Indiana Basketball 2017-18: The End of Season Report Card

If you have followed us over the course of the season you know that we have done post-game report cards after every IU game.  With the news that IU was not invited to the NIT and will not participate in any other postseason events, it is time to conclude our analysis of the 2017-18 season with an end of the year report card.  First, take a look at the final 2017-18 statistics:

Overall: B-  Let’s face it, 16-15 with no postseason is never considered a good campaign in Bloomington.  The season started with nothing short of a shocking outcome against Indiana State in what would be the third worst loss ever at Assembly Hall.  The team opened eyes, albeit in another loss, in an inspiring home game against No. 1 at the time Duke.  In many ways that game would come to symbolize the season — close but not quite against the nation’s elite.  IU would go on to take two more top 5 teams down to the final minutes (Michigan State and Purdue) and lose to yet another top 20 team (Ohio State) at the buzzer.  They just could never get over the hump.

The season was also memorable (or perhaps forgettable) for being a roller coaster ride.  After that Duke loss the Hoosiers would play flat at Michigan, win impressively vs. Iowa, play flat at Louisville, win in a thriller vs. Notre Dame and then endure their 4th worst loss ever at Assembly Hall to Fort Wayne.  Those games happened consecutively.  It continued in the Big Ten with IU winning 4 out 5, followed by losing 4 in a row, followed by winning 4 in a row, followed by losing 3 in a row.  Yep, it was just like that this year.

Indiana vs. Notre Dame. Photo credit – Indy Star

The reason why this grade is not worse is simple — expectations.  Some people irrationally believe that every edition of Indiana basketball should be playing for a national title irrespective of the roster and other circumstances, such as a coaching change.  But virtually all independent predictions saw a down season coming, with everyone putting IU in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings.  You could argue that they overachieved against those early prognostications.

Coaching:  B+  Perhaps the two biggest stylistic complaints that IU fans had regarding the Tom Crean era were a lack of defense and turnovers.  It is undeniable that the Hoosiers improved in both of those areas.  Under first year head coach Archie Miller, Indiana committed about two less turnovers per game this year vs. last year.  IU also improved from 104th to 66th year over year in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency.

It is easy to forget all of the roster challenges that Miller had to contend with this year.  Curtis Jones was expected to play a key role before he transferred in December.  De’Ron Davis went down with a season ending injury.  Collin Hartman was never able to fully recover from a career full of injuries.  That left Miller with another Crean legacy — limited depth — as he ended up starting a 6-6 JUCO transfer at center and a walk-on down the stretch.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

But more than anything else, we gave Archie Miller the benefit of the doubt most of the year because this team simply couldn’t hit shots.  In just about every game Indiana was able to generate open looks at the basket, and in just about every game — they missed them.  You can’t really put that on the coach, especially not a coach with limited alternatives on his bench.

Offense:  C+  You have to believe this might have gone better with a healthy and active Hartman, Jones and Davis.  But even when they were active things never really clicked.  IU ended up ranked 316th (out of 351) in 3-point field goal percentage (32.2%) which turned them into a one dimensional team.  With Juwan Morgan as the only real threat in the post after Davis went down, teams were able to collapse off the 3-point line and focus on denying Morgan.  Indiana adjusted by moving Morgan out to the perimeter some, but there were times when the load was just too much for the 2nd team all Big Ten performer.

Despite the bad perimeter shooting there were certainly positives.  Indiana’s offense flowed with a purpose that we hadn’t seen in years.  As we mentioned, IU was able to generate open looks with regularity.  Despite the horrific 3-point shooting, IU was still ranked 130th nationally in total field goal percentage.  The KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency ranking was 90th as of this writing.  Turnovers were down.

You’ll never convince me that a starting lineup consisting of Freddie McSwain and Zach McRoberts is going to be an offensive juggernaut.  You just have to believe that with a deeper and more talented roster — this whole thing can look much better.  Hitting a couple free throws wouldn’t hurt either.

Defense:  B  It really depends on how you want to evaluate the defense.  As an overall body of work, it was pretty decent but nothing special.  But based on the progress over the course of the year — it was eye opening.  Let’s face it — back in November you had a roster full of guys that had no clue what Archie Miller was trying to accomplish with the pack-line.  There were no experienced veterans to teach it to the young guys.  And it showed.  We believe that, more than anything else, is why you got outcomes like we saw against Indiana State and Fort Wayne.  Guys were just plainly confused when it came to ball screens, transition defense, and just about everything else that Miller was trying to do.

You really have to credit the veterans for buying in, figuring things out and making the adjustments.  By the Northwestern game in January, Indiana had gone from dazed and confused to a team that was making things difficult for opposing offenses.  Perhaps nowhere was that more evident than its defense guarding the 3-point line.  In November and December there were times when IU was ranked higher than 330th nationally, allowing teams to shoot around 41% from distance.  By the end of the year that number had dropped to 36.7%.

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

The next step in the transformation will be to go from being a fundamentally sound defensive unit to a disruptive one.  While IU was able to right the ship and guard people, for the most part you never really had the feeling that Indiana was making life hell for anyone.  Indiana ranked 139th nationally in turnovers forced, 177th in steals and 198th in field goal percentage defense.  Those are numbers that need to improve for the Hoosiers to take the next step.

