Despite Losing To Duke, Indiana Showcases Its Improvement Over November

The crowd was alive, the game was entertaining, and they played their hearts out. Despite ending in a 91-81 home loss to Duke, the Hoosiers could hold their heads high at the end of the night.

Indiana’s performance was more than just pushing the number one ranked team to the brink, it was about the drastic turnaround the team has made over the course of a single month.

Twenty days ago, things were looking very uncertain. In the same building they would three weeks later lead 1# Duke late into the second half, the Hoosiers were destroyed by Indiana State 90-69. In that game, the Sycamores made 17 three-pointers and forced the Hoosiers to commit 19 turnovers.

On Wednesday night, the Hoosiers held the Blue Devils to 3 of 17 shooting from deep and committed only nine turnovers, marking the third straight game IU committed single-digit turnovers for the first time this century, and they did this against a well-coached team known for its insane length.

“If we continue to grow up and continue to keep getting better”, said Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller, “tonight should be the norm in Assembly Hall.”

Part of the reason for the improvement is the stellar play of the upperclassmen.

Collin Hartman, the redshirt senior playing in his second game of the season after returning from multiple injuries including a groin injury right before the Indiana State game, scored 11 points and made several huge plays when it looked like Duke was starting to pull away.

“He’s a big, big part of what we’re doing because of who he is as a teammate, his leadership, his experience level; he’s fearless,” said Miller about Hartman’s intangibles. “I think once you start to see him get in there, more and more you’ll see our team get a little bit better and look a little bit better.”

Robert Johnson has also stepped up and has embraced the role of senior leader, going from being a non-factor against Indiana State (7 points and 4 turnovers) to leading the Hoosiers in scoring on Wednesday with 17 points, including a huge three right before half to cut into Duke’s lead.

Adding to those two key pieces is the breakout play of Junior Juwan Morgan and Sophomore De’Ron Davis.

Morgan provided a little of everything finishing with 14 points, six rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. Davis meanwhile went right at potential lottery picks Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and dominated both of them on the offensive side of the ball, finishing with 16 points on 6 of 7 shooting and getting Carter to foul out.

“He’s a big weapon for us,” said Johnson about Davis. “Whenever we feel he has an advantage inside he has to get the ball. That’s something we’ll continue to do.”

At a record of 4-3, the Hoosiers now look ahead at a December filled with big-time matchups against Michigan, Iowa, Louisville, and Notre Dame among others. Yet despite ending the month of November on a loss, the improvement in this Hoosier squad in evident, as stated by the legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski himself.

“That was a heck of a game. I thought Indiana played great. You could see in watching their tapes how they have just gotten better every game. How they are buying into Archie’s foundation work defensively and offensively.”

As long as the Hoosiers continue to buy in to Archie’s foundation, these kind of games will eventually turn into huge wins.

Potential IU Championship Run Could Include The Ultimate Cathartic Scenario

IMPORTANT NOTE: The following article is drowning in hypotheticals and should be seen not as a prediction of what will happen but as a fun observation that makes for a great story. This is basically a big “What-If” that will likely only be relevant this week before the games start. So please stick around and enjoy if “movie scripts/storybook endings” interest you.

When the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament rolls around, the fans of the remaining 16 teams are allowed to start dreaming  about the possibility of a the national championship. Of course, it’s strictly “dream-only” at the moment as these teams have only completed a third of this three-week marathon. Nevertheless they can still dream, and you can bet Hoosier Nation is daydreaming like crazy.

Despite having a tough matchup with the  top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels, Hoosier fans are on cloud nine after a cathartic second round win over the Kentucky Wildcats. It was cathartic not only because it was the first time the rivals had played in four years, but also because that last matchup ended with Kentucky beating Indiana in the Sweet 16 en route to an eighth national championship.

The Hoosiers hope the same happens for them this postseason but standing in their way is a talented North Carolina team that will be tough to beat. More likely than not, Indiana’s unexpectedly successful season will strike midnight when the clocks in Philadelphia also strike midnight on Friday, but this Indiana team has beaten the odds so many times this season that you can never count them out.

