What’s next for Indiana and its rapidly sinking basketball hopes?
For one thing, probably more playing time for freshmen Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey.
For another, trips this week to Minnesota and Northwestern.
After that, it looks grim.
But is it really?
Let’s take a look.
First, IU is 0-4 away from Assembly Hall, and has lost four straight games. It has lost, at home, to arguably the best (Ohio State) and worst (Penn State) of the Big Ten.
Consistency matters, but not like this.
Second, the Hoosiers punished what had been the most efficient defense in America. They blitzed Ohio State for 50 percent shooting and 67 points. They played with spark and resolve, and while it wasn’t enough to beat the second-ranked Buckeyes, if they had done that against Penn State, the Cream ‘n Crimson world would be a happier place.
“If we had played with the same spirit and energy (against Penn State), we’d have won the game,” coach Tom Crean said. “We’re be 1-1 (in the Big Ten) going to Minnesota, but we’re not. We have to learn from that.”
Will they learn? It starts with defense, which brings us to our third point. IU continues to struggle with defensive communication and execution. You could hear Ohio State players talk on defense. You heard zero from the IU side. That doesn’t mean they weren’t talking, but they weren’t doing it loud enough to notice.
Sometimes, silence is not golden.
Inside Indiana wrote a story about IU’s lack of defensive communication and Crean said, “It aggravates me to no end that that’s the truth.”
“It’s mind boggling that we can’t get that where it needs to be.”
The boggling comes because the Hoosiers spent a ton of practice time working on defense, without noticeable effect.
That has to change.
Crean set up these Hoosiers with the idea that 7-foot shot-blocker Guy-Marc Michel would roam the paint cleaning up mistakes. But the NCAA ruled him ineligible and IU is left with Derek Elston, Tom Pritchard and Bobby Capobianco.
That’s not nearly enough.
Ohio State has Dallas Lauderdale and Jared Sullinger to block shots, which makes it easier for Buckeye guards to be aggressive on the defensive perimeter.
“We don’t have that,” Crean said. “We did, but he’s sitting down there (at the end of the bench) in sweats. That’s the way it is. We’ve got to be that much tighter defensively.”
That means defending from mouthwash range. It means being tenacious and tough-minded and keeping the guy in front of you.
“We have to do certain things,” Crean said, “and when we get away from that, we have no margin for error. That’s what our team defense is like right now. There’s no margin for error because we’re not up into the ball enough. There’s not enough next-man communication help.”
Fourth, IU (9-6) has the talent to become a NIT team, but not the basketball IQ and determination. It is looking at a winless week, which means a 0-4 Big Ten start. It has trips to Wisconsin and Michigan State this month, and that’s two more losses.
It is going to get better, but first it’s going to get worse.
Why do we say it will get better? Because of the strength of the freshman and sophomore classes, and because of the recruits Crean is bringing in over the next few years. So forget the grumbling about Crean getting fired. It won’t happen. IU has too much money invested in him; he’s had to rebuild almost from scratch because of the Kelvin Sampson mess; and the program is in far better shape, on and off the court, than it was when he arrived.
Oh. One other thing. Crean can coach. A lot of people are unhappy, and will likely get more unhappy given the Hoosiers’ performance in the last couple of weeks, but that doesn’t change the fact that Crean is the right guy for the job.
Once the talent level improves, he’ll prove it.
Finally, in his last three games, two as a starter, Oladipo has scored 16, 14 and 14 points. He’s totaled 17 rebounds. He’s shooting18-for-28 from the field, including 3-for-6 from three-point range. The only glitch is free throw shooting -- he’s just 9-for-21 in his last six games, 17-for-37 for the season.
“He had better start making his foul shots or he’s not going to play at the end of games,” Crean said. “That’s the bottom line. He has to have a real sense of urgency on that. I’m not treating him like a freshman.”
Crean also said he plans to use Sheehey more. Sheehey only played one minute against Penn State (Crean said he should have played him more) and 13 against Ohio State. He had five points and four fouls against the Buckeyes. He averages 4.1 points.
Oladipo and Sheehey will mess up on occasion, but at least they will do it with full effort and passion. They will get better. They are part of the future of a Hoosier team that will -- yes, with Crean as the coach -- get the program back to its winning ways.
It just might take a little longer than everybody wants.
Kevin Wilson put in his final hours with Oklahoma by helping the Sooners beat Connecticut in the Sugar Bowl. He helped out with the offense, but did not call the plays. From now on, he’s the full-time Indiana head football coach.
Consider that Oklahoma ran more than 1,100 plays this season and that no other college team surpassed 1,000. Wilson will bring that uptempo approach to Indiana, so look for lots of offense in the years ahead.
Oh, did the Big Ten really go 0-5 on New Year’s Day and get out-scored 204-102?
You’d better believe it. The Big Ten played the role of patsy for just about every conference in America. The worst was the 49-7 statement Alabama put on Michigan State, which shared the Big Ten championship with Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Wisconsin lost to an unbeaten TCU team that might be the best in America, but won’t get to prove it because the power conferences and the major bowls keep blocking a national playoff.