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Indiana men’s basketball: Baby Steps

Some thoughts.

NCAA Basketball: Empire Classic Third Place-Indiana at Louisville Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time this season, Indiana covered both the Vegas and KenPom spreads. It was terrifying and undoubtedly aged me 10 years, but again, there were signs of progress.

After allowing 15 offensive boards to UConn, Indiana limited Louisville - one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country - to just 8. The Hoosiers also pulled down nearly twice as many offensive rebounds as they had in the previous contest.

The effort was also undoubtedly better. 11 points aside, Anthony Walker’s energy level was his most important asset for Indiana tonight. As opposed to some of the starters, he was decisive with the ball and got the easy points when they were available.

Competing for minutes with Kaleb Banks, another huge contributor today, has clearly pushed the pair to be better. I maintain that Banks has a higher ceiling, but having to earn his minutes over an experienced, confident player like Walker will be key to his development.

While the overall production hasn’t been what it needs to be, the same is true of the backcourt rotation. C.J. Gunn hasn’t turned into the scorer he could be, but knows that he will have to defend at least as well as Trey Galloway to get time until his shots start going in.

The result has been Gunn emerging as one of the strongest defenders on the team and finding ways to score during Galloway’s offensive slump. His development, like Banks, was going to be crucial for Indiana this year and he’s been improving every game.

The team offense and defense still leave a lot to be desired, but it feels better to be counting on experienced players like Galloway and Xavier Johnson to return to their usual form than it would be to get consistent play from them and still fall short.

There’s also the possibility that we see some big schematic changes on those fronts as the season goes on. The zone won Indiana the game against Louisville, and the performance from the guys off the bench today suggests that the Hoosiers may have more potential rotations than we thought in the first few games.

Speaking of rotations, it’s worth noting that Woodson did not go to a full “second unit”. He found great success with lineups of up to four bench players tonight, but it was always with either Galloway and Johnson out there with them.

The fact is, we still don’t know a lot about this team. If I heard before the game that bench performance and zone defense decided the game, I would have expected Indiana to lose by 20.

There are some alarming historical trends, including the lack of 3-point offense, but it’s also hard to judge whether these are continuations of bigger issues or the fact that this roster hasn’t clicked yet. There are just so many new players and guys in new roles.

Of course, it’s possible that the team doesn’t click and struggles throughout the whole year. It’s blown leads and failed to get out ahead over some inferior opponents.

Five games in though, there are some positive signs that this team can get right.

Kaleb Banks and C.J. Gunn appear to be developing like Indiana would need them to, the bench is deep, and the seniors are keeping things steady enough to avoid disaster.