A surprise to some, a disappointment to others, and a lot of uncertainty from any perspective, one aspect of the lightning-fast reactions of a confused Indiana fanbase is true: you have to give Mike Woodson a chance to prove himself as the new head coach. The coaching search that spanned nearly two weeks came to a close after Indiana University Director of Athletics Scott Dolson tabbed the former Indiana star and current New York Knicks Assistant Coach to be the 30th coach in program history. Dolson reportedly scoured through a multitude of names including Brad Stevens, Chris Holtmann and others throughout the course of the search. The news was first leaked Sunday afternoon by Rick Bozich of WDRB (Louisville). The Indiana program officially announced the hire Sunday evening. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the contract between Woodson and Indiana is a six-year deal.
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Just a day after Selection Sunday, when the Indiana men’s basketball program received the inevitable news that it would be an NCAA Tournament spectator for the fifth straight year, the university decided it was time for a seismic change. Early Monday afternoon Stadium insider Jeff Goodman tweeted that Indiana coach Archie Miller had been fired. Not long after, Indiana University Director of Athletics Scott Dolson made the decision official. “In the days following the completion of our season in the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament, I have spent a great deal of time evaluating our recruiting, student-athlete development, leadership development, and playing philosophy and strategy,” Dolson said in a press release. “That review, combined with the on-court results, ultimately led me to conclude that a change in leadership of our program is warranted at this time." Throughout the rest of the press release, Dolson went on to cite that the main reason for the firing of Miller was the underwhelming results in his four years and how it was not representative of the success that Dolson sees necessary for the historically successful program. Miller is coming off his worst year at the helm at Indiana, going 12-15, and ending the year on a six-game losing streak. In his entire Indiana tenure, he accumulated a record of 67-58 with no NCAA Tournament appearances and one NIT appearance in 2019. With the team’s collapse at the end of the season and the NCAA Tournament becoming more and more elusive, Miller’s future became more and more questionable. Perhaps bigger than if Miller would be fired, was if it was even possible with the plus $10 million buyout left on his contract that the university would have to shell out. Dolson sought out outside funding and got the necessary means. “Given the university’s very tight financial situation in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, private philanthropic funding has been obtained for all transition costs and obligations related to the change in leadership,” Dolson said of the situation. “We worked to secure the necessary private support following my recommendation to President (Michael) McRobbie, ensuring that there would be no charges to the university budget.” With Miller now officially out, it’s time to reflect. How did it get to this? Warning signs No matter how dedicated of a coach Miller was to the program, it just never seemed to be the right fit between both parties. Other than his first season in Bloomington where he inherited a brand new group, every one of Miller's teams was expected to at least be a definite NCAA Tournament team, if not more than that. That never came to fruition, though, as Indiana found itself in the same spot by the end of every season year after year – The Bubble. How they got there was different each year, but it always ended in the same result – missing the NCAA Tournament. In 2019, Indiana was the fourth team out from making the Big Dance with a 17-14 regular season and conference tournament combined record. The 2020 season is a bit unfair to judge as the Hoosiers looked to be in the field of 68 as a 10 or 11 seed if the tournament hadn’t been canceled due to the initial outbreak of COVID-19. In 2021, expectations were the highest of Miller in his time at IU. He had a full team of highly touted players whom he recruited, and it was the fourth year on the job. Miller needed a breakthrough this year to prove himself, and it never happened. As Miller’s teams improved in overall talent and chemistry year after year, but could never break through as more than a borderline NCAA Tournament team and one at the bottom of the Big Ten standings, it became clear that the situation was not going to work. There were some key moments and records throughout the years that indicated that the Miller-Indiana connection was never a fit for the immensely high expectations at Indiana: 2017-2018: Two home losses by more than 20 points each to Indiana State and Purdue Fort Wayne 2018-2019: Started out 12-2, then lost 12 of 13 Big Ten games to put Indiana firmly out of the NCAA Tournament picture before making a failed last ditch run despite having a five-star, top ten recruit in Romeo Langford and accomplished senior Juwan Morgan leading the team. 2019-2020: Wild inconsistencies where the team looked like two different products night in and night out, such as a 16-point home win over No. 17 Florida State followed by a 20-point road loss at Wisconsin the next game. 2020-2021: Wild inconsistency again, never putting together more than a two-game win streak all year (which only happened four times and twice in Big Ten play). Furthermore, Indiana only beat one team all season who finished better than eighth in the Big Ten standings. There were a couple of big-picture stats that encapsulated Miller’s time at Indiana that were perhaps too much to let pass for Dolson as well: No NCAA Tournament appearances in four years No Big Ten finish better than 9-11 in four years An 0-7 record to rival Purdue Underwhelming with real talent that also never developed Another huge knock on Miller’s resume was how his recruiting never turned into legitimate player development. It’s fair to say that Miller didn’t inherit much when he arrived in Bloomington in 2017, but from there he hit the recruiting trail hard and did find great success. He got a number of highly touted players who never had any serious off-the-court issues. His first recruiting class in 2018 was considered a consensus top ten group nationally that featured three four-star prospects, a three-star who was in the top 150, and the crown jewel was five-star Langford, a top 10 player, Indiana Mr. Basketball, and a McDonald’s All-American from New Albany, Indiana. Landing Langford was a gigantic victory for Miller, and in that class he got two other in-state recruits in Rob Phinisee and Damezi Anderson. Recruiting the state was something that won over the fanbase quickly and was a struggle for previous coach Tom Crean. In 2019, he garnered a top-six class in the Big Ten with two in-state commitments from McDonald’s All-American and Indiana Mr. Basketball Trayce Jackson-Davis and three-star Armaan Franklin. In 2020, he got a five-star in-state reclassification in Khristian Lander, a third straight Indiana Mr. Basketball in Anthony Leal, another in-state standout in Trey Galloway and top 150 prospect Jordan Geronimo from the east coast. With this hefty load of talent and a plethora of it coming from within the state of Indiana, the expectations were for Miller’s squad to flourish, but it never came close to making substantial improvement. Most of the guys never became what was expected of them and their high status they were given as prospects in high school. There are few examples such as Franklin, Race Thompson, and Jackson-Davis whose statistics show serious growth from year-to-year, but many players plateaued at the same level of production every year in their time at Indiana. The lack of player development was telling and obvious over the four-year span and it left Indiana stuck in the bottom-half of the Big Ten every year. Much of the untapped potential of the players can be pinned to the team’s offensive approach. It never clicked and it never had consistent success within Big Ten play. This season, Indiana’s 70.4 points per game average ranked No. 9 in the Big Ten. When removing the non-conference games, the team average was at 68.5 points per game, which if reranked, would place them at dead last at No. 14. Here are the previous scoring averages while under Miller: 19-20: 69.7 points per game 18-19: 71.5 points per game 17-18: 71.9 points per game Next steps Now that Indiana has officially moved on from Miller, the immediate question is who will replace him. For a fanbase as dedicated and wild, as Indiana’s, heavy speculation has already emerged in a few different directions. Names like Brad Stevens, Scott Drew, Chris Beard, John Beilein, and Rick Pitino have been tossed out as possibilities. All of those to this point are purely just fans’ desires, though. There has yet to be serious traction known to The Hoosier Network of a particular target or two that Indiana is prioritizing to this point. What is known is that the process has been underway silently for some time now. “While I will not establish a formal search committee, I will consult within the University and with trusted experts in the state and around the country as I seek out and recruit a new coach,” Dolson said. The work to find the next leader of Indiana Basketball will begin immediately, and I will seek a chief executive that I can partner with to reestablish the brand and national presence of Indiana Basketball.” With no formal search committee, that could be indication that Dolson may have a target or a few targets in mind and that he is already pursuing. Whoever is the new coach, they’ll have to try and retain as many of the current players as possible while looking to reestablish on the Indiana on the recruiting trail both with transfers and high school prospects. So far, freshmen Anthony Leal and Trey Galloway have said that they are not leaving. Jackson-Davis is undecided, and Al Durham is in the transfer portal. The status of class of 2021 recruit Logan Duncomb and 2022 commit CJ Gunn are unknown. As the men’s NCAA Tournament takes place completely in the state of Indiana over the next month, and some of it in Bloomington, there will just be as much action going on around the non-participating Indiana Hoosiers.
