LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — On Jan. 4 the Indiana University basketball team was 12-2 overall, 3-0 in the Big Ten, ranked 27th by Ken Pomeroy and parked safely on a five-seed line in Joe Lunardi’s NCAA Tournament bracket projection.
In less than three weeks, the Hoosiers have gone from Season Back in the NCAA Tournament to Season on The You Know What (ask John Feinstein).
Indiana is 12-7, 3-5 in the Big Ten, ranked 39th by Pomeroy and parked precariously on the nine-seed line by Lunardi, who figures to drop the Hoosiers to bubble territory in his updated bracket Friday.
With No. 5 (and once-beaten) Michigan booked for Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall Friday night — followed by back-to-back road games with Rutgers and Michigan State, Indiana no longer looks like the team that squashed Marquette and outlasted Louisville and Butler.
The five-game losing streak matches the Hoosiers’ longest free fall since they lost five in a row (and seven of eight) during the season that led to Tom Crean’s dismissal two years ago.
Indiana has not lost more than five straight since Cody Zeller was a senior at Washington High School — when the 2011 team finished with a nine-game plunge to irrelevance.
What has happened to Miller’s team?
I’d recommend grabbing a legal pad. It’s quite a list.
The roster is two and perhaps three shooters shy of a load.
During the losing streak, Indiana has been outscored by 45 points at the three-point line. In conference games, IU ranks last in the Big Ten in three-point shooting at 26.8 percent.
Having shooters is non-negotiable in today’s basketball. Miller needs more — or at least more of the right guys taking them.
Romeo Langford, Indiana’s top scorer, has gone 0-for-10 from distance in IU’s last three games.
Here’s an interesting tidbit from Indiana’s full-season statistics: Langford is first on the team in three-point attempts (69) but last among the regulars in three-point percentage (.217).
If you subtract Langford’s full-season numbers from the team totals, Miller’s other guys are shooting a more than respectable 36.4 percent. A coaching tweak is in order.
Injuries (and now a player suspension) have made continuity a challenging season-long ordeal.
Jerome Hunter, De’Ron Davis and Race Thompson were all projected to be functioning pieces. As a group, they have played 159 minutes and scored 64 points. They’re three of seven guys who have missed time with injuries.
Hunter will not play this season.
A conservative projection would have put Davis at 7 points and five boards this season. He has played 11 minutes with one rebound and no baskets during the slide.
After missing more than two months with a concussion, Thompson finally dressed Tuesday and might be available to play soon.
Their absence has illuminated an unreliable bench. Miller’s subs have been outscored by opponents in four of the last five games. The cumulative five-game gap in bench points: 63-32.
They’re undersized — height, length and bulk — around the rim. Juwan Morgan has been Indiana’s most reliable player but Morgan has averaged 33 minutes in conference games. He’s scoring (16.5 points) and rebounding (7.9) similar to last season but he’s a power forward playing out of position.
Morgan is also the only consistent performer in the senior, junior and sophomore classes.
OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant bolted for the NBA after two seasons, leaving Morgan as the only four-year senior. The junior class has been a bust. The sophomore class isn’t ready to lead.
They have not made three-point shots. (Yes, it’s worth a second mention.) Over the five-game losing streak, Indiana is 22 for 86 from distance (25.6 percent) while opponents are 37-111 (33.3 percent).
They’re losing the turnover battle. The Hoosiers committed more turnovers than they forced in four of the last five games. They’re minus-3 per game in turnover margin during the losing streak.
Four defeats (all except Northwestern Tuesday) have been against teams ranked at least 10 spots ahead of Indiana in Pomeroy’s rankings.
Michigan, Maryland and Nebraska are more talented. Purdue coach Matt Painter had his team schooled to silence Indiana’s offense. Pack the paint. Encourage perimeter shots. A coaching victory for Painter, especially to win by 15.
Four losses (all except Nebraska) were on the road, where Indiana is 1-6 overall, defeating only Penn State by a basket.
They’re erratic at the free throw line, a dangerous flaw for a team that wants to drive and get to the line. The Hoosiers have made less than 69 percent of their free throws during the streak, going 11 for 19 against Nebraska and 7 for 18 against Purdue. That's a losing formula.
They’re relying on freshmen guards (Langford and Robert Phinisee). While there are always exceptions (see Duke and Kentucky) freshmen guards are typically a greater risk to throw in clunkers on the road.
That’s a starter set of explanations. You can add or subtract to my list. It’s negotiable.
Here is what is not negotiable: Indiana needs to start adding victories soon or a Season Back in the NCAA Tournament will become a Season on The You Know What.
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