The Hoosiers fell to Notre Dame on Saturday to go 1-2 in three years of the Crossroads Classic. For an event that was supposed to showcase the best teams in Indiana, the records through three games sure seem a little upside down. Going into the event in 2011 you would have thought it would be one that Purdue and Indiana show a lot of promise in while Notre Dame and Butler strive to keep it close. Well through three years Butler is 3-0, Notre Dame is 2-1, IU is 1-2 and Purdue is 0-3. Yeesh. Still it's a great event that should continue well into the future despite Indiana's struggles in a small sample size.
As for the game, I need to apologize. I traveled back to Evansville for some family holiday celebrations and the parent's house out in the country lost cable and therefore internet due to the weather. So I was stuck with merely my phone as an effective means of communication. So apologies there for the lack of game thread, Twitter and wrap-up. It just apparently wasn't meant to be.
So with that said, this isn't going to be a traditional game wrap. We all know what happened, so lets turn this into a discussion. First let's hit on the perceived coaching issues that continue to rear their ugly head. There are a few things that you can find very consistently in pretty much all of Indiana's losses over the last 3 years. So let's use Notre Dame as a launching pad to discuss them.
First off is substitution patterns. For everything that I give Tom Crean credit for, after all he is kind of the savior of Indiana basketball, his substitutions are absolutely insane. I know I've personally tried to write it off as testing line-ups but at this point it is out of control. Crean made 41 substitutions on Saturday compared to the 32 that Notre Dame made. When you're making 30% more substitutions than the opposing team and you aren't dealing with foul trouble or blowing them out of the water, that's a problem. Especially with a young squad like this, guys need consistent minutes on the floor.
At no point did it ever feel like a 5 man lineup ever got any momentum going on Saturday without a sub almost immediately busting that up. In fact, the longest any same set of 5 guys were on the court without a substitution breaking them up was the four minutes and two seconds to begin the game before Devin Davis subbed in. You read that correctly, 4:02 was the longest any give five man set was on the floor at the same time. That is outrageous. With the youth that this team has and the need for consistency, how do we expect Jeremy Hollowell, Troy Williams, Noah Vonleh or any other of the bevy of guys in desperate need of experience, to get into any sort of rhythm? This sort of madness has to stop. It affected the Syracuse game and is attributable to some of our flaws in the next area of critique. Zone defenses.
Let's not kid ourselves. Yes, Indiana is 11-4 over the last three seasons against zone defense teams, but how many of those 11 victories had long stretches of ugly? Without looking it up I would guess most of them. IU for one has some flaws that are going to prevent them from being good against zone teams this year. Primarily our atrocious shooting, but the players also get no chance at ever being in a rhythm. We saw a 10-15 minute chunk of basketball against Syracuse where Indiana executed very well against the zone, so we know they know how to do it, but why can't they do it consistently?
Partially it has been some very dumb turnovers at very inopportune times, but another I think falls into the subbing patterns again. I'm not certain how any of these guys are supposed to do anything if they get pulled as soon as they figure it out. I'm looking at Troy probably being the biggest victim of the zone so far. On Saturday he was just lost. Perhaps he needs to spend some time with Will Sheehey to learn how to work the baseline, but until he can get his shot down he's mostly useless against a strong zone team. It does no good for Crean to yo-yo him in and out of the lineup against squads daring him to shoot.
Overall, Indiana has got to figure something out and they've got to do it fast. This team is roughly who we thought they would be to start the year, but it feels more dire than what I was expecting. They seem to be lacking that little extra right now. Teams are going to pack the lane and dare the Hoosiers to shoot. Indiana seems to be self-aware enough to know they aren't going to win that way. However it is going to be hard to open things up. That means there are going to be more frustrating nights where guys stand around wondering what to do. There are going to be nights where Indiana looks just outmatched.
We're looking at a much more talented version of the 2011 squad that had a drastic imbalance in the other direction. In 2011 Indiana had all the shooters in the world, but no one in the paint to make defenders second guess tight coverage on the perimeter. Shooters didn't have room to shoot and despite being a pretty solid team, they struggled a ton in conference. I'm worried we're seeing the same sequence play out again, but on the interior.
Noah Vonleh is going to force guys to play defense in the lane. The bevy of fantastic slashers are also going to force guys to play with some space to react. Unfortunately only Yogi Ferrell and Evan Gordon are capable of making any defense pay. The Hoosiers are going to need to find another shooter in the current starting lineup up or anything more than 8 conference wins is going to be a chore.
I would have never thought it at the beginning of the season, but we may be looking at a bubble team until Crean and company can instill a little more consistency in the on court play. Indiana has plenty of tools to do it, but youth and inexperience are hitting IU hard. If Coach Crean can continue to mold this team well into February and pull off 10 conference wins, this season would probably be his most masterful one yet.