So let’s play the “What-If” game. I’m pretty sure Hoosier Nation would find any possible scenario that ends with a sixth  national championship banner being hung in Assembly Hall to be cathartic (especially after going 29 years since the last one), but the level of how cathartic it can get is so insane that one would think this was a cliché Disney sports movie. IU could potentially win the championship by defeating the three teams that in recent college basketball history have made life difficult for Hoosier Nation. So let’s have fun and take a look at what would be the ultimate “Hoosier Catharsis”:

While there hasn’t been much recent history between Indiana and North Carolina, the two titans of college basketball have met twice before in the NCAA Tournament.

The first one came in 1981, when the Hoosiers defeated the Tar Heels 63-50 in the National Championship game. The Hoosiers were led by Isiah Thomas, a guard who wore #11 and scored a game-high 23 points.

The second time came in the 1984 Sweet 16 as the underdog Hoosiers beat the top-seeded Tar Heels 72-68 in what would be Michael Jordan’s last college game. Guarding MJ was Dan Dakich, a guard who wore #11 and held the AP player of the year to just 13 points on 6 of 14 shooting.

I don’t think I need to remind anyone that this year’s Hoosiers also has a difference-maker in Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell,  a guard who wears #11.

But it’s the regional championship round (or Elite Eight) where things start to get interesting. The opponent of the UNC-IU winner will either be the Notre Dame Fighting Irish or the Wisconsin Badgers. Both teams faced Indiana during the season and both would work as compelling rematches.

Indiana’s 15-point comeback win over the Fighting Irish during the Crossroads Classic turned into a pivotal crossroad for the Hoosiers as ever since that comeback IU has transformed from a terrible defense to one that just allowed 0.94 points per possession to a Kentucky team that ranked second in the country in points per possession. Adding that new defensive intensity with the pre-existing offensive brilliance created a combination that was able to turn around the season and win the Big Ten regular season championship outright.

While it would be cool for Indiana to face the team that provided the game responsible for the turn around, there are two problems with it. The first problem is that this potential matchup could turn into a “revenge game” for Notre Dame; after all it was the Irish that blew a 15-point lead in that game. The second reason is that there’s a better potential matchup that could await the Hoosiers.

No Big Ten team has bullied the Hoosiers as badly and as long as the Wisconsin Badgers. While a couple of recent victories for Indiana at Assembly Hall has relieved some of the psychological hold the Badgers had over IU, there is still the fact that the Hoosiers haven’t beat Wisconsin outside of Assembly Hall since the 2006 Big Ten Tournament but even that game was in Indianapolis. That last time the Hoosiers beat the Badgers outside of the state of Indiana was the 2001 Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.

While this potential game wouldn’t be played in Wisconsin (where IU hasn’t won since 1998), it would still be a huge accomplishment for this Indiana team to reach the Final Four by beating the one team that has been a thorn in its side for so long.

If Indiana was able to make it this far it would be its first Final Four in 14 years (2002). One of the major reasons it took so long to return to the Final Four was because the best Hoosier team during that stretch lost in the Sweet 16 three years ago to the Syracuse Orange. Wouldn’t you know it that not only is Syracuse still alive in this year’s NCAA Tournament, but if both Syracuse and Indiana kept winning they would face each other in this season’s Final Four.

Unfortunately this is the least likely of the things that are needed to go right in this hypothetical. The Orange were a bubble team that was not only graciously granted a 10-seed, but lucked out when 15-seed Middle Tennessee State upset a Michigan State team that would have easily ended Syracuse’s season. Seeing Syracuse beat Gonzaga and then either Virginia or Iowa State seems fairly unrealistic given what we know at the moment.

However, if they did reach Houston it would probably be the single most cathartic win in this championship run scenario. There’s only one other game against one other team that would make a better “revenge game.”

That game would be against Duke.

If the Notre Dame game was the crossroad moment the Hoosiers turned things around, then the Duke game was the moment that forced IU into that crossroad.

How bad was the 94-74 loss on December 2nd? The 1.53 points per possession that Indiana allowed to Duke on that night  are the most allowed by an NCAA basketball team in the last three seasons. I’m not just talking about the “power-five” conferences: none of the 351 teams in the NCAA allowed more points per possession in a game than Indiana did to Duke on that early December night.

Three and a half months later, that same Indiana defense allowed Kentucky to only score 0.94 points per possession. Don’t brush off Indiana’s defensive improvement as hyperbole. This drastic transformation is real and I bet Hoosier fans would love another chance at Duke with their improved defense.

