After Indiana was run off the court at Phog Allen Fieldhouse Saturday in a 22-point loss to Kansas, it’s time for a zoom-out.
It’s time to reset expectations for this team. That’s not to say IU fans should give up all hope for this season, nor that the big-picture goals are now unattainable.
But given the way the Hoosiers have performed against top-echelon teams the last two games, the once-high expectations need to be adjusted. Because it’s now clear that Indiana should not be considered a Big Ten favorite or a top-15 team.
It’s not just that IU (8-3) has lost these games to Arizona and Kansas. It’s the way the team looked in those losses. Indiana came out flat in both contests, dug itself an early hole, compounded mistakes on top of each other, and allowed the opponent to dictate the game.
“Anytime you lose a game it’s concerning, no matter who you play. I’m trying to get us to understand when we play elite teams like Kansas, you’ve got to be on your job and you’ve got to compete for 40 minutes,” IU head coach Mike Woodson said. “You’re not going to just walk in here and think they’re going to give you your game.”
And yet, that’s what seemed to fluster Indiana on both occasions. The Wildcats and Jayhawks used double-teams and triple-teams against Trayce Jackson-Davis in the post — and sometimes against Race Thompson to prevent an underneath pass to the All-American. IU struggled to adapt to that inside pressure against Arizona, a team that also leans on its forwards to dominate inside.
The Hoosiers had an entire week between that game in Las Vegas and this game at Kansas. Yes, during finals week, there’s more than just basketball that players have to focus on. But they had seven days to internalize what happened against Arizona, construct ways to fix those problems, and make sure the Kansas game went differently.
And, on top of that time, Indiana got a vital piece back with Jalen Hood-Schifino’s return to action. Kansas is an elite team, but smaller than Arizona. On paper, the Hoosiers matched up better with the Jayhawks than they did against the Wildcats.
But much of the game in Lawrence felt like a re-run of the contest from seven days prior. KU applied heavy pressure on Jackson-Davis anytime he touched the ball, and made it hard for IU to get him the ball at all. He knows the book is out on how to contain him, and Woodson said he’d do the same thing if he was coaching against Jackson-Davis. Indiana has to capitalize on those moments, find the open man, and knock down open outside shots.
On Saturday, IU proceeded to miss most of the open shots created by the double-teams — and those opportunities were outnumbered by turnovers and broken possessions. Indiana committed 23 turnovers, and Kansas scored 28 points off those giveaways.
That’s something that good teams simply don’t do.
“You can’t turn the ball over 23 times against a good team. That’s 23 times we don’t get an opportunity to score the ball. And they came in bunches,” Woodson said. “That’s something we’ve got to clean up because we’re not a big turnover team.”
And numbers aside, the flat starts, careless play, and low energy is the biggest red flag for this team right now. Kansas out-hustled Indiana. The Hoosiers looked lost once KU opened up a healthy lead — Jackson-Davis said he could see that on his and his teammates’ faces.
That energy and effort is a major concern for Woodson. He knows that, too, is not the sign of a good team.
“No, I wasn’t (happy with the energy and effort today). Not at all,” Woodson said. “That team came to compete. And we didn’t. We did not show up tonight. And that bothers me a little bit.”
That sets up the big question: just how good is Indiana?
The Hoosiers certainly aren’t a bad team. IU’s losses have all been ugly, but none are bad losses on a resume. IU has handled business against all the teams it should do so against, and won a couple tricky games against Xavier and North Carolina.
But right now, Indiana does not look like a good basketball team. Opponents are taking IU’s biggest strengths away, and it’s sent IU into disarray. Indiana’s had no answers when it can’t play through Jackson-Davis. IU falls into bad offense, in the type of way that turns into bad defense.
That home win over North Carolina seemingly showed that this team’s style could work against elite competition. In retrospect, that result is saying more about the Tar Heels than it is about the Hoosiers. The Tar Heels lost four straight games, with Armando Bacot clearly not 100 percent, and fell out of the AP Poll just two weeks after holding the No. 1 ranking.
It’s still early in the season, and you want to play your best basketball in March, not December. IU still has the potential to be a formidable postseason threat.
But with the meat of Big Ten play around the corner, this version of Indiana men’s basketball doesn’t look like a team that would be able to vie for a conference title.