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Does This IU Basketball Team Have Issues That Cannot be Fixed Mid-Season?

I keep getting questions about the Marquette game.  What happened to that team?  We’re 18 games into the season folks.  That game was an outlier.  It’s within the realm of possible, but nothing you should be expecting as the norm.

We all knew this stretch of games was going to be difficult.  But four game losing streaks are never easy to digest in Bloomington.  The spectrum of emotions is running from believing that this team will turn things around to silliness about coaching changes.

For those of us at least willing to be reasonable here, you look on the bright side, or at least figure out what needs to change.

That’s where things get interesting with the particular edition of IU basketball.  Can things change?

Of course the team can get healthier.  That would be significant.  But Jerome Hunter and Race Thompson aren’t coming back — so it will never be the deep and long team we thought it could be.

But looking beyond the injuries, the issues that plague this team right now may not be easily fixed.  Truth be told, they all go back to last year, and we’d be surprised to see a sea change anytime soon.

MENTAL TOUGHNESS

Perhaps more than anything else, former Indiana head coach Bob Knight is known for putting a mentally tough basketball team on the floor.  He once said this about the importance of it to a successful squad:

“Mental toughness is to physical as four is to one.”

Look, we get it.  With a highly sensationalized ESPN 30 for 30 production out there, some of you are triggered by even the mere mention of Coach Knight.  But irrespective of what you might think of him as a human being, as a coach he was highly successful at getting maximum effort from his players.

Just about any take about this floundering IU team that you have likely read or heard in the last couple weeks likely led with or involved something along the lines of “lacks toughness” or “lacks energy.”  Even IU head coach Archie Miller has said as much.

So now the two remaining questions are — can these players become tougher mid-season, and is Miller utilizing the right tools to make that happen?

As far as the players go, we’ve been having this discussion for well over a year now.  Put us in the dubious camp.  Indiana has good players.  It has guys that want to win.  We’re just not sure it has the kind of alpha win-at-all-costs competitors that are needed to bring the right kind of attitude to this team.

Image result for romeo langford head down
Andy Lyons / Getty Images

As for Miller, you’re seeing him try.  Those minutes Saturday at Purdue for Clifton Moore and Damezi Anderson were not a coincidence.  He hasn’t been afraid to use the bench for discipline either.  For the first time this year, Evan Fitzner didn’t play on Saturday, and he has had a quick hook this year for others.

It’s anyone’s guess what is going on at practice and whether Miller is “pressing the right buttons” as he has said.

The bottom line — it takes more than a coach, it takes a floor leader.  As far as we can see, these Hoosiers do not have one.

THREE-POINT SHOOTING

Let’s face it — the book is out on how to defend this IU offense.

And it didn’t take a genius to see this coming.  Listen to what we said back on December 19th after the win over Central Arkansas:

Packing the defense in and forcing IU to shoot over it is exactly what IU’s last few opponents have done.  And that isn’t about to change.

The problem is compounded by the lack of mental toughness in multiple ways.  First, the lack of tenacity on defense means less live ball turnovers which means more reliance on the half court offense.  Second, it also takes a certain amount of mental toughness (i.e. confidence) to knock down three-pointers when the defense is giving them to you.

The three-point shooting numbers aren’t terrible.  At least not on the surface.

  • Romeo Langford (22.7%)
  • Devonte Green (35.6%)
  • Al Durham (40.8%)
  • Rob Phinisee (40%)
  • Evan Fitzner (38.5%)
  • Damezi Anderson (33.3%)
  • Zach McRoberts (23.1%)
  • Juwan Morgan (40%)
  • Justin Smith (37.5)
  • TEAM — OVERALL (34.3%)

The problem is that no one is a high volume shooter.  Phinisee and Durham might knock down one three-pointer a game, but that is hardly enough to keep teams honest.  Fitzner had the look of someone that could punish defenses, but he has fallen out of favor.  Langford and McRoberts are mired in funks from long range.

So ask yourself, who among IU’s perimeter shooters is going to have a midseason turnaround and strike fear into defenses enough to leave driving lanes open for Langford, and one-on-ones in the post for Morgan?

FREE-THROW SHOOTING

Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ has cost himself and his team literally hundreds of points at the free throw line in his career.  His percentage has actually gotten worse during his four years in Madison.

Can a college-aged player become a better free throw shooter?  Sure.  It’s possible.  But by this age these kids have practiced thousands upon thousands of free throws.  The main difference between the guys that can make them and the guys that don’t is largely mental at this point in their careers.

There may be something that IU can do to improve things on the margin, but don’t expect a major reversal of fortunes here.  They are who they are.

THE GRASS ISN’T ALWAYS GREENER

It never fails.  Almost every time Indiana loses someone starts an initiative that [insert player X] MUST start getting more playing time.  How on earth are they not playing more?  What is Archie doing???

There is usually a very good reason that the people watching these young men every day in practice decide that they are not ready to add value in games.

Clifton Moore, Jake Forrester and Damezi Anderson are all very talented basketball players.  They wouldn’t be on this team unless that was true.  If they are patient, they will ultimately be very high level players at IU.  But are they the panacea right now?  If they were, they’d be in the game.

SOMETHING ELSE

If you’ve come this far you might just be willing to accept that year two isn’t going to be what we thought it might be for Archie Miller.  Without a doubt, injuries have played a major role in derailing this season, but it still feels like a disappointment to this point.

Shockingly (okay it’s not really a shock), the fringes of the IU fan base have emerged to call for Archie Miller’s job.  While it doesn’t make sense to even dignify such emotionally ignorant squawking 20 months into a coaching change, it is instructive to take a step back and consider what the first two season records of various highly successful coaches were.

First Two Seasons at Current School

  • Mike Krzyzewski, Duke: 27-30
  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State: 33-28
  • Jay Wright, Villanova: 34-29
  • John Beilein, Michigan: 31-36
  • Tony Bennett, Virginia: 31-31

With the signing of Romeo Langford and the return of Juwan Morgan, patience didn’t look like it would be needed this season.  But there is certainly very compelling history that suggests that there are rewards for being patient.

And that just may be all we’ve got to lean on this go ’round.


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