criticized a ton for his offense, in part because it seems too complex with its vast number of plays and options for a young team to master. Some complaints come from those can't shake Bob Knight nostalgia and their love affair with the motion offense, even if today's elite players -- with eyes on the NBA -- do not.
Remember, this is the same philosophy that produced the Big Ten's top-scoring team last season.
Still, this year's version is not a high-efficient offense unless IU gets into fast-break attack, which Big Ten opponents rarely let happen. Let's face it, the Hoosier half-court offense often turns to jelly, especially against zones. Yes, we mean Syracuse.
Here's the reality. Any offense looks bad when you don't make shots. Any offense looks good when you do.
The obvious solution -- recruit good shooters.
Crean didn't do that with this group of freshmen (who are strong on length and athleticism), and that was costly when Maurice Creek and Remy Abell transferred. Senior Will Sheehey, who should be a good shooter, isn't. Senior Evan Gordon and sophomore Austin Etherington, who were signed in big part for their shooting, haven't delivered.
That leaves Yogi Ferrell, who has been Big Ten-leading great, but that isn't enough to stop defenses from swarming double-double freshman superstar Noah Vonleh inside.
Maybe you've heard that.
There are a lot of complaints that the Hooisers don't get Vonleh the ball enough. They don't, but the biggest reason is that opponents won't let them. Big Ten teams aren't stupid. They'll double or triple team Vonleh when they're not denying him the ball, just as they did with Cody Zeller last year. But last year IU had shooters such as Jordan Hulls or Christian Watford or Victor Oladipo to make them pay from the perimeter. This season there is no penalty for teams to pack it in.
As far as the team's lack of basketball maturity, well, the youth excuse only works for so long. As much basketball as these guys play from age 7 to 17, they should have decent awareness, which is a nice way of saying basketball IQ.
A critic might say all that early age basketball via AAU tournaments develop pickup game mentality more than smart play, but we'll leave that debate for another day.
Basically, IU leads the Big Ten in turnovers because it plays dumb. It did in November. It did in February. That's enough to turn at least five winnable games -- remember the 23 turnovers in the overtime defeat at Illinois? -- into losses.
Hoosier on-court immaturity was reflected in off-court glitches. Sophomore forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea was indefinitely suspended after his arrest for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. An Indiana University police officer spotted him driving erratically at 3 in the morning. That was less than 48 hours before IU was to play Purdue.
Then there was sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell, who did something to get benched for three straight games. Was it suspension, or bad attitude? Nothing official was said, but from that mid-January point on, Hollowell has been basically a non-factor.
The result is IU starts three freshmen -- Vonleh, Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson. In a league as strong and veteran-dominated as the Big Ten, that's asking for trouble.
The Hoosiers found it.
A big blow was freshman center Luke Fischer's decision to transfer after the first semester, which really hurt the inside depth. He will be very good for Marquette the next three seasons.
And don't forget that patsy-loaded non-conference schedule. It didn't come close to preparing IU for Big Ten play. Let's face it, when the Indiana football team plays a MUCH better non-conference schedule than the basketball team, that's a problem.
The Hoosiers will beef up the schedule next season -- Louisville in New York, an ACC team, a Big East team as well as a mystery squad coming to Assembly Hall. That suggests IU officials have come to their senses.
Speaking of that, get Kentucky back on the schedule. As in starting next year. Yes, it would be great if the Wildcats would go for the home-and-home approach, but they won't while John Calipari is the coach. That leaves Crean and athletic director Fred Glass with two options:
1) Play Kentucky at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, one of America's great facilities in front of a national TV audience that will generate HUGE exposure, BIG BUCKS and, potentially, HUGE recruiting benefits. Maybe even another shooter or two.
2) Don't play Kentucky. Instead, as the Hoosiers did this season, they hosted -- take your pick -- North Florida, Nicholls State, Kennessaw State.
Are you kidding?
You know that answer.
What lies ahead...
To make the NCAA Tourney: The Hoosiers need to win the Big Ten tourney title and its automatic bid. It is extremely unlikely to earn an at-large bid, although winning out would give it a chance.
To make the NIT: Indiana needs to finish with a winning record.
To make the CBI or CollegeInsider.com Tourney: Ideally Indiana needs to finish at least .500, although Purdue made the 32-team CBI field last year with a 15-17 record. The CIT does not allow a team with a losing record to participate.