With three minutes left in the game, Indiana trailed Penn State by 21 points and had a lineup of four freshmen on the floor. Whether Mike Woodson was conceding the game or intending to make a statement, the message came through loud and clear:
Indiana is in trouble.
Obviously the injuries have changed the trajectory of the season, but the Hoosiers have not responded well to the early adversity and appear at a total loss as to how to snap out of this funk. Compared to a Penn State team that was also coming in on a two game losing streak, Indiana is trending in the wrong direction.
The good news is that there is still plenty of season left and Indiana’s wins against Xavier and North Carolina look better every day. If, and it’s now a big if, the Hoosiers can turn it around, all is not lost.
The sooner the better though. Ideally, Indiana starts showing signs of life again the next time they take the court this Saturday in Assembly Hall.
Here’s Three Things:
Where to Now?
Entering the season, one of the major reasons Indiana was held in such high esteem nationally was the amount of talent and experience returning. When everyone was healthy, the starting lineup consisted of three seniors, one All-American junior, and a five-star freshman.
Without Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson, it’s clear that Indiana cannot try to stay the course. Mike Woodson is going to have to make some major changes to how he was going to approach the season in order to salvage a respectable conference record and Indiana’s tournament hopes.
Trey Galloway and Tamar Bates have each been called on to start in Xavier Johnson’s spot, but neither have been able to replicate the combination of on-ball defense, driving ability, court vision, and intensity that Johnson gave Mike Woodson.
They’ve each upped their scoring and have been good about limiting turnovers, at times being the most confident and aggressive players on the court. Still, the two combined for three assists tonight, which is well short of Johnson’s 4.9 assists per game.
Simply put, you can’t replace a point guard with two shooting guards in the same offensive scheme and expect the same result. I’ve been hoping to see some smaller lineups and more three-point attempts, but whether it’s an issue with game plan or execution, it hasn’t happened yet.
Similarly, Race Thompson was the only one of Indiana’s fours that could truly defend Big Ten stretch fours. At this point, both Reneau and Geronimo are better at defending the post right now, though Geronimo has more upside as a perimeter defender if he can stay a little more disciplined with his athleticism and shot-blocking ability.
Personally, I think it’s more of an execution issue at this point. Indiana came out of the gate today with an apparent understanding of how to beat this Penn State team, with guys being slower to help on defense and Trayce and Geronimo getting good touches inside on offense. We also saw a glimpse of this at the beginning of the second half.
Things got rocky in the first half when the bench guys first checked in and started looking over-eager on defense, leaving a strong 3-point shooting team wide open and allowing the Nittany Lions to go on a run. From there, it mostly looked like a classic case of a team playing nervously and forgetting the game plan in an attempt to make the Big Play.
Guys were rotating to help before Penn State started driving, going for the steal that would start the run. Jalen Hood-Schifino and Tamar Bates fell back into some of their worst habits, the long two and the reckless drive, when Indiana needed composure and a bucket. Miller Kopp has seemingly decided to stop taking shots.
Trayce Jackson-Davis also said after the last game that Woodson went into the Northwestern game with a great game plan, but that the team completely failed to execute it. Based on that comment and how Indiana played when things got tough tonight, I am inclined to think that execution remains one of the biggest problems for Indiana right now.
Last game, I wrote about how we, as fans, needed to adjust our expectations for the rest of the season after the announcement that Race Thompson would be joining Xavier Johnson on the “out indefinitely” list. Now, it’s Mike Woodson’s turn to make adjustments.
One of the things I would have liked to see more of today is the small ball lineup of Miller Kopp, Tamar Bates, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Trey Gallowa, and Trayce Jackson-Davis. Penn State entered the game scoring a whopping 42.9% of its threes on offense, on top of being one of the shortest teams in the country, so this seemed like the game to do it.
Without Race’s defense, it’s hard to justify playing two forwards all night against that lineup. On the other hand, the de-facto small ball four in that lineup, Miller Kopp, struggled defensively and has become more passive on offense again, so it’s not even clear who should have taken the fourth spot on the floor tonight if not Geronimo or Reneau.
At this point, Woodson is also going to have to find some way to force this team to shoot. Penn State made four more three-pointers tonight than Indiana even attempted, despite entering the game just one spot behind the Nittany Lions nationally in 3-point percentage.
If there’s no defensive answer, maybe you consider giving CJ Gunn some more extended runs. The shots haven’t been falling yet for him, but he has the confidence that Kopp lacks right now and his form looks fine, so I think he’s due to see them going in soon.
Kaleb Banks is also an intriguing option with his combination of size, athleticism, and shooting touch. While we haven’t seen much of him against high-major competition, he has a skillset that I don’t think anyone else has on this team, no matter how raw it may be at this point.
No matter what, Indiana is going to have to find ways to get more production from more guys, and Mike Woodson is in the unenviable position of being the one charged with figuring it out. A tall task for a coach in his second year of college basketball with a roster that’s only partially his.