A Step Back

After the roughly hour and a half I spent after the game, and the nine or so I spent today thinking about last nights game, I am finally ready to puts some of those thoughts in print. First of all, as we all knew going in, Duke is very talented. When they have it clicking they are going to be tough to beat. Especially in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

But this article isn’t about what Duke can or can’t do, it’s about Indiana, and also their fans. We’ll start with the fans. Most fans look at the schedule at the beginning of each year and mentally mark down “W’s” for some games, “L’s” for some games, and “?’s” for others. I’m not sure that anyone can honestly say that they had marked a “W” next to this game. Especially after the complete domination of Kentucky, by Duke earlier this month.

I am on Twitter, Facebook, and a couple of message boards so I see lots of opinions about what needs to be done to “fix” IU’s recent struggles. I also see a lot of people that have already thrown in the towel on both the season, and Coach Miller. It’s saddens me that for as smart as our fan base is recognized for being, we have a small fraction of fans who truly believe the season is lost a mere seven games in, and that Coach Miller is in over his head. Which I’d personally like to note, I think is absolutely absurd. But if you fall into this category you should really take A Step Back…from the ledge that is.

I’d also like to point out that while I think being demeaning of players on any of the above mentioned places, or anywhere for that matter, is despicable, pointing out obvious flaws isn’t. Throw in the fan who feels as though a player should never be criticized, and well, you’ve got a constant argument back and forth that makes both parties look ridiculous. If someone is brazen enough to say some of the things about players and coaches that I saw last night, calling them an “armchair coach” and telling them how much our players need their support because they are trying their hardest, understand that you’re not going to change their mind and are fighting a losing battle. Telling others to not be critical is on you though. Constructive criticism is a must for anyone in all walks of life.

As far as the team itself, for as bad as they played last night, I think they’ll learn from this, and I think they’ll be better because of it. They definitely took A Step Back though. Early on, aside from Romeo Langford, I thought that virtually everyone else had a deer in the headlights look. And that’s not to say that I think Langford played well, I’m just saying that he didn’t appear to be phased by the atmosphere, the DUKE written across the chest, or Coach Krzyzewski. But even he allowed himself to be sped up at times. As far as everyone else, they were sped up, considerably. And even that may be an understatement.

Let’s not forget, Indiana has seven new faces on the roster, so there will still be some growing pains for awhile. But even with that, some of the turnovers were so ridiculously careless that it bordered on questioning whether or not some of them had never played against an opponent before. We have two players that truly understand passing angles when feeding the post. Unfortunately one of them is a post player and the other is a freshman…and he’s not named Romeo. Robert Phinisee will be as solid a point guard as Indiana has had by the time it’s all said and done. But last night he, like everyone else, allowed Duke’s length and athleticism to speed him up.

Does Phinisee get a pass from criticism because he’s a freshman? No, not at all. But there has to be an understanding that running the point for a Big10 team as a freshman can be hard enough, but even more so for one that MOST said wouldn’t be ready to help this year, and even more so yet on the road against a team the caliber of Duke. I’m not saying I expected Phinisee to struggle, but I am saying I’m not surprised by it. Devonte Green on the other hand is a junior. A junior point guard who has logged lots of minutes in his career thus far shouldn’t make the same freshman mistakes that a true freshman makes…period! Either way, they both HAVE to be better going forward.

Justin Smith and Romeo Langford are probably the only two players we have on the roster who could athletically match up with Duke’s athleticism. But that seemed to be Smith’s primary goal from the onset last night. He ran into the lane with reckless abandon, and what seemed like more times than not, he forgot the ball somewhere along the way. Smith is an exceptional athlete, and he hasn’t scratched the surface of how good I think he can be, but like the rest of the team, he needs to be mentally stronger and understand what he can and can’t do at this point in his career.

Due to some injuries and Juwan Morgan’s inability to stay on the floor in the first half of road games, Evan Fitzner is being forced into positions on the floor he’s not comfortable being in yet. Let’s be honest here, he is not going to out jump, or go around anyone, but he’s also not going to be able to be just a spot up shooter. Leading the break is not his forte’, nor is playing with his back to the basket, but yet like the others, he allowed the Blue Devils to speed him up. He too has to be better.

De’Ron Davis played well I thought (except for the frustration push resulting in a “T”) as did Aljami Durham. In fact, all of them played better and more in control in the second half. But as we all know, by that time the game had long been decided. The slow start at Arkansas didn’t really concern me at the time as I attributed a lot of it to their first road game, and Morgan’s early would trouble. But now looking back at that game, and the three games since, I see a pattern. A pattern of not being locked in intensity wise on the defensive end from the get go. Which in turn leads to the same things happening on the offensive end.

Listen, Indiana has shown the ability to play a pretty good brand of basketball this year already. And yes, they’ve also showed us that they are still very much a work in progress. Once completely healthy, and even more importantly, once they learn that they can’t turn it on and turn it off whenever they want, they will start a steady rise to being a very good and consistent basketball team. When they are locked in defensively, it fuels their offense. Unfortunately it takes some time when you have that many new faces on a roster. That doesn’t let the veteran’s off the hook though. The veteran’s right now more than ever need to lead by example, and NOT the example they’ve led by the past few games.

I think the first three games, especially the Marquette game, rapidly raised everyone’s expectations. Unrealistically in some cases. And now the past four games, especially the Duke game, has sent them spiraling in the opposite direction. I don’t think either are accurate assessments of what this team will be going forward. Although I do think they will favor the former in time.

So now, let them as a team take A Step Back and find that thing inside of them that made them the confident competitors we saw early on. And let us as fans take A Step Back and watch them grow. Even if it means a lot of head scratching and cussing along the way. Let’s ALL (us and them) just take A Step Back and breathe for now.