Indiana's last game of the year ended the same way many of their games had: as the screws tightened and the clocked ticked down, the Hoosiers became less capable of executing on either end of the floor. Unable to generate good looks on offense and incapable of defending without fouling is a terrible combination to ride to the buzzer, but that's what Indiana did.
Onto the learnins':
The offensive issues of last season were, by and large, fixed.
There are still legitimate criticisms of the system's style and consistency, but last year's offensive woes appear to be an aberration, as this year's version registered at #9 nationally in offensive efficiency, the third time in the last four seasons that Indiana has been in the top ten. The renaissance is mostly due to a tremendous uptick in shooting, which can be expected when Austin Etherington and Jeremy Hollowell are traded for James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson, but the addition of more guys who are comfortable with the ball in their hands and the added maturity of guys like Troy Williams and Yogi Ferrell also brought Indiana's turnover rate from 330th last year to a far more respectable 60th this year.
The only component of offensive efficiency that Indiana struggled at throughout the year was getting to the free throw line, as their attempts at the rim were, uh, not great. Indiana had over 12% of their shots get blocked this season (324th in the country), and anyone who watched the Hoosiers saw Yogi and Blackmon, in particular, struggle to go strong through contact and either make the bucket or get a whistle. While you can't doubt their jump-shooting prowess, both could become absolute nightmares for opponents by getting better at the rim.
Defense, however, was a problem throughout the roster.
We knew going into the year that Indiana would struggle in the post on both ends of the floor. Early suspensions and injuries for Emmitt Holt and Hanner Mosquera-Perea compounded these issues further and, in the end, Indiana allowed 50.9% of their opponent's 2PT shots to go in, including a startling 62% of attempts at the rim, where 42% of their opponent's attempts came from. That said, defensive issues infected the team from top to bottom, and the lack of a true rim protector is certainly a factor, but far from the only culprit.
Indiana's guards and wings would routinely get beat off the dribble or fail to communicate on switches, leaving shooters wide open. At times, half the team would be playing zone while the other was in man-to-man. Tom Crean would often call for a switch from one to the other in the middle of a possession but no matter what the players and staff tried, this roster was bad at. Their defense checks in at 218th nationally in efficiency for the season and that isn't going to come close to cutting it. Unbelievably, their defense was so poor that it completely ate up the absurdly large margin of error the team's offense would give them. Indiana's ability to score so well left them in a position of really only need a handful of key stops and they were rarely able to do it.
It didn't help that this year's squad was as bad at creating turnovers as last year's team was at committing them. 320th in steals, 251st in blocks (not always a turnover but still bad), and 331st in opponent turnover percentage. For a team that puts deflections on a pedestal, it was bizarre to see them struggle so mightily in this area. If you're going to be terrible at forcing misses, you better not also be bad at preventing shot attempts, and, unfortunately, the Hoosiers struggled with both, mightily.
There is more roster change coming.
With Stan Robinson and Max Hoetzel already departed in search of more playing time, momentarily satisfying Indiana's uncomfortable-yet-familiar oversign situation, the Hoosiers remain the frontrunners for the last-minute services of elite center prospect Thomas Bryant, meaning one more person is out the door, at least. Troy Williams appeared to be staying put when his mother announced on Facebook that he would not be going to the NBA but that post was deleted and he remains undecided. Likewise, Yogi Ferrell is mulling over his pro prospects as well. My best guess is that both return to Bloomington next year, but I'd peg Yogi as the more likely one to head out. There simply isn't much more that Yogi can show a professional franchise that he hasn't already. He's undersized, but enormously talented as a scorer and distributor, if the NBA doesn't take him, top squads in Europe certainly will.
The Yogi situation, to me, is similar to that of Deshaun Thomas, who left OSU after his junior year, was drafted late by the Spurs but never got out of summer ball. Since then, he's been making great money in Europe, certainly not NBA money, but they don't play for peanuts in France and Spain. Thomas was an elite collegiate scorer, but probably doesn't have the athleticism to hack it at the forward position in the NBA, another year at OSU wasn't going to fix that. Even the best players have precious little time to make money in this sport, it was tough to fault Thomas for not sacrificing another year of earning power and it'll be hard to knock Yogi if he chooses to do the same.
