Indiana’s Rollercoaster Season Comes To An End Against Wichita State In NIT Quarterfinals

You could call the Indiana Hoosiers’ 2018-2019 season many things.

Hopeful. Depressing.

Lucky. Cursed.

Fun. Funny.

Amusing. Exhausting.

Interesting. Agonizing.

Random. Repetitive.

All of these words not only described the Hoosiers’ overall season, it also described any one game during the season, including Indiana’s 73-63 loss to the Wichita State Shockers in the NIT Quarterfinals.

This rollercoaster of emotions finally came to a complete stop on Tuesday night, and now Hoosier Nation has exited the ride to differing results. Some had fun. Others ran for the nearest garbage bin and threw up. Regardless of the reaction, this season, for better or worse, will not be forgotten by those who took this ride.

Yet how did this wild ride come into existence? Why did games fluctuate so wildly? What does this season mean for the future? Now that the season is finally over, it is time to try answering these three questions:

1) How did this season become so unstable and unpredictable?

The truth is we never got to see the team that was advertised to us coming into the season. From the beginning, injuries have plagued the Hoosiers, taking countless games from potential rotation players, including the entire season from Jerome Hunter.

In fact, only Juwan Morgan and Justin Smith ended up playing all 35 of the Hoosiers’ games this season, and Morgan could have easily missed time but played through it.

Devonte Green missed four games in November and then was not allowed to play for three more in January. De’Ron Davis missed five games. Rob Phinisee missed three games. Al Durham missed one game but played half of the season with an injured hand. Zach McRoberts had an injured back most of the season. Race Thompson missed over half the season as well. Even Romeo Langford missed the final three games because injuries that he played through finally caught up to him.

Because of all these injuries, and the way they were spaced out, the team was constantly in flux as players entered and left the rotation constantly, hampering the creation of any kind of chemistry among the team.

2) Why did the team’s performance change so suddenly and often?

Injuries explain why the season was so uneven, but don’t explain why the team’s performance could change in the middle of a game. This is because this Hoosier team had a fatal flaw, one it wasn’t used to when compared to past seasons.

It couldn’t shoot well consistently.

“Shooting from the three-point line is the number one reason in many ways that our team could not get over the hump so many times (this season),” explained Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller about the biggest issue with the team’s consistency.

It’s easy to see this wasn’t a good three-point shooting team. On the year, the Hoosiers attempted 676 treys and only connected on 211 of them (31.2%), which was made even more painful by the team’s propensity for falling behind early, either because of committing turnovers or shooting (and missing) a lot of threes early in the game.

Needing to make threes became necessary to get back into games, and with only one player who hit above 35% from long range (Green hit 41% from deep on the season), it became easier for defenses to key in on that player and forced lesser three-point shooters to force up shots.

However, three-point shooting wasn’t the only type of shot that let the team down over the course of the season. Foul shooting was abysmal across the board, with not a single player hitting above 75% from the free throw line. Durham and Green ended up being the team’s most reliable free throw shooters and they only hit on 74% and 73.6% of their foul shots respectively. Such poor foul shooting made holding a small lead very hard.

3) How will the events of this season shape future IU seasons?

This is the question everyone wants answered the most, and unfortunately can’t be answered yet. Just like how every member of Hoosier Nation has reacted differently to this rollercoaster ride, so too will the players who experienced it firsthand. Will they leave to find new beginnings? Will they use the frustration they felt to fuel their motivation to get better and make the team better? Will it have no effect at all and we’ll have a repeat performance next season?

We’ll have to wait for the ride to open again next fall.

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IU Showcases A Deep And Talented Team In Win over Chicago State

On a night that saw our first taste of Romeo Langford lighting it up for the Cream and Crimson, there was plenty more to be excited about regarding the Indiana Hoosiers after their 104-55 win over the Chicago State Cougars.

Langford led the way with a game-high 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, yet he was just one of many Hoosiers who showcased their talent on Tuesday night.

Fellow freshman guard Rob Phinisee had a rough first half with early foul trouble, but rebounded in a big way during the second half as he finished with six points, five assists, and five steals in 20 minutes of play.

“I felt Rob played real well,” said Langford about his freshman backcourt teammate. “He basically translated his game from high school into college.”

It wasn’t just the freshmen newcomers that stood out. Graduate Transfer Evan Fitzner was a huge spark off the bench as he added 14 points on a hyper-efficient 5-of-6 shooting, which included a diverse shot selection from hook shots in the post to corner threes.

“Very high IQ, very skilled offensive player,” said Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller. “He has size and length and great touch with either hand around the basket. He obviously can stretch the floor (too). I thought he did a nice job of throwing over the zone at times, catching it in the middle and skipping it out at times.”

Yet the most encouraging thing from Tuesday night was that this group of newcomers fit in so seamlessly with Indiana’s returning key players, creating a team that looks eons better than the one that was blown out by Indiana State during last season’s opening game.

Juwan Morgan may have had a quiet night on the scoring front with just nine points, but he was still an essential part of the team, grabbing a team-high eight rebounds (five of which were offensive) and also added three assists and two blocks.

Zach McRoberts is making good on his promise to be more aggressive on offense, and it paid off as he sank both of his three-point attempts and grabbed seven rebounds.

Justin Smith put his explosiveness on full display, and while he didn’t play a perfect game, he still played a huge factor for the Hoosiers drawing seven opposing fouls and finishing with 13 points.

Last, but not least, Devonte Green was able to come off the bench and bring instant-offense through his scoring and his passing, finishing with 15 points and three assists. Even more impressive, his time on the floor paired alongside Phinisee presented a unique and dynamic look for the Hoosiers that saw both players thriving off of each other.

