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Indiana men’s basketball: Well, now what?

The Hoosiers have hit rock bottom. But there’s still plenty of season left.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

For all intents and purposes, Indiana’s season is over.

It could’ve and probably should’ve happened before this in close calls to Army and Morehead State. The other close call was against Kansas, when we saw what this team had the potential to be when firing on all cylinders.

But that’s not what Indiana is. It’s the team that almost lost to the Black Knights and Golden Eagles on its home floor.

Indiana is a lot of things as a program and perennial tournament absentee is not a label anyone involved would like to stick. There’s too much history here and the resources are too vast to come up with a return like this.

It was hard to see this team straight up missing the tournament because of all its talent. But its lack of experience across the roster, need to establish chemistry and overall composition would be what kept it from being great rather than middle of the pack.

Instead those issues have proven to be vast chasms these Hoosiers were unable to overcome to be even serviceable. Absolutely nothing is working out on the court on a consistent basis.

They should be able to out-talent their opponents but that hasn’t been the case against inferior competition on paper.

Kel’el Ware and Malik Reneau are among the better frontcourts in the Big Ten. Issue being they play together in a way that doesn’t necessarily work or fit the modern game and the guards haven’t been good enough to get them the ball.

Trayce Jackson-Davis, among the best men’s basketball players to suit up here, was able to succeed because he could create more for himself and others by his senior year and had a future NBA draftee as the Robin to his Batman.

This year, the frontcourt lacks that kind of experience and relies more on a less capable platoon of guards. Even when the backcourt has been fully healthy and available (which in reality it hasn’t all season with Jakai Newton’s injury in mind) it hasn’t been up to the task.

On defense, this year’s roster simply has less miles on it and has had to learn the system on the fly rather than have a year in it as starters.

Then there’s the issue that has plagued Indiana for what almost feels like a decade at this point: a lack of perimeter shooting. The Hoosiers don’t play a particularly modern brand of basketball because they shoot less from deep than almost any other team in the country.

Why? Well there’s not a lot of players who can make those shots. Why? Well that’s the roster Indiana ended up with after whiffing on guard talent during the past portal cycle. How’d they whiff? The style of play isn’t exactly conducive to perimeter play.

Nothing really works. It’s enough general breakdown that the talent can’t win out on talent alone.

Indiana’s point guard thrives off of having enough space to attack the rim off the dribble. He has to share the floor with two bigs that make that substantially more difficult because they’re most effective in the interior.

The other two (again, roster construction) guards who get substantial playing time are in roles that ask them to perform beyond what they’ve shown to be capable of. Trey Galloway was a better shooter under less pressure and lower on the list of options. Gabe Cupps is a true freshman.

None of them can reliably shoot. Mackenzie Mgbako can hit some tough shots but, like the other members of the frontcourt, needs someone else to get him the ball.

And, because of the above, Indiana’s two (really three with Mgbako at the wing) bigs have issues getting the ball. The “beat them with size” approach Indiana is going for fails because that size can’t get the ball on a consistent basis.

That’s the closest Indiana has come to establishing an identity as a team and it just hasn’t been good enough.

So that leads us to this conclusion: the brand of basketball Indiana has played for three years, with an emphasis on two true bigs in the frontcourt, is not going to work long term.

Indiana should make some changes now, with absolutely no stakes, rather than wait for the offseason to have a realization.

Instead of dumping the ball inside, just start running plays for the perimeter guys. Have more lineups of just one of either Ware or Reneau at the five with either of Mgbako or Walker at the four. Essentially a lot of what happened at Illinois.

Run out three guards with them. Galloway is ideally a wing but has had to fill the shoes of both a two and a one. Get shots for the perimeter guys, being Galloway, Leal, Gunn and Cupps.

It could work! It could fail. Does it truly matter at this point? No, not in the now.

But in the offseason when the staff is hosting prospects in the portal or on the phone, they’ll have tangible plays and concepts to point to instead of ideas. Proof of concept, the same way they’ve touted everything Jackson-Davis achieved with frontcourt recruits.

Indiana needs guards and what it has to show off right now isn’t good enough. Adapt or be left in the dust.

Don’t wait.