Indiana basketball 2017-18: What went right and wrong for the Hoosiers
The awaited match-up pitting Indiana against its biggest rival (Purdue) in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Conference Tournament never materialized, as the Hoosiers couldn’t shoot or defend over the final 28 minutes of their 76-69 loss to Rutgers Thursday.
The performance proved maddeningly frustrating for the Indiana fan base; because it once again put on full display the inconsistencies that plagued this team throughout the first season under coach Archie Miller.
“The confidence that they continued to play with throughout the rest of the game,” Miller said afterward, “you know, really was the difference. They were more forceful in a lot of areas. They took things away from us and we really just at the end of the day didn’t have an answer for guarding the ball and just doing some things that we were doing really well for a long time.”
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The same Indiana team that had held the Scarlet Knights to 24.1 percent shooting – at Rutgers – less than a month ago allowed them to shoot 58 percent for the game Thursday, including 68 percent in the second half.
That was Indiana (16-15) in a nutshell this season. You never knew what you would get from night to night.
Here is a look at what went wrong and what went right this season for the Hoosiers.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The Archie Miller era got underway with a 74-53 loss to what ultimately proved to be a mediocre Indiana State team – in Bloomington, no less.
In that loss, the Hoosiers allowed the Sycamores to shoot 59 percent from the field and from 3-point range, as the Hoosiers turned the ball over 19 times.
Miller was brought in to correct the defensive deficiencies and poor decision making that evolved under former coach Tom Crean, but on that night, it appeared that the Hoosier program had actually regressed.
Mastodons roar, the sequel
A year after Crean’s team was shocked in overtime by Fort Wayne, the unfathomable occurred to the Indiana program. It not only lost again, but this time it was an outright embarrassment.
The Mastodons sank 17 3-pointers (56 percent) and won easily 92-72. In Bloomington.
“Really disappointing game for our team,” Miller said following the stunner. “Give Fort Wayne a lot of credit; they executed their game plan on both ends of the floor really well. It wasn’t close in terms of the approach coming out of halftime. It wasn’t close.
“Really disappointed again. We have to be better, you know. Our coach has to do a better job.”
For the first time in a generation, the Wisconsin program morphed back into its pre-Bo Ryan days and the Badgers average at best.
Wisconsin finished 15-17 (8-11 Big Ten) and has zero shot at any postseason hopes.
Indiana visited Madison on a snowy and cold early January night and played like it had no interest in being there (perhaps it didn’t).
The Badgers outrebounded the Hoosiers 30-22 and won 71-61.
The Hoosiers passed for just nine assists on 24 makes, as they stunk at both ends of the floor. But more importantly than just the execution lagged, the effort did noticeably.
Interestingly, following this game, the two squads tore off on very different tracks, which you would have never guessed would have occurred if you sat and watched this game.
The Badgers lost eight of their next nine games, while Indiana (without injured starting center De’Ron Davis) won four of its next five.
Can’t shoot when guarded
For all of Crean’s faults (and there were many), his teams could score the ball with shooting.
The Hoosiers under Crean were the fourth most accurate shooting team in 2016-17 in the league, but that regressed under Miller.
Indiana was 10th in the league in 3-point shooting and eighth overall.
In the season-closing loss Thursday at Rutgers, the Hoosiers missed 18 of their 24 3-pointers.
“Just shooting the ball in the spring,” Miller said mid-season, “shooting the ball in the fall, looking at our practice stats, looking at our shootings drills in practice and the percentages, we have guys that shoot a much different percentage in practice and in our workouts than we do in the game. That’s probably just the one outlier that from a percentage standpoint, why would we say we’re a better shooting team than we have? I just I think we are.”
Can’t shoot when unguarded
The Hoosiers were aggressive offensively and got to the free throw line well this season (fifth most attempts in the league). However, the key to success is MAKING the free throws, not just TAKING them.
Indiana connected on just 63.4 percent of their free throws, which ranked dead last in the conference.
The Hoosiers missed 17 of 29 free throws against Howard at the beginning of the season and 10 of 23 free throws in an overtime loss to Ohio State to close the regular season.
Despite hitting 25 of 29 free throws against Rutgers Thursday, the issue was never resolved.
The two biggest culprits were the Indiana post players (Davis and Freddie McSwain Jr.), who missed almost half of their 120-plus attempts.
Indiana missed at least nine free throws in nine different games this season. You think that hurts when a team is one that sits “on the bubble” of qualifying for postseason play or not?
The Hoosiers were plagued by injuries from day one and it never let up.
After missing last season with a knee injury, graduate student forward Collin Hartman battled all sorts of ailments from preseason until the buzzer sounded Thursday.
I’ve lost track of all of the various injuries he endured, but it involved both upper and lower body parts.
“He’s positive,” Miller said last month of Hartman. “He’s a leader. He’s stayed with it. He’s all about winning. I think he’s probably – deep down inside – he’d say to himself ‘I’m a shell of probably what I was at one point in my career,’ and the injuries certainly played a big role, not in his inconsistency but his inability to really get in rhythm.”
The Hoosiers’ best player, junior forward Juwan Morgan, sustained an ankle injury in a rout at Michigan State, but that didn’t linger long.
The most impactful injury (though not in a way that one would think) was when Davis went down with an Achilles injury during a practice after the Wisconsin game. He would miss the rest of the season, but truth be told, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing (more on that later).
