Season No. 119 of Indiana University basketball is in the books, and it was certainly a wild ride.
From lofty expectations, to a fast start, to an unbelievable rash of injuries, to a January collapse, this season truly had it all.
The Hoosiers entered the season just a few votes outside of the top 25, and would reach as high as No. 21 in the AP Poll in late December. A 12-2 start into the first week of January corresponded with the Hoosiers moving up the rankings. It was a start full of nail biting close wins, and perhaps a warning of things to come.
With injuries mounting, 12-2 inexplicably became 13-14 as a once promising season turned into a complete disaster during Big Ten play.
Finally returning to health, the Hoosiers would recover late, winning four straight to close out the Big Ten, but a quick exit from the Big Ten Tournament was the final nail in the coffin as IU was part of the “first four out” of the NCAA Tournament.
Indiana (19-16, 8-12) would go on to win a couple games in the NIT before falling to Wichita State in the quarterfinals.
Too easy? Maybe considering the expectations going in, but this team could just never get fully healthy, and that seriously disrupted the continuity. The Hoosiers were rarely able to practice 5-on-5 with scholarship players, and they often looked like a team that lacked chemistry in games.
Far too often in January and February Indiana was looking down its bench and plugging in pieces that either weren’t fully healthy or weren’t ready for Big Ten play.
The bottom line however is that this season was a disappointment, whatever the reasons. No one was predicting that Indiana would miss the NCAA Tournament, and yet that is exactly what happened.
How critical can you be of the coaching staff when a team cannot knock down open shots or free throws and isn’t healthy?
We didn’t know it in December, but we are still in the middle of the Archie Miller program rebuild. From players that run the floor and are effective in transition, to perimeter shooters, this still isn’t the kind of roster the IU head man is looking to assemble.
We all saw how much different things are when shots are falling, including a November blowout win over Marquette.
To be sure, there were moments when Miller used questionable judgment, including in the final minute of a home loss to Ohio State.
But for the most part, Miller never lost his team. After a blowout loss at Minnesota, Indiana’s 10th loss in 11 games, Miller promised drastic changes, and he delivered. The Hoosiers played with inspirational effort down the stretch. It didn’t always translate into wins because of the shooting woes, but the players never quit on their head coach.
When you look at Indiana’s Ken Pom adjusted offensive efficiency the numbers don’t look that bad. Indiana ranked 80th for the season. Nothing special, but not awful either.
But Big Ten coaches figured this Indiana team out. Without reliable shooters, more often than not the game plan was to pack in the defense and force IU to shoot over the top.
Accordingly, when you look at just Big Ten play, IU dropped off considerably. The Hoosiers’ points per 100 possessions were 109.3 for the full season, but just 98.7 in league play. That league mark was good for 11th place in the Big Ten and a substantial drop-off from even last year’s 101.4 in conference games.
At the heart of it all was a team that couldn’t knock down perimeter shots. Indiana shot 31.2% from long range which ranked 312th nationally. Things were even worse in the Big Ten where IU shot 27.5%, or dead last in the conference.
Free throws were even worse at 65.5% or 328th nationally.
By and large, Indiana’s defense was good enough to win most of its games this season. The Hoosiers ended up ranked No. 28 in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency for the season, although the number did drop off in league play as IU was only good for 9th in the Big Ten.
IU only allowed two teams to break the 80 point mark all season and at times they were exceptional — holding Purdue’s explosive offense to just 48 points, and Michigan State to just 62.
For the most part IU’s defense improved as games wore on. Indiana fell behind in several contests only to make late runs fueled by an ability to get stops on the defensive end.
The Hoosiers allowed Big Ten opponents to rebound nearly 30% of their misses in league play. That mark was 11th in the conference and a factor in several losses.
- Juwan Morgan (B+) Morgan hit a rough patch in Big Ten play where he struggled from the field at times, but he was still a major factor throughout the season. At 15.5 points and 8.2 rebounds, Morgan earned All-Big Ten honors. Irrespective of the results, his effort was never in question. He recorded only the second triple double in program history.
- Justin Smith (C+) At 8.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 50% overall, the numbers weren’t bad, but Smith was very inconsistent from game to game. He put up two huge games against Michigan State, but had others where he was barely a factor. Smith will need to better develop his left hand and become much more of a consistent rebounding force.
- Romeo Langford (B+) Langford was solid throughout and improved as a defender as the season progressed. He shot just 27% from three point range, which helped defenses to back off and focus on his dribble drive. Langford led the team with 16.5 points per game and added 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists. It was a strong freshman season by any measure.
- Rob Phinisee (B-) As Phinisee went, so seemed to go IU. The freshman point guard surprised with early significant contributions, including an unforgettable three-pointer at the buzzer to defeat Butler. The Lafayette native missed several games with a concussion and then struggled to return to form. Once he finally returned to full health, the Hoosiers started playing better, but Indiana will need him to become a more consistent shooter going forward. Phinisee shot just 36% on the season.
- Al Durham (B-) Durham continues to exceed expectations. After a freshman year that saw him contribute more than most had envisioned, Durham expanded his role in year two. He hit a slump down the stretch, but Durham still shot 35% from three point range after shooting 29% for his freshman campaign. If he can continue to develop he will end up being a valuable veteran in this program.
- De’Ron Davis (B) It was a season of frustration for Davis. His start was slowed by a continuing recovery from a torn Achilles. A subsequent ankle injury further derailed his junior season. When healthy Davis was able to make valuable contributions including a memorable performance at Michigan State. Finally healthy, Davis should be in a much better place going into his senior season.
- Devonte Green (B-) Green caught fire down the stretch and ended up shooting better than 40% from three point range. After dealing with early injuries and then a suspension, things got off to a slow start, but late in the season Green was carrying this team in many respects, including on the defensive end. Can he put it all together and have the senior season that he seems capable of?
- Race Thompson (B) It was a really unfortunate season for Thompson, who sat out last year as a redshirt. The Minnesota native missed most of the season after a severe concussion. When he played he showed promise, especially on the boards. Thompson is a sneaky pick to make major strides next year.
- Zach McRoberts (C+) McRoberts was another player that seemingly lost the season due to injuries. From a back issue to a foot injury, the redshirt senior just couldn’t get himself fully healthy. Limited by injuries, McRoberts was never able to do what he does best as a scrapper and a hustler.
- Evan Fitzner (C) Unfortunately for Fitzner, he was brought in to be a shooter and he didn’t knock down shots. He came to IU as a graduate transfer with a career 3-point percentage of better than 40% but shot just 30.9% in his one season in Bloomington.
- Jake Forrester (C+) Forrester showed flashes and his length could end up being a factor. While much of it was mop up duty, Forrester averaged nearly 20 points and more the 12 rebounds per 40 minutes. He could end up being a productive player.
- Clifton Moore (C+) Moore made strides over his freshman year, but his decision to transfer seems like the right one both from an opportunity standpoint as well as finding a league that lines up better with his potential.
- Damezi Anderson (D) There is no way around it, Anderson was a disappointment. Perhaps he wasn’t quite ready this year when he was forced into action due to injuries, but he played nervous and never lived up to his reputation as a shooter. Anderson shot just 27.9% from the field and never hit a three-pointer after December.
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