A week ago we reminded you Mike Woodson has led mid-season turnarounds during each of his first two years at Indiana.
That remains a possibility, but after an embarrassing 85-71 home loss to a shorthanded Penn State squad with a losing record, a mid-season collapse seems much more likely at this moment.
At many points during this season, it felt like Indiana at least had the potential to turn things around and go on a run.
After all, there are two McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster, senior guards, and a sophomore forward putting together an All-Big Ten season.
You know all of the reasons why that hasn’t happened. We’ve talked about them here on repeat for months: Generally poor perimeter and free throw shooting, inconsistent perimeter defense, erratic offensive production from the backcourt, inconsistent bench play, inconsistent discipline, focus and effort, and a roller coaster season for Xavier Johnson.
There is talent on this team, but when it comes to being nationally relevant, the roster is poorly constructed, as evidenced by all of those warts.
And now with only nine Big Ten regular season conference games remaining, and just one conference tournament game guaranteed, people are wondering just how bad can this get, and what does the worst case mean?
Obviously the worst case is a ten game losing streak from here out. That seems difficult to comprehend, but is it really? If Indiana can get run off their home court by a 10-11 Penn State team missing their leading scorer, who are they going to beat?
It feels hyperbolic to talk about losing out, and it probably is, but where are the wins you are confident about in this stretch of games:
AWAY: Ohio State, Purdue, Penn State, Maryland, Minnesota
HOME: Northwestern, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State
There are plenty of games there you could see Indiana winning. Plenty of teams with less talent. But Saturday’s loss to Penn State was the soul-sucking variety. And it isn’t just a gut feel. KenPom currently projects Indiana to lose each of those remaining games. The No. 99 team in the country according to that outlet, IU ranks ahead of only Rutgers (No. 100) and Michigan (No. 101) in the conference. And the home slate is much more difficult than the road, where IU has won only one game all year, yep, at Michigan.
If IU lost ten straight to finish the season, you’d be looking at 13-19 season overall, and a 5-15 record in the Big Ten. On a percentage basis, those would both be the worst single season marks by Indiana since the 2010-11 campaign, when Tom Crean was still in the process of rebuilding following the Kelvin Sampson implosion. And if you want to ignore that three-year Crean rebuild, it would be the worst season since the Lou Watson years in the 1960s.
Speaking of former coaches, if the lose out scenario happened, Woodson’s career mark would fall to 57-45 (.558), very similar to Mike Davis (.592), Tom Crean (.552) and Archie Miller (.536).
But Woodson is riding the sails of back-to-back NCAA appearances after a five-year drought, right? Well, Davis was fired after an NCAA Tournament season, and he was just four years removed from a Final Four. Crean had won two Big Ten outright titles in five years.
So is it conceivable Woodson needs to pick up some wins to save his job?
First of all, never say never. IU AD Scott Dolson moved a year sooner than most expected when he fired both Archie Miller and Tom Allen. The common denominator in both cases was an in season collapse. Allen and Miller both seemed relatively safe going into what turned out to be their final seasons, but when things got ugly, Dolson moved with precision.
After a Feb. 17, 2021 win over Minnesota, Miller’s final Indiana team stood at 12-9 overall and 7-7 in the Big Ten — not dissimilar to their current 13-9 and 5-6 marks. But the Hoosiers lost six straight to end that campaign, finishing 12-15 overall and 7-12 in the league. They were booed off the floor in Indianapolis after a Big Ten Tournament loss to Rutgers, and Miller was fired just a few days later. It feels pretty safe to say that late collapse cost Miller a year at Indiana.
Fans booed Miller three years ago, and that was a bad look in the public eye. But even more impactful voices were heard behind the scenes, such as frustrated boosters, and uncertain recruits.
At a place like Indiana, a relatively mild tropical depression of dissatisfaction can suddenly explode into a category five superstorm.
Dolson’s inbox is probably stressing the IU servers. Already we’ve heard mild booing in the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall stands. Already we know there is frustration amongst donors. And while there are multiple recruiting prospects who, all things being equal, want to come to Indiana right now, none of this is helpful, to say the least.
So as difficult as this would have been to imagine back in early November, it actually does seem like Woodson might need to get over that hump he keeps mentioning, and deliver some wins down the stretch.
If not, things could get quite uncomfortable.
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