Rutgers likely ends Indiana's season at the Big Ten tournament with questions surrounding the future
INDIANAPOLIS -- History repeats itself for those who don’t take the time to learn it, and Indiana basketball never learned from its previous matchups with Rutgers. Twice this year Indiana looked capable of beating Rutgers but ended up with a four-point loss at home in January and a major collapse on the road in late February after dominating much of the first half. Thursday's meeting was no different. A good start turned into a sour second half and Rutgers earned a third victory over Indiana to complete the season sweep. The No. 7 seed Scarlet Knights triumphed over the No. 10 Hoosiers, 61-50, knocking Indiana out of the Big Ten tournament while also probably ending its season at the same time on Thursday night in Indianapolis. There is a possibility of an NIT appearance, but it is unlikely. Indiana likely finishes the season with a 12-15 overall record, ending it on a six-game losing streak and earning its first losing record since 2011. While playing for any hope of extending its season, Indiana found itself in a usual spot late in the second half. It was a back-and-forth game when Armaan Franklin drilled a long two-point shot to give Indiana a 48-47 lead with 9:50 left. After Franklin’s bucket, any offensive momentum vanished. Indiana didn’t score a single field goal for the remainder of the game. “You got to make some free throws, you got to make some layups, you have to make some open ones at this level at this stage of the season if you’re going to have the chance to advance,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said. There were opportunities, including a number of missed chances at the rim, but ultimately Rutgers went on a 14-2 run to stomp Indiana’s season into oblivion. The only two points in that stretch were two free throws from Al Durham. Per usual, Indiana had a strong defensive outing, holding Rutgers to nearly 10 points under its season average. The Hoosier offense was the crux of the struggles, both in the last 10 minutes and through the whole game. The only reliable offensive option was going to Trayce Jackson-Davis in the paint, who led with 19 points. Removing his 8-for-14 shooting night, the Hoosiers were 13-for-42 (31%) from the field. It was another uninspiring night from the 3-point line, too, only making 2 of 16 shots from distance. The free-throw line wasn’t any help either as the Hoosiers struggled tremendously at the line, going 6-for-15. “We got fatigued,” Miller said. “We didn’t convert around the rim. They do a good job of their defense… we weren’t able to get any easy ones.” As simple as it sounds, Indiana just couldn’t make the shots to stay in it and Rutgers took advantage. Even with Indiana missing shots, if the Hoosiers could just hit their free throws the game could have gone down to the wire. In the final 4:27, Indiana was 2-for-8 from the free-throw line. Two of those misses were on the front ends of one-and-one opportunities, meaning the Hoosiers could have had two additional free throws if they didn’t miss on the front end. Assuming Indiana hits those theoretical eight free throws, IU could have had a one-point lead with a little over a minute to go. Regardless of all the shortcomings in the game, numerous questions dominate the state of the program and its direction moving forward. First-year Athletic Director Scott Dolson has a gigantic decision to make in regard to Miller’s future and the over $10 million buyout that it would cost if he were to move into a new direction. “I’m not entering any offseason wondering if I’m going to be back, those decisions are way higher than me,” Miller said when asked about his future. “Questions about me and whatnot are really not my concern.” Along with that, questions linger about the possibility of returns from seniors Al Durham and Joey Brunk due to their extra years of eligibility available and if Jackson-Davis will decide to leave for professional opportunities or not. The only certainty is that the Indiana basketball program is in a very difficult spot with its most pivotal offseason in a long time ahead of it. The fanbase is enraged, the NCAA Tournament drought will continue, and there has been no consistency or stability over the course in five years. There were numerous opportunities to change all of that as many realistic opportunities evaded Indiana this season but instead the theme of coming close, but not closing, will define a season that once had extensive promise.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Just three seconds were left on the clock, players standing around, minds already off the game. Indiana’s Rob Phinisee put up and missed a garbage time 3-pointer as time expired to a very familiar scene. Purdue had once again outplayed Indiana, start to finish, as the Boilermakers beat the Hoosiers for the ninth consecutive time. Indiana’s 67-58 loss on Saturday in West Lafayette keeps the Hoosiers winless against Purdue since 2016. It hasn’t beaten Purdue in Mackey Arena since 2013, as well. The loss represented how dominant Purdue has been over Indiana in the past few years, but also how far Indiana has slipped in the past few weeks. Big Ten play is always a gauntlet, but two weeks ago, Indiana was in a good position to make the NCAA Tournament and finish the season strong entering a home game against Michigan State. Indiana was 12-9 prior to that Feb. 20 game. From that point, it has lost five games in a row to finish the regular season at 12-14 and 7-12 in the Big Ten. “I really just think it’s the caliber of the Big Ten,” Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis said on the team’s drop-off from its non-conference play. “When you get into Big Ten… you have all these coaches that already know the way you play, it’s much harder to run your sets on offense.” The late-season collapse is indicative of how Indiana’s season expectations have fallen far off track. This year was expected to be a big jump for the program, the step forward in the Archie Miller era. Establishing consistency, a winning Big Ten record, beating Purdue at least once, and the most important of all — making the NCAA Tournament — were expected to be very reasonable goals with the level of the talent the roster possesses. The only one of the goals that has a possibility of still occurring is the NCAA Tournament appearance. The odds are extremely low, as an at-large bid is almost certainly out of the question. The only chance the Hoosiers have to make the big dance for the first time since 2016 is likely a deep run into the Big Ten Tournament. For Saturday’s contest, it was a small window into how Indiana has typically lost its games — a strong defensive effort was present, but there wasn’t enough offense to be competitive. The Hoosiers did a good job of keeping Purdue contained. IU held the Boilers just under their season average for points scored and Purdue only shot 28.6% from the 3-point line. Purdue’s leading scorer and best player, Trevion Williams, was held to six points and only got four field goal attempts all game too. Offensively, Indiana was a far different story in comparison to its defensive prowess. Indiana got good balance from its starters as four of them scored 10 points or more, but the whole team missed a plethora of open looks. The team shot 38.5% from the field and was 5-for-23 (21.7%) from the 3-point line. “We’re just struggling shooting the ball… all in all in our last two games… we’re not shooting the ball well from the perimeter and you’re not going to be able to win in this league without shooting the ball a little bit,” Miller said. The first half was particularly bad as Indiana only scored 20 points in 20 minutes. The second half wasn’t much better for the majority of it. Indiana’s 11 garbage-time points, a near fifth of the total scoring output, in the last three minutes of the game made the situation seem better than it really was in the latter period. With the Big Ten Tournament looming next week, Indiana is going to need to improve its offensive efficiency and shot making to compete and advance. Indiana will be the No. 10 seed in the conference tournament and will the face No. 7 seed in either Maryland or Rutgers on Thursday night. The Hoosiers beat Maryland in January and have lost to Rutgers twice this year. Regardless of previous results, Indiana needs a fresh mindset and clean slate in its attack and mentality of how it plans to finish its season if the team wants to go on a run in Indianapolis. “It’s been a rough five games… but going into the Big Ten Tournament we just got to reset our batteries,” Jackson-Davis said. “I know a lot of my teammates are angry right now but we just got to put the past behind us.”
