Everyone remembers last year. Game after game it seemed like the Hoosiers were in control or well within striking distance before faltering down the stretch. It almost felt like clockwork. Indiana fans had become used to seeing this from the football team, but the basketball team was doing a bang up job last year of making sure we all die of a heart condition sooner rather than later.
All in all the Hoosiers finished the year with a plethora of what I'm defining as games within striking distance for either team when the buzzer finished. That means, the game was a single digit contest. I understand that some games that finish in double digits were actually closer than they appeared throughout the game and others were blowouts that got close in garbage time. But we've got to make an arbitrary cut off somewhere. So anything with 10 or more points differential does not make the cut.
The Hoosiers finished with 15 games of 32 qualifying for this event. So, nearly half of the Hoosiers games could have gone either way with any change in some play down the stretch. Of those 15 games, the Hoosiers won 6 and lost 9. Obviously that's a very poor result in close games, but it gets much worse than you think.
At a view from 10,000 feet the difference in a close win and a close loss were similar. The Hoosiers average a deficit of 4.3 points in a close loss and a surplus of 4.5 points in a close win. So looking just at those numbers you can't say that the Hoosiers just ended up on the wrong side of luck. This isn't a situation of a mathematical outlier where you could just say the Hoosiers were unlucky. Somewhere down the line they were just playing poorly. So we've got to dig deeper to see what happened.
Where we do see a huge dichotomy in games is the closeout. Taking a look at Ken Pomeroy's in game win predictions, you'll see something that is absolutely stunning. In 15 of the Hoosiers close games last year, 13 of them the Hoosiers had a greater than 50% chance of winning at some point in time in the final 10 minutes. THIRTEEN!! The only games in which the Hoosiers never really had a shot were at Michigan State and the final game of the regular season at Michigan. If you recall, both of those games felt like moral victories that we stayed in them but there was never really a point where you thought to yourself, oh man, we can win this. Both games felt like games where the opposition let the Hoosiers hang around and not that Indiana was battling to stay in it.
But the other THIRTEEN games had points in the "4th quarter" where standard algorithms stated, Indiana should win this game. Of those 13 the Hoosiers only won six of them and dropped seven. Of those six wins, the Hoosiers had a greater than 75% chance at winning the game in the last 10 minutes before their chances took significant hits, only to pull it out in the end. So in the end of the 15 total close games, the Hoosiers walked away with three wins you could feel good about. That is something that I believe has fueled a lot of nail biting this off-season. Even in good games there were points in the game where Indiana could look completely inept.
So knowing that we walked away with only three games to feel good about, let's take a look at how many games we walked away feeling punched in the gut. Of course we had the Michigan and Michigan State away games where we never truly had a shot at winning. As for the other eleven games, seven of them finished as games where you came away feeling beat. Whether it was a win, like in the first Penn State game, where the Hoosiers had a 75% chance of winning with 7 minutes to play, then a 75% chance of losing with 3 minutes to play and ultimately won; or it was the Northwestern loss at home where the Hoosiers had a 88% chance to win with 7 minutes to play, only to lose. Indiana experienced 7 instances of those drastic positive to negative swings. I won't even get into IU's 99% win% in the Penn State loss with 2 minutes to play. The Hoosiers were just plain bad down the stretch.
Now Indiana is a year older and a year wiser. Can they translate that into the ability to close out games? Some would likely want to blame the coaching and say as long as Tom Crean is our coach, no chance. But Crean's teams here at Indiana have a good history at playing smart down to the wire. Last year's team was a crazy anomaly in that instance. If another year of coaching and growth can provide some clutch factor in this team, then you should expect a moderate rise in success rate through that alone. The Hoosiers were very bad in stretch play, in fact, it couldn't get much worse. If they can fix this issue and maintain last year's success you're looking at easily a 20 win team. Then again, we've been saying that about Indiana football's defense for years.