No. 15 Indiana likely won’t have a ranking by its name next week.
The Hoosiers dropped their second consecutive game, losing a home battle to Northwestern 84-83. The preseason Big Ten favorite has now fallen to 1-3 in conference play.
Indiana was initially favored to win the conference because of its defense, which was near the top of the Big Ten last season. IU has not performed as well as it should on that end.
“We're getting straight-line drived a lot, and it's requiring guys to get out of position and help,” Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “It gives up open 3s, and they're getting wide-open looks and they're knocking them down.”
Northwestern made five of its first eight 3-point attempts to open up a 17-point lead early. The Wildcats only averaged 67.7 points per game heading into Sunday.
The Hoosiers let their opponent score over 80 points for the second straight game. IU gave up 91 points at Iowa on Thursday. Indiana has lost its past four games against Power 6 teams. All four of Indiana’s opponents (Arizona, Kansas, Iowa and Northwestern) exceeded the 80-point mark in those games.
“We gave up 80 points tonight, and you're not going to beat very many teams in the Big Ten giving up 80,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said.
Two of IU’s usual starters will be out of the lineup for the foreseeable future. Xavier Johnson underwent surgery on his foot in late December. Race Thompson suffered a leg injury against Iowa and is out indefinitely. Woodson believes the absence of those two seniors has led to some of Indiana’s defensive mishaps.
“Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson are sitting on the sideline,” Woodson responded when asked to pinpoint the Hoosiers’ defensive issues. “[Johnson] has been out a while now, who anchors in guarding the ball coming up the floor and does a lot of pretty good things defensively for us. That's why we're struggling a little bit defensively.”
The Wildcats got out to a 34-17 lead less than 12 minutes into Sunday’s game. A Ty Berry 3-pointer with 15:38 left in the first half gave Northwestern a 12-9 lead, and Indiana never got it back. Outside of a 28-7 start against Iowa, the Hoosiers rarely overwhelm teams to begin games.
Before Thursday’s game in Iowa, Woodson inserted Tamar Bates into the starting lineup over Trey Galloway. Jordan Geronimo got his first career start on Sunday due to Thompson’s leg injury. Geronimo did not score in 10 minutes and did not play in the last 18:35 of the game.
“We struggled early on,” Woodson said. “Now, maybe I have to tinker with the lineup again. I thought starting Geronimo, I thought he would give us a lift.”
Jackson-Davis had 18 points, a career-high 24 rebounds and eight assists. The senior big man feels it's his responsibility to guide IU to better starts.
“We've got guys coming in that have never been playing in Big Ten basketball games, like CJ Gunn coming in, Jordan Geronimo starting,” Jackson-Davis said. “Those are guys that haven't been put in this position, and they've got to learn, but they've got to learn fast.
“I've just got to do a better job in getting them ready and prepared mentally to go because they have all the physical attributes to be ready, they've just got to get that mental block out of their system and then they'll be good.”
Sunday’s game was the second straight game that Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino were the only Hoosiers to score double-digit points. Hood-Schifino dropped 33 points, which was a career-high.
While Hood-Schifino lit the scoreboard up, he also turned the ball over six times on Sunday. Indiana’s 16 team turnovers led to 25 Northwestern points.
“I had some turnovers, and they had some layups and everything and converted off it,” Hood-Schifino said. “We've just got to be better with the ball, and we've got a long way to go, but we'll get there.”
Indiana has some soul-searching to do if it wants to return to the win column. With two starters out of the lineup, the Hoosiers need other players to raise their play on both ends of the floor. Indiana plays again on Wednesday in State College against an electric Penn State offense.
Fair or unfair, this team has not been one of the best in the Big Ten and certainly isn’t a top-25 squad in the country. IU’s new reality is a world without Johnson and Thompson, and the team must overcome those subtractions before it’s too late.