IU basketball: When Hoosiers embrace who they are, wins will come. Just like against Stanford
In 3 games at Ashville this week, at the relocated Maui Invitational, the Hoosiers showed what they are.
The good and the bad.
The good is the group that whipped Stanford in Wednesday’s 3rd-place game, as the Hoosiers showed up with a ball-hawking, aggressive defense and opportunistic offense that willingly plays through the talents of Trayce Jackson-Davis in the post. The bad, though, was what came the day before, when the Hoosiers looked far too similar to what they were last season, a team that lacked enough offensive weapons to overcome Texas’ length and athleticism. And a team that wasn’t always interested on the defensive end nor had enough effort on the glass.
What’s the truth?
Well, it’s probably too early to tell with these Hoosiers (3-1). It’s not as if Indiana has been the hallmark of consistency under coach Archie Miller. The hope was that in his 4th season in Bloomington the Hoosiers would start to show a bit of it, but it’s not been easy even in the first 4 games of the season.
Wednesday was good, however, the kind of afternoon that gives Indiana fans that glimmer of hope once again. Jackson-Davis was the star that many had forecasted, turning in a career performance with 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 11-of-14 from the line, with 6 rebounds. But bigger than Jackson-Davis’ performance is that he got help, unlike the day before, when Indiana was throttled by No. 17 Texas to the turn of 66-44. (In fairness, Texas beat North Carolina later Wednesday to win the tournament.)
Against the Cardinal, the Hoosiers hit better than 50% of their field goals, including a 6-of-7 performance from forward Race Thompson, and as a team they made 5 3-pointers. That might not sound like much, but it is. This isn’t an outstanding shooting team, particularly with Al Durham out with an ankle injury, so if the Hoosiers can hit a handful from the perimeter it makes a world of difference. It opens up the lane for Jackson-Davis and Thompson to operate; it allows for Armaan Franklin to drive; it gives Jerome Hunter, who has had a slower-than-anticipated start to the season, chances to pick up buckets from the paint.
But when IU misses from the perimeter and misses often, all of that goes away. Against Texas, the Hoosiers made only 2-of- 10 3-point attempts, and while Jackson-Davis was able to get his 17 points, no one else hit double-figures. IU scored only 44, and it was far too reminiscent of those Big Ten games last season when the Hoosiers failed to break the 60-point threshold. Heck, against Texas, IU made only 11 field goals and gave up more rebounds (48) than it scored points (44).
To consistently play more like Wednesday than Tuesday, Miller needs the Hoosiers to embrace who they are. They’re not going to dial it up on people, not turn up the heat, not boat-race them to 100.
It’s about what they can do if they chose. That’s always been a challenge for the Hoosiers, it seems as they’ve wanted to shoot for the shiny lights, but instead needed to be bear-hugging the gritty details. The latter involved playing through Jackson-Davis, playing defense at a higher level and using its quickness, rather than its size, to get on the glass. The Cardinal saw all three Wednesday. Jackson-Davis was a ringleader for the offense, scoring in the paint, but also assisting on a couple of baskets and not turning the ball over. And Indiana, which so far this season has been without the only true center on its roster, 6-11 Joey Brunk, was intense on the defensive end, holding Stanford to less than 36-percent shooting and dominating the glass, 34-26.
And be it every day of the week.