Tough week to be named Elon, folks. The Hoosiers ended a two game losing streak tonight with a win over visiting Elon, who entered the game at 2-10 with wins over two teams not ranked in Kenpom.
Because of the level of competition, I am going to refrain from the state of the program discourse that so many have been engaging in since Saturday’s loss in Lawrence. The season has been a bit unpredictable so far, but tonight the Hoosiers took care of business against a less talented opponent in front of a half-empty Assembly Hall over winter break.
If anything, the injuries in the starting lineup give us a glimpse at Indiana’s future, which looked pretty bright in extended minutes tonight. While I wouldn’t count on seeing too much of C.J. Gunn in the future, there may be some minutes up for grabs if Xavier Johnson misses some extended time.
It never hurts to know what you have on the bench, and Indiana fans got their best idea of that tonight against a battered Elon team that was down to 8 scholarship players.
Here’s Three Things:
Xavier Johnson’s absence from the starting lineup tonight was no surprise, and Mike Woodson hinted at the fact that he could be out for the rest of the season in his radio show with Don Fischer Monday. More surprising was Trayce Jackson-Davis missing a second game this season for precautionary reasons, after he was held out of the November 23rd matchup with Little Rock a few weeks back.
Johnson’s injury against Kansas frankly looked ugly and I would encourage you all to read Luke’s write up above about what it will mean for Indiana going forward. His presence in a boot and scooter tonight did not seem promising for a quick return and it’s probably best to plan for him missing some significant time.
On the other hand, I suspect that this is the same injury that’s been bothering Trayce since at least late November and could explain his relatively quiet games against Rutgers, Kansas, and Arizona. Nobody else really excelled for Indiana in any of those games, but I definitely expected a little more from Indiana’s preseason All-American in some of his early matchups with other elite bigs.
Indiana is still learning about its depth, but no team can realistically lose two players of Johnson’s and Trayce’s caliber and still expect to dominate teams the way Indiana did tonight. Without its two best scorers, Indiana put up its second best offensive performance of the season, hanging 96 on Elon and going 8-20 from deep.
Despite missing at least one starter in the last five games, Indiana’s offense has still improved to 41st in Kenpom’s offensive efficiency rating, up from 107th at the end of last season. The Hoosiers are shooting 3.6% better from 3-point range, up from 33% last year and good for a 126 spot jump in Division I team rankings.
Obviously Indiana will need to get and stay healthy to reach its lofty preseason expectations, but ignoring the role that injuries have played to this point doesn’t result in a fair evaluation of what the Hoosiers have accomplished so far in this season.
So what have we learned about Indiana’s bench with all of these injuries? A few things.
First, and perhaps most importantly, Tamar Bates has developed into a true scoring threat off the bench. Averaging 8.5 points per game and shooting better than 35% from 3-point range, Tamar will be making a case for starting minutes over Trey Galloway for as long as Xavier Johnson is out.
Aside from his 3-point shooting, Bates has been able to create for himself better off the dribble than Galloway, which is probably closer to what Indiana needs from the second starting guard spot more than Galloway’s defense. Galloway still has the edge in his ability to defend and create for teammates, but it’s clear that Indiana has some backcourt depth that it’s lacked in years past.
C.J. Gunn also looked promising in his 20 minutes tonight, adding a career high 11 points and three assists plus some highlight dunks in front of the Hoosier faithful. His 3-point shots still weren’t falling at the rate that his form suggests they will, but his ability to play above the rim makes him an intriguing piece on an Indiana team that’s struggled inside over the last few games.
Logan Duncomb also looked good, which should be reassuring to Hoosier fans who have been concerned about post depth outside of Trayce. Both Race Thompson and Malik Reneau have struggled to really get it going, so it was good to see the former four star recruit look the part of a vintage post player tonight with 10 points and five boards.
For the aforementioned reasons, there’s only so much one can take from tonight’s win against Elon. Other than being a funny win against a team apparently named after the man driving Twitter into the ground (not researching this), Indiana got to nine wins tonight and should retain its top 25 ranking so long as nothing insane happens this Friday against Kennesaw State.
I too would have liked to see Indiana be more competitive against both Arizona and Kansas, and I definitely thought going in that the Hoosiers would have won one of those two games. On the other hand, Indiana has missed one of their starters in five (5!!) of the 12 games this season and still have only lost three games, including two to teams ranked in the AP top five.
There is absolutely room for improvement, I just don’t know what to expect of an offense that hasn’t been able to play its two starting point guards together for a full game since November 30th. The turnovers are up, there’s less flow, and yet there have still been points in each of the last five games when Indiana set itself up for a run that could have changed the course of the game.
Comparing this team, without its starters, to the team it was projected to be before playing a game is always going to be an exercise in futility. Instead, we need to take the games as they come, considering the opponent, location, and availability of top players before rushing to judgment.
Indiana won tonight, as it should have. I am happy about that fact and will refrain from making it more complicated than it needs to be in the midst of this holiday season.