That’s right friends and Hoosier fans! I’m back from my month long hiatus! I originally told BoilerUp89 that I’d churn out a reaction for him in the Indiana check-in, but due to sickness and scheduling never got around to it.
FORTUNATELY ENOUGH FOR YOU….I’ve got time in this blizzard like hell scape while the kids/wife sleep to talk about my Indiana Hoosiers basketball program for a few. So with everything going on in the world and sports, let’s dive on in. Shall we?
Since we aren’t quite halfway through the season yet, the recap is fairly straight forward. Indiana is sitting at 9-3, 1-1 in B1G play. Results of note are wins at Xavier and at home against the University of North Carolina while the losses are a neutral loss to Arizona and away losses to Rutgers and Kansas. Indiana continues to maintain a number 18 next to its name in the national polls and has been as high as 10th.
In order to not fester old wounds, I’m not going to give a play by play synopsis and a top 10 list of reasons why Indiana lost the three games it has. I will say that all 3 losses occurred in similar fashion which should alarm anyone in the orbit of Hoosier basketball. Essentially, all three games boiled down to Indiana just getting out worked, muscled, and hustled by the opposing team. Spare me the talk of injuries for the moment as well. Indiana played with Arizona and Rutgers in games that were closer than the final score says, but that happened after getting worked for the first 8-12 minutes of both those games.
The wins at Xavier and against North Carolina will play well. It does appear that Indiana is well on its way to its second NCAA tournament birth assuming things don’t just fall apart at the seams. The likelihood of a meltdown may be higher that most Hoosier fans want to admit though.
Assuming Indiana beats Kennesaw State tonight in an I can only assume half empty Assembly Hall, Indiana will be 3-3 in December before going into the meat of B1G play. That’s not fantastic, but given who you’ve lost to and where it’s not as if the world is completely ending. Indiana also gets 12 full days of rest and preparation before heading into the Iowa game on January 5th.
Indiana starts off the Big Ten slate going to Iowa, hosting Northwestern, and then going to Penn State. Those three games will set the tone for the remainder of the season for Indiana. If Indiana has any title hopes at all, they must go 3-0 in that stretch because after that you’ve got Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan State. While none of those teams have been world beaters this season, Indiana hasn’t been able to really compete on the national stage either. It’s a dog fight all the way around. We’ll know the trajectory of the season most likely after January 22nd.
The Injury Bug Strikes
Perhaps for the first time in recent memory, the injury bug has really hit the Hoosiers basketball program. Since day 1, Trayce has been wearing a wrapping on his off hand due to a preseason injury he sustained. This has made him miss 2 games already and I assume he will miss the Kennesaw game as well. While it’s not a direct affect on his dominant hand (I refuse to call it his shooting hand for obvious reasons), it still seems to bother him. It also appears that prior to the UNC game, Trayce sustained a back injury and that’s been lingering as well. So TJD has been banged up a lot to this point in the season and I think it’s really affected his play in some of the more physical games.
Indiana has also had to deal with star freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino missing 3 games (including Rutgers and Arizona). JHS played incredibly well against North Carolina and then was scratched from the last 3 games due to an undisclosed back injury. Time will tell if he’ll continue to be nagged by the back injury, but it showed in all 3 games that the team truly misses his ability to run the offense and score from the perimeter.
The most significant injury though happened just last weekend at Kansas. In the first half, Xavier Johnson went down holding his foot and did not return to play. From what we know this week, he broke something in his foot and had surgery to repair it. Xavier reportedly told fans at the Elon game that he would be back before the end of the season, but my guess is that he’s out until at least mid-February at the earliest. That’s going to hurt a team that’s already short on guards that can play well.
Galloway and Leal have both missed time this season, but not in losses. I also am hit and miss on my appreciation for either of those guys. I’m fully aware I’m in the minority on that.
Reasons for Pessimism by a Cynical Fan
It’s very easy to buy into the pessimistic path for Indiana the rest of the way. Mostly because we’ve seen this play out the last few seasons. Start off well, look shaky in December, establish a little run in January and then the train comes fully off the tracks in February and never gets back on the rails. That’s been the Indiana basketball pattern as of late.
With the injuries and scheduling, it’s completely possible Indiana is .500 at best coming out of the Michigan State game. Missing Xavier Johnson for an extended length and requiring a hobbled JHS to take the bulk of the point guard reps may be a bit concerning, especially in road games. God forbid Galloway get run at the point either. Top that off with the fact that Rutgers has shown every B1G team less talented that Indiana how to neutralize TJD and it may be tough for Indiana to get its first winning season in the Big Ten since Tom Crean’s 2016 team.
The one thing that hampers Indiana immensely is shooting. Shooting from guards. Shooting from bigs. Specifically shooting from Trayce Jackson-Davis. While overall shooting has improved this season, I’m still yet to understand how anyone with a brain can look at a 6’9 guy who is ineffective outside 10 feet and think it’s a fantastic idea to make him the focal point of your offense. It just makes no sense and it makes games like the Rutgers game way too painful.
Reasons for Optimism by a Cynical Fan
Look, Indiana is just simply more talented that most of the teams in the Big Ten. TJD can simply do what he does well against the majority of the Big Ten this season. There’s no Cockburn to stop him this year. All he has to do is beat Michigan and he’ll be anointed the best big in the conference, apologies to Zach Edey.
JHS has shown he’s every bit the talented guard we think he is. Tamar Bates has been showing flashes so if the Hoosiers can get steady production out of him and Galloway then Indiana can survive at the guard position until Xavier returns. They should still be in a position to win the conference by that point as well. Either way, Indiana simply has enough talent to compete and it really doesn’t feel like they’ve played their best ball yet this year.
It really feels like Indiana has adopted a model familiar at Michigan State or Kentucky. Have a highly talented and touted team, play a reasonably tough non-con schedule, get unreasonably beat in a couple of those matchups and head into Big Ten/SEC play with everyone thinking you’re down, scraping enough wins together in January to stay in the race and then really peaking come the end of February/March just in time for tournament season. Indiana really hasn’t played it’s best basketball. Without Xavier Johnson, it likely will remain that way. How quick can he catch up and can the rest of the team gel though? That’ll likely define how the season finishes for Indiana.
Closure and Final Thoughts
Too many Indiana fans buy into hype. I know it’s a problem in other fan bases, but Indiana fans really get over their skis. Anyone who looked at the initial rankings and thought, “yeah, Indiana looks like the number 13 team in the nation” is a moron. Indiana is not the 13th, 10th, or perhaps even the 18th best team in the nation. Indiana belongs in the lower 20’s.
While I stand by that ranking estimate, it doesn’t mean Indiana can’t win this conference. The conference is bad. Like…real bad. Everyone has had their share of dicktrips this season, so Indiana being 1-1 at this point in conference play isn’t a deal breaker for their conference title hopes.
National title hopes? Get real. Indiana is likely a 6 or 7 seed come March and then it’ll be all about matchups. The ceiling remains the same as they could make a Sweet 16 run or an Elite 8 pending upsets and matchups, but that literally it. It’s way more likely they are a 1 and done again.
Big Ten season is just starting. It’s time to buckle up and see what’s what. I think Indiana is still a title contender, but I also thought they’d cover the Xavier game so what do I know.