Okay, so Indiana didn’t pull off what would have been a program-resurrecting victory. IU still fights the good fight, but doesn’t get the reward.
At least we can see where this Tom Crean vision thing is heading.
The Hoosiers played fearless in their 81-62 defeat at No. 17 Kentucky. For 32 minutes, they were at least the equal, if not slightly more, of the Wildcats. They were aggressive and passionate and relentless. They were on the verge of getting their first road win against a ranked opponent since winning at No. 13 Iowa in 2002.
What in the name of Dick Vitale was going on?
“We did things that certainly we haven’t done in our time here,” Crean said. “They’re things we’ve got to do more of as we continue to get better.”
Then they wilted. Kentucky showed the necessary resolve, shot making and rebounding. Sure, the Wildcats had the benefit of home court advantage and a large disparity in free throw shooting, but don’t blame this on the refs. Indiana gave itself a chance and didn’t finish. The same thing happened at Boston College.
In fact, the same thing also happened last year against Kentucky. The Hoosiers had a second-half lead, only to get buried by an 18-0 Wildcats run.
Somehow the Hoosiers have to find the toughness to win the crunch-time minutes. It’s a mantra we heard from the football Hoosiers, and it never materialized. Maybe basketball will be different.
In fact, it almost certainly will. Forward Christian Watford just missed a double double with 19 points and nine rebounds. Give him one more year and he might challenge for Big Ten MVP honors. Victor Oladipo continues to show he’s going to be a future star. Jordan Hulls played steady.
The Hoosiers had a chance even with a banged up Verdell Jones (he hurt his left ankle that already was gimpy and didn’t play the final 15 minutes) and despite Maurice Creek’s struggles (foul trouble and shooting woes made him basically a non-factor).
Yes, IU continues to be fodder for the Wildcats, who have won 16 of the last 20 meetings between the rivals, but now there’s hope for better days. What’s it going to take? Better players would help. Some of that will come from the maturity and continued development of its underclassmen. Indiana will add Cody Zeller and Austin Etherington next year. It will only lose senior Jeremiah Rivers. Everything seems to be in place for big things next season, but who wants to wait that long?
IU (7-2) has four non-conference games remaining. All are part of the Las Vegas Classic, although only the last two are in Vegas. In the meantime there is finals week to deal with and practice to focus on. Jones has to get healthy. Somebody besides Watford needs to emerge as a consistent rebounder. The Hoosiers need to rebound better and defend longer. More and more, it looks like that’s going to happen.
Sooner would be better than later.