Indiana demonstrated some ability to close games out with an overtime win over nationally-ranked Notre Dame in December, as well as some close league wins at Minnesota and Iowa, as well as over Penn State and Maryland. However, at other times, the Hoosiers faltered down the stretch.
Miller’s team played Duke tough for 35 minutes before losing, and Indiana let games at Illinois, vs. Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State get away due to a variety of factors.
“We came up short,” Miller said after losing to Ohio State in overtime. “I’m really disappointed for our fans and our seniors, in particular.
“With that type of environment, you just hope they get an opportunity to close one out. I thought we did enough there at the end, 50/50 plays, we were right there and just a breakdown at the end.”
WHAT WENT RIGHT
This team competed
There were early signs that Indiana had potential to compete, even if it wouldn’t always last for long periods.
As mentioned, the Hoosiers battled nationally-ranked Notre Dame, Duke, Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State very well for extended periods, even if they lost all but the game to the Fighting Irish.
“We’re getting better,” Miller said after nearly beating Michigan State. “You’re not able to play against the competition level like a Michigan State or Purdue. Those are home games and it helps to play at home. With our crowd and our fans, it’s tough on opponents to come in here.
“But it’s the easy ones that bother you. It’s coming up empty on a pair of free throws. It’s missing a wide-open 3. Those are the plays you’ve got to make when you’re playing against these types of teams. You have to be able to make the ones that are easy because you know the rest of them are going to be hard.”
Davis out for the season
It may sound egregious, but the truth is, Indiana played much better and more consistently – from an effort standpoint – once Davis was injured.
Yes, the Hoosiers got smoked at Michigan State, but Morgan was injured and they were just overwhelmed.
Yes, Indiana played poorly in an inexcusable loss at Illinois.
Yes, the Hoosiers didn’t guard well or shoot well Thursday. But effort was never an issue post-Wisconsin debacle.
“We’re continuing to build,” Miller said in early February. “I think you start to see a group that’s really committed to playing a certain way right now.
“They continue to establish the intensity level that we like. I think that we’ve established, especially at home, an energy level that we have to play with.”
Juwan is the man
Morgan elevated his game more so over the past 12 months than any player in the Big Ten.
He ultimately earned Second Team honors and his impact on this Hoosier squad was indescribable.
“He’s given everything he has,” Miller said of Morgan. “He’s probably running on fumes right now here at the end, the amount of minutes he’s played, what we’ve asked him to do defensively and offensively.
“He’s had a great year. If there’s a guy that’s more valuable to their team than he is to ours, that’s going to be debatable there.”
Following Davis’ injury, Morgan was moved to the “5” before a late-season resurgence from McSwain Jr. gave him some reprieve at times.
Over the final 10 games of the regular season, Morgan averaged 19 points and nearly eight rebounds per game. Plus, he was a defensive force as a rim-protector.
“When the injury happened to De’Ron,” Miller explained, “it shuffled our team a little bit and we had to figure out how to play through him in different ways with different players around him. He’s continued to do a really great job.”
To the credit of Indiana’s veterans like Robert Johnson, Josh Newkirk, McSwain Jr. and Hartman, they all accepted being coached by Miller this season, which isn’t always the case with a new coach and older players.
Miller lauded the group repeatedly throughout the conference season for their effort and team-first attitude.
“I’ve never seen these guys quit,” Miller said last month. “I’ve never seen it fracture. The locker room has never fractured. They’re coachable.
“This team gets better through losses and through ups and downs. I think the last couple games, in particular, we’re playing our best basketball. We’re sharing it more than we have before. From an effort standpoint, we’re really good.”
The Hoosiers were often a sieve defensively under Crean, however, they made strides this season (Thursday’s loss not withstanding).
Indiana improved from 11th to 4th in field goal percentage this season in the Big Ten and that is with playing with an undersized (McSwain Jr. and Morgan) and injured (Hartman) frontline throughout the league season.
“I have three guys on this team that are really good defenders,” Miller said. “They’ve become better defenders. Juwan is playing out of position, but he’s being asked to do a lot. He’s blocking shots. He’s defensive rebounding. He’s covering ground. And Zach (McRoberts) and Rob, those two guys have stacked up against every guy in this league, and they’re playing really hard.”
Of the final six games of the regular season, Indiana limited four of those opponents to under 40.7 percent shooting.
If you watched a handful of games this season, you could have come away with the belief that Indiana wasn’t a smart team in terms of playing possession basketball.
In two of their final four regular season games, the Hoosiers committed 18 and 19 turnovers.
Eight times this season Indiana threw the ball away at least 15 times. However, they were markedly better this season than last.
In Crean’s final season, the Hoosiers were the worst team in the league in turnovers with 269 during league play. That number was lowered by 54 this season, as Indiana ranked third in turnover margin in the league.
No player encapsulates that improvement more so than sophomore guard Devonte Green.
As a freshman, he threw the ball away more times (40) than assisted teammates on makes (34). However, that number reversed to 76 vs. 56 in significantly more minutes this season.
“That’s the biggest deal,” Miller said of Green last month. “It’s not always a home run. You can go for the single every once in a while, and I think he started to go for the singles. He’s starting to make some really good decisions on pick and roll situations. He’s starting to be a guy that has his head up and is looking for people, and then every once in a while, you’re going to see him make a couple plays that a lot of people can’t make because he’s really talented.
“For him to be playing the way he is right now is a really good step for our team. We’re getting quality play-making ability.”
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