It has to end, doesn’t it? Surely, Indiana won’t go winless for the Big Ten basketball season.
The Hoosiers, and we don’t know how to say this diplomatically, are basketball IQ challenged. They don’t play smart defense. Check that. They do in spurts, but can’t sustain it. Maybe it’s fatigue or mental softness or immaturity or coaching or misaligned planets. It doesn’t matter.
It just would be nice if for one game -- one game! -- IU could play a complete 40 minutes against a quality opponent.
Whatever happened to progress, when a six-win Indiana team became last year’s 10-win squad and suddenly a NIT bid for this season seemed probable.
It disappeared faster than you can say, “Oh, no, not again!”
Suddenly the Hoosiers are 0-4 in the Big Ten with no good feeling that a victory is coming any time soon.
Take the Northwestern loss. The Hoosiers got burned repeatedly by back-door cuts when they weren’t getting burned from beyond the arc. Yes, this is to be expected given the Wildcats are very good at the whole Princeton offense thing. But this is not a one-time deal. IU has spent the last two-plus weeks displaying the kind of defensive vulnerability that lends itself to long losing streaks.
At six straight losses and counting, the Hoosiers (9-8) are building to a very long one. They spent the first 30 minutes against Northwestern (10-4) in a brain fog, and the fact they cut a 24-point deficit to eight had as much to do with Northwestern losing its edge as it did IU fighting to the end.
That’s a shame because, at least offensively, the Hoosiers are making progress. Against Northwestern they shot 46.6 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three-point range and 84.0 percent from the line. On the road they had 13 assists against seven turnovers. They even won the rebound battle, 36-33. That’s good. That should be good enough to win, and it would have been if they could ever learn to play defense.
Northwestern shot 49.1 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range. You can’t win on the road, or in grandma’s backyard, allowing those kind of numbers.
Coach Tom Crean talked about a lack of defensive discipline and immature play, especially in the first half when the Wildcats built a double-digit lead. He wants the Hoosiers to play with a sense of desperation, which they did in the second half while trying to mount a furious comeback.
Forward Christian Watford was a first-half no-show (zero points), a second-half contributor (17 points). That can’t continue. He has to be consistent for 40 minutes and he has to rebound better, although he did get seven rebounds against Northwestern, most of them long after the game was decided. Maybe that means spending more time in the paint or more effort or just maturing. He is still just a sophomore and far from a finished product, but that’s no reason for not playing with passion and energy.
The Hoosiers did get offensive balance with freshman Victor Oladipo scoring 13 points, sophomore Jordan Hulls getting 12 and junior Verdell Jones adding 10.
It wasn’t nearly enough.
Indiana has basically a week to get it right. It doesn’t play again until Saturday night when it hosts Michigan, which just missed upsetting No. 3 Kansas on Sunday.
Is that enough time to grow up and play winning basketball?
It has to be.