Indiana men’s basketball finished its season today with an 82-53 loss to St. Mary’s in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Before you say something angry and stupid about this game in the comments, don’t. This Indiana team has demonstrated that it was capable of playing really, really well at times and really terribly at others. Unfortunately, tonight was not one of the Hoosier’s better performances and they were run out of the gym by an impressive Gaels squad.
It stings, but the loss does not diminish what Indiana was able to accomplish in year one of the Mike Woodson era. It’s good to be playing meaningful games still on St. Patrick’s day.
Here’s Three Things:
Since Indiana’s flight got delayed Tuesday night, the media has run with the narrative that Indiana was fatigued and due to run out of gas at some point. Today’s game was Indiana’s fifth in a seven day span beginning with the comeback victory over Michigan last Thursday. I personally have aged approximately five years watching each of these games, but I am pretty sure the Division I athletes who played in these games were more equipped to handle them than I am.
Fatigue probably did play some part in just how out of hand today’s game got, but does not tell the whole story. Plenty of teams have made deep tournament runs on the heels of a long conference tournament run, a random example being 2018 Michigan, who won 6 games in an 8 day span en route to the Elite Eight.
On the other hand, Indiana’s loss tonight was also typical of many losses this season, so it’s possible that the Gaels were just the better team. Poor three point shooting, a lack of scoring from some of the starters, and too many turnovers cost Indiana the game tonight. None of those things are new problems for this team, fatigue or not.
A Fun Run
Tonight’s game was ugly, maybe even the ugliest of the year (and there were some stinkers), but it’s not really worth rehashing all of the ways that it exemplified some of Indiana’s biggest problems this season. Mike Woodson was a first year college coach this year who inherited an imperfect roster and a program that had been stuck in neutral since 2016.
Between the transfer portal, the number of players who still have the option of using an extra year of college eligibility, and Trayce Jackson-Davis’ uncertain future, it’s impossible to know what next year’s team looks like or how Mike Woodson plans to address the aforementioned issues.
When I woke up last Thursday, I had a pit in my stomach about Indiana’s matchup with Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. For nearly three quarters of the game, I felt vindicated in dreading what could have been an unceremonious end to Indiana’s season.
Instead, Indiana went on to win two games in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in 19 years, putting itself back in the tournament for the first time in six years. Whatever the future holds, this was a fun, historic season.
Guys like Trayce, Rob Phinisee, and Race Thompson have given so much to this program and had yet to experience the success they deserve, so it was special to see them finally get the chance to play in March Madness. And there was plenty to like about some of the younger players on the roster.
The Future is Bright
Jordan Geronimo continued his high-level play tonight, finishing with nine points, six rebounds and an assist. His nine points were good for third best on the team and he led Indiana with three offensive rebounds tonight.
Tamar Bates also contributed a tough seven points tonight on 2-5 FG but going 3-4 from the free throw line, showing he wasn’t afraid of the moment or the opponent tonight. He hasn’t played consistently well this year, but he’s had flashes of great play, so it’s good to see him finish the season with some confidence. Especially since things weren’t going particularly well around him.
Indiana also has a small, but impressive recruiting class on the way this fall, with five-star guard Jalen Hood-Schifino, four-star forward Kaleb Banks, and three-star guard CJ Gunn signed onto the Hoosiers. Gunn was recruited by Archie Miller, but reaffirmed his commitment to Indiana following Woodson’s hiring.
These guys won’t change the final score of tonight’s loss to St. Mary’s but Mike Woodson has the program back in gear and in the NCAA tournament after a five-year drought and a good recruiting class on the way. Even though this season ended on an ugly note, it went on longer than it seemed like it would have, and next year could be better depending on how the roster shapes up.
Deep breaths, everyone. It is fun to be an Indiana men’s basketball fan again, and that should not be taken for granted.