Every recurring theme Indiana basketball has shown all season was encapsulated in one game Tuesday night and it is ultimately an exemplification of the team’s demise this year. Like the vast majority of Indiana games this year, it was physical, low-scoring, largely without offensive flow, and the Hoosiers blew many opportunities late in the game. The same trifling issues resulted in Indiana losing at Michigan State, 64-58, IU's fourth loss in a row while dropping the team's record to 12-13 and 7-11 in the Big Ten. Any hope for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid has faded and the Hoosiers will likely need at least a Big Ten Tournament run or Big Ten Tournament championship to make the Big Dance. The game was very close throughout as it was tied at halftime, and then with 4:34 to go in the second half the game was tied again at 49 a piece. Just like the previous matchup between the two teams, Aaron Henry took the game over for Michigan State down the stretch. The junior and Indiana native scored 11 of the Spartans’ final 15 points to seal it. “We didn’t have a great matchup, he’s (Henry) a great driver,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said of Henry’s takeover. “To his credit, he made some big baskets there late, we didn’t.” In the midst of Henry’s run, Indiana failed to score a point between the 2:13 to the 0:15 mark which led to a nine-point deficit from which the Hoosiers would never recover. While Indiana could not convert in the final few minutes, that situation was created by stout defense from Michigan State throughout the majority of the game. Much of Indiana’s offensive creation came in desperation drives to the rim as the Hoosiers struggled to get the ball moving. The game of basketball’s two biggest weapons on offense — the 3-point line and the post — were major points of struggle for the Hoosiers. The 3-point line was particularly bad for Indiana as it only hit 10% (2-for-20) of its looks from deep. Trayce Jackson-Davis was held to 10 points under his season average of 19 points as he finished with nine points on 1-for-5 shooting. With Indiana’s best offensive player well below his usual output, the offense was left out of sync. “(Michigan State) did a much better job of not giving (Jackson-Davis) as deep of catches,” Miller said. “He didn’t have an easy time once he did catch the ball because of the overall bodies in and around the basket.” The team’s inability to shoot from long-range and Jackson-Davis’ off night resulted in only one player scoring in double figures for Indiana, as Rob Phinisee had 16 points. Despite Indiana’s offensive ineptitude, the Hoosiers were in it and had a chance but just failed to capitalize when opportunity presented itself. Michigan State got off to a really poor start due to a lack of ball security. The Spartans had eight first-half turnovers and Indiana only got nine total points off that. Moreover, on multiple occasions when Indiana could have been extending a lead or just come up with a momentum-building stop, IU couldn’t get secure the rebounds. Michigan State had 13 offensive rebounds to give itself second-chance points and opportunities. Due to the number of missed opportunities to finish in games late throughout the season, Indiana will face an uphill battle for the rest of the season. A road matchup with No. 23 Purdue awaits for the final game of the regular season on Saturday. Indiana has yet to win against Purdue in the Archie Miller era and the program has not won at West Lafayette since 2013. “Just bounce back vs Purdue, this is really big for Al and Race (Thompson), they haven’t beat them yet in their career,” Phinisee said. After that, all that is left is the Big Ten Tournament, which will ultimately decide Indiana’s fate. The Hoosiers will need to do something they haven’t all season — winning multiple games in a row — in order to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. It’ll likely require a Big Ten Tournament title for the Hoosiers, something that has never been done before.
Michigan’s overwhelming size created a mismatch with Indiana that the Hoosiers couldn’t handle from start to finish. Add the length and height of the Wolverines’ frontcourt to a stout Michigan defense that gave Indiana no easy opportunities and it creates a blowout. Michigan handled Indiana in the Hoosiers' final home game of the season, 73-57, on Saturday afternoon. The loss is Indiana’s third in a row and its NCAA Tournament hopes continue to stay in serious jeopardy as the team's record drops to 12-12 on the season and 7-10 in the Big Ten. “Today’s game was disappointing in the outcome," Indiana coach Archie Miller said. "Michigan is a terrific team. Tremendous size inside on offense and inside on defense, very difficult to stay in rhythm on offense because of their ability to switch… and they’re so big at the three, four and five.” Miller was referring to the Michigan starting frontcourt of Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner, and Hunter Dickinson. The trio presented a tough situation for Indiana to manage on both ends of the floor as Livers is 6-foot-7, Wagner is 6-foot-9, and Dickinson stands a towering 7-foot-1. The group helped Michigan to an easy win on the boards, as the Wolverines outrebounded Indiana, 37-27. In addition to the rebounding, seemingly every time Michigan had the ball, one of the three got a bucket or a foul. They combined for 50 of Michigan’s 73 total points. They didn’t have much trouble scoring the ball, either, as they combined for a 17-for-31 shooting performance. Wagner led the group with 21 points, followed by 16 from Livers and 13 from Dickinson. While Indiana struggled to limit Michigan’s scoring, it could not find a way to match the Wolverines and score around the rim. Indiana was a measly 9-for-24 on layups against Michigan’s size. The absence of Indiana center and 6-foot-11 Joey Brunk has haunted Indiana all season, but it had never been more evident than Saturday. Indiana’s two tallest and healthy options in Trayce Jackson-Davis at 6-foot-9 and Race Thompson at 6-foot-8 were just not enough to compete on the interior. Nobody faced more trouble than Jackson-Davis. The sophomore center really struggled against the length and four-inch height disadvantage against Dickinson. Jackson-Davis only scored 10 points on a 3-for-12 shooting outing and tied his season-low of four rebounds. “He (Jackson-Davis) had some looks there early in the game that were tough shots against huge size and sometimes him not being able to make a couple early slows us down,” Miller said. Despite the slow start and sour result, Indiana’s Al Durham shined on his Senior Day and potential final game inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. He led Indiana with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting to serve as the rare bright spot for Indiana. Technically, with the NCAA allowing all current athletes an extra year of eligibility Durham has the option to return for next year and have another senior season if he chooses. Durham offered no answer in the postgame presser on whether or not he would be taking up on that opportunity. While disappointed by the result, Durham was appreciative of the game and his whole Indiana career. “It’s been a blessing,” Durham said. “To play on the highest stage in America… there’s no other feeling.” Indiana has two remaining regular-season games in road trips to Michigan State on Tuesday and Purdue next Saturday. After that, they’ll have the Big Ten Tournament to ultimately determine the final direction of their season. Indiana needs every win it can get with limited time if an NCAA Tournament bid is to come to fruition. The past few results have not been indicative of a tournament team, but Durham remains optimistic that things are in the midst of turning around at the right time. “We've got to be more furious, got to come out hungrier than the other opponent,” Durham said of the home stretch. “I feel like we’ll break through here soon.”
