This must be what rock bottom feels like.
Losers of seven in a row, this IU skid is the longest such run of ineptitude for Indiana since the 2010-11 season. That was the final season of the Tom Crean rebuilding effort.
It isn’t clear where we are in the Archie Miller rebuild, but with the expectations much higher than they were eight years ago, this collapse is a tougher pill to swallow.
The challenge is going to get much more difficult before it gets “easier.”
Indiana (12-9, 3-7) returns to action for a Saturday night ESPN Gameday prime time tilt at Michigan State. The Spartans will have had all week to think about their embarrassing road loss at Purdue.
After 7 of 11 on the road, Indiana will then conclude Big Ten play with 6 of 9 at home.
Some will likely take issue with that grade being too soft, but the reality is, especially right now, that IU has no bench. Indiana started the game with a 25-15 lead. They looked sharp, prepared and the energy was good. As the game wore on, that all changed.
The Hoosiers got just two bench points tonight, and that number has been similar throughout the losing streak. With Zach McRoberts, De’Ron Davis and Devonte Green unavailable, four freshman saw action, and three reserves that rarely play had to be relied on.
Rutgers got 19 points from their bench, meaning that they were able to play a more complete game throughout.
Is this an excuse? Well, yes, it kind of is. Not for the loss, but certainly for the overall caliber of play.
The story of this game is also the story of the losing streak. While they flashed some ability early in the game, Indiana’s offense is just not producing at a high enough level to compete in the Big Ten. From a lack of assists, to a lack of perimeter shooting, to an inability to finish at the rim, there is plenty of blame to go around.
Miller summarized it like this:
“Our lack of shooting and our inability to continue to score is something that is problematic. We had some bad possessions offensively in the second half that gave them turnovers and gave them baskets.”
Indiana is not likely to suddenly become a great shooting team, so they are going to have to find other ways to score including better offensive sets, offensive rebounds, and turning defense into offense.
The second year head coach didn’t see this team as a strong perimeter shooting unit at the start of the year, and he doesn’t see that changing going forward.
“Shooting is shooting. We have some guys that can shoot the ball, but you have to run good offense and make great passes, you have to be unselfish.”
Indiana’s defense, on the other hand, is generally good enough to win games. Tonight, there were bright spots, but also a lot of breakdowns.
IU’s defense was fantastic in the first 13 minutes of the game, holding Rutgers to just 12 points. Things got a little loose after that, but 66 points should generally be good enough to win most games with a serviceable offense.
As Miller said after the game, “you can’t be perfect on every possession defensively,” but that is essentially what the offense is requiring of this team.
One recent struggle for IU had been an inability to create turnovers, but with 14 tonight Indiana seemed more active and was able to use those Rutgers miscues to help fuel the good start.
Indiana struggled with Rutgers’ size, both on the offensive glass (13) and guarding in the paint. The Scarlet Knights held a 34-22 advantage on points in the paint.
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
- Three keys, final box score, specialty stats
- Archie Miller post-game
- Steve Pikiell post-game
- After the game with Todd Leary
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Juwan Morgan* (B) Indiana did the right thing by getting Morgan out on the perimeter more to draw out Rutgers’ bigs and open open the driving lanes a bit. Unfortunately, Morgan was only 1 for 5 from behind the three point line.
- Justin Smith* (C) Smith was strong on defense early, but he had several head-scratching turnovers and continues to be limited offensively.
- Romeo Langford* (B) Langford wasn’t efficient, but he was very active looking to score and contributing in other areas including rebounds, blocks and steals. At 3-7 from three-point range, you can only hope that this is the start of Langford finding his perimeter shot.
- Rob Phinisee* (D) Quite simply, this was the freshman point guard’s worst game of the season. Probably more than anyone else, IU needs him to take his game to the next level, but he didn’t have it in this one.
- Al Durham* (B+) Durham might be the only guy on this team that appears to always be locked in and giving max effort and he seems to have a knack for hitting timely shots.
- Evan Fitzner (D-) Fitzner continues to attempt three-point shots, and he should. But they aren’t going in and because of that his value is very limited right now.
- Jake Forrester (C) Forrester got his chance but foul trouble limited his opportunity. These are freshman minutes that will ultimately benefit him.
- Clifton Moore (B-) Moore generally does something positive when he gets in the game. He certainly has limitations, especially in a physical game like this, but he has clearly made strides.
- Damezi Anderson (C) Anderson is a shell of who he can be on offense. But one moment really stood out to us in the final minute of this game. Anderson was hunting offensive rebounds like his life depended on it. That is how this team needs to play for 40 minutes.
- Zach McRoberts also appeared briefly in this game.
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