Indiana’s NCAA Tournament Hopes Look Grim After Home Loss To Michigan

When the NCAA Selection Committee showed their top 16 teams this weekend, a grim reality sunk in for the Big Ten. None of the top three teams (Wisconsin, Purdue, Maryland) were among those top 16, showing that the Selection Committee does not think highly of the Big Ten this season.

That’s why it was so important for Indiana to beat fellow bubble team Michigan at home. Instead, the Hoosiers lost and now look at the realistic situation of needing to win the rest of their regular season games just to have a chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Unlike the last two losses (at Wisconsin/vs Purdue) where the Hoosiers battled a top team in the conference and fell just short, IU never really gave Michigan much of a battle as the Wolverines scored the first basket and never let Indiana take the lead once. Michigan led by as many as 13 while the Hoosiers never got closer than six points in the second half.

Thomas Bryant, who had averaged 20.2 points over his last five games, was constantly doubled as he was limited to just eight points, five rebounds, and three blocks. Unfortunately, the Hoosiers had a difficult time turning the double team to their advantage and getting the ball to the open man, as Indiana again committed 15 turnovers that led to 20 points for Michigan.

The one person who did step up was De’Ron Davis. Two days removed from taking a shot to the face that made him miss most of the second half against Purdue, Davis was the only Hoosier able to take advantage of Bryant’s double-team as he scored a team-high 13 points on 4 of 5 shooting, including 5 of 6 from the free throw line.

“He played very well considering shot that he took (against Purdue),” said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean. “And we’ve got to continue to play him more. He’s not as great in the ball screens so that sometimes limits (his minutes). But he’s very, very hard to guard and he’s got great feet, great hands and great eyes.”

Crean was really frank about his team’s performance, saying his team needs to get easier shots on offense and has to play with the same intensity as when shots do go in the basket. He was especially frustrated with the team’s consistent overhelping on defense.

“It makes no sense to be coming off the corners the way that we are with what we have out there. That’s not what we do. We guard the ball. We don’t overhelp because it’s teams like Michigan that can shoot the ball so well.”

Crean also talked about everyone on the team needing to improve communication, including himself.

“It’s very easy to be locked in and connected to one another when the shots are going, but when they aren’t going is when real leadership’s got to emerge. And I’m not shirking the responsibility one iota. One thing I’ve learned in nine years it all falls on me. But the bottom line is that we’ve got to do something to get communication up.”

“We still have a season left to play,” said Robert Johnson about his team at this moment. “So we’re not even thinking about quitting. We always look forward to the next game. Now we’re just looking forward to getting better and moving on to the next game. And that’s another opportunity.


With Indiana probably needing to win out to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive, here is a breakdown of the final five games:

  • February 15 – at Minnesota
  • February 21 – at Iowa
  • February 25 – vs Northwestern
  • February 28 – at Purdue
  • March 4 – at Ohio State

The problem with Indiana’s remaining schedule is it’s difficulty level. The slate of teams may not all be at the top of the Big Ten standings, but that doesn’t matter when you realize the Hoosiers have struggled heavily on the road this season, going 1-5 so far with the one win coming via a James Blackmon Jr. buzzer-beater at Penn State.

There’s also the fact that other than beating Purdue in West Lafayette, none of the other potential wins would be huge resume-building wins. Iowa and Ohio State are likely going to the NIT, and while Minnesota and Northwestern would be nice wins, neither is guaranteed to be in the NCAA Tournament and both would likely take a hit to their resumes if they did lose to Indiana.

Basically the formula for Indiana to have a shot come Selection Sunday is to get a huge win at Purdue and pad the overall record by avoiding anymore losses. It will be a tough road ahead, but if Johnson is right and this team isn’t quitting, they still have chance no matter how small.

Blackmon And McRoberts Step Up In Win Over Michigan State

With the loss of OG Anunoby, the Indiana Hoosiers know they need multiple players to step up to make up for his impact. During the Hoosiers’ 82-75 win over Michigan State on Saturday, those players were the unlikely duo of James Blackmon Jr. and Zach McRoberts.