Indiana basketball went from on top of the world to the sky falling in a matter of minutes. Ten minutes had gone by in the first half, Al Durham had hit a 3-pointer and Indiana had a chokehold on Rutgers, 23-8. It was happening. Indiana had woken up from its lapse against Michigan State, played with urgency, and was determined to get a huge road win in hopes of securing an NCAA Tournament bid. That was the last high point for Indiana, though. From there, Rutgers went on a 27-8 run and somehow Indiana’s 15-point lead became a four-point halftime deficit. The Scarlet Knights continued the dominance through the whole second half, pounding Indiana into a 74-63 loss Wednesday night in Piscataway. The Hoosiers have now lost two in a row and are 12-11 on the season with a 7-9 Big Ten record. “This is a humbling game,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “I think it’s the first time all season long our team has really looked fractured where we didn’t know how to compete, what to do.” Indiana’s inability to compete throughout the second half derived from a few fundamental mistakes that plagued the team throughout the entire game — tons of turnovers and lousy 3-point defense that killed any opportunity for efficiency from the Hoosiers. Rutgers’ immense ball pressure gave Indiana hell all night and ultimately led to 13 turnovers. The Scarlet Knights scored an equal number of points off those turnovers and killed Indiana’s offensive flow in the process. Six of Indiana’s turnovers were committed by their two point guards. Rob Phinisee and Khristian Lander each lost the ball three times and were wholly ineffective in getting Indiana’s offense into any sort of rhythm. Both only had one assist to their three turnovers and neither scored a point, either. The two were a combined 0-for-10 from the floor. Phinisee and Lander weren’t alone in their struggle to score. Outside of Trayce Jackson-Davis and Durham, only five other Hoosiers scored, and they only put up 20 points in the process. Jackson-Davis had 21 and Durham scored 20. Jordan Geronimo was the next leading scorer with eight, but all of that came in garbage time and he was largely a non-factor when the game was competitive. “Tonight was a tough night for our point guards… but at the end of the day it’s not just one position or one player, we’ve got to get much more contributions from a lot of guys,” Miller said. “We have to figure out what we need to do to start off better or get more consistent play.” The lack of consistency on offense carried over on defense as Indiana got completely lit up by Rutgers after it went through its dismal first 10 minutes. Indiana had particular issue in guarding the 3-point line, from which Rutgers shot 39.3%. The Scarlet Knights were 11-for-28 for the game from deep, but after their 0-for-7 start, they were 11-for-21 for the rest of the game. That included in the last eight minutes of the first half where Rutgers was 7-for-8 from the 3-point line. That stretch is arguably what did Indiana in as the momentum was drained and Rutgers had all the energy needed moving into the second period where they dominated. Indiana had no answer on the defensive end for Ron Harper Jr. or Geo Baker, who each had 20 points. As a negative byproduct for both ends, Armaan Franklin and Race Thompson weren’t healthy for the whole game. Thompson looked out of it playing in a facial mask after being accidentally hit Tuesday in practice, per a release from IU Athletics. Miller said Franklin had reaggravated his ankle and that is why Franklin did not play for the entire second half. Moving forward, Indiana has a lot of ground to make up in short time for it to have any chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament. Only three games remain before the Big Ten Tournament and none of them are going to be easy. The Hoosiers will host No. 3 Michigan on Saturday before going on the road to Michigan State and Purdue to follow. With the Hoosiers already on the bubble, and now sliding out of being in the field of 68 NCAA Tournament teams, it’s uncertain how many wins are going to be needed for Indiana to make it, but it is skating on thin ice right now. “We’ve got a great opportunity on Saturday at home, but it’s not going to work in any game that we play the rest of the season if our competitiveness and our concentration when things aren’t going well doesn’t come back around,” Miller said.
Selection Sunday is less than three weeks away, there are only four regular season games left to play, and Indiana basketball is stuck right where it has been the whole season — the bubble. Last Saturday’s home loss and collapse to Michigan State was the latest, and perhaps the epitome, of this team’s struggles to close games, maintain leads and build consistency. It was, simply put, a game Indiana had to have in order to ease its aspirations to make the NCAA Tournament. Indiana is now 12-10 overall and 7-8 in the Big Ten. The road has become a lot more difficult, and Indiana has limited time to prove itself. There are only four games left on the schedule and none of them are easy. At Rutgers (12-9): Wednesday, Feb. 24 Versus No. 3 Michigan (16-1): Saturday, Feb. 27 At Michigan State (11-9): Tuesday, March 2 At Purdue (15-8): Saturday, March 6 At a quick glance, the Michigan and Purdue games will be especially challenging considering that Indiana is winless against both programs in the Archie Miller era. Both the Rutgers and Indiana games present revenge opportunities, too. Michigan State obviously just beat IU in Assembly Hall, and Rutgers squeaked out a four-point win in Bloomington in January as well. Regardless of the opponent and the final score, Indiana needs wins. Plain and simple. Anything is possible when it comes to how teams on the bubble shift or perform, so it is nearly impossible to predict the number of wins Indiana needs in order to make the tournament. At the same time, the Hoosiers likely need to at least split in the final four games to have a shot. If it were to split and go 2-2, Indiana would finish the regular season with a winning record at 14-12. No matter what happens in the final regular season games, the Big Ten Tournament is going to be a major wildcard. Any number of wins Indiana gets there would help either put the Hoosiers over the hump and off the bubble, or potentially be just enough to put them ahead of a team they’re competing down to the wire with. It’s likely that there won’t be any concrete answers until Selection Sunday on March 14. Until then, let’s take a look into the Rutgers and Michigan matchups that Indiana will face this week. Rutgers This game could be one of Indiana’s most intense matchups of the season. Both teams are in need of a win to solidify their spot in the NCAA Tournament with Indiana at 12-10 and Rutgers at 12-9. Indiana will be looking to avenge its 74-70 loss in Bloomington on Jan. 24, but the Hoosiers have really struggled in Piscataway as of late. Indiana has lost there in two consecutive seasons, last winning in 2018. In order for that trend to end, Indiana is going to need to adjust for Myles Johnson on offense and slow down Rutgers’ guards. Johnson perhaps gave Trayce Jackson-Davis the most difficult time of any individual matchup this entire season. Johnson limited Jackson-Davis to 13 points on 4-for-10 shooting and forced him into perhaps one of his slowest starts of any game. Lately, Jackson-Davis has been starting out strong at a faster pace. When Jackson-Davis is slow out of the gate, the Hoosiers’ offense lags behind, too. From a defensive standpoint, Indiana’s attention is on Ron Harper Jr. and Jacob Young who score 16 and 14.2 points per game, respectively. If these two get going, it could be really problematic for the Hoosiers’ chances. Last week, Indiana had zero answers for on-ball defense of opposing teams’ guards. Aaron Henry willed Michigan State to a win with 27 points and Minnesota’s Jamal Mashburn Jr., who had been averaging about six points per game prior, scored 19. Michigan To cap off the week, Indiana will get the treat of playing the Big Ten’s undisputed best team and one of the best teams in the country. The Wolverines are 16-1 and are on a roll even after a 23-day pause due to COVID-19. This game will be extremely challenging and a major test for Indiana’s offense. Michigan scores just under 80 points per game (79.2) but has the ability to go well beyond that. Last Sunday, the Wolverines hung 92 points on Ohio State. Michigan is so lethal offensively because the team can score in a number of ways with tremendous depth. Michigan has six players who score eight or more points per game. The two standouts, though, are Hunter Dickinson and Isaiah Livers. Dickinson is the frontrunner for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, averaging 15 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a 7-foot-1 center. Livers is the veteran, scoring 14.4 points per game in his senior campaign with a lethal 42.9% 3-point percentage. While it scores a lot, Michigan also defends very well, too. The Wolverines only allow their opposition to score 66.2 points per game — a +13 average margin of victory for Michigan. Indiana will need to bring its A-game in every way on Saturday for a chance at an upset.
