Mike Woodson’s first season in Indiana was a huge success.
It’s a testament to how far the Hoosiers have fallen that winning a game in the First Four before it’s blown up by Saint Mary’s could be classified that way. But that’s Archie Miller’s legacy. Woodson felt like it was all just a bad dream.
Indiana’s success as a freshman had more to do with guts than talent. Trayce Jackson-Davis was the only Hoosier named the All-Big Ten — and it was the second team. No other Hoosier has earned even an honorable mention on the all-conference team of coaches.
But Woodson’s team made up for it by defensively chasing opponents. KenPom ranked the Hoosiers 24th nationally for defensive efficiency.
Opponents especially lost in color, making 44% of their 2-point attempts. The Indiana defense ranked 10th nationally in 2-point field goal percentage. The Hoosiers had not finished in the top 10 in 2-point defense since 2001, when Mike Davis coached Bobby Knight’s last group of recruits.
The next year, Davis and the Hoosiers ran to the national championship game. It remains the program’s most recent Final Four appearance.
Though the Final Four was a bit of a stretch for this year’s group, the expectation was that they could join the 2002 Hoosiers in a bid to win a Big Ten title. With virtually every major player returning from last year, Indiana was the overwhelming favorite to win the league.
After an 85-66 sandblast at Penn State Wednesday night, the Hoosiers are closer to Minnesota than a championship contender. Indiana is 1-4 in the B1G, and title ambitions are officially ridiculous.
This team must fight like a knight to reach the NCAA tournament. And that’s just the problem.
The Hoosiers don’t have a fight.
The softest team in the Big Ten?
Stadiums often earn cool nicknames.
Houston’s Astrodome was formerly known as The House of Pain. Kansas’ Phog Allen Fieldhouse sounds a lot more menacing just called “The Phog”.
In college football, there’s The Swamp. The big house. Death Valley. you have the idea
This year, Indiana may have to give Assembly Hall a nickname like The Pillow Factory or The Fondue Pot. This Indiana team is just as soft as these products.
Or maybe the team itself needs a nickname. Kentucky once had Rupp’s Runts. Kansas had Danny and the Miracles. This could be Mike’s Marshmallow Men.
Wednesday’s 19-point loss at Penn State was the worst loss the Hoosiers have ever suffered against the Nittany Lions. That stat shouldn’t necessarily be the most troubling one, given that Micah Shrewsberry has Penn State playing at a level rarely matched by the program’s predecessors.
The more disturbing detail: Indiana has allowed 80 points in 3 consecutive Big Ten games for the first time since 1998.
Even Tom Crean’s first IU team, assembled from walk-ons and duct tape after NCAA sanctions, played a better defense. These overwhelmed Hoosiers, going 1-17 in league play, conceded 80 points three times that entire troubled conference season.
This team, which was only successful because of its defense last year, has already reached this mark in 5 games.
Penn State shot an incredible 58.1% from 3-point range and 54% from field on Wednesday. And though the Nittany Lions were obviously on fire, more than half of their 31 3-point attempts with a Hoosier defenseman came nowhere in sight or flew in with a late closeout from off the TV screen.
Woodson’s game plan against the offense, ranked No. 9 in the country in 3-point shooting, was poor. Penn State has rarely been forced to drive into Jackson-Davis, which is the lone force remaining in this defense. But Indiana’s effort was even worse.
And that hardly seems to change.
With seniors Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson both indefinitely out of the lineup, Indiana will have to play twice as hard as it did with those frontrunners in the lineup. Instead, the Hoosiers seem half as tough.
In fact, they seem more concerned with what is being said about them.
On Tuesday, several Indiana players took to Instagram to grumble and moan over a negative but harmless post by the Barstool Sports Indiana fans account.
While not a supportive message, it also doesn’t throw a player or the team under the bus. It’s just an expression of understandable frustration.
ignore it Or save it for the dressing room.
A team with heart would look at the message, say fuck you, and catch fire at the next game. Instead, many Hoosiers stuck with the “fuck you guys” when replying to the post without bothering to port it into the game.
Xavier Johnson shared a middle finger emoji. Race Thompson and Anthony Leal chimed in with comments. But it was Miller Kopp who spoke the loudest.
“A bunch of pencil neck clowns in this app,” wrote Kopp. “Look us in the eyes and you will be as calm as possible. Guarantee that.”
That’s a welcome piece of bravery – if it can be secured. Kopp scored 5 points in 29 minutes at Penn State.
Right now, a team of pencil-necked geeks would probably look the Indiana players in the eye and calmly let off a 3. Because all of these Indiana players are at least 4 feet from the shooter.
Can Mike Woodson fix the problem?
Realistically, Indiana will need to earn a 9-11 record in conference play to justify NCAA tournament consideration. That means the Hoosiers have to go at least 8-7 the rest of the way. And right now there aren’t 8 sure wins on the rest of their schedule.
Saturday’s game against Wisconsin at The Pillow Factory, er, Assembly Hall, is a must. After that, Illinois and Michigan State threaten. These games will not end well as long as Indiana is understaffed.
A trip to Minnesota looks like an obvious win, but the Gophers have lost their last 2 games by a total of 5 points.
Minnesota is a bad team. But Ben Johnson’s group is developing a will to win that’s certainly stronger than Indiana’s right now. If you look at Minnesota’s games against Wisconsin and Nebraska, you can see the effort. That will go a long way against a team like Indiana who will wake up at halftime.
It’s plausible that Indiana will win 2-6 or 3-5 in the next 8 games. Maybe even worse. And when that happens, it takes one hell of a kick to get into the tournament.
The Indiana defense ranks 11th in the B1G in defensive efficiency, 13th in effective field goal percentage, 12th in 3-point percentage, and dead last in steal percentage. A year ago, the Hoosiers ranked 1st for efficiency, 2nd for effective field goal percentage, 4th for 3-point percentage, and 7th for steal percentage.
The absence of Johnson and Thompson no doubt contributes to the decline. But it would help if their substitutes played like they care about both being missed. Defense is effort. Indiana has none.
Rutgers and Northwestern are unlikely Big Ten contenders this season because they keep it on the ground in every game.
Indiana seems to prefer to keep everything on the gram. And that could go beyond a coachable solution.