Indiana men’s basketball took a weird route through the season to find itself here, with Trey Galloway heaving up a half-court buzzer beater that goes in to lose to Northwestern by a single point.
Before anything, you should really credit Northwestern. This is a team with a road win against Tom Izzo and a home win against Illinois. Definitely not great that they punked Indiana at home, but not giving them proper credit is a disservice.
Back to Indiana.
There’s the wins, notably against North Carolina at home and Xavier on the road. Then there’s the losses to Kansas, Arizona and the growing list of Big Ten opponents. You can’t just judge these by the box score though. Indiana has been without Xavier Johnson since the Kansas game and lost Race Thompson against Iowa.
Their absence was felt across the board in today’s 84-83 loss to Northwestern, a score that says far too little about the game itself. Replacing them is Indiana’s immediate priority.
Indiana’s options to replace Thompson force the Hoosiers to ask themselves what they want to be. Do you replace him with another big to pair with Trayce Jackson-Davis or do you go small? They went for the former, letting Jordan Geronimo get the start.
The result... wasn’t great. Geronimo was the only player receiving minutes today who didn’t score a point.
The replacement for Johnson was obvious, freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino was handling the ball alongside him and it was clear he’d be pressed into full-time duty running Indiana’s offense. But much of the hype for him this season relied on him playing alongside Johnson, not replacing him.
The result of a single true ball handler with limited experience? Sixteen turnovers as a team, which Northwestern took and used to put up 25 points. Indiana would ordinarily rely on the combination of Johnson and Hood-Schifino to make smart decisions with the ball or make up for it on defense when mistakes happen.
Hood-Schifino’s partner in the backcourt has rotated from Trey Galloway to Tamar Bates, with the latter coming in thanks to his scoring ability. Yet there was Hood-Schifino, like Johnson before him, having to take matters into his own hands by scoring a whopping 33 points, the most by a freshman since Eric Gordon.
Then there’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, who hauled in 24 (!!!) of Indiana’s 40 rebounds and was two assists away from his second triple double of the season.
Hood-Schifino scoring like that is cool. Jackson-Davis doing, well, everything is also cool. But they can’t win basketball games by themselves.
As stated above, Hood-Schifino is falling into the same hole that Johnson did last season: being forced to do much of the scoring himself or find Jackson-Davis. But this is a different scenario, Indiana is missing two starters and their replacements just aren’t ready a few games in.
And that’s where Indiana is at this stage of the season. Figuring out how to win with current circumstances in mind and, if they’re lucky, making that happen until those two are in a position to return.
If you’re looking for us to say the sky is falling, you won’t find it here. Questioning some decisions from this team/staff is entirely valid, but I’m not ready to draw conclusions in January. Let’s wait for a bigger sample size for that.