Holiday Hangover For The Hoosiers?

Looks of bewilderment, confusion, and frustration were aplenty among the Indiana fans in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (SSAH) on Friday night while the Hoosiers battled the previously 1-5 UC Davis Aggies. For approximately 34 minutes of the game even the Hoosiers themselves looked confused and frustrated.

But during those last six minutes they turned up their defense, which in turn seemed to energize them, the crowd, and their offense, and they spurted away from an Aggie team that up to that point seemed pretty much in control. The Hoosiers finished the game, a game that they had trailed by 14 points with about 7 minutes to go in the first half, the way we as fans had envisioned this team playing all along. They finally erased that 14 point deficit and came away with a 14 point win.

Injuries to key Hoosiers has been well documented, but they are slowly but surely getting healthier, as evidence by co-captain Zach McRoberts and Devonte Green both being in uniform and participating in warmups. De’Ron Davis, who sat out the last game with a walking boot on his “good” foot due to a sore achilles tendon, not only dressed on Friday night, but also played. McRoberts and Green both looked like they were moving well while warming up and will hopefully be ready to contribute very soon. Jerome Hunter obviously wasn’t available due to recently having surgery, but redshirt freshman forward Race Thompson who has been out with a concussion and has stilled not been cleared to play, was back on the bench albeit in street clothes. Even that is a positive in the right direction towards the Hoosiers being closer to being able to have a full bench of guys ready to contribute, since doctors thought it best he not be at SSAH the previous game due to the noise.

So what do most attribute IU’s recent struggles to? The fan base and the team was riding high after their pretty much total domination of a pretty good Marquette team, to only turn around and struggle on the road at Arkansas in their first loss of the season. Is the depleted roster having a bigger effect on them than we thought it would? The slow starts are not a product of it physically effecting them, so if it is effecting them, it’s from a mental aspect.

Take for instance the Arkansas game. While very winnable, it was still their first road game against a good a Razorback team. Factor in that the refereeing left a little…scratch that…A LOT, to be desired, and their senior leader basically didn’t play in the first half, they still battled and only a missed a point blank shot left them at 4-1 instead of 5-0. So battling the adversity they faced in that game, it showed at least me anyway, that they can be mentally tough also.

They appeared a step slow in getting to shooters early in the past two games. The also had a hard time getting into any type of flow or rhythm on offense. In both Tuesday nights game against UT Arlington, and last nights game against UC Davis, you could see their frustration in their body language. I find myself hoping that they aren’t a team that will always play to the level of their competition on that particular night. I long for the days of Hoosier teams that didn’t have ups and downs in their effort level within a game. You can’t just turn it on when you want against good competition, and the schedule is about to full of good competition.

After a long summer spent in Bloomington getting their bodies ready for the rigors of college basketball, plus adjusting to college life, studies, and being away from home, maybe they mentally needing a break. Playing two days prior to Thanksgiving, followed by the day after, didn’t allow for much of a break from it all either. I know the casual fan thinks they just need to “suck it up,” but these are still 18-20 year old kids experiencing most of these things for the first time, so like it or not, it shouldn’t be overlooked.

Please know that I’m not trying to paint a picture that all is doom and gloom and that the issues can’t be corrected, because they can be, and I think they will be. I mean look, a positive that can be found in the past three games, all games in which they have struggled, is aside from that missed put back at Arkansas, they have found a way to win.

I’m not sure if it’s a just a little funk they are in. I’m not sure if it’s what is sometimes referred to as a Holiday Hangover. I’m not sure if it’s all of the other students being away from campus. I’m not sure if it’s the injuries. I’m not sure what it is. But I am sure I’ve seen what this team is capable of, and I am sure that we have the coach to get it corrected.

We also have a senior leader in Juwan Morgan who is capable of putting a team on his back and carrying them. We have a future NBA lottery pick who is averaging around 18 points a game and is still just feeling his way in the college game at times. We have a point guard who has made some freshman mistakes, but who’s development has made him someone that you simply can’t leave off of the floor. Once healthy, I think the Hoosiers have all of the pieces to the puzzle to be a very good team.

I’m not a coach so this is only my unprofessional opinion, but it all has to start on the defensive end for Indiana. At any point in any game thus far, when the Hoosiers clamp down on defense, the flow of their offense can be a thing of beauty. When they are are stagnant on defense, they are stagnant on offense. What does coach Miller and staff do to get them locked in defensively from the opening tip? Well, that’s for them to answer and why they make the big bucks.

In closing I’d like to say that the despite the recent struggles they are still 5-1 heading into next Tuesday nights game against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The team that was locked in defensively from the opening tip against Marquette can play with the mighty Blue Devils. The team that has struggled from the start the past three games can’t. Which team shows up for the opening tip in Durham, North Carolina has more to do with the outcome than the Blue Devils themselves do. Three really well played games and three not so well played games is were we are at this point in the season. Let’s hope Tuesday night restarts the trend we saw the first three games. If so, I like our chances of this game being a battle and us having a chance to win at the end.