by Kent Sterling
This was an ugly if ultimately rewarding game for Indiana as they began the second six-game stretch of the Big Ten season. For Illinois, it was ugly and not rewarding, and signaled tap city, as Al McGuire used to say.
The Hoosiers outscored the Illini 13-5 from the foul line, out rebounded them 42-28, and hit 40.8% compared to Illinois’ 33.3 repeating.
So now Indiana is 3-4 in Big Ten play, only one game out of a tie for fourth. Illinois dropped to 2-6, one-half game out of last. The two programs started the day within a half-game of one another. One survived, and one was declared DOA. That’s how wacky the Big Ten is in 2014.
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Michigan remains undefeated at 7-0 and Michigan State is 7-1. Iowa is alone in third at 5-2. The rest is a total mess.
We don’t know much more about Indiana today than we did three weeks ago or four hours ago, and I like feeling like I know something. This might be the most frustrating Indiana team in memory if only because it’s impossible to figure out a single component of it, or see a way that these pieces fit as one.
Is the coaching good or bad? Who can tell? Is Noah Vonleh a great player being taken away be defenses, or a player who hasn’t figured out how to be productively assertive yet? Is Troy Williams full of untapped potential, or a guy like Ricky Calloway or Charlie Miller who will be remembered in Bloomington for what might have been more than for what was?
The defense can be very good, while the offense appears muddled and out of synch much of the time. If the Hoosiers are unable to score in transition, putting the ball in the bucket gets tough. Illinois collapsed four defenders on Noah Vonleh every time he caught the ball on the block today, and he managed only four points on six shots. The Hoosiers won, so fans will overlook much of the ugly underbelly of this one.
There are almost constant corrections about positioning, and coach Tom Crean could be clearly heard admonishing Vonleh for setting up on the wrong side of the floor late in today’s game.
I don’t know what to make of this group, and I’m afraid the future will be filled with some fans pining for what could have been, while the others are glad what might have happened didn’t. Instead of bar room arguments, there might be a lot of shrugged shoulders.
That’s the fate for many teams that lose 70% of their points from one season to the next, as well as the entire board of directors. The Hoosiers lost more leadership than offense after last season with the graduation or abdication of Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Maurice Creek, Derek Elston, Victor Oladipo, and Cody Zeller.
Fans asked who the heir apparent to the leadership mantle might be, but that question is still unanswered. When Indiana players gather on the floor, several speak simultaneously, and you know what they say, “If everyone’s talking, no one’s listening.”
The upcoming five games might see the Hoosiers gel a little bit, but the road is damn tough. Thursday night, Indiana travels to Nebraska, then Michigan visits Assembly Hall on Super Bowl Sunday. After that, Indiana visits Minnesota, hosts Penn State, and then plays the Boilermakers of Purdue at Mackey Arena.
If Indiana wins three of those games, their Big Ten record will be even at 6-6.
After that, four of the final six opponents are ranked in the top 21, and Michigan – the #21 team in America – will climb after beating the Spartans last night.
In two months, it will all be over, and the talk will evolve into what effect James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson, and Max Hoetzel might have on the roster. Will the departures of Will Sheehey, Jeff Howard, Evan Gordon, and Taylor Wayer cause problems? Will Vonleh’s stock rise high enough to prompt him to be Indiana’s first one-and-done since Evan’s brother Eric in 2008? And if so, will Hanner Mosquera-Perea be ready to play more than the one minute he logged today?
So many questions. So few answers. That’s Hoosier basketball in 2014.
Watching these last few games has been brutal at best. While it seemed IU somewhat controlled this game they never could put together a run to put it away. It seems we could have used Creek and Abell a little bit this year. Was there a reason those guys left???
I believe that Crean left to enjoy his last year of college ball near family. He wasn’t going to be the focus of the offense, and likely would have had a tough time getting on the floor for extended periods.
The deal with Abell was different. I’ve heard rumors of some frustration that Abell expressed toward Crean, and then a strong rebuttal from Crean – but, again, just a rumor, but from a very good source or I wouldn’t repeat it.
There was a moment. ( and I replayed it to make sure I was right) that the team huddled after a foul, and Yogi broke out of it rolling his eyes and shaking his head. I think he’s quite frustrated.
Saw that too. This seems to be a group that struggles to find a common purpose. We guess about the inner workings of teams because we don’t get to see them interact off the court, but I haven’t yet seem any evidence of great respect for one another during games.
Illinois had a good game plan taking Vonleh out of the game. They just weren’t a good enough team yesterday to do what they needed to do to win the game in addition to taking Vonleh out. I think we will see more of this kind of strategy on Vonleh. Teams should want to force an outside game since the Hoosiers struggle with their perimeter shooting. Look for Crean to play Vonleh outside more to unpack the lane. He will probably share the floor with Perea and Howard more. They certainly could use an effective Jurkin. I hope he doesn’t turn out to be another Tijan Jobe.
I believe that they will end up 8-8 in the Big Ten. They will probably lose to a team that they shouldn’t, but also beat a team or two that they shouldn’t.
Young teams are erratic. I can handle frustration when I expect frustration.
The number of Big Ten games can get confusing, but they reverted back to 18 games a few years ago.
I would not be a fan of moving Vonleh off the block on a regular basis. That’s his strength, and forcing defenses to collapse is ultimately a good thing if IU can hit some shots. Perea just isn’t ready to play defensively – yet.
I agree. I don’t want to make a guard out of him. I just would expand his territory to keep the defense honest. When the defense cheats inside, I would have Vonleh flash more than post. The trouble with keeping him in the post all the time is that you are forced to have someone other than Ferrell hit shots from the perimeter. I have seen enough of this season to know that Crean isn’t going to be able to count on that.