Photo: Bryan Woolston, For the Courier-Journal

Indiana Basketball: Is There a Locker Room Chasm on This Hoosier Team?

April 30, 2018.

At the time it felt like a day that significantly changed the direction of the Indiana University basketball program.  When Romeo Langford pump faked towards the Vanderbilt hat and then chose the cream and crimson IU trident, it is beyond debate that change occurred.

Sitting here nine months later, it is the nature of what changed on that day that is still being examined — and may be for years to come.

“If you have one one-and-done your team is done.”

That’s what former Virginia Tech head coach and ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg said on his “Courtside” podcast yesterday with co-host Dan Dakich.

From the outside looking in, it is clear that something is wrong with this team.  Every conceivable angle has been examined to this point.  Dakich summarized the issues as “disinterested, disorganized, unathletic, can’t shoot and doesn’t like each other.”

That’s a lot to digest, but it’s that last point that hasn’t been discussed enough with this team.  Is there a chemistry issue in the locker room?  Greenberg certainly thinks so.

“It goes back to the Ben Simmons philosophy.  You’ve got a guy that is a one-and-done, and his team is almost playing against him because they are tired of hearing about it.”

You shouldn’t read this incorrectly.  This isn’t a diva situation.

Langford isn’t the type of young man that wants everything to be about him.  If there is anyone in this kind of situation that could avoid creating a chemistry problem, Langford seems like that guy.  He is by all accounts selfless and humble.  On the court he is a willing passer that quite frankly doesn’t shoot enough.

Nothing that he is outwardly doing is creating a chasm in this locker room — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.  And it doesn’t have to go so far as players not liking each other as Dakich suggested.

No, this is more about the broader challenges of creating team chemistry in the one-and-done era, and specifically what happens when you have just one such player.

Every player on this Indiana roster believes that they are an elite basketball talent — and to varying degrees, they are.  The veterans on the team have been waiting for their opportunity to shine.  Their friends and family have been pumping them full of hype for years.

In fact, the father of one player on this Indiana team took to Twitter to express his frustration (in a since deleted Tweet) that in essence, the offense was too focused on the superstars.  Meanwhile, the inner-circle of the mega-star starts to grumble that the offense isn’t focused enough on the soon-to-be lottery pick.

Credit – IU Athletics

We didn’t see it coming in April, but now it makes more sense.  In comes Mr. Five-Star NBA Draft Lottery stealing the spotlight — that he doesn’t even really want.  Does it have an impact on the team?  With the benefit of hindsight — of course it does.

It would be an incomplete analysis to not mention the other major variable impacting this team right now.  The Hoosiers have played the majority of the season with their top five reserves injured.  No team in the country could come out of that unscathed.  Practices are unproductive, and player development cannot happen when players cannot play.

The players coming off the bench right now for Indiana were never envisioned to play this season, and you can see why — they are producing next to nothing during this seven game losing streak.

But Greenberg has been watching less talented Archie Miller teams going back to his Dayton days.  Those teams were known for their togetherness, and giving opponents a 40 minute dog fight.  Now?

“I never thought that I would see an Archie Miller team this uninspired, this unorganized, this non-competitive, Greenberg said.”

There is more to it than just injuries.  And Archie Miller didn’t forget how to coach.  Something is clearly sucking the passion out of this team.  From a harsh critic like Dakich all the way to a biased friend like radio voice Don Fischer, the one consistent criticism is a lack of passion.

What could be causing a group of 18 to 22 year old elite athletes with an amazing opportunity in front of them to appear to be giving it less than their all?

Nothing has surfaced to confirm whether Greenberg and Dakich are right, but then, there has to be some explanation.  This team was winning tough games in December and there were injuries then too.  What happened?

The challenges extend off the court to the optics of the situation as well.  How many times have you seen or heard Archie Miller make an example of Langford?  Send him to the bench for poor play?

Again, this isn’t really about Miller or Langford — it’s about the realities of college basketball right now.  If Miller goes overboard with Langford, the next one-and-done five-star, and his family, will be taking notes.

Greenberg put it this way —

“You don’t have everyone on the same page, because the one guy that is the one-and-done has a different set of rules in a lot of ways than everyone else.  It happened with Markelle Fultz, it happened with Ben Simmons, and now we are seeing it happen with Romeo Langford.”

Maybe we should have seen it coming.  Of course there are the Fultz and Simmons examples, but we’ve been down this road at Indiana.

It got somewhat lost in the chaos of the Kelvin Sampson debacle, but there was a major chasm on the 2007-08 Indiana team that featured IU’s last one-and-done megastar Eric Gordon.  While much of the team was reportedly losing its way with drugs, Gordon was on an island just trying to steer clear of it all for a few months before the NBA Draft.  Collectively, well, there was no collectively.

While the long term outlook is certainly better than it was in 2008, don’t expect some dramatic reversal of fortunes for Indiana here in February.  At least not according to Greenberg —

“You can’t fix something like that.  When you have guys that don’t like each other and don’t play for each other, you can have all the team meetings you want.  Those team meetings don’t resolve anything.”

WIth De’Ron Davis, Zach McRoberts, Devonte Green and Race Thompson all expected to play this month and six of the final nine games at home, Greenberg’s theory will be tested.

But if Greenberg is right, the story of this Indiana team has already been written — and you just read it.

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