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Wisconsin 75, Indiana 68: Three things from the Hoosiers’ third straight loss

It might be time to reckon with a not-all-that-fun reality: Indiana isn’t very good.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana falls to Wisconsin for the 16th time in the last 18 meetings, 75-68 in Assembly Hall tonight. Ethan Happ led all scorers with 19 points for the Badgers. Here’s three quick takeaways from tonight.

Indiana can’t afford slow starts like tonight

Here’s a stat for ya.

Indiana fell flat on its face out of the gate, surrendering a quick 11 points to the Badgers without answering with any of their own. Why’s that? Hard to tell. Could be a lack of on-court leadership. Could be coaching, in theory. Could be a lack of energy in Assembly Hall, which had all the ambiance of a live taping of a game show tonight, when students aren’t around. It might have something to do with playing sub-275 teams through the non-con and being able to sleepwalk to wins! (It probably does.) I don’t know what or why it’s happening, but after the Nebraska stumble out the gate, it’s clearly an issue.

Indiana has on-court leadership problems. There’s no dominant personality. Last year’s team had Yogi Ferrell, and believe it or not, Nick Zeisloft. With Collin Hartman unlikely to play a second of basketball this season, Indiana has effectively no seniors.

If a vocal leader fails to emerge, you’ll likely continue to see these issues.

This roster is flawed, and needed its stars to play like stars to mask it. That isn’t happening.

You can blame Tom Crean for its construction if you wish, but Indiana never really had a Top-10 or 15 roster this season — and assuredly does not now. Indiana’s hype in the preseason was premised on OG Anunoby & Thomas Bryant being NBA lottery pick type players & James Blackmon being a dominant scorer, at a minimum.

That’s not happening.

Ethan Happ had his way with Thomas Bryant all evening in Bloomington, and Bryant looked out of sorts of the offensive end -- ending up far away from the basket in face-up mode often and having the ball poked away. You can fault Crean’s usage there, but his star center was hardly effective down low. DeRon Davis looked far better (even dominant!) at times, leading the Hoosiers with 12 points along with Robert Johnson and Juwan Morgan.

So, yeah, if you’re counting that’s 36 from Morgan/Johnson/Davis. Plenty enough to win games! But if the combo of Blackmon/Bryant/Anunoby are only good for 25? Woof.

Indiana doesn’t have a dominant alpha-male scorer to go get a bucket when needed. Indiana doesn’t have the next coming of Kawhi Leonard. This is why you should chill with getting your hype pieces from dudes who’ve watched a few YouTube clips next season, I guess.

Tom Crean deserves blame, too

Turning every win or loss into a referendum on Tom Crean’s fate at Indiana is insanely stupid stupid stupid and dumb. Good coaches have bad games, and good coaches have flaws, take the good with the bad, etc. Watching a Tom Crean offense in the halfcourt against Wisconsin provides the perfect window into what he isn’t: a wizard in the halfcourt. Greg Gard’s halfcourt sets provided ample opportunity for Ethan Happ to get solo matchups on a weaker Bryant, allowing him to bully to points down low. Ball rotations allowed Zac Showalter and Bronson Koenig looks from downtown.

Indiana, um, didn’t have that.

For a roster that lacks a natural alpha, Indiana could use more offensive structure to create looks — but expecting that from Crean would be similar to expecting a military academy to throw the ball 75 times a game next season. It’s not happening. Crean’s offense, everything he sells to recruits, is based on playing a style that translates to the NBA. And if Indiana’s to be measured on national championships, that’s the correct move. In the new one-and-done world of college basketball, talent is king. You’re best off to ride those up-and-downs, because, well — y’all can check out Tony Bennett’s March resume if you’d like.