Despite leading for the vast majority of the game and Trayce Jackson-Davis’ career-high 34 points, Indiana found itself on the losing end against Michigan State at home Saturday afternoon. Indiana’s major defensive collapse in the last 10 minutes with no offensive support from its guards served as the formula to the Spartans’ comeback. What would have been a monumental win for Indiana to improve to over .500 in the Big Ten and nearly solidify its NCAA Tournament spot instead is a loss that puts the Hoosiers at 12-10 overall and 7-8 in conference. After the Minnesota win Wednesday and the first 30 minutes of the game Saturday, it looked like Indiana was going to find some rare consistency in its season again. That never came to fruition, just like Indiana's struggles to remain consistent throughout the entirety of Saturday's game. “Disappointed in our team’s ability to defend in the second half,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “Twenty-six points given up in the first half… in the second half we gave up 52 points and 55% from the floor.”
Indiana basketball is a different team when Rob Phinisee and Jerome Hunter are at their best. For most of the season, one of the two, if not both, have struggled with maintaining consistency, leaving a continual gap in Indiana’s scoring options and ultimately leading to some extra losses. On Wednesday, the duo of upperclassmen made the difference and filled the hole in the offense, helping Indiana to an 82-72 home win over Minnesota. The win gets Indiana to 12-9 overall and 7-7 in the Big Ten. Phinisee and Hunter are the only remaining players from Miller’s prolific 2018 recruiting class, one that has, to an extent, struggled to live up to the hype.
The most important week of the season starts right now for Indiana basketball. That may sound silly due to the timing and quality of opponents. It’s mid-February and Indiana plays two home games against fellow bubble team Minnesota (13-8), and Michigan State (10-8) who is No. 11 in the Big Ten standings. None of that context really matters, though. At 11-9 and only five guaranteed regular season games remaining for Indiana, the Hoosiers needs as many wins as possible and they need them fast. Selection Sunday is less than a month away and as things currently stand, Indiana is firmly entrenched on the bubble. The Hoosiers have to build some momentum down the stretch and get wins to play themselves out of the bubble and comfortably into the NCAA Tournament field. The reason this week is so important is because these two games are Indiana’s most winnable games left on the schedule. After Wednesday’s game with Minnesota and Saturday’s contest with Michigan State, Indiana has a tough stretch to close out the regular season. Wednesday, Feb. 24: at Rutgers (12-7) Saturday, Feb. 27: vs No. 3 Michigan (14-1) Saturday, March 6: at Purdue (13-8) It is still possible that Indiana could add two more games to that slate by making up road contests with Michigan State and Michigan. Both games were postponed in January due to both opponents’ troubles with COVID-19. There has been no official ruling about whether or not those games will be scheduled yet. Regardless of if those games get played, it’ll serve Indiana well to compile wins now and not be desperate later. This is not to say Indiana can’t win the last three games, but they’ll be tremendously more difficult. Two of the games are on the road at two very difficult places to play: the Rutgers Athletic Center and Mackey Arena. Then, the home game is against the No. 3 team in the country. Moreover, Indiana has never defeated Michigan or Purdue in the Archie Miller era. If Indiana were to gather two wins this week, that would certainly ease a bit of the pressure in those three difficult games to end the regular season. They’d also have good momentum going into those games, putting the Hoosiers into the right mindset for a potential upset. Make no mistake, though — Indiana’s games this week are not going to be a cake walk. They’ll likely be very, very intense and difficult as Minnesota and Michigan State are both desperate to get wins late in the year, just like Indiana. Minnesota has a decent record at 13-8 with some really good wins, but is on the bubble because it has yet to win a road game. The Golden Gophers only have two opportunities left to improve their 0-7 away record and Indiana is one of them. The Hoosiers will have to focus on limiting star Minnesota guard and one of the Big Ten’s best players in Marcus Carr. The redshirt junior is scoring 19.4 points per game and leads the conference in total assists (109). Minnesota also has a budding star in Liam Robbins, a 7-foot junior center and transfer from Drake. He is averaging 12.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Michigan State, on the other hand, has had a major down year by comparison to its usual standards. After starting their season 6-0, the Spartans have lost eight of their past 12 games. Most recently, Michigan State got destroyed at home last Saturday against No. 11 Iowa, 88-58. Before they play Indiana on Saturday, they’ll face Purdue in West Lafayette on Tuesday. From a big picture perspective, Indiana needs to do its homework now and gather wins in this last stretch. It doesn’t matter who IU beats, but this week lends itself to a better likelihood of victory. Assuming everything stays on as planned, Indiana should have the Big Ten Tournament for more opportunities to support its resume, too. While a win or two there would be really helpful, an early exit could really hurt the team's chances if Indiana is still on the bubble by then. The Hoosiers have created a bad habit of hanging around on the bubble until the last minute for the past few seasons and they’re going to want to change that if they don’t want to sweat it out on Selection Sunday. In 2019, Indiana was one of the First Four Out and just barely missed the tourney. Last year, the tournament was canceled but Indiana would have likely been one of the last teams in the field. As always, Indiana gets the opportunity to control its own destiny. Wins are its way in, and each loss has Indiana take a step back. If Indiana is to finally return the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016, the time to make it happen starts now.
Indiana basketball’s continual knack of slow starts finally caught up to the team in the worst way against No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday. For the third straight game, Indiana sleepwalked at the start, got down big, and had to play from behind the rest of the way. In their previous two games, the Hoosiers found a way to dig out of early 17-4 and 21-7 deficits to beat Iowa and Northwestern, respectively, On Saturday, a 21-6 deficit was far too much to overcome and set the tone for the game as Ohio State manhandled Indiana, 78-59, in Columbus. The loss snaps Indiana’s two-game win streak and puts the team at 11-9 overall and 6-7 in the Big Ten. “If you look at our starts it really comes down at the end of the day, making a couple layups, making a couple free throws,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “We have to knock in the easy ones to be able to stay in there and help the confidence level of our team.” In the first three minutes, Indiana was in good shape. IU made two early 3-pointers, going up 6-2 at the 17:20 mark of the first half before imploding on both ends of the floor. The Hoosiers' four-point lead quickly became a 15-point deficit as Ohio State went on a 19-0 run. It took another 6:30 for Indiana to score again and it was 0-for-7 from the field in that span. As Miller referenced, almost of those misses were layups or right around the rim. The misses quickly become a mental struggle, and it showed most prominently with Trayce Jackson-Davis. The sophomore was by far Indiana’s best player of the game with 23 points and nine rebounds, but he didn’t score until 10:06 in the first half. The slow starts for Jackson-Davis have become a common theme lately. As seen in the past few games, when Jackson-Davis — the offense’s focal point — isn’t clicking, the whole team struggles to contribute, too. “With me it’s really just mentally… I’m in my head a lot,” Jackson-Davis said on his slow starts. Outside of Jackson-Davis, there wasn’t a lot of scoring elsewhere. Just five other Hoosiers scored and only Jerome Hunter was in double digits with 10 points. A huge part of the offense’s ineptitude came from rushing possessions and turning the ball over. Miller made it a point of emphasis to cut down on turnovers after the Northwestern win Wednesday when Indiana had 13, but there was no solution to that problem Saturday, either. Indiana coughed up the 15 ball times against the Buckeyes. This fueled Ohio State to the win, as the team took full advantage of it, scoring 21 points off the Indiana turnovers. When Indiana players did get chances to cut into the lead and make a run at the game, they couldn’t finish at the free throw line, either. The Hoosiers constantly split their pairs of freebies as they shot 54.5% from the line (12-for-22). The same core of mistakes killed Indiana throughout the entirety of the afternoon and limited any opportunity the team had to come back. “I thought we had two runs to be able to hang in the game, we lost both momentums with some offensive turnovers,” Miller said. When down 34-28 with 1:32 left in the first half, Indiana missed a layup and then had a turnover on the next possession, ultimately becoming a 38-28 halftime deficit. A Jackson-Davis dunk at the 14:11 mark in the second half got Indiana within five at 45-40 before the entire game slipped away. Indiana committed a turnover on the next three possessions and found itself down 54-40 in a matter of minutes. On top of all Indiana’s self-inflicted mistakes, Ohio State was far tougher than Indiana to solidify the blowout. The Buckeyes outrebounded Indiana, 36-28, and scored 20 second-chance points in the process. “The way their guys compete… they can really, really ruffle you and rattle you a little bit with how physical the game is,” Miller said.