Already averaging a team-high 17.5 points per game, Blackmon went above and beyond his usual scoring performance as he hit his first six shots (four of which were three-pointers) and finished with 33 points, tying his career-best scoring performance.

“He was ready to shoot,” said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean. “His teammates did a great job getting him open. He (also) did a great job getting himself open with setups. His lift was good.”

Blackmon’s hot start was part of an incredible shooting display from the Hoosiers in the first half, as Indiana made its first six shot attempts from behind the arc.

“It makes it easier for all of us when (Blackmon) is hitting shots like that,” said Robert Johnson, who also provided an offensive spark with 17 points. “Guys have to try to make a plan to stop him, and that just opens up even more for us.”

While not as flashy as Blackmon’s performance, McRoberts played just as vital of a role in making up for the absence of Anunoby.

The walk-on from Carmel was a surprising choice for the fifth starter, but the risk paid off as McRoberts had his fingerprints all over this game as he finished with three points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block in 32 minutes of play. He also led the team in +/- with a +14 and deflections with an incredible 16.

“We know what Zach (McRoberts) can do. That’s why we’re confident when he’s out there,” said Blackmon about McRoberts’ impact. “He brings that energy and he does the little things that we need.”

McRoberts’ numbers are magnified because of the direct impact they made. Three of his five rebounds were on the offensive end, one of which set up an easy three-pointer for Blackmon that gave Indiana a 9-8 lead that the Hoosiers wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the game. He even made his only three-point attempt when the Spartan defense played too far off him.

“He works extremely hard,” said Crean. “He’s one of those guys that he wants to make (his teammates) better but he’s got to be reminded that he’s pretty good too.”

The performances of McRoberts and Blackmon showed that the Hoosiers have players capable of stepping up in Anunoby’s absence. It won’t always be them in particular but it reassured fans that the Hoosiers as a team are taking the challenge head-on instead of possibly using it as an excuse. The next few games will let us know who else on the team is ready to rise to the challenge.

The New And Improved James Blackmon Jr. And Three Other Observations From Indiana’s Blowout Win Over UMass-Lowell

After coming off an emotional high of beating the Kansas Jayhawks in Hawaii to start the 2016-2017 season, the Indiana Hoosiers took care of business in their home-opener by defeating the UMass-Lowell River Hawks 100-78.

It was evident early in the game that the aftereffects of the overtime thriller as well as the jetlag of traveling five time zones had caused the Hoosiers to start relatively sluggish, clinging to a 16-16 tie by the under-12 media timeout. Yet the hero from the Armed Forces Classic came alive yet again as James Blackmon Jr. had 15 of his game-high 23 points during the final 11:30 of the first half to help the Hoosiers seize control of the game as they took a 53-36 lead into halftime and never looked back.

“I think there’s a confidence when they look at him”, said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean about the impact Blackmon makes on the offense.

Coach Crean also talked about the fact that Blackmon made himself become physically stronger while returning from his injury and how it has improved his game.

“James is a lot more explosive than what he was. He could always dunk and things like that but he’s playing with more force. He’s playing downhill more. He’s covering more ground.”

His new strength combined with an iron-willed determination to make up for all the time he lost last season, points to this likely being the norm we’ll see from Blackmon Jr. this season. It wouldn’t surprise me if he eventually steps into Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell’s shoes and becomes the Hoosiers undisputed leader.

However that wasn’t the only thing I noticed during my first trip to Assembly Hall this season. Here are three others:

