Indiana got beat.
There was no fluky thing here, no refs to look to for strange calls. Nothing is going to overcome allowing x points to Penn State in Assembly Hall. Nothing.
It doesn’t matter how wild the shots were. Penn State put together a plan, executed it, and won the ballgame by x points on the road. This is also a Nittany Lions team that’s firmly in the Big Ten’s basement and was without its leading scorer.
Any minute hopes of making it to the NCAA Tournament after the mess of a nonconference and uninspired run in Big Ten play can now safely be put to bed. This group, for a multitude of reasons, is not worthy of March. Far from it.
Indiana is below .500 in the Big Ten during a year in which this conference is terrible. Instead of capitalizing on that, the Hoosiers instead sank closer and closer to the bottom. They’re very much part of the reason why the league is bad.
Why are they here? Well,
Indiana’s guard play has been sub-par all year. Xavier Johnson has had spurts where he’s healthy and shown some promise but he’s the only guy on the roster who can really break a guy down off the dribble consistently.
So when you’re without the one guy and suddenly Ace Baldwin is in your face on a press, there’s not a lot of great options.
Let’s get to this topic quickly: Yes, Indiana has had a freshman guard who has been injured since the season started. He has the skillset to do that but he is also a freshman. The Hoosiers had an open roster spot and elected not to use it.
It’s harder than you think to just nab a portal guard with the knowledge that guys like Johnson and Trey Galloway would be playing ahead of them, but Indiana managed to pull that off in the frontcourt with Anthony Walker.
The frontcourt isn’t the problem. Kel’el Ware has flourished lately with the ball in his hands and is the team’s best rebounder while Malik Reneau is probably the team’s most reliable scorer.
But those guys can’t take the ball to the paint themselves. They need some help and the guards just aren’t capable of providing it on a consistent basis. When the double team comes, and it always does now, Indiana doesn’t surround them with enough shooters to space the floor.
And then there’s the wing spot, ideally a guy who can handle the ball in modern basketball, but instead currently occupied by the team’s best shooter. But he too needs help getting the ball.
Indiana’s already bad guard situation was compounded by the fact that it was missing its best one. They’ve found ways to win in their current iteration and nearly beat Kansas with this lineup. That extremely did not happen today.
This isn’t the kind of issue that can be fixed now, with the only approach that would make some sense be moving to three guards with Mgbako at the four and one of Ware or Reneau at the five.
For now, Indiana is stuck like this. That is why, when March rolls around, they’ll find themselves on the outside looking in.
Now, finally, let’s wrap this up with something.
Mike Woodson is a good basketball coach. He is a beloved program alum who brought the team to the tournament in his first two years at the helm. He’s earned the right to fix this situation.
But realistically, he might just have a year to do so. Indiana needs to maximize the transfer portal, maybe find more freshmen in 2024 and instill a modern style of basketball that works.
John Calipari has had a bit of a rough go of it as of late but he changed. Now the Wildcats are better than they’ve been in a while.
It can happen here. It has to.