“Devonte, he’s a real good scorer as well as passer, but I feel scoring is his main thing,” remarked Langford. “So just letting Devonte play without the ball for a little bit, when they’re both in the game at the same time, opens the court up even more for guys like me and Evan and J-Mo (Juwan).”

Yet the roster appeared even deeper as Damezi Anderson (five points, four rebounds) and De’Ron Davis (four points) played solidly for 20 and 12 minutes respectively. Also don’t forget the injured Al Durham, who looked like a prime breakout candidate during Hoosier Hysteria.

What this all means is that Coach Miller looks to have a squad that can legitimately run 10-men deep and won’t see their effectiveness wane when Morgan or Langford need a rest.

Indiana has a lot of talented players, and while they neither played perfectly (19-of-33 from the foul line) nor faced a challenging foe in Chicago State, the potential shown off on Tuesday night should make Hoosier Nation giddy with excitement for this new season.

Morgan And McRoberts Shine In Win Over Penguins, But Need Teammates To Follow Suit For B1G Success

In what is usually a meaningless game against a low-major school right before conference play picks up again, the Indiana Hoosiers saw two players still give 110% on the floor and help the team finish non-conference play with a 79-51 win over Youngstown State.

To nobody’s surprise, those two players were Juwan Morgan and Zach McRoberts.

Morgan finished with a game-high 16 points while adding six rebounds, three steals, and 2 blocks and McRoberts scored seven points as well as grabbed a team-high eight rebounds as the Hoosiers overcame a terrible first half showing to earn their second straight win.

This season has been a coming-out part for Morgan, who is the team’s leading scorer (15.3ppg) and leading rebounder (7.2) after averaging just 7.7 points and 5.6 rebounds last season. Meanwhile McRoberts has continued to see his role increase as his hard work has earned the respect of Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller. Hard work that Miller would like to see his other players emulate.

“We need to get some other guys on this team fired up and ready to go and playing like that. I think Zach (McRoberts) embodies that and we need to get some other guys on this team fired up.”

It’s not just effort either as Miller is aware that some players have regressed as the season has gone along, particularly De’Ron Davis.

“We got to get De’Ron (Davis) going right now. (He) really, in my mind, isn’t playing anywhere near where he was a month ago.”

Just comparing Davis’ scoring stats from November to December is eye-opening. Davis averaged 12 points per game on 75.6% shooting in the month of November but has seen those numbers go down to 7 points per game on 50% shooting in the month of December.

“We’ve got to get him rolling again, get him back in practice competing. If you (don’t give maximum effort), you’re going to struggle; you can’t cheat the process.”

However, Davis isn’t the only Hoosier that needs to find consistent success.

Robert Johnson has been fairly consistent this season but it’s worrisome that during a three-game stretch against Michigan, Iowa, and Louisville he averaged just five points per contest, including a scoreless game against the Louisville Cardinals. He’s also been extremely streaky from deep as he has hit on just 32.4% (23 of 71) of his three-point attempts, a considerable drop from his career average of 38.6%.

Josh Newkirk has only reached double-digit points in four of the 14 games he has played despite starting every game and averaging 23.9minutes per game. Devonte Green shot 43.6% from deep in his freshman year, but has become such a streaky shooter that his shooting percentage from behind the arc is down all the way to 29.6% (16 of 54) after going one for his last 14 during the last three games.

The talent is there for the Hoosiers to have a competitive Big Ten season. All the team has to do is follow the example set by Morgan and McRoberts.

How Zach McRoberts’ Value To The Hoosier Just Rose Even Higher

Indiana’s 87-59 win over Tennessee Tech on Thursday night was more than just trying to move past the Fort Wayne performance. Like most non-conference games this time of year, it’s about trying to figure out team identities before going into conference play, or in the Big Ten’s case the bulk of conference play.

For the Hoosiers, it was about how much they could rely on walk-on Zach McRoberts without clogging up the offense.

For all the good McRoberts has brought the Hoosiers during his two seasons with the team, the reoccurring trend of stalling up the offense has persisted. McRoberts’ unselfish play always finds him making the extra pass even when it wasn’t necessary, as if he was an offensive lineman who’s job is to do the dirty work (such as grab rebounds, deflect passes, and play solid defense) and make it possible for others to score. That has led opposing defenders to play off of McRoberts and give themselves an extra defender to help close in on passing lanes.

The best way to remedy that problem is to force McRoberts’ defender to guard him. Which is what happened on Thursday night.

While his stat line in the box score won’t jump off the page, that’s actually a good thing. No longer is there a player who plays 20+ minutes and shoots maybe one or two shots. Instead, McRoberts shot whenever he felt he was open with the flow of the offense or whenever he sensed his defender was backing off, leading to a season-high seven shot attempts. He finished with eight points, which included him going two of five from deep. This after taking only 14 shots during the nine games and 110 minutes he had played this season before Thursday night.

“They chose not to guard him. So he found himself open and didn’t hesitate,” said Indiana Coach Archie Miller. “I was happy to see him make a couple because that’s a big thing for him (to be able) to create a little offense out there.”

While the announcer from the classic video game NBA Jam wouldn’t quite say McRoberts was “on fire” Thursday night, it was an important game for both the Hoosiers and the Hoosiers’ future opponents.

When asked about his increase in three-point shooting the past couple of games, McRoberts was nice enough to give his future opponents a message about his increase in three-point shooting frequency.

“Just if I’m open, taking open shots. That’s really what I’m looking to do.”

Meaning that all future opponents should probably still guard him or face the consequences.

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.