  1. Last Saturday it was Curtis Jones’ 15 points (including some big shots in overtime) that stood out from Indiana’s freshman class. Wednesday was Devonte Green’s time to shine as he finished with six points (two of which resulted in an explosive one-handed dunk) and four steals, which makes him the first Hoosier to have that many steals in a game since Blackmon Jr. did it against Alcorn State during the beginning of last season. It’s starting to look like this freshman class could play an integral part in the Hoosiers’ success.
  2. De’Ron Davis had some clutch free throws late against Kansas, but against UMass-Lowell he scored eight points and it was how he scored those four baskets that’s important. Each came on a variety of post moves where he took his defender one-on-one and beat him to the bucket. If Davis is able to do this on a nightly basis, it would make an already potent offense even more dangerous for opponents.
  3. While it would be great to see more Davis post-ups, I’d similarly like to see Thomas Bryant take more three-point shots when they are given to him. Bryant showed off his range in small quantities last year before hitting two big ones in the early minutes of the Kansas game. He has a great stroke, but on numerous occasions he was given up a wide-open look because he either hesitated until a defender closed in on him or he passed it to another open teammate. I understand why he’s not taking these shots (play decoy and cause the defense to scramble), but sooner or later teams will dare him to shoot and I know he has the ability to make those teams pay if he actually takes those shots.

 

The Top 5 Subplots Heading Into Indiana Vs Kentucky

We all know the main plot of Saturday’s second round NCAA Tournament matchup between Indiana and Kentucky: two longtime college basketball rivals who not only share a border but also share a history of winning championships, who haven’t played each other since the 2011-2012 season when Indiana upset Kentucky on Christian Watford’s buzzer-beater in the regular season and the Wildcats outlasted the Hoosiers 102-90 in the Sweet 16. Four years later, the NCAA Selection Committee intervened by placing both as the four and five seed of the same region. Now two teams have been thrusted into an old rivalry that no player on either team has ever experienced and on the line is a trip to Philadelphia to play on the second weekend of the tournament.

Honestly, that’s enough of a reason to get anyone to watch this game, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The amount of subplots underlying the main plot is staggering and cover not only the game but the aftereffects of the game. Here are what I consider the top five subplots (in no particular order) of Saturday’s Indiana-Kentucky matchup.

1) Ferrell vs Ulis: Even if the main plot didn’t exist, this matchup between two of the five best point guards in all of college basketball would be enough to hype this game. Both Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and Tyler Ulis are the textbook definition of a “floor general” as both are responsible for scoring as well as helping their teammates score (Ferrell averages 17.1 points and 5.7 assists per game while Ulis averages 17.0 points and 7.1 assists). Both also average around 35 minutes a game so it’s entirely possible neither one leaves the floor unless they get in foul trouble. It will also be interesting to see if they guard each other.

2) Will Players Treat This Like A Rivalry Game?: No doubt both teams will play very hard because this is the NCAA Tournament, but will it go any farther than that? Remember that not a single player on either roster has played against each other so unless any of them were fans of the school before attending, they don’t really know what they are getting into. If one team goes up big, will they coast the rest of the way (how a team may play against someone they have nothing against in the NCAA Tournament), or will they step on the opponent’s throat and try to humiliate them (how one rival would play against another rival in the NCAA Tournament)? Neither team will likely get that big of a lead, but the way the teams treat each other will still be a great indicator of whether or not they see it as a rivalry game.

3) IU’s Turnover Problem Vs UK’s Defensive Rebounding Problem: Both teams are really good at a lot of different things, but both also have one weakness that ranks in the bottom 100 of all NCAA teams. For Indiana it’s turnovers as the Hoosiers turn it over on 16.6% of their possessions (254th in the NCAA). For Kentucky it’s defensive rebounding as the Wildcats allow opponents to grab 30.2% of their misses (274th in the NCAA). At first glace it looks like the Hoosiers can take advantage of the Wildcats’ weaknesses easier, as IU ranks as the 13th best offensive rebounding team (grabbing 36.5% of its misses). Yet while Kentucky doesn’t force a lot of turnovers, it does have a top 10 shooting defense (allowing an effective field goal percentage of just 44.3%) that can make those inevitable turnovers even more devastating. Whichever team does more to exploit the other’s weakness should win.