A loss to Duke during the middle of the season was rock bottom. A championship win over that same Duke team would be the ultimate “revenge game.” That is the true definition of catharsis.

Three (Very Small) Positive Takeaways From Indiana’s Blowout Loss At Duke

When you face a team that has won 120 straight non-conference home games in a row (translation: they haven’t lost a non-conference home game since 2000), then there was a pretty good chance that the Indiana Hoosiers would leave Cameron Indoor Stadium sitting with a season record of 5-3. Well the Hoosiers did lose to the Duke Blue Devils Wednesday night, but it was by an ugly score of 94-74.

The Hoosiers actually looked like they were going to give the Blue Devils quite a challenge as Indiana responded to Duke’s 10-4 start by going on a 17-5 run that had the Hoosiers up 21-15 with 11:40 left in the first half. Then after the TV timeout, Troy Williams, who to that point had a team-high six points, collected his second foul on a Derryck Thornton and-one that cut the Hoosiers’ lead to just three points. From that point Indiana never recovered as Duke outscored the Hoosiers 33-21 during the rest of the first half and started the second half on a 9-0 run to put the Hoosiers too far out of reach.

Williams finished with a team-high 17 points and Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell added 15 points and five assists. The Blue Devils were led by star freshman Brandon Ingram, who has struggled for parts of the season but caught fire and scored a career-high 24 points. Upperclassmen Matt Jones (23 points) and Amile Jefferson (8 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists) also had big games for Mike Krzyzewski’s squad.

You’ll probably find a lot of articles about what went wrong for the Hoosiers (and rightfully so as both the defense and the rebounding were horrendous), so I’m going to go the other way. I dug deep into the game’s boxscore to find three positive takeaways from the Hoosier’s blowout loss. All three of them will feel fairly insignificant considering the lopsided loss but they are still positives nonetheless. Let’s take a break from all the negativity and take a look at three things that sort of went Indiana’s way:

Hoosiers were able to keep Grayson Allen in check: It seems weird to start off a list of positives by bringing up the Hoosiers’ defense, but when it came to limiting Allen, who came into the game averaging 22.6ppg, the Hoosiers became only the third team this season to hold him under 20 points and the only team to hold him under 30 points when Allen plays at least 35 minutes (Allen played a season-high 38 minutes vs IU). In fact, his whole stat line (16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) looks a lot less impressive when notice that 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists came after the Blue Devils had already pulled away from Indiana in the first couple of minutes of the second half, making those stats look fairly empty. I am aware that part of the reason Allen didn’t score much was because Ingram was having a career-night, but if you take a closer look you’ll see that Ingram had nearly no scoring help from his teammates for the first 14 minutes, as he scored 18 of his team’s 32 first half points before going to the bench with two fouls. The Blue Devils would go on to score 19 more points before halftime but without Ingram’s offensive explosion, the fact that the Hoosiers bottled up Allen early would have been a bigger deal.

IU is finally hitting their free throws: One of the weirdest and most underrated subplots of this season is the fact that this year’s Hoosiers are considerably worse at free throw shooting than they were a year ago. It’s even odder because they are basically the same group of players with Thomas Bryant and Max Bielfeldt switched in for Emmitt Holt and Hanner Mosquera-Perea. Last season the Hoosiers shot a passable 71.9% from the charity stripe, but coming into the Duke game this year’s team was only hitting 64.9% of their foul shots. The fact that they had their best free throw shooting performance of the season on Wednesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium (76.5%) is actually pretty impressive. It’s also only the third time all season the Hoosiers shot above 70% from the foul line (the other two games being Wake Forest and Alcorn State). It’s also interesting that two of their best foul-shooting games have been their most recent ones, which points to them having improved during the season. If the Hoosiers are able to bring the team’s overall average up it could be the difference between winning or losing a handful of close Big Ten games.

First game of the season with fewer than 10 turnovers: Another trend that is much worse this season than it was the previous is turnovers, which have jumped from the 12 per game last season to 17 per game heading into Wednesday. The Hoosiers had three checkmarks that they needed to hit if they wanted to beat Duke: play competent defense, compete on the boards, and limit turnovers. For as bad as some will say this loss was for the Hoosiers, know that even though this team fell impossibly behind they still only committed a season-low nine turnovers. Hey that’s progress.