Troy, on the other hand, has a far more projectable NBA game / body that is simply not quite league ready. He certainly made leaps from his freshman to his sophomore year and, much like Victor Oladipo before him, he's likely a jumpshot away from the lottery and NBA stardom. The question is: does he want to work on the holes in his game in Bloomington (like Oladipo) or does he want to jump now, sacrifice some money on his first deal, and start getting paid now? Troy is probably a bit further along, in the eyes of NBA guys, than Oladipo was after his sophomore year, and being 6'7" compared to 6'4" is certainly helpful in that regard, his decision is an interesting one, but there's no question he could play his way up into the top of the 2016 draft with a great junior campaign.
The fans are not happy.
Agree with it or not, it appears that a majority of Hoosier fans are upset with the state and direction of the program. A tumultuous offseason and an early season loss to Eastern Washington certainly didn't help the healing after a 17-15 (7-11) campaign but a hot start to conference play did help quell the rising tide for awhile. But as the season wore on and Indiana tumbled towards the tournament bubble, losing four of their last five before Selection Sunday, the dissatisfaction reached a fever pitch. Boos rained down from a half-empty Assembly Hall as the Hoosiers dropped a home game to Iowa and rumors swirled that Coach Tom Crean would be leaving on his own accord. Then, a string of dominoes set in motion by an NCAA ruling that essentially neutered Syracuse for a few years lead to late-season visits and recruiting momentum for sorely needed big men: Thomas Bryant and Thon Maker.
Throughout all of this, Fred Glass has yet to unequivocally state that Tom Crean will be the head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers next season, and while all signs point to that being the case, the lack of such a statement is a bit of a head-scratcher. Maybe the AD doesn't feel it's necessary, but any casual glance at any message board or #IUTwitter reveals that this remains the most talked-about issue amongst fans and donors alike. It's not that everyone wants Tom Crean gone, not even close, but just about everyone acknowledges that it's something that should probably be addressed head-on one way or the other.
Be it the style of the offense, the seeming lack of defensive emphasis / identity, or the team's tendency to fade down the stretch both in individual games and entire seasons, many fans have simply had it with Indiana's on-court performance and with the bevy of transfers and failed drug tests, no one is handing out gold stars for the program's off-the-court conduct either. Certain transgressions can be looked over when the team is winning, but 7 conference wins followed by 9 conference wins isn't going to cut it at Indiana for long, and once you start losing, everything else becomes much more difficult to tolerate.
Barring some unanticipated departures, next year's squad should be pretty good.
Granted, these prognostications are subject to change should Yogi Ferrell or Troy Williams (or even James Blackmon Jr.) head to the pros or elsewhere, but for now, the team should get better as the dynamic backcourt gels and grows another season and Troy Williams continues his sharp, upward trajectory. Add in the additions of talented freshmen OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan (who is 6'8", which is helpful) and possibly Thomas Bryant, and Indiana has addressed the holes in last year's roster without sacrificing the strengths.
There's no doubt that it's difficult to project and rely on freshman to take a team to greatness, but Indiana's transfer situation the past two years have left them as a "young team" for two straight seasons. The only way you can fix youth is by keeping the youth around until it grows up, so until Indiana can get back to keeping the talented underclassmen around, they'll struggle to field talented upperclassmen.
So, yeah, they should be better next year, but with questions swirling around the futures of the players and the coaching staff, be them legitimate or not, making any projection as to what kind of team Indiana will be next year is kind of dumb, I don't even know why I did it. In fact, the only way I can think of to guarantee next year's greatness is to take a long look in the mirror, realize you're a mere cog in the machine of a destiny, reach into the back pocket of that limitless Varsity Club fund and-