Tuesday night’s Indiana loss to Purdue was a special kind of suck. Having lost 10 out of 11 games coming into the in-state battle, the Hoosiers’ season had long since spiraled out of control. Just over the weekend, the club walked through the motions for 40 miserable minutes in Minnesota. And to make matters worse, the annoying Little Brother was coming to town as the Big Ten’s hottest and most surprising team.
A blowout loss, which seemed inevitable, would have been fine. And before you get upset with that statement, think about the fact that if Purdue had run out to a 15-point halftime lead like they should have, you could turned the game off and been asleep by 8:30 or Netflix-and-chilled with your significant other. What we got instead was the most inspired effort the Hoosiers have shown since at least the Michigan State game and perhaps since the Butler or Marquette games.
For 40 minutes, Indiana dove for loose balls, played with fiery emotion, and went toe-to-toe with a team that looks headed for a Big Ten title. And I mean for a full 40 minutes. Juwan Morgan had great position on Matt Haarms on the game-winning tip-in. He just didn’t have three more inches to make his block-out effective.
Tuesday night served as a reminder of two things: first, what this team was capable of bringing all along. With a similar effort each night, this team could conceivably be 17-9 with wins at Northwestern, Maryland, and Rutgers, as well as at home against either Iowa or Ohio State. The second reminder? The 2018-2019 version of Indiana basketball simply isn’t good enough.
But perhaps the worst part of Tuesday’s loss was that it — a 46-point output at Assembly Hall, a letdown in the closing minutes that was at least partially related to Indiana’s most effective player on the evening, De’Ron Davis, failing to even sniff the floor in the final five minutes, and a loss to Purdue despite holding the Boilers under 50 — was not rock bottom. It wasn’t even close.
What comes next, whether it’s this year or next, is going to be worse.
As for this year’s club, you know the problems. Their effort is inconsistent. They can’t shoot. They refuse to let their two best players play a two-man game even though on the rare occasions when they do end up in a pick-and-roll situation it always results in good looks and most often in points.
They don’t seem to like each other either. Just look at this quote from Archie Miller:
Archie Miller on the "drastic changes" that need to be made: "The 1st change that needs to be made drastically with this team is the way we're communicating. ... We need to be better in a lot of areas. A lot of that is camaraderie, communication and how we compete in practice."— Mike Miller (@MikeMillerHT) February 19, 2019
Some of these reasons are why things aren’t going to get better. Some of the other reasons are that the schedule isn’t getting any easier. Indiana now heads to Iowa and then welcomes Wisconsin and Michigan State to Bloomington. After that? A trip to Champaign to play an Illinois team that in its last five games has beaten Nebraska, Michigan State, Rutgers, and Ohio State and taken Wisconsin down to the wire in Madison. Then the season ends with Rutgers on senior night. Even if Indiana brings an effort like Tuesday night’s, it’s possible they could lose their last five and end this season 13-18.
But that brings us to the real problem on the horizon: effort. What you witnessed on Tuesday night was this team expending its every last ounce of give-a-damn. There wasn’t much left to begin with. See Minnesota. After a heartbreaking loss to Purdue in an already lost season (regardless of what Joe Lunardi was saying), Indiana will be lucky if all 12 guys care enough at this point to even get on the plane to go to Iowa City.
Beyond this season, though, well . . . woof.
Soon after the season ends at the Big Ten Tournament in a few weeks, the roster will undergo some expected changes. The team’s two best players — Morgan and Romeo Langford — will be gone. Zach McRoberts, too. And despite the fact — and I mean fact — that McRoberts should still be at a place like Vermont rather than Indiana, he’s the only Hoosier other than Morgan who brings a consistent effort every night.
Oh yeah, Evan Fitzner will be gone too. Darn.
But beyond the four expected departures, can you be sure that more guys won’t be? Just last month, the program suspended Devonte Green indefinitely. And though Archie Miller never disclosed the reason for the suspension, rumors have flown and speculation has festered and it certainly doesn’t seem out of the question that Green could elect to leave Bloomington, especially if he has the option as a grad transfer who wouldn’t have to sit out a year.
And before you celebrate that potential, think about how many times this season the Indiana offense has been dead until Devonte Green pulls up from 28-feet and drains a three to break the spell.
Race Thompson and Jerome Hunter have been cursed by injury. Jake Forrester and Clifton Moore can’t buy playing time. Who’s to say that any of the four have any reason to stick around to begin with?
Add in that Archie quote that seems to indicate some real chemistry problems and you wonder if anyone else might decide to skip town.
Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armaan Franklin may be good. But they almost certainly won’t be good enough as freshmen to replace Morgan and Langford, let alone Morgan and Langford and any others.
But what about Keion Brooks??? He could be the missing piece for next year’s roster!
Keion Brooks has spent the last two months watching Archie’s plagueball offense, watching Romeo go entire halves without a field goal attempt (perhaps one of the several empty possessions in Tuesday’s second half could have been better if the team’s best player had touched the ball!), and here’s the really bad news: 247sports now says Keion is most likely headed to Kentucky.
The brutal and pitiful reality is that Indiana basketball isn’t just stuck in a half-season rut that derailed a truly promising start. Rather, the club is trending, almost inevitably, toward missing the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year to begin (and if that is the result, potentially end) Archie Miller’s tenure as head coach, and the fourth straight year overall.
No, Tuesday night wasn’t rock bottom. It was just another pitiful performance, despite outstanding effort, and a reminder that things are about to get worse.