by Kent Sterling
There are days when the ball just won’t go in the bucket, but this was ridiculous.
Indiana hit only 15 of its 60 shots in a loss to Northwestern at Assembly Hall today. That just simply could not happen if the Hoosiers hope to be seriously considered for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament in eight weeks.
The Big Ten hasn’t a patsy among its 12 members, but to be taken seriously as a contender for the Big Ten Championship or to be taken seriously as a basketball program, beating the Wildcats at Assembly Hall is a must.
One quarter through the game, Indiana trailed 5-4, after missing 12 of their first 13 shots. Miss 75% of your shots as Indiana did today, and winning just isn’t possible.
Even worse, Will Sheehey, Yogi Ferrell, Evan Gordon, and Noah Vonleh combined to 11-48, and yet Indiana took a 38-35 with 7:15 to play.
There isn’t any point in beating this dead horse of a game. The answers we believe we find won’t be a predictor of what will happen Tuesday anyway. Each Indiana game is its own unique life force.
Was this loss to Northwestern because of coaching? Was it just one of those days? Was it a matter of a young team starting to feel it was good enough not to bring great effort after two straight wins? Was it Northwestern with a great scheme executed well? Can IU players not distinguish the rim from the background?
You know, Northwestern is on scholarship too, and coach Chris Collins is no rube who just off the turnip truck as it turned left from Fee Lane to 17th Street. Stop the drive and force IU to shoot it is what I would have asked the Wildcats to do also.
What caused this train wreck of a game is up to the guys studying the film to decide. What it means is that the ground Indiana gained with what appeared to be an unlikely win against #3 Wisconsin has been relinquished and the Hoosiers are right where the geniuses projected them – 2-3 headed into a Tuesday night duel with Michigan State in East Lansing.
While fans and pundits pour over the schedule trying to find a way to a 9-9 conference record, Tom Crean and his staff are trying to figure out just what the hell buttons are left to push to get Indiana to play with consistent precision and focus.
Today, 10 Hoosiers played at least eight minutes, including Johnny Marlin, Jeff Howard, Hanner Mosquira-Perea, and Austin Etherington. Exactly none of the multitude of combinations clicked. Indiana only turned the ball over nine times, but each of the 34 missed shots by the Hoosiers that the Wildcats gathered up had the same effect as a turnover.
Indiana, the team whose fans started the day assuming a win and daring to ponder a possible national ranking next week, ends another day with many more questions than answers.
It’s maddening for fans, but it’s especially hard on the coaches. Crean won’t sleep very well tonight as he tries like Willie in “Bad Santa” working over the department store safe to find the right combination of players and strategy to compete with Michigan State so they avoid a 2-4 Big Ten start.
Whether Indiana can solve this riddle will be the criteria for judging the work of Crean and his staff for 2013-2014.
As the win Tuesday evidenced, Indiana is capable of playing well, and as was seen today, they can play poorly. There is no rhyme or reason as to when the good or bad will come, and that makes this a fascinating season. It may also be one of the more frustrating in recent memory.
Today, Indiana lost. Anyone what to bet which team shows up in East Lansing? I don’t either.