Woof. Indiana was bound to lose at some point this season, but it would have been nice for the first loss to have been competitive. Today’s loss in Jersey Mike’s Arena was anything but for Indiana.
Apparently the team’s flight was delayed by weather, causing them to arrive in New Jersey past midnight tonight, which could maybe have accounted for five minutes of sluggishness today. It does not, however, excuse whatever the rest of that game was for the Hoosiers.
Geo Baker gave this team all of the bulletin board material it needed to snap the now six-game losing streak to the Scarlet Knights, and just about everyone on the Indiana roster managed to sleepwalk through the game nonetheless.
December conference games are dumb in the first place and losing them isn’t catastrophic, but it was not encouraging to see Indiana take such a step backwards in how the team handled the first Big Ten road game of the season.
Here’s Three Things:
If you are willing to count second half Xavier Johnson as half of a player, Indiana had precisely 1.5 good players today, the other being Miller Kopp. He had a game-high 21 points, shooting 8 of 12 from the field and hitting five of his nine 3-point attempts.
Kopp, like the rest of this Indiana team, has never beaten Rutgers, even dating back to his days with Northwestern. Unfortunately, he was the only one playing like it from the opening whistle.
Kopp had 11 of Indiana’s first 14 points and was the only Hoosier to make a field goal until Malik Reneau checked into the game for Race Thompson and hit a quick layup with just over 11 minutes remaining in the first half.
Realistically, this is closer to the shot volume that I would like to see from Kopp going forward. It shouldn’t be the only feature of the offense, but he’s hitting 52% of his 3’s this season and still has only five more attempts on the season than Tamar Bates, who is second on the team with 20.
Entering the night, he was only averaging 3.6 3-point attempts per game, which definitely contributed to Rutgers’ ability to focus on shutting down Trayce in the post and play a successful zone against an Indiana offense that otherwise looked like it came straight out of 2020.
I still think(hope) other guys will emerge as true, consistent shooting threats this year, and it is early. Until then though, Indiana should be a little better at riding the single hot hand it has from deep to make things easier inside. Otherwise, we could see a lot more zones.
Speaking of 2020, this game was somehow a worse offensive performance than the prior coaching regime ever had against the Scarlet Knights. Archie’s lowest scoring loss to Rutgers came in 2020 when Indiana lost at Rutgers by a score of 59-50.
The issue is no longer talent or roster construction, as we’ve seen in Indiana’s prior impressive outings against North Carolina and Xavier. This team is still deeper and more balanced than we’ve seen since maybe 2016, and even Arch managed a win against Rutgers with Crean’s leftovers.
Today simply came down to a lack of effort from Indiana. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana’s preseason first team All-American center, had zero field goals until there was less than a minute left in the first half. Race Thompson finished the night with zero points and took three of his four field goals from 3-point range.
Indiana was without Jalen Hood-Schifino tonight and his absence was very noticeable on the offensive side of the ball, especially with how Xavier Johnson was playing in the first half. The senior point guard had zero points and four turnovers in the first 20 minutes tonight before turning it around in the second half.
Frankly, I don’t like how much the performance of Indiana’s upperclassmen was seemingly impacted by the absence of a freshman guard. It gives the impression that some of the habits instilled by the prior regime, when these kinds of offensive performances were more common, still haunt the current squad.
Trayce and Race should both have shown more urgency and composure as guys who have been at Indiana for a while now and have multiple matchups with Rutgers under their belts. Instead, they both disappeared for stretches of the game, hesitating every time they received a pass and often getting the ball stripped as a direct result of their hesitancy.
And this was with Rutger’s Clifford Omoruyi limited to just 19 minutes because of foul trouble.
There was no reason for this Indiana team to play so scared on the road, and they still did. If this team wants to meet the lofty expectations they’ve apparently embraced for this season, it can’t happen again.*
*This team is not likely to finish the season with just one loss, and truthfully a handful of stinkers don’t really matter in the long run of an NCAA basketball season. Last year’s national champion Kansas Jayhawks lost a late November game to a Dayton team that ended up missing the NCAA tournament and the runner up Tar Heels were a bubble team entering March.
So long as Indiana continues to show a general trend of improvement over last year, there’s nothing to really worry about. It was ugly, and I already know without looking that Rutgers’ fans are flooding the CQ mentions in response to an article that was written in 2019, but it’s way too early for Indiana fans to hit the panic button on the entire season.
Going forward, I think the things that most need improvement will be shot selection and defensive discipline. While tonight’s lack of effort remains inexcusable from the upperclassmen, it’s far from being a trend on this team.
On the other hand, Indiana has had issues with shot selection all year, and those continued to plague the Hoosiers tonight. For a team that needs better 3-point shooting, the starting point should be ensuring that it’s the right guys taking the shots.
It would also be nice to see guys like Malik Reneau avoid foul trouble, since a big part of Indiana’s depth advantage requires relying on him when Trayce or Race struggle like they do today. It remains to be seen whether the Big Ten will make any effort towards consistent officiating though, which makes it difficult to instruct the freshman how to defend without fouling.
There are other good football and basketball games on tonight, and Indiana men’s soccer beat UNCG tonight to advance to the semifinals of the national tournament, if you absolutely need an Indiana related pick-me-up today. Otherwise, I encourage you to follow my lead and do your best to forget that this game ever happened.