Even without Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana managed to avoid collapse on a sleepy Wednesday evening, beating the Little Rock Trojans 87-68 in Assembly Hall. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Indiana is now 5-0 with what is likely to be a quadrant one win before Thanksgiving.
For a fanbase that’s seen multiple losses to teams ranked worse than 130th in KenPom as recently as 2018, tonight wasn’t the most comfortable Hoosier win. At points in the second half, Indiana’s single-digit lead resembled some of the lowest lows of the prior two regimes.
Instead, the Hoosiers closed out on a convincing 23-14 run over the final ten minutes to put the game away and maintain a perfect record in what’s been the most exciting season in years for Indiana fans. With one day off between games, there is plenty to be grateful for with this Indiana squad.
Here’s Three Things;
Context, Context, Context
There is no denying that tonight was not Indiana’s most impressive win of the season. While I personally was never worried, there were shades of earth-shattering home upset at points during the game, which would have derailed arguments for Indiana being deserving of a higher ranking in the AP Poll (looking squarely at you, Creighton).
On the other hand, Indiana was without Trayce Jackson-Davis tonight. No matter who the opponent is, replacing 20.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game is going to be an uphill battle. Add in the fact that Indiana’s next best post player is a freshman, and you have all the makings for a big home letdown.
It’s worth noting for the record that, even after losing to KenPom’s 153rd ranked Eastern Washington at home, Tom Crean’s 2014-15 squad ended up in the NCAA tournament with a ten seed. In other words, a loss would not have meant the literal end of the season.
For further context, it is the night before Thanksgiving. A healthy portion of the student body was getting drunk with high school friends, planning a line of attack against their cousins in getting second servings of stuffing at the dinner table tomorrow. Focusing on a home game against a middle of the pack Ohio Valley Conference team was probably a challenge.
At the end of the day, I will take any 19 point win on the eve of a holiday, and will likely have proportionately lowered expectations when the Hoosiers take the court again the day after the holiday. As the number of undefeated teams in the country dwindles every day, I’ll be happy with “unremarkable” victories every day of the week.
Ideally, you don’t have to see all that much of the guys at the end of the bench unless it’s near the end of a blowout victory when there’s nothing left to prove. Unfortunately, tonight was not an ideal night for Indiana.
In addition to Trayce Jackson-Davis, who was out for purely precautionary reasons, Indiana was without Anthony Leal and Trey Galloway from the start tonight. And then Malik Reneau and Race Thompson went down with injuries for portions of tonight’s game.
For the first time this season, we saw Kaleb Banks and Logan Duncomb getting first half minutes, alongside a slew of other bench players like C.J. Gunn, Tamar Bates, and Jordan Geronimo. A glimpse into the future of Indiana basketball.
It’s hardly fair to call Malik Reneau a bench player because of how much he’s contributed to the Hoosiers already this year, but he really showed his value tonight as the starting center in the absence of Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Reneau opened the game with eight of Indiana’s first 12 points, and assisted on a Race Thompson dunk that made it 8-2 Hoosiers early on. There’s no true substitute for a player of Jackson-Davis’ caliber, but this is about as close as you could hope to get.
Reneau’s early dominance was reminiscent of so many of Jackson-Davis’ best and most important games as a Hoosier, when the rest of the offense struggled to get something going despite playing solid defense.
In those situations, Indiana has relied on TJD for the last three years to keep them competitive against elite opponents. Now, they have Malik Reneau.
Again, Indiana is undefeated entering Thanksgiving and likely underrated in the AP Poll, sitting at number 11. This is something we, as Indiana fans, should be thankful for.
Entering tonight, Indiana sat at number eight in the KenPom Rankings and number nine in Bart Torvik’s standings, making a compelling case that the Associated Press had missed the mark in keeping the Hoosiers outside of its top ten rankings.
Even after tonight’s “underwhelming” victory, Indiana sits at number 10 in both computer rankings and is one week away from a matchup with the top team in the AP polls in Assembly Hall.
Indiana’s success tonight was no accident either. As the 118th best player in his class, C.J. Gunn was the lowest rated player coming out of high school to check into the game for Indiana today. He would have been the second best player in Indiana’s 2017 class, behind only Justin Smith.
It’s no secret at this point that Mike Woodson has been able to get the attention of elite high school players from across the country who wouldn’t have given the Hoosiers a second look a few years ago. What’s been equally important, though, has been his ability to keep highly-rated players on the roster regardless of playing time.
Duncomb, Banks, and Geronimo, ranked 73, 87, and 105 respectively in their classes, combined for 16 points off the bench today with Reneau, Jackson-Davis, and Thompson limited by injuries. Those are three players ranked as composite four-star recruits who remain on the roster despite no clear path to regular playing time.
This team has the combination of star power, depth, and coaching that feels more promising than any team in recent memory. Critiquing the areas that are less than perfect at this point in the season feels like it’s in bad taste on Thanksgiving Eve, a holiday that’s meant for getting drunk and ridiculing the Detroit Lions.