4) The Outcome May Determine If This Becomes An Annual Rivalry Again: A lot of media members have talked about this possibly sparking a renewal of the yearly rivalry game between the two programs. While some may brush it off as wishful thinking, I do think this game will hold weight in any possible decision. Unfortunately, I think it will require a specific outcome to get the ball rolling on a possible series revival. The Wildcats’ non-conference scheduling approach has been to find teams that can challenge them so they can test their freshmen and make them battle-tested for the SEC and hopefully a long NCAA run. If Kentucky were to handedly beat Indiana on Saturday, would they really bother with trying to get the series with Indiana going again? As weird as it may sound, getting the yearly series back may require an Indiana win or an overtime classic to get talks going again. That scenario also makes sense for IU, as even though the Hoosiers did beat the Wildcats in their last regular season meeting the wins in the series have been few and far between for a long time. When two potential rivals don’t play in the same conference it takes a little extra to keep that rivalry going and competitiveness is the big thing that can get this one going again.

5) Does Loss = Failed Season?: This game feels like an Elite Eight or Final Four matchup because both teams are that good, but the reality is that one of them will see their season end before the Sweet 16. Despite both teams exceeding expectations and winning their conferences, the fans of Saturday’s loser will feel like this season was a failure because they were bounced in the first weekend. But should they? You’d think an exception would be made for the talent level of the opponent, but I doubt either fanbase would accept that as an excuse. An Indiana loss would mean Tom Crean has still not led an Indiana team past the Sweet 16, and a Kentucky loss would mean John Calipari would miss the Sweet 16 for the first time (during years Kentucky made the NCAA Tournament) and would come a year after they fell short of an undefeated season with 10 McDonald’s All-Americans. It’s unfair on a lot of levels, but one team will treat this season as failure after the final buzzer sounds on Saturday night.

Resilient Hoosiers Earn Signature Win Over Iowa

Only one word properly describes this year’s Indiana Hoosiers: resilient.

The Hoosiers defeated the fourth-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes 85-78 on Thursday night to move into a tie for first place in the Big Ten. It was the kind of signature win that the Hoosiers’ tournament resume really lacked and IU earned it by being resilient.

Indiana (20-5, 10-2) broke open a back-and-forth game with a 20-4 run from the 17 minute mark until the 10 minute mark of the first half. Indiana would extend that lead to as large as 16 when the Hoosiers led 36-20 with 6:03 left until halftime.

Yet Iowa (19-5, 10-2) steadily chipped away as they responded with a 25-9 run that had the game tied at 45-45 with 17:39 left in the second half. Both teams would continue to exchange buckets but with 9:35 left, the Hawkeyes held a 60-56 lead as well as momentum.

With a 16-point lead gone, the Hoosiers were on the ropes. Their star and senior leader Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell had missed on his last nine shot attempts and the Hoosiers as a team were two for their last ten. It felt like all the pressure to win this game, which would give IU their first win against a ranked opponent this season, was collapsing in on the Hoosiers.

However, this Indiana team has actually thrived when it has had its back to the wall. Time and again the Hoosiers have faced obstacles only to grow from overcoming them. From rebounding from a sixth place finish at the Maui Invitational to the embarrassing loss at Penn State last weekend, the Hoosiers have shown resilience all year by never losing back-to-back games.

“When things get bad you can fall off and crumble or you can rise to the occasion. I think that we’ve done a really good job of rising to the occasion when adversity hits,” said Collin Hartman about the team’s resiliency this season.

The Hoosiers rose to the occasion again as Harrison Niego’s baseline jumper marked IU’s first non-layup field goal in over five minutes. That make was the beginning of a 19-6 run that would put the Hoosiers ahead for good. It was also a run that featured Troy Williams “coming back to life” and Ferrell finally making his second basket of the game.

“Troy was like Lazarus, he resurrected himself a couple of times during the game,” joked Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean about Williams’ performance. Williams was mostly ineffective during the majority of the game, but Williams ended up being one of the main reasons behind the late run. Williams scored seven of his 13 points during those last nine minutes, which included a see-to-believe moment where Williams split two defenders and nailed a fadeaway jumper that barely beat the shot clock during the final minute of the game.

Indiana still has a lot of obstacles to overcome if  the Hoosiers want to stay at the top of the Big Ten standings amidst a grueling schedule that next has IU traveling to East Lansing to face Michigan State on Sunday. The only thing we know for sure is that Indiana will continue to be resilient no matter what happens.

