Weekend Homework: Indiana in transition
The Indiana Hoosiers are fun to watch.*
*Offer not applicable to Indiana fans.
To the casual basketball person, or the random fan of a random program looking for a watchable game on a random night, Indiana is practically a made-for-TV guarantee. The Hoosiers play some of the breakneck-est basketball in the country, averaging 73 possessions per game; their offensive trips are some of the shortest in the country and their defense doesn’t lull opponents to sleep, either. Point is, the ball moves, and moves through talented hands: Yogi Ferrell is a cannonball/point guard hybrid, forward Noah Vonleh is a lottery-level talent on the low block who is producing in kind, and Troy Williams is all coiled, vibrating, athletic talent.
Thus far, Indiana has managed to play excellent defense -- Vonleh deserves a huge share of the credit here -- and just-OK offense, mostly because the Hoosiers turn the ball over so frequently. Which is why the above asterisk applies. If you don’t care that Indiana is turning the ball over on 22.1 percent of its possessions, if you have zero emotional investment, and if just want to see a fast, engaging, athletically played game and are willing to accept some sloppiness in the aesthetic exchange, hit the couch groove, friend. Enjoy.
Indiana fans are not interested in this bargain.
Tuesday's OT loss at Illinois, hard fought as it was, meant the Hoosiers have made it to January without beating anyone ranked inside the top 100 of the Pomeroy rankings. (The RPI will tell a similar story, when and if that becomes an issue.) The turnovers are a source of intense frustration, to the point that even the relentlessly positive Tom Crean has taken to commiserating with fans on Twitter. Meanwhile, this week also marked the departure of forward Luke Fischer, a top 2013 recruit who informed the school of his plans to transfer when he returned from Christmas break.
So, to put it bluntly, fans are grumbling. Inside The Hall’s Alex Bozich has his finger squarely on the pulse of the IU fandom, and Thursday he was compelled to write a gigantic memo essentially encouraging everyone to chill the heck out:
It's become both fascinating and exhausting to follow all of the dialogue. What’s not up for debate, however, is the reality of what this season is for Indiana. It's a year of transition. There will be no Big Ten or national championship. There may not even be a NCAA tournament appearance. The preseason polls told us Indiana was a top 25 team. It's taken less than half of the season to learn that the polls were wrong, at least for now. So where exactly does perspective tie into all of this?
As Bozich rightly notes, talent or not, Indiana lost Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo this summer, to say nothing of four-year starters Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford. Vonleh is a beast -- better than most would have projected and evolving on a seemingly daily basis. But Indiana lost a couple of the best college basketball players of recent seasons, and are attempting to replace them with guys who are struggling with shot selection and turnovers.
All of which is why Saturday's home date against Michigan State is so fascinating. Indiana is tough beat on its own floor, and the Hoosiers really are defending well -- perhaps well enough to trap Michigan State in a close, tight game down the stretch, at which point anything can happen. It's a major opportunity: In one fell swoop, Indiana might turn the corner on a season that has Hoosiers fans dealing with transition in more ways than one.