Indiana held serve through its first seven Big Ten games against sub-par team this season – a season where coach Tom Crean is fighting to keep his job despite the gravity of fan dissatisfaction.
Early season losses to Wake Forest, UNLV, and Duke showed the same variety of difficulties (defensive deficiencies in both scheme and ability – and sloppy turnovers) that rendered the Hoosiers irrelevant nationally over the past two seasons.
James Blackmon Jr.’s season ending injury forced Crean to put a lineup on the floor that appeared to flourish, leading the Hoosiers to a 7-0 record conference record, and brought three wins by 25+ points in their last four games.
Expectations for Indiana skyrocketed, and instead of fans asking whether IU was going to make the NCAA Tournament, they turned their attention to how far they might go in March.
Then came last night’s loss to Wisconsin, an overtime defeat that was nothing to be ashamed of. Expectations have again shifted for fans who remain unsold on Tom Crean’s ability to return the Hoosiers to college basketball’s elite.
This is the roller coaster ride of college basketball that fans in Indiana have embraced for generations. When the wins come – all is well. After a loss, the sky is falling.
There are reasons for Indiana’s loss, lots of them. Some due to Indiana’s coaching and level of play – some due to the Badgers excellence and circumstances beyond the Hoosiers’ control. Here are 10 of them:
10. Ill-fated combo of OG Anunoby and Ryan Burton on final inbound pass.
Games can be won or lost in the first half as easily as the end of the game, but we pay a little closer attention to the minutia on a last second play. I know Yogi Ferrell was the primary option on the inbound pass that ended in a turnover on Anunoby’s delivery to Burton. We also understand that Collin Hartman, Max Bielfeldt, and Thomas Bryant had fouled out prior to the inbounds pass, but asking a freshman to make that pass to a player like Burton, who to that point had not played a single second of the game was strange.
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9. Indiana had to lose eventually.
It’s hard to win Big Ten games – especially on the road. There was going to come a night when the right bounce didn’t go Indiana’s way and the whistle went against them a little bit. That’s life in college hoops. Ask Michigan State how hard it is to win in this conference regardless of the opponent, (minus Rutgers and Minnesota, who are legitimately awful).
8. Tough to beat a team twice in really close games.
IU held on to beat Wisconsin 59-58 at Assembly Hall on January 5th, and that game taught Wisconsin a few things about playing Indiana. Ironically, Indiana also turned the ball over 19 times during that game and were outshot at the line by 13. Home court advantage is said to be worth an average of three points. IU won in Bloomington by one and lost in Madison by two – a difference of three points.
7. Yogi Ferrell was unable to create contact at the end of regulation.
The Hoosiers and Badgers were tied with Yogi trying to go coast-to-coast for the win with under :10 left. He pump fakes Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes into the air from the left side just outside the lane, and fails to draw contact. Hayes made a great athletic move to slide by, but Yogi went for the clean shot rather than the foul-inducing contact. It’s a split-second decision for which Yogi shouldn’t be blamed because the officials were a tad flaky all night, but a foul wins the game.
6. Ethan Happ was really good on both ends.
In a matchup against fellow freshman Bryant (Happ is a redshirt freshman, while Bryant is a true frosh), Happ compared quite favorably. His defensive footwork was solid and on the offensive end he was successful in gaining great post position against Bryant. His 25 points, eight boards, two fouls, and three turnovers, compared to Bryant’s 16, seven, five, and five were a big difference in the game
5. 19 turnovers.
Taking care of the basketball is an essential component of winning games. Bryant had five giveaways, and that’s a big number for a post player. Indiana was able to keep it close by forcing Wisconsin into 16 turnovers, but 19 put IU in a position to lose.
4. Indiana was whistled for 17 more fouls than Wisconsin.
Refs blew their whistles to call Indiana fouls 31 times, compared to only 17 against the Badgers. That difference resulted in 19 more foul shots and a disparity of 12 points in favor of Wisconsin. Six of the FTs came late as Indiana fouled to stop the clock, but the whistle was at least a little bit goofy. The referees did not have a great night. This is not THE reason Indiana lost, but it was A reason.
3. Nigel Hayes played like a badass in his 42 minutes.
Hayes has gone to two Final Fours in his two seasons in Madison, and he appeared to be a guy last night who learned a lot about how to win from those two experiences. He scored 31 by knocking down the occasional field goal and banging home 17-22 foul shots. Hayes’ drive to the rack to create the foul on Troy Williams that put him on the line for the game-tying foul shots with under 10-seconds left in regulation was real man hooping.
2. It was the Kohl Center.
Prior to this season, Bo Ryan’s Badgers built a 210-22 record at the Kohl Center. This year has been aberrant with five home losses, but Wisconsin appears to be righting the ship and becoming a beast again in Madison. Always tough to win on the road, and especially tough at the Kohl Center.
1. Indiana missed 14 layups and one dunk.
Give away points on the road, and you go home with a loss. The Hoosiers gave away a bunch of points by missing shots they normally make, including a first half dunk by Thomas Bryant. Worse were missed bunnies that surrounded Bryant’s botched slam that would have allowed IU to build a substantial lead. Instead, the Badgers hung around, and hanging around early put them in a position to win late. You can’t make ’em all, but damn.
Kent Sterling hosts a sports-talk show on CBS Sports 1430 weekdays from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. and covers all Indiana sports at kentsterling.com