Hoosiers’ Up-And-Down Win Over Kennesaw State A Microcosm Of IU’s Season So Far

The Indiana Hoosiers pulled ahead and the Kennesaw State Owls closed the gap.

This trend happened multiple times during the Hoosiers 99-72 win on Tuesday night and it’s not hard to see this game as a microcosm of the Hoosiers’ performance so far this season.

It looked like the game would be a walk-in-the-park like many expected in the first few minutes when Indiana jumped out to a 15-7 lead with 15:19 left in the first half. The Owls responded with a 11-9 run to cut the Hoosiers lead to 24-18 at the under-12 timeout.

Sensing that Kennesaw State was not going to go away quietly, the Hoosiers then seemed to take control by going on 18-6 run to put IU up 42-24 with 5:50 left until halftime. Usually that kind of run would put away a small-conference team like Kennesaw State but the Owls proved to be different as they ended the half on a 14-4 run, making it only a 46-38 lead for Indiana at half.

The teams went back at forth during the first eight minutes of the second half with both teams scoring 13 points. The Owls even started with a 4-2 run at the start of the second half to pull within two scores. Then, starting at the 11:48 mark, the Hoosiers defense shut down the Owls just like they did the Fighting Irish in their last game. Troy Williams led the offensive charge scoring eight points as well as grabbing two rebounds and two assists during a 26-9 run that lasted until the under-4 timeout. The Hoosiers led 85-60 and had finally pulled away.

Williams finished with 20 points and a career-high six assists. Thomas Bryant also scored 20 points (a career-high) and grabbed a team-high five rebounds. James Blackmon Jr. added 19 points while Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell added 16 points.

“We started off the game really well. We closed the game really well. What we’ve got to get better at is the in-between”, said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean about the team’s inconsistent play. “We did not handle (Kennesaw State’s Flex offense) well in the first half, and in the second half we just said we’re just going to guard and we’re not going to switch.”

The peaks and valleys of this game almost mirrored the Hoosier’s non-conference performance.

The Hoosiers started the season with three easy wins and high hopes as a top-15 team heading into the Maui Invitational. Then the island paradise turned into a nightmare as Indiana lost to Wake Forest and UNLV while barely beating St. John’s.

The Hoosiers returned home and proceeded to score a season-high 112 points against Alcorn State. Unfortunately Indiana then gave up a season-high 94 points to Duke in a 20-point loss the next game. Following that defensive debacle, IU proceeded to limit its next three opponents to 65 or fewer points.

Finally the first 25 minutes of the Notre Dame game (where the defense again was a sieve) happened followed by the last 15 minutes of that game (where IU locked down after switching to zone and came back from 16 down to win).

It’s hard to get a read on the Hoosiers but this team is capable of being very great at their highest and mediocre at their lowest. Indiana get Rutgers (4-7) and Nebraska (7-5) to start the Big Ten schedule so we’ll see if the Hoosiers can take advantage and start off conference play with some momentum. They have the talent to be near the top of the conference but it will require consistent play to get there.

“Tornado” Troy Williams Sets More Career-Highs

On the day I decided to name Troy Williams the “Tornado” after yet another furious one-man run by the junior, I also got to ask my first press conference question and I directed it at Williams.

Here’s some background information: Williams set a career-high with six assists against Kennesaw State. However, unlike his massive 19-rebound game vs IPFW, this performance was more of a sign of things to come than a once-in-a-career performance. Williams has really improved his assist numbers during his time in Bloomington so I asked him about it.

Q’s Q: Troy, you had a career-high six assists tonight and have really improved your assist numbers this season. How much do you feel your ability to set up your teammates has improved since you came to IU?

Troy’s Response: Tremendously. This is my third year here, and I can just see the change from freshman until now. The biggest jump was last year as a sophomore, and this year I had another jump. Now that I’m able to make plays and throw the assists to my team, it’s a great way to be (as Coach Crean would say) a Swiss Army knife for this team.