Final Player Grades:

  • Curtis Jones:  C  After a long season it might be a name that slipped from at least the top of many minds.  Let’s face it, the kid needed a change of scenery.  From four-star recruit, to a breakout first career game against Kansas, to an enigma, it just never worked out.  The kid has loads of talent and we wish him all the best with his fresh start at Oklahoma State.
  • Al Durham, Jr.:  B+  Durham was solid out of the gate, prompting us to suggest that the recruiting analysts had missed his potential.  Like freshmen can do, he hit a swoon, but on the whole, Durham was a pleasant surprise on the year and has the potential to be a solid 4 year guy that epitomizes what Archie Miller is trying to do at IU.  Already solid off the dribble drive, if he can develop a reliable jump shot he’ll be a nightmare for Big Ten opponents.
  • Josh Newkirk:  C+  It wasn’t the senior year that Newkirk likely envisioned, but it also wasn’t as bad as the irrational element of Indiana’s fan base would have you believe.  The bottom line here is the guy’s shot just left him and he could never get it back.  Because of that slump, you might forget the lights out performance he had against Eastern Michigan.  He had a really nice ability to get to the rim and finish, and he led the team in assists.  He didn’t help his cause with the fans with costly late game turnovers, however, including against Purdue.
  • Justin Smith:  B  No player on this roster has more potential right now.  You can just see the all-Big Ten season coming in a year or two.  He primarily just needs to find consistency, which is the story for most freshmen.  With IU facing uncertainty with the De’Ron Davis injury, Smith responded immediately with his best game of the year against Minnesota.  With an improved jump shot, stronger finishing at the rim and another year in Miller’s defense, the 2018-19 season could be a special one for Smith.
  • Robert Johnson:  A-  No one on this team embodies the way the players embraced Miller’s system more than Johnson.  His defensive improvement, and frankly his defensive energy, was quite noticeable, and Miller regularly praised the senior guard in that regard.  While drawing the toughest defensive assignment and playing 35+ minutes, Johnson still managed to work his way out of a nearly year long shooting slump.  His nine 3-pointer performance against Iowa put him in the IU record books.  He also stepped up significantly from a rebounding perspective after Davis went down.  He ended up averaging 4.5 rebounds per game, which was more than Davis.
Photo credit: USA Today
  • Devonte Green:  B-  Will the real Devonte Green please stand up?  Remember the preseason buzz, when Green was expected to score 20 a game, and do it with a little bit of that east coast swagger?  We certainly saw flashes of it, including an amazing half against Seton Hall that even included a steal with one of his shoes off.  We also saw it against Iowa, Minnesota and others, but too often he was erratic, bouncing from great to frustrating and everywhere else in between.  He won’t have the same high expectations next year, but he could certainly be a key player on an improved team if he can find consistency.
  • Juwan Morgan:  A   There really aren’t enough superlatives for the season Morgan put together.  He finished 2nd team all-Big Ten and could have easily been on the first team.  The real key with Morgan was his offensive efficiency, shooting 58% from the field despite often being undersized in the paint.  That was never more evident than his late game heroics against Notre Dame.  He did it with an impressive repertoire of post moves involving quick first steps and crafty pivots, shot fakes and finishes at the rim.  He also flashed an improving 3-point shot.  If he returns to IU next year that along with free throw shooting would be the areas that could improve.  Oh, and don’t forget that he finished in the Top 10 in the Big Ten in FG%, blocks and rebounds, both offensive and defensive.  He was also 11th in steals.  Yep, he did it all.
  • Zach McRoberts:  A-  Let’s face it, McRoberts is a tough guy to grade.  If you like offense, well, you might think the A- is too much.  He probably does too.  Comprehensively though, no one sums it up better than Miller, who simply said that McRoberts makes “winning plays”.  And that he does.  And let’s face it, relative to preseason expectations his performance was an A/A+.  This was a guy that quit the game 3 years ago and ended up starting in the Big Ten and finished 8th in the conference in steals.  Any questions?
  • De’Ron Davis:  B-  Remember all of the preseason talk about improved endurance and athleticism?  Much like Green, we saw flashes, but it never really materialized.  Unfortunately, his season ended abruptly with a torn Achilles tendon, but it was already trending in the wrong direction.  Too often in foul trouble and with uninspiring rebounding totals for a guy with his size — Davis needs to be better.  And he said as much in an interview after a successful surgery.  It was by no means all negative.  He had some nice games against good teams including Duke and Louisville.  He seems like a player that might excel more in the background rather than the focus of the offense.  Depending on who is on the roster next year, he might be doing just that.
  • Freddie McSwain, Jr.:  B+  McSwain was one of the more pleasant surprises of the year.  When he wanted to hunt down rebounds — he was getting them.  Never was that more evident than his performance at home against Michigan State where he grabbed 16 boards.  He also improved dramatically on the offensive end, showing an ability at times to finish at the rim.  He had questionable moments with ball handling and shot selection, but as much as he was on the floor, those moments were bound to happen.  Starting center wasn’t the role that IU envisioned for him coming into the year, but he filled in admirably.
  • Clifton Moore:  B  Coming into the year he might have been the biggest unknown.  With impressive length and the ability to shoot from the perimeter at the high school level you could at least see a nice role for him.  When he got his opportunities however he often appeared to have nervous energy and perhaps wasn’t quite ready for the big stage.  He’s still a guy that you like to think by year 3 or 4 could be a really nice Big Ten contributor.
  • Collin Hartman:  B  More than anyone else, we wanted this year to go well for Hartman.  No one deserved it more.  Instead, the injuries kept coming.  First it was a groin, then a knee tweak, then a shoulder and finally a wrist.  He just couldn’t catch a break.  And with all of those nuisance injuries his shot never really came back.  He had a memorable night at Wisconsin.  That was the Hartman that IU hoped they might see all year.  It just never happened.

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Photo credit:  Indiana University Athletics

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