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Three Things: Indiana Men’s Basketball Beats Kennesaw State

Too Close for Comfort

NCAA Basketball: Kennesaw State at Indiana Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

The final score does not reflect how thoroughly uncomfortable tonight’s win was for Indiana fans. One of those nights that really stretches the analytic content of “a win is a win”.

Frankly, Indiana did not play well tonight. The Hoosiers were again without Trayce Jackson-Davis, and obviously Xavier Johnson, but looked completely lost throughout and trailed as late as the 12 minute mark in the second half against the 214th ranked team in Kenpom.

Luckily, margin of victory matters less than win total when it comes to tournament seeding time and Indiana will not have another opportunity for a loss that would look as bad as a loss to the Owls would have.

At the end of the day, Indiana will go into a 13-day break at 10-3 and ranked in the AP top-25 poll for the eighth straight week.

Here’s Three Things:

Starting Shooting Guard, Tamar Bates

The time has come for Mike Woodson to make the call and put Tamar Bates in the starting lineup alongside Jalen Hood-Schifino, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson(?), and Miller Kopp. He led all scorers tonight with 19 points and was the only Hoosier outside of Jalen Hood-Schifino, who had 18, in double digit scoring.

However strong Mike Woodson’s preference for defense is, there have to be limits to that mentality with a team that struggles to score the way Indiana has of late. At this point, Indiana needs points more than it needs defense at the two spot and Tamar is the guy for that.

In no way is this a diss to Trey Galloway’s skillset. He had some crucial first half buckets for Indiana from deep tonight and finished as Indiana’s third leading scorer behind Hood-Schifino and Bates.

Galloway is also arguably Indiana’s second best point guard without Xavier Johnson, so it’ll be important to have him fresh for when Hood-Schifino needs a rest. He could shoot his way into more minutes considering his >40% shooting percentage on the year, but he isn’t trying to score enough at this point for what Indiana needs at the 2 spot alongside Hood-Schifino.

No Trayce, Again

Entering the game, the hope was that Indiana would have been able to handle Kennesaw State well enough to rest Trayce Jackson-Davis tonight against a team that relied on 3-point shooting for 38.7% of its offense. That did not end up being the case.

For the first time in years, maybe since the Crean era, Indiana is without a true offensive presence inside. Trayce has been battling a back injury since at least the Little Rock game, so he’s off the hook, but this is certainly not what we expected from this Indiana team entering the year.

Malik Reneau oozes with potential, but between bad officiating and playing different roles depending on who he’s on the floor with, he hasn’t been able to get anything going with any consistency this year.

More concerning is the overall lack of impact Jordan Geronimo and Race Thompson have had inside, considering their experience and potential. Both guys seem a bit lost as to whether they’re supposed to try to stretch the defense or take the easy bucket and the results have been disastrous for Indiana’s offense.

Also of note was Woodson’s decision not to go to Kaleb Banks tonight, who seems to be more comfortable in his role as a 3-point shooter and slasher that would force the defense to extend a little more than Geronimo or Thompson demand. He can’t defend inside the way Geronimo or Thompson can, but interior defense was not the issue for Indiana tonight and Woodson still declined to extend the bench in favor of more offense.

Onto Big Ten Play

It would have been reassuring to see Indiana exploit the talent advantage tonight and establish more concrete roles for the eight or so players who are going to get the most of the minutes for the rest of the year. Alternately, it would have been nice to have a lead big enough to empty the bench and see what kind of pieces Woodson has to work with in the future.

Tonight was neither. If anything, there are more questions than answers about the starting lineup and rotation now than there were going into the game.

Having been an Indiana fan for long enough to remember a time when the Hoosiers lost these games, even with a healthy roster, I am not terribly inclined to overreact about an uncomfortably close game to Kennesaw State in the midst of a historic blizzard.

On the other hand, Indiana regressed in a number of ways since even the last game, when it was also missing Trayce and Xavier Johnson. There were fewer 3-point attempts, fewer points in the paint, and worse perimeter defense against a team that very clearly was only interested in scoring from deep.

Mike Woodson has some things to figure out in the next 13 days, whether it means going with a smaller lineup that can defend the perimeter better or demanding more shots from guys like Trey Galloway, who has shot extremely well in limited attempts this year. Simply put, the Hoosiers cannot play as poorly as they did tonight and expect to win games in a major conference.

Luckily, tonight wasn’t a loss. Before you post a comment here or on your favorite message board, I encourage you to remember that Indiana won tonight. We don’t have to go very far back in Indiana history to see the last time they lost a game like this and I will refrain from referencing it here for the sake of preserving a holiday spirit.

Indiana is 10-3 and that’s a record I would have accepted as a Christmas gift regardless of knowing who the losses came to.