First off I want to thank Troy for going very in-depth with his answer to my question. Now when Williams says he made his biggest jump during his sophomore season he means it. During his freshman season Williams only dished out 29 assists which equals 0.9 per game. For his sophomore season that number jumped all the way to 64, which is a 2.0 per game average. This year through 13 games Williams has 32 assists (already more than he had all of his freshman year) which averages out to 2.5 per game.

This season’s number might not seem like that much of an improvement but it is when you look at the game logs. Coming into this season, his single-game high for assists was four. This year Williams already has four games with four or more assists including tonight.

Williams also set another career-high with three made three-pointers. It’s only Williams’ third game of his career with multiple made three-pointers and his first with more than two. It’s easy to see that Williams is already a Swiss Army knife, and he’s only getting better.

Hoosiers Aggressive On Offense and Defense During Blowout Win Over Morehead State

There was little doubt that Indiana would play better defensively after embarrassingly giving up 94 points to Duke on Wednesday. Yet the Hoosiers showed a defensive aggressiveness in their 92-59 win over the Morehead State Eagles that hasn’t been shown all season.

“Really proud of the effort, energy, attitude, the way they responded”, said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean about the aggression his team showed against the Eagles. “It’s been a long couple of weeks and I thought they did an outstanding job of learning and applying it and bringing their practice game and practice preparation to the course, and they did it for a long period of time.”

After giving up quite a few open shots when playing zone against Duke, Indiana stuck to playing man-to-man for most of the game against Morehead State. The Hoosiers not only succeeded in man-to-man coverage, but they looked a lot more comfortable than they did when playing the zone the past few games. That comfort aided a suddenly confident defense as they held the Eagles to a season-low 59 points and only let them shoot 31.4 % from the floor.

“We were a little more connected in our coverages, and especially with our switching”, said Coach Crean. “Their mind-set was excellent. They were rotating well. We were drawing charges. We didn’t spend the game in rotation.”

Indiana was also aggressive on offense, attempting a season-low 15 three-pointers and instead they scored 46 points in the post by driving to the basket, scoring layups in transition, and getting the ball in the paint when a Hoosier was either open or had a mismatch. Because the Hoosiers went to the basket so much, it led to a season-high 36 free throw attempts. The Hoosiers took advantage as they shot 75% or better from the free throw line for the third game in a row after failing to reach 70% in five of their first six games.

The Eagles, who came into the game allowing the second fewest points per game in the NCAA at 55.2, ran a Wisconsin-style grind-it-out offense to limit Indiana’s offensive possessions and it worked for the first seven minutes as Morehead State held a 13-12 lead. Yet the Hoosiers were able to speed up the pace and from the 13:30 to 4:00 minutes left in the first half the Hoosiers went on a 27-6 run to take control of the game and would never relinquish it. Due to the faster pace, the slow-it-down Eagles committed 23 turnovers, which the Hoosiers turned into 27 points. The Eagles also committed 28 personal fouls.

The Hoosiers will be off for a few days but will return to action this coming Wednesday against IPFW in Assembly Hall. The game will start at 7pm but will not be broadcasted on television so check for radio stations, such as IU’s student-run WIUX 99.1 FM, if you can’t attend the game.

 

Stats From The Boxscore:

  • Indiana had five players score in double-figures. Troy Williams led the Hoosiers with 16 points, James Blackmon Jr. and Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell both had 15 points, Thomas Bryant had 14 points, and Max Bielfeldt scored 12 points off the bench.
  • Both Bryant (4 of 4) and Bielfeldt (5 of 5) were perfect from the floor while Williams only missed on shot (6 of 7).
  • Ferrell’s layup with 14:07 left in the first half made him the 16th Indiana Hoosier to score 1,500 career points.
  • Ferrell also recorded seven assists, which now has him four away from claiming third on IU’s all-time assist list.
  • Not only did the Hoosiers attempt a season-low 15 three-pointers, but they only made 33.3% of those shots, tying their worst mark of the season (IU also shot 33.3% from deep against Eastern Illinois).
  • In addition to holding Morehead State to a season-low 59 points, the Hoosiers’ 92 points are the most the Eagles have allowed all season, with the previous high being 66 points allowed to Illinois State.