For Indiana basketball, it's finally all about the present now
Indiana basketball has spent a lot of time trapped in amber since Bob Knight was fired in 2000.
There have been times, albeit brief, when the Hoosiers have jumped to the present. Mike Davis’ unexpected run to the national championship game in 2002. Tom Crean’s revitalization project built around Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, which ended up being high tide instead of the new water level.
But other than those moments, the past hangs over the program. Those 5 Assembly Hall banners, always looming and gaining dust.
When Mike Woodson was hired a year ago, he vowed to use that past to build Indiana’s future rather than lord over it.
“It’s going to be my job to bridge the gap between young people who don’t know who coach Woodson is,” he said at his introductory press conference. “And I’m going to bring all the old-timers back, like the old days, the gap between old and new.”
And in Tuesday night’s 66-58 First Four win over Wyoming, the Hoosiers made their biggest stride across that bridge yet.
It was a fitting place for such a step to happen, for Dayton is tied to the most recent ghost of Hoosier Basketball past. It’s from that very place that Indiana hired Woodson’s predecessor, who for the most part left Woodson with a lot of catching up to do in Year 1.
But for as much criticism as Archie Miller has earned for his failures at IU, he also deserves credit for the one significant gift he left behind.
That would be post Trayce Jackson-Davis, whose 27 points and 7 rebounds at UD Arena are almost solely responsible for the Hoosiers moving on.
It was the 3rd-best NCAA Tournament scoring debut for an Indiana player in program history. And it feels like the potential start of something that could last into the 2nd weekend of the Tournament.
A defense that won’t quit
As Indiana showed in the Big Ten Tournament, this is a defense capable of tying any opposing offense in knots. It did so against Michigan, Illinois and for 35 minutes against Iowa.
You’d never know it from Tuesday night, but Wyoming came into the Tournament with one of the least mistake-prone offenses in the country. The Cowboys were 38th in fewest steals allowed, and 62nd in overall turnovers.
Indiana harassed Wyoming into a season-high 19 turnovers. That equates to a turnover on 28.8% of Wyoming’s possessions — well above the previous high of 25.6%, according to KenPom.com.
The Cowboys also never once got into transition and scored. Wyoming had zero fast-break points.
That’s the type of defense capable of busting people’s brackets for at least 2 more rounds.
About that offense…
The Hoosiers needed pretty much all of the 17 points they created off of those 19 Wyoming turnovers. Indiana’s offense remains, to put it mildly, an Achilles Heel. More like an Achilles Foot. Or an entire leg.
Given Wyoming’s offensive struggles, Indiana should have spent most of this game winning by 10-20 points. Wyoming’s star players, Hunter Maldonado and Graham Ike, combined for 15 turnovers.
These are legitimately good players who looked like they were grabbing a buttered basketball. But Indiana’s lead never grew larger than 10. Somehow the Cowboys were just a solitary made 3-pointer from making this a game in the final minute.
And that somehow is Indiana’s miserable jump-shooting. The Hoosiers were just 2 of 13 from 3-point range. Indiana’s guards shot a combined 7-for-28 (25%) from the field.
Without an unexpected 15-point burst off the bench from forward Jordan Geronimo, the Hoosiers still might have come up short even with Jackson-Davis’ wizardry.
This is not a new issue. Due to its season-long shooting struggles, Indiana had to win 2 games in the Big Ten Tournament just to get to the First Four. For as well-stocked as Miller left Indiana’s frontcourt for Woodson, the backcourt was barren.
To get the Hoosiers this far, Woodson had to find a transfer on his own.
The X-Man is the X-Factor
The man most responsible for Indiana’s immediate postseason future is point guard Xavier Johnson.
Johnson was off against the Cowboys, shooting just 3 of 12 from the field. Despite that, he nearly managed a double-double, finishing with 10 points and 7 assists.
And if it was just a matter of Tournament jitters — Johnson never made it this far in 3 years at Pitt — then Indiana’s fortunes for a magical March are better than some might think.
Johnson averaged 18.4 points and 7.1 assists per game in IU’s final 7 games leading up to the Tournament.
The Hoosiers aren’t going to magically start hitting 3-pointers with consistency. They’re 186th in the country for a reason. But when Johnson gets going, Indiana can create enough offense to not completely waste its defensive effort.
And if that happens, these Hoosiers will keep the fanbase happily locked in to the present day.