Five takeaways from Indiana’s loss to Penn State

  • 02/13/2014 1:30 pm in

In one of the most perplexing losses that fans in Assembly Hall have witnessed, Indiana fell 66-65 to Penn State on Wednesday night after holding an 11-point lead with 2:53 to play.

The loss dropped the Hoosiers to 14-10 overall and 4-7 in the Big Ten with a game at Purdue looming on Saturday. Here’s a look at five takeaways from the loss to the Nittany Lions:

· Indiana played not to lose late, rather than to win: The Hoosiers had plenty of chances to close the game out down the stretch and simply couldn’t do it. Turnovers and poor execution were obviously a big part in that, but IU tightened up late and rather than just making the plays that helped them build a 13-point lead, the Hoosiers looked like they were just trying to hold on.

The blame for that, of course, has to go around. It doesn’t all fall on the coaching staff, nor does it fall completely on the players, either. It was, collectively, a poor effort down the stretch. What we’ve learned from watching the Big Ten this season is that every possession matters. And when you’re on a wrong side of the turnover battle consistently in close games, in this instance IU had five more than Penn State, the outcomes are not going to be favorable.

· Indiana has now led in six of its seven Big Ten losses in the second half: Besides the loss at home to Michigan State, the Hoosiers have led in the second half of six of their seven conference losses. Some of the leads were large, some were small. But this team simply isn’t getting it done when it matters most in games.

This collapse was a collection of a lot of the issues that we’ve seen throughout the course of the season and when the dust settled, what should have been IU’s fifth conference win dissipated into a second straight loss. This is a classic sign of a young team in that it is good enough to build a lead, but not polished enough to protect it.

“It’s not very fun to lose a game like that,” Yogi Ferrell said. “It all comes down to execution at the end of the game. It just has to get a lot better. We just can’t panic on the court. We’ve just got to stay true to ourselves and execute.”

· Turnovers again rear their ugly head: We’ve written about, dissected and discussed IU’s turnover woes all season, but as you look back at the season as a whole, there’s been no consistent improvement in that area. IU ranks 336th nationally in turnover percentage. The Hoosiers have shown progress a few times, only to see the problem pop back up again and become a major factor in this team’s struggles.

For that, it’s got to start at the top with IU’s leader on the bench, Tom Crean, and IU’s leaders on the floor, Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey, for not getting a handle on the problem before it spun out of control. In particular, if you look back at IU’s final two games of the non-conference season against Nicholls State and Kennesaw State, two teams ranked 