Indiana started its season with 69 points and ended it with the same exact output on the scoreboard.
Indiana opened its season losing to a lesser opponent and ended it with the same exact result.
It’s a tale that surprisingly survived the test of time. It’s also a tale that doesn’t tell the entirety of the story. It does however, tell a great deal of it.
“Just think we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be down the stretch,” Robert Johnson said. “And we never really got over that hump where we strung stops together and buckets with those.”
Indiana has made great strides towards progress this season in ways that seemed unimaginable after its first 69-point performance. Defensively, the Hoosiers learned a completely new system and grew as they went on. Indiana took a system that seemed almost foreign from the onset and made it second nature.
Individually, the Hoosiers found growth from players that looked abysmal from the get-go. Juwan Morgan became a leader among men in the Big Ten, Zach McRoberts became a pesky defensive superstar, and every single member of the freshman class that saw legitimate playing time in-turn saw legitimate growth and improvement. This team grew and grew in a unique nature resembling one big odd social experiment. And yet, it was never enough to get them over the hump.
There comes a point when you have to question what that growth all season long really meant. If the results are the same, does it all really matter? It’s a question I don’t truly have the answer to, at least for now.
What I do know, is that this performance held in an isolated state was unacceptable. It was a performance that was just as acceptable as Indiana’s loss to Indiana State to start the season. It wasn’t.
“They took things away from us,” Archie Miller said. “And we really just at the end of the day didn’t have an answer for guarding the ball…late in the game, and as we tried to play and we needed to run offense, they eliminated what I thought was our ability to run through Juwan. And after that, our guards — and we needed to be able to make some plays for others and that wasn’t happening.”
As vast of an improvement as we saw from Indiana’s team this year, the problem was the same from the onset to the finale. Indiana was a team too deathly reliant upon Juwan Morgan and lacked the guard play to ever be competitive. It’s indicative of a roster that never had a chance, no matter the improvement. It’s a microcosm of issues that need a solution as soon as seemingly feasible.
“I thought just the tougher team won tonight, and at this time of year you don’t expect to have that happen,” Miller said.
Being out fought by the worst team in the Big Ten is something you don’t expect from this team and it’s something that can’t ever occur in the future.
“Hopefully, this will never happen again,” Justin Smith said.
Indiana’s loss to Rutgers was inexcusable, but also not the end of the world. This team was never expected to do much more if they beat Rutgers in the first place. There were no expectations of beating Purdue in the next round and there were certainly no preparations for winning the Big Ten Tournament at all. So, in the grand scheme of things, this brutal loss should become merely a memento to hold onto in the future.
This season was never going to be anything special, and it will always be important to remember that. Indiana fans should expect more on a given night than they got on Thursday and they should expect more from the seasons ahead, but they couldn’t have expected glory in Archie Miller’s first season.
What can be expected and required is a program that builds on the growth of the individuals from this season. The effort and drive of the players on this team cannot be wasted.
“They gave everything they had all season long through a lot of ups and downs,” Miller said. “Saw a lot of guys grow throughout the course of the year and do some things that a lot of people probably didn’t anticipate. From that standpoint I’m proud of them.”
In a season that ended just how it started, it’s okay to be at a loss for words. It’s okay to seek meaning from the various experiences you had throughout the year. Just know that meaning isn’t going to come to fruition for a little while now. For Indiana, that meaning has to be vital.