Hoosiers Find A Way

Once again, has it has been for a few games now, the Indiana Hoosiers battled their own shortcomings as much as they did their opponent, yet found a way to win. On Saturday afternoon that opponent was the Louisville Cardinals. Those shortcomings were their 16-25 (64%) from the free throw line, their 4-14 (28.6%) from 3-point range and their only having three offensive rebounds.

It can be frustrating to watch them struggle shooting the ball from both the field and the free throw line, and also at times on defense when they get to scrambling around during the last ten or so seconds of the shot clock. But watching them dig deep and refuse to fold despite things not going their way is not frustrating at all. Granted, a lot of times their own play is putting themselves in position to have to scrap and fight, but scrap and fight they will.

IU has held court in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (SSAH) thus far in the season, and they may very well be the only team in the country at this point in the season to have played three true road games. Not only are they are already better for having done so, it will only help them even more going forward.

I was a Hoosier Heartland Podcast guest prior to the start of the season where the main topic of conversation was the 2018 portion of the schedule. We were asked to give our win/loss predictions. I personally was indecisive, and unable to settle on 12-1 or 11-2. I’m not sure anyone, anywhere, would have predicted a win at Duke, me included. The second possible loss I had the Hoosiers suffering was on the road at Arkansas. Not because the Razorbacks were more talented, but it would be the freshman’s first game outside of SSAH. And as you are well aware, IU lost that game. So prediction wise, for my sake, IU needs to run the table the last three games of 2018 to be 11-2.

Now, there are some rumblings from a small fraction of the fan base on some social media sites, as well some message boards, about the fact that IU is having so many close games. There are a couple of factors that have played into that in my opinion, starting with the competition itself. Some people need to understand that this is not your “Dad’s Big10.” No longer are teams such as Northwestern and Penn St. an automatic “W” when looking at the schedule. There are NO gimme games in the conference these days. There may not necessarily be one elite team in the Big10, but top to bottom it is as competitive as any conference in the country.

Another factor is IU still not being completely healthy, although they are starting to get that way. You also have to factor in that IU doesn’t have a consistent knockdown shooter to help open up the driving lanes. The younger guys having to learn on the fly plays into it as well. Missed free throws and unforced turnovers HAVE to be corrected also, or they will definitely cost IU a game or two before it’s all said and done.

But when you sit back and look at the season thus far as a whole, IU is a missed point blank put-back at Arkansas from sitting at 9-1 heading into the Crossroads Classic where they will face the Butler Bulldogs. The bottom line is this: Indiana has found a way to win…PERIOD! Had you asked anyone prior to the season if they would take an 8-2 record at this point, most would have said yes. Do they have to get better? Absolutely. But when you are able to find ways to win when you’re not playing your best, you have the potential to be really good when those flaws start getting corrected.

Indiana is 2-0 in the extremely tough Big10. They have four top-50 wins, which looks very good on your March resume. Being battled tested isn’t a measurable thing that KenPom rankings, or the selection committee necessarily uses. But it is something that will benefit Indiana going forward in games against opponents that they’ll need to beat to be “dancing” in March. Toughness and resolve are built in close games and you can see it happening with your own two eyes when watching this Indiana team.

Yesterday, Juwan Morgan was once again his solid self with 15pts. and 5rebs. Justin Smith provided more of what we have expected from him all season long, which was 9pts. and 9rebs. De’Ron Davis was solid in his limited action with 8pts. and 3rebs. Romeo Langford led the way with 21pts. and 4asst., and fellow freshman Robert Phinisee added 10pts. and 6rebs. He also once again hit a huge 3 pointer at a critical juncture of the game showing he is not phased by the moment at all. “Big Shot Rob” was a monicker I saw used on Twitter to describe Phinisee after the game, and that is very fitting.

Are there things to be frustrated by when watching this young Hoosier team? Without a doubt. Are there reasons to be both worried, and excited, going forward? Again, without a doubt. But when you see this team sitting at 8-2, with two of those wins being Big10 wins, and look at the strength of their schedule this far, you have to be pleased if you are a Hoosier fan. Because being 8-2 against this schedule is different than the fools gold we were seeing in the recent past.

Let’s take a week to catch our collective breath as the team takes their semester finals, takes a much needed little break themselves and then be ready for the Butler Bulldogs next Saturday. In the meantime, checkout the Indiana women’s team play if you get a chance. They are 9-0 and have the nations longest winning streak at 15 games. They play defense, they run the floor, and they have a lot of weapons.