Coming into the game, if you would have told me that Indiana only lost to Kansas by four, I probably would have been pretty happy. Until I saw the first 30 minutes of today’s game, I don’t know that I would have been convinced that the Hoosiers had a chance.
KenPom had it as a six point loss, Vegas, seven and a half. It’s the kind of loss that has a chance to move Indiana up in the computer rankings despite the end result.
Even with Xavier Johnson, national media guys had Indiana as a bubble team while Kansas has looked the part of a title contender all year. Without Johnson, it wasn’t clear how Indiana could hold off an experienced team like Kansas.
There was a lot to like about how Indiana played most of the game, but losing makes it all feel a bit hollow. Indiana had a chance to win and fell short. What could have been a huge tournament resume piece turns into one that we hope we don’t regret too much come March.
Here’s Three Things we learned:
Trey Galloway picked a hell of a game to have the game of his life. In Xavier Johnson’s absence, he had a career-high 28 points, going 2-4 from deep to snap a four game shooting slump.
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough to lift Indiana to a win, but his performance tonight bodes well for the rest of the season. Given the physicality of Big Ten play, it wouldn’t be surprising if Johnson gets banged up again, and Indiana had been missing back court scoring in his absence.
Do I think Galloway can go out and get 20+ every night? No. Expecting that of him on top of 35 minutes of defending the opposing team’s best guard is too much, even for NBA-bound guards in college.
What’s more important is that he’s re-established himself as a scoring threat. During his scoring slump, teams have been able to pack the paint and slow down Indiana’s offense by collapsing on Kel’el Ware and Malik Reneau.
After the blowout loss to Auburn, I questioned whether Indiana would have any success if it continued to run a full second unit off the bench during crucial minutes. Mike Woodson ditched that strategy today, shortening the bench and riding his best players more than he has so far this year.
Prior to today, Kel’el Ware had never played more than 36 minutes in a game this year. Today, he played 39, holding Hunter Dickinson to one of his worst offensive performances of the year.
Today, only three players saw any time off the bench - C.J. Gunn (five minutes), Kaleb Banks (16 minutes) and Anthony Walker (16 minutes). Had it not been for foul trouble, they may have played even less.
Ideally you would get more than three points from those three players, but it’s good to know who has earned Mike Woodson’s trust for crunch time. In big games going forward, I expect him to lean on these eight rather than the 10 or 11 man lineups we’ve seen of late.
Is there such thing as a good loss? I don’t know.
Some of the biggest concerns about the season, like the rotation and the 3-point shooting, were at least partially addressed today. As stated above, a more reliable rotation has emerged and the Hoosiers raised their 3-point percentage on the season today.
Indiana has relied a lot on Ware getting his 15+ points per game, but I think you have to take his offensive struggles today along with his defense against Hunter Dickinson. He limited Dickinson to three offensive boards and kept him well below his season averages in points and FG%.
Gabe Cupps still hasn’t found his scoring touch but turned in another solid defensive performance. His offensive composure makes it easy to forget he’s a true freshman. Bill Self didn’t even try to pressure him with any consistency after he burned a few full court presses with easy outlet passes.
The Hoosiers also played tougher than they had for most of the year, weathering a couple of runs by Kansas to maintain a comfortable lead for most of the game.
Ultimately, Indiana has still not played a full 40 minute game. This was probably the best 35 minutes we’ve seen all year and it wasn’t enough to beat an elite Kansas team.
One would think that if Indiana can continue to improve and play at the same level as a title contender, things will work out in Big Ten play, considering how Bad the conference looks. That can’t stop one from wondering what could have been today, though.