Regardless of how unlikely it was, Indiana basketball has a real opportunity to build upon some momentum after winning at Northwestern, 79-76 in double overtime on Wednesday. It won’t come easy, though, as Indiana’s next game comes this Saturday at No. 4 Ohio State. The noon tip-off in Columbus will pit Indiana against the hottest team in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are 16-4 and have won five games in a row. Additionally, they are winners of eight of their last nine. The work they have done in that stretch has been impressive, collecting a number of big wins on the road. The Buckeyes beat Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa all away from home in that time frame. Saturday’s game will be the only meeting of the year between Indiana and Ohio State and it very well could be a good one. In the six matchups the two teams have played since the 2017-2018 season, three of them have been decided by four points or fewer. In order for Indiana to steal a game against the Buckeyes, it’s going to take a balanced and disciplined effort. Here’s how: Guarding the 3-point line Indiana’s 3-point defense has been concerning on a number of occasions this year. They’ll really need to clean it up against the Buckeyes. Per usual with the Hoosiers, if their defense can take command of the game by slowing it down, limiting possessions and not getting in a shootout, Indiana will have put itself in a position to win. Allowing the Buckeyes to catch fire from deep is not the way to do that. As a team, Ohio State shoots 35.2% from the 3-point line. That metric is good, but it’s not lethal. However, Ohio State has two lethal shooters in Justin Ahrens and Duane Washington Jr. Washington is the second-leading scorer for the Buckeyes with 14.8 points per game, and he is a 36.4% 3-point shooter. Washington can be very streaky, though, and he is currently on a roll. In Ohio State’s past two games he has averaged 17 points per game. In that time frame his 3-point shooting has been a bit down, only making 6 of 19 shots. He can break out at any time, though, as evidenced by his 5-for-7 3-point performance against Minnesota or his 6-for-9 display against Purdue earlier this season. Ahrens on the other hand is purely known as a 3-point shooter. The vast majority of his looks from the floor are 3-pointers and that is his main role in the offense. He has shot 47.9% (45-for-94) from beyond the arc throughout the season. Owning the post After three years of consistency and excellent play from former Ohio State star and center Kaleb Wesson, the Buckeyes have a new star in the post in sophomore E.J. Liddell. The 6-foot-7 sophomore has made a massive jump from his freshman to sophomore year. As a freshman, he scored 6.7 points per game off the bench, but this year he is the team’s leading scorer at 14.9 points per game. Liddell also grabs 6.8 rebounds per game while being a bit of an undersized post player. Liddell is complemented in the frontcourt by a veteran in senior forward Kyle Young who has been a mainstay in the Buckeye rotation since the Chris Holtmann era began. Young is 6-foot-8 but plays bigger than his size with his strong build, as well as his scrappy and physical playing style. The senior scores 8.9 points and 5.9 rebounds while also playing strong defense. The Buckeyes own the rebounding advantage over the Hoosiers, but not by much (37.4 to 35.9). Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson are going to need to try and overcome that slight deficit, win the rebounding battle and establish some dominance offensively. Against Northwestern, the Hoosiers were in a funk when it came to scoring in the post and never got in any sort of rhythm. They’re going to need more of how Thompson played against Iowa and to get Jackson-Davis going earlier offensively than he has in the past few games to win the battle with Liddell and Young. Limit the self-inflicted errors Indiana has proven capable of being able to compete with any opponent over the course of the season. There’s no doubt IU can play with an Oho State team ranked in the top five, but if IU wants to win, the team is going to need to minimize the level of error. The Hoosiers were fortunate to come away from Evanston with a win despite losing the turnover battle and missing plenty of free throws. Both of those things naturally happen in a basketball game, of course, but if Indiana commits those errors to the same level as it did on Wednesday against the Buckeyes, it is not going to be in good shape to win. Indiana’s game average for turnovers and the number against Northwestern were not that different, 11.9 compared to 13, respectively, but Northwestern took full advantage of Indiana’s miscues. The Wildcats scored 19 points off turnovers, a fourth of their points, against the Hoosiers. Indiana can’t dig itself a hole that way again. Ohio State will be a much tougher team to have to make a theoretical comeback against than Northwestern was. Indiana also can’t afford to dig itself a hole at the free-throw line again. It’s no secret that Indiana has struggled making the freebies, only shooting 66.4% from the line all season and those points left on the table come back to haunt them. The number of close losses Indiana has had likely could have been reduced to an extent if Indiana could make some more free throws and stay in the game longer or perhaps be ahead with more makes. The Hoosiers really found their groove from the line late against Northwestern, making 22-for-26 to finish, but if they would have started better than 5-for-12 initially, the game might never have needed overtime to begin with. Continuing the good momentum from the line at Northwestern is imperative for Indiana. Free throws are certainly not the end-all, be-all for the Hoosiers as a team, but not capitalizing on free points is never a good thing.
Indiana couldn’t afford to lose to Northwestern team that had lost nine in a row and Al Durham wasn’t going to let it happen. The senior guard did everything in his power to extend the game and keep Indiana alive when down and in need of a basket. When down 54-47 with 2:16 left in regulation, Durham accounted for five free throws and a clutch floater in the lane with 24 seconds left to tie it at 54 and force overtime. In the first overtime he did it again. He nailed a long two-point jump shot to tie the game at 66-66 with one second left, erasing a six-point deficit and pushing the game to a second overtime.
When Indiana was more in need than ever for a lift, both in a game and in its season, sophomore Armaan Franklin delivered. With a tied game at 65-65 and 27 seconds to go, Indiana let the clock dwindle down before Franklin rose up and nailed a midrange jumper with 1.8 seconds left to get an upset win over No. 8 Iowa Sunday afternoon in Bloomington. In addition to overcoming adversity as a team, Franklin got over his own individual hurdles. The sophomore struggled for much of the afternoon, only shooting 1-for-9 from the field until that last shot. “Our teammates don’t let us get our confidence down, they believe in us,” Franklin said. “You just got to go out there and keep shooting.”
