With three minutes left in the game, Indiana was 21 points behind Penn State and had a lineup of four freshmen on the floor. Whether Mike Woodson gave up the game or intended to make a statement, the message came through loud and clear:
Indiana is in trouble.
Obviously, the injuries changed the course of the season, but the Hoosiers didn’t respond well to the early adversity and appear utterly at a loss as to how to get out of this funk. Compared to a team from Penn State, which also had a two-game losing streak, Indiana is trending in the wrong direction.
The good news is that there is still plenty of season left and Indiana’s wins over Xavier and North Carolina are looking better by the day. If, and it’s a big if now, the Hoosiers can turn it around, all is not lost.
The sooner the better. Ideally, Indiana will be showing signs of life again when they next take the field at Assembly Hall this Saturday.
Here are three things:
Early in the season, one of the main reasons Indiana was held in high esteem nationally was the amount of talent and experience that was returning. When everyone was healthy, the starting lineup consisted of three seniors, an All-American junior, and a five-star freshman.
Without Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson, it’s clear Indiana cannot attempt to stay the course. Mike Woodson needs to make some big changes to how he approaches the season to salvage a respectable conference record and Indiana’s tournament hopes.
Trey Galloway and Tamar Bates were each called upon to start in Xavier Johnson’s place, but neither could replicate the combination of ball defense, driving skill, vision of the court and intensity that Johnson gave to Mike Woodson.
They’ve each increased their scores and been good at limiting turnovers, sometimes being the most confident and aggressive players on the court. Still, the two have three assists tonight, well short of Johnson’s 4.9 assists per game.
Simply put, you cannot substitute two shooting guards for a point guard in the same offensive scheme and expect the same result. I was hoping to see some smaller formations and more three-point attempts, but whether it’s a game plan or execution issue, it hasn’t happened yet.
Similarly, Race Thompson was the only Indiana Fours who could truly defend Big Ten stretch fours. At this point, both Reneau and Geronimo are better at defending the post at the moment, although Geronimo has more advantages as a full-back if he stays a bit more disciplined with his athleticism and ability to block shots.
Personally, I think this is more of an execution issue. Indiana came out of the gate today with an obvious understanding of how to beat this Penn State team, with the boys slowing down to help on defense and Trayce and Geronimo getting good touches on offense. We saw that at the beginning of the second half too.
Things got rocky in the first half as the boys checked in from the bench for the first time and started looking overzealous on defense, leaving a strong 3-point shooting team wide open and giving the Nittany Lions a run. From there it mostly looked like a classic case of a team playing nervously and forgetting the game plan in order to make the big play.
The boys turned to help before the Penn State pulled off and grabbed the steal that would start the run. Jalen Hood-Schifino and Tamar Bates relapsed into some of their worst habits, the long two and the reckless ride, when Indiana needed composure and a bucket. Miller Kopp has apparently decided to stop taking photos.
Also Trayce Jackson Davis said after the last game that Woodson went into the Northwestern game with a great game plan, but that the team completely failed to execute it. Based on that comment and how Indiana played when things got tough tonight, I’m inclined to think the execution remains one of Indiana’s biggest issues right now.
In the last game I wrote about how we as fans had to adjust our expectations for the rest of the season after it was revealed Race Thompson would be on the indefinitely absent list alongside Xavier Johnson. Now it’s Mike Woodson’s turn to make adjustments.
One of the things I would have liked to see more of today is the small ball lineup from Miller Kopp, Tamar Bates, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Trey Gallowa and Trayce Jackson-Davis. Penn State came into play and had a whopping 42.9% of their three-pointers on offense, in addition to being one of the smallest teams in the country, so this seemed like the right game.
Without Race defending, it’s hard to justify playing two forwards all night against this line-up. On the other hand, the de facto small ball four in this lineup, Miller Kopp, struggled defensively and became more passive again offensively, so it’s not even clear who should have taken fourth place on the floor tonight if not Geronimo or Reneau .
At this point, Woodson must also find a way to force this team to shoot. Penn State made four more three-pointers tonight than Indiana had even attempted, despite entering the game just one spot behind the Nittany Lions statewide in 3-point percentage.
If there’s no defensive answer, maybe consider giving CJ Gunn some longer runs. The shots haven’t come for him yet but he has the confidence that Kopp lacks at the moment and his form is looking good so I think he’ll see her going in soon.
Kaleb Banks is also an intriguing option with his combination of size, athleticism and touch. While we haven’t seen much of him against high profile opponents, he has skills that I don’t think anyone else on this team has, no matter how raw they may be at this point.
No matter what, Indiana needs to find ways to get more production from more people, and Mike Woodson is in the unenviable position of being the one charged with finding out. A tall order for a coach in his sophomore year of college basketball with a roster he only partially owns.