Indiana fought hard and built a first half lead even with its star, Trayce Jackson-Davis on the bench with foul trouble. Assembly Hall was rocking, Michael Durr was frustrating another highly-acclaimed big, and it looked like Indiana was setting itself up for another finish like the Purdue game. Things got ugly in the second half though; Illinois began to look the part of a regular season Big Ten title contender while the Indiana offense regressed to pre-Woodson style struggles. In the end, the Illini pulled away to beat Indiana 74-57.
Here’s Three Things:
Illinois is Good
After building a gutsy first half lead with some more surprisingly good minutes from Durr, it’s hard to fault Mike Woodson for trying to lean on Trayce Jackson-Davis a bit there in the second half. Simply put, you want your best player to win his individual matchup in big games, especially against a guy who has given him trouble throughout his career. It didn’t work out today though, as Trayce finished with just six points on a 3 of 9 shooting night. This is the second time Trayce has had fewer than 10 points in at least 20 minutes of playing time this season, the other game being Indiana’s loss in the Kohl Center earlier this year.
Indiana is going to struggle when Trayce isn’t the best player on the floor and Kofi Cockburn was the better interior player today. Cockburn’s 17 points tonight were the second-highest in the game, behind his teammate’s Trent Frazier’s 23 points. Indiana’s scoring leader, Race Thompson, finished with 13 points, followed by Xavier Johnson with 12. No other Hoosier scored in the double digits.
Having Phinisee in the lineup would have helped shut down Trent Frazier a bit and he’s proven to be an offensive spark plug in these kinds of games. Injuries aside, Illinois simply looked like the better team today. From an analytics perspective/computer ranking perspective, it would have been nice to see a tighter second half from the Hoosiers today, but it’s going to be hard for them to win games when the other team has a better big man and better shooters on a given than Indiana.
Three point line Haunting the Hoosiers
Indiana shot just 23.1% from deep tonight while allowing the Illini to hit 10 of 23 from three point range in a performance that really exposed Indiana’s two biggest weaknesses - three point offense and three point defense. Indiana has lost three games by more than five points so far this season: an 83-74 loss in Iowa City, the 80-62 loss to the Michigan Wolverines, and today’s loss to Illinois. In two out of three of those games, Indiana allowed the opponent to shoot better than 40% from deep, while failing to shoot better than 31% in any of the three losses.
Rob’s percentage from deep hasn’t been great this year, but he seems to find his shot in big games like today, so having him in the lineup today would have been nice. It’s not clear that personnel is the issue though, as Indiana still generates fewer shots for its shooters than one might expect. Miller Kopp, Indiana’s second best three point shooter, didn’t take shot today while Parker Stewart only attempted four threes, making half of them. Illinois had four players with at least four three point attempts today.
Indiana is likely going to need to start taking more threes, whether they can hit them or not, if it wants to have a chance in games like today when Trayce is struggling.
Big Stretch Ahead
Today’s loss dropped Indiana eight spots in the Kenpom rankings and effectively erased any chance of being ranked in the near future. At 16-6, the Hoosiers are still in good shape and on track to hit 20 wins and a make an NCAA Tournament appearance, barring a catastrophic collapse. The problem is, this is a program that has experienced its share of catastrophic collapses over the last few seasons.
Personally, I think this team has shown more resolve and grit than in years past and should weather the rest of the Big Ten schedule just fine. Still, the next three games on the schedule look a little daunting and could define the season for Indiana. Tuesday’s game at Northwestern is certainly winnable, but the Hoosiers have yet to beat a team as good as the Wildcats on the road so far this year. Michigan State on the road will be a battle, as always, and the Hoosiers are likely to enter next Saturday’s matchup as big underdogs. Those games are followed up with a matchup against Wisconsin in Assembly Hall and a trip to Columbus to face the Buckeyes.
If Indiana can win even half of these next four games, it should be in good shape to end the ongoing tournament drought. It’s going to have to prove that it’s a better team than years past to do so, though, and I think the Hoosiers can do it.