'We're not tough enough': Usual problems show again for Indiana against No. 12 Illinois, Hoosiers drop to 9-8
Bad habits are difficult to break for anyone, and especially so for Indiana basketball. The Hoosiers’ same struggle of finishing close games down the stretch is beginning to sound like a broken record, but it is still just as true in Indiana’s 75-71 overtime home loss to No. 12 Illinois. The number of close losses has added up and Indiana is now 9-8 overall and 4-6 in the Big Ten entering the home stretch of the season. “We’re not tough enough to finish games off,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “We’re not tough enough in little plays… the tough plays you got to make to win.” What makes this particular loss tough for Indiana is that for most of the game, the little plays did go Indiana's way. The Hoosiers got Illinois in plenty of foul trouble and put themselves in a position to win but simply couldn’t finish. With 5:12 left in the game, Indiana was in a comfortable spot. IU was up 64-58 and in three consecutive defensive possessions, the Hoosiers lost it. Illinois’ Trent Frazier drew Indiana’s freshman guard Khristian Lander out of position defensively all three times. Frazier proceeded to hit two 3-pointers and earn a trip to the free-throw line to get a 66-64 lead less than two minutes after Indiana had firm control of a low-scoring and sloppy game. While the blame certainly doesn’t fall completely fall on Lander for the loss, those three possessions epitomized Indiana’s inability to clench opportunity and finish when the team needs to most. “In this league, you have to not only have to play well, but you have to play super, super tough at the right times,” Miller said. “I do think we can play with anybody, we’re just having a hard time finishing things off.” From the Frazier free throws to give Illinois the lead back at the 3:10 mark in the second half, Indiana’s offense faltered. IU scored only seven points for the remainder of the game, including the rest of the second half and all of overtime. On those seven points, IU made only two made baskets. Indiana nearly went scoreless in overtime, too. The Hoosiers didn’t get their first points of overtime until a post hook from Race Thompson went in with seven seconds remaining of the extra period. Illinois center Kofi Cockburn was dominant protecting the rim and making it difficult to operate in the paint, but Indiana could not take advantage of the depleted Illini. Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Adam Miller, and most notably junior star Ayo Dosunmu all fouled out late in the second half. Additionally, Illinois freshman Andre Curbelo played through overtime with four fouls, making it difficult for him to play good defense without fear of fouling out, too. Indiana found itself at the free-throw line 34 times but shot only 67.6% from there. The 11 misses of the 23-for-34 effort eventually caught up to the Hoosiers and served as another bad habit Indiana could not break. Thompson had six of Indiana’s 12 misses at the line, but otherwise Thompson was Indiana’s best player with 18 points, eight rebounds, and three steals. “Race played a hell of a game honestly,” Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “I know he wants a few of those free throws back, but he did a great job for us… he really kept us in the game.” Jackson-Davis added 19 points and 14 rebounds to lead the way with Thompson but the contributions from the depth of the rotation was very scarce, playing another role in the loss. Rob Phinisee’s glaring zero points was really problematic. The junior fouled out and did not have one rebound or assist, either. In addition to Phinisee’s struggles, Jerome Hunter was withheld from playing due to a coach’s decision, forcing Indiana to have only nine available players. “He (Hunter) has a chance to earn his way back on the floor,” Miller said of Hunter. “He’s not going to take the floor again until the coach feels he’s in the right frame of mind to, number one, lead himself the right way and, number two, has the bigger picture in mind in terms of protecting our team at all times.”
In a year where postponements and cancelations are commonplace, Indiana basketball is in the midst of its second extended layoff of the season. The Hoosiers have nine days between their most recent game — Sunday, Jan. 24 against Rutgers — to this Tuesday when the Hoosiers will host No. 19 Illinois. Just like their last week-long break when they faced Iowa, the Hoosiers have another difficult opponent to play at the end of the rest period. This will be the second meeting between Indiana and Illinois this season. In the first game, the Illini got the better of Indiana, winning 69-60 in Champaign. Indiana played close, up five with 9:47 to go in the game but Illinois absolutely dominated the game down the stretch. As the calendar turns to February and the number of remaining games starts to dwindle, every game’s importance increases. Let’s take a closer look at Illinois and the makeup of their team. Battle-tested Much like Indiana, Illinois has played a large quantity of a really good teams. They have a large number of quality wins and all of their losses are respectable. Their best win is by far their most recent game on Jan. 29 at home against No. 7 Iowa, but they also have beaten Purdue, Duke on the road by 15, and they destroyed Minnesota at home, 92-65. While the wins are good, Illinois’ losses are really strong, too. The only poor loss would be when 9-8 Maryland upset Illinois in Champaign. The others, though, are all solid. Three of the four other games dropped were by close margins to good teams. At No. 12 Missouri, 81-78, Dec. 12. At No. 19 Rutgers, 91-88, Dec. 20. Home vs No. 21 Ohio State, 87-81, Jan 16. The only big loss came early in the season on Dec. 2 against No. 2 Baylor, 82-69, in Indianapolis. Star power In addition to Illinois’ strong resume, the Illini have a number of players on the team who could be considered stars and are legitimate difference makers on the court. Ayo Dosunmu, a junior guard, is the team’s consensus best player. He is the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten, scoring 21.9 points per game. Against Indiana in the first game, Dosunumu went off for a game-high 30 points. Dosunmu possesses the ability to score in bunches as he can make shots from anywhere on the floor. He is a 41.8% 3-point shooter and is also an 81.5% free-throw shooter. More than just a scorer, Dosunmu leads the team in assists with nearly five per game and is a great rebounding guard, too. The junior gets 6.1 rebounds per game. Dosunumu is complemented by sophomore center Kofi Cockburn who is a load to handle for opposing defenses at 7 feet tall and 285 pounds. He averages a double-double with 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He also shoots 68.2% from the field and is one of the best rim protectors in the Big Ten with 23 blocks. Surrounding those two stars, Illinois has a number of weapons on the roster who can step up from game to game. Seniors Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams along with freshman Adam Miller all shoot 35% or better from 3-point range. Frazier and Miller each score between nine and 10 points per game with an ability to really heat up. In the win over Iowa, Frazier had 24. Williams only scores 5.6 points per game, but he has the best clip on the team. He has made, 22 of 37 3-pointers (59.5%) this season. High-powered offense As evident by the number of options the Illini offense allows, they’re a high-powered scoring team. On the season, Illinois is scoring 82.7 points per game, nearly a whole 10 points higher than Indiana’s 72.9 average. Illinois is a good shooting team in general, making right about 50% of all field goal looks, but the team has really lethal ability from deep. They lead the Big Ten in 3-point percentage at 39.9% from 3-point range. Guarding the 3-point line has been a challenge of Indiana’s all season so this will be a particular defensive emphasis. In the Iowa win, Indiana figured out how to guard the 3-point line well, holding Iowa to 5 of 23 shooting from deep. The Hoosiers will need to replicate that formula to be successful again. It’s going to take a disciplined approach where Indiana slows Illinois’ offense down and limits the number of possessions Illinois has to score the ball. Getting caught in a shootout is not what the Hoosiers want. The Hoosiers will also have to win the rebounding battle in order to win the game. Illinois gets six more rebounds per game with 40.4 rebounds per contest compared to Indiana’s 34.4. Taking away any opportunities for Illinois to get second-chance points, and especially second-chance point opportunities from 3-point range, is imperative for Indiana’s chances in this game.
