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Indiana men’s basketball loses to Penn State 85-71: Three observations


Syndication: The Herald-Times Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

Well, that one hurt. It’s still too early to completely write off the postseason, but the path there certainly gets harder with a double-digit loss to a mediocre Penn State team missing its leading scorer.

Some of it came down to bad luck. Penn State is not a good shooting team and they hit some circus shots today, as teams tend to do when upsetting Indiana at home. The defense wasn’t great, but a lot of those shots were contested as well as they could have been.

They just happened to go in.

Things really fell apart for Indiana when Rhoades dialed in on Indiana’s biggest weakness, its guard play, with a full-court press that seemed to surprise even the more experienced guards on Indiana’s roster.

Everything that Indiana has struggled with this season reared its ugly head today and may have set the tone for what the ceiling is going forward.

Here’s Three Things we learned:

Guard play

Penn State clearly had no answer for Malik Reneau and Kel’el Ware today, but Indiana’s back court both could not and did not get them the ball. There were multiple possessions where they couldn’t even get it across halfcourt.

The Nittany Lions are good at forcing turnovers, but that does not excuse the decision making from Indiana’s guards, particularly the seniors. Trey Galloway got chewed out by Mike Woodson for chucking a transition three, though some of his other mistakes were more costly.

We’ve said it here before, but Galloway, Xavier Johnson, and Anthony Leal are on this roster for their experience, which should translate to composure on the court. Galloway continuing to run down the court instead of being an outlet for Gabe Cupps in the press is not that.

After the best game of his career, Leal came back down to earth and committed two turnovers himself. Indiana’s steadiest hand had twice as many turnovers as the freshman point guard in half as many minutes today.

Players will have games when they miss shots, so I’m not gonna grill these guys for shooting poorly. Making bad decisions is a different issue, though, and it’s something we’ve seen too many times this year.

You’d like to think having Johnson would have helped today, but he’s also struggled to get back into the flow of the game and has committed enough turnovers of his own that I wouldn’t have hung my hopes on that.

Bench Scoring

Another consistent theme in Indiana’s bad losses has been the lack of bench production. Today, three bench players combined for three points.

On paper, this was a game Anthony Walker could have really helped. He’s at his best when he gets down hill and scores at the rim, which Penn State could not defend today.

Instead, he took a contested mid range jumper as his sole field goal attempt today. More poor decisions from the oldest guys on the roster.

C.J. Gunn looked as erratic as ever and somehow wasn’t charged with a turnover when a transition pass went right through his hands. His development was going to be a key to Indiana’s success this year, especially after Jakai Newton needed more surgery, and he just hasn’t been able to bring it with any consistency.

The Discourse

Angry Indiana fans have started to call for Woodson’s head with this lackluster season, mostly out of pure anger, but we just aren’t there yet. Like it or not, Scott Dolson is not going to fire the coach who broke a four year tournament drought with two appearances in his first three seasons.

The roster construction this year is very obviously not ideal, but it’s not like this staff didn’t try to add the pieces they thought would help. The Hoosiers were involved with Dalton Knecht and Caleb Love when they were in the portal, they just didn’t land them.

I’d like to see him cast a wider net this coming offseason after seeing guys like Lance Johnson give Purdue a big boost, but it’s hard to fault the staff for being picky in the portal. On the whole, the portal can be a mixed bag and you could probably name at least one low-impact transfer for every guard you wish Indiana would have gotten.

This is not to say that Indiana basketball should stay the course completely. Woodson will need to reevaluate his offensive strategy and roster construction after this season. And despite what his detractors say, he’s already made a good number of adjustments since arriving at Indiana.

It didn’t bear fruit today with Penn State refusing to miss, but a good example would be the 3-point defense improving in Big Ten play with a shift in philosophy. Here’s a great explainer on that:

We’ve also seen him play with lineups more this year, going smaller, swapping Walker for Sparks, and getting Mgbako some run at the four. It’s had varying success, but not enough to consistently overcome the problems with how this roster came together between the injuries and portal misses.