Sustaining success has been a difficulty for Indiana basketball in the past few years and the deficiency was evident again Sunday afternoon. Just three days after a potential season-altering win at No. 4 Iowa, Indiana lost at home to Rutgers, 74-70. The loss took any chance away from the Hoosiers to build some momentum as Indiana slipped to 9-7 overall and 4-5 in the Big Ten. Indiana is now 2-9 in games following a ranked win in the Archie Miller era. “In this league I don’t think it’s anything about momentum, you play a good team every night,” Indiana sophomore Armaan Franklin said. “Some games go your way, some games don’t.” What makes this loss a tougher pill to swallow than other games after a big win is that it was a very winnable game. Rutgers was previously reeling, losing five in a row prior to Sunday. With the competition level of the Big Ten, though, anyone can beat anyone. Indiana did not have the intensity or complete team-effort that Rutgers brought to Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers’ lack of execution had them in a deficit for almost the entire game and needed a late run to really make it close. At halftime, Indiana trailed 38-33 and after the break Rutgers came out firing, building a 10-point lead at the 16:21 mark, 45-35. “Offensively to start the second half the game really changed with the five turnovers in the first four or five minutes,” Miller said. Turnovers continued to plague Indiana throughout the second half, as the Hoosiers lost the ball nine times in the second half for a total of 12 on the day. This kept the Scarlet Knights' lead at double-digits until about the 10-minute mark. After that, Indiana may have seen its only bright spot of the game in freshman guard Khristian Lander who’s shot-making was timely and kept them in the game. Lander had been playing limited minutes all season but showed some more growth and confidence Sunday. The freshman played the longest stretch of his Indiana career thus far, entering at the 13:24 mark of the second half and playing all the way to 5:52 before getting subbed out. In that stretch, his defense looked solid and he had two key 3-pointers to get Indiana back into the game. His second pulled the Hoosiers within four, down 60-56 with 8:36 left. Getting the game between three-to-five points became the theme for Indiana, though, but the Hoosiers could never string together enough stops to take the lead. About every time Indiana got it close, they rushed their momentum and wasted it. After Armaan Franklin’s 3-pointer at 7:53, Indiana trailed 62-59. Immediately after the shot, Indiana got a stop on defense, and then Anthony Leal had his post feed stolen by Rutgers’ Myles Johnson. To follow that, Geo Baker hit a 3-pointer for Rutgers, to make the lead six again. Indiana had another chance to tie it after Trayce Jackson-Davis hit two free throws to make it a 73-70 game with 43 seconds left. Rutgers used the whole shot clock on the next possession with Indiana earning what it needed in a Ron Harper Jr. miss, but IU could not secure the rebound and Rutgers went to the free-throw line to put the game away instead. For as many close situations that Indiana faltered in, the team had a number of looks at the rim throughout that just didn’t go down. “I thought they (Rutgers) dropped back with their size, especially at the center position and kept him between the rim and the players,” Miller said on the two-point misses. “You’re able to get down there, but you’re not able to get some clean ones.” Indiana only shot 35% on two-point shots for the afternoon, with Jackson-Davis struggling being a big reason why. The sophomore star had been averaging 20 points per game but was held to 13 on 4-for-10 shooting Sunday. Johnson really made it difficult for Jackson-Davis and all of Indiana in the paint, blocking five shots. Defensively, Indiana struggled a lot with guarding on-ball and the 3-point line again, too. All of the defensive progress seen at Iowa wasn’t present Sunday. The Scarlet Knights shot 36.4% from 3-point range and 50.9% from the field. With the road trip to Michigan next weekend postponed, Indiana will have another long layoff before playing again. Unless there is a schedule change, Indiana will have over a week off before hosting No. 22 Illinois, a team that beat IU in Champaign earlier this season. The proficient and intense practices before Iowa that Miller and the players credited in their big win will have to be replicated going into the next one. Miller said that the practice intensity before Rutgers was just as good and the team was bought in, it just wasn’t the result they were looking for. “I’m disappointed for our guys, not disappointed in the result, I’m disappointed for them,” Miller said. “The attitude, the work ethic, and the togetherness has been as good as its ever been here.”
One week ago, Indiana coach Archie Miller stressed the need for an improved defense from his Indiana team after a highly disappointing performance and eighth consecutive loss to Purdue. While the defense wasn’t good in that game, one might say that Indiana’s offense was the real issue throughout the season and in that matchup specifically as a one-dimensional scoring attack faltered late and cost the team. Miller was right, though, as the week off led to a staunch defensive effort and 81-69 road win at No. 4 Iowa against one of the nation’s best offenses. “I think that the week off really, really helped us,” Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “I think our defensive intensity was raised in practice… I thought that really transferred over to the game.” The win could not have come at a better time for Indiana who had struggled to turn the corner in close games against good teams. The Hoosiers finally got their signature win and improved to 9-6 on the season and 4-4 in the Big Ten. Not only did Indiana pick up a massive win for its confidence and resume, but IU did it while being extremely shorthanded. The Hoosiers only had nine healthy scholarship players for the game with Trey Galloway out with a sore back Thursday in addition to Joey Brunk who hasn’t played all season. Moreover, Indiana’s tallest and most effective players in Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson each faced massive foul trouble for the game that kept them out for extended periods and in crucial spots. At the 8:10 mark of the second half, Jackson-Davis picked up his fourth foul and had to sit on the bench with Thompson who had already reached four fouls six minutes earlier. With Jackson-Davis and Thompson each sitting to avoid fouling out with one more, Indiana had to play a much taller Iowa team with two 6-foot-7 players in the post in Jordan Geronimo and Jerome Hunter. At the point of the last Jackson-Davis foul, the game was tied 53-53. To follow, the defense tightened up and Indiana’s limited depth was on full display with a concerted defensive effort, going on a 28-16 run to dominantly close out the Hawkeyes. The disciplined finish to the game shows how Indiana has matured as a team. Throughout the season, the final eight minutes in close games had been Indiana’s worst enemy as the team had opportunities but couldn’t finish against Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida State, and others. “It became apparent that if we don’t kind of draw a line in the sand for ourselves… we’re not going to be able to get to where we want to get to,” Miller said of the team’s recent effort. “At some point you’ve got to be able to do what you want to do in the game every day.” Indiana held Iowa — which was averaging 92.2 points per game — to a season-low 69 points thanks to that that united defensive effort. Iowa’s center and the National Player of the Year frontrunner Luka Garza had 28 points, but outside of him Iowa’s other contributors were kept in check. Iowa’s second-leading scorer, Joe Wieskamp, had 15 first-half points, but was held to one in the second half. Jordan Bohannon, who has had tremendous success against Indiana in the past was scoreless, going 0-for-9 from the field. Indiana also took away Iowa’s biggest collective threat — the 3-point shot. The Hawkeyes were a 39.5% 3-point shooting team going into the game. On Thursday, Indiana guarded the arc well, holding the Hawkeyes to a dismal 5-for-23 (21%) 3-point display. Individually, Geronimo did a tremendous job on defense limiting Garza and protecting the rim despite being undersized. Garza had a four-inch height advantage and struggled against the freshman forward. “I thought Jordan Geronimo… best game he’s played as an Indiana player,” Miller said. “His contribution tonight was awesome in terms of how he brought energy and how physical he was.” Geronimo held Garza to just six points in the crucial last 8:10 of the game that defined Indiana’s win. Three of those points were from free throws and the other three were from a late 3-pointer in the last 30 seconds of the game. Offensively, Geronimo provided good effort, too. He had seven points on 3-for-3 shooting from the field, including an emphatic one-hand dunk that encapsulated Indiana’s momentum and excitement in finally finishing a big win.
There have been moments throughout the Indiana basketball season where a breakthrough seems imminent, but it just hasn’t happened. The team has stumbled against the better opponents on the schedule, struggling to finish games and compete down the stretch due in part to inconsistent offense. In each of the previous two games — a narrow win at Nebraska, and a double-digit loss at home against Purdue — IU's offense peaks in the middle portion of the game and falters after. Indiana’s major emphasis on post scoring with a lack of 3-point efficiency hurts down the stretch of games when the offense goes cold. While a lot of the deficiency has to be sorted out with the team's playing style and execution, Indiana might have already have a solution waiting to help mitigate its scoring struggles. More shot attempts and playing time for an improving Jerome Hunter could be a huge factor in allowing the Hoosier offense to increase its scoring and potency. “Jerome is really a comfort player,” Hunter’s high school coach, Jason Bates, of Pickerington High School North in Ohio, said. “Once he gets comfortable, the sky is the limit.” After a slow start to the season, Hunter is starting to find his stride in his second season in a Hoosier uniform. He had a season-high 12 points off the bench against Wisconsin and is averaging nine points per game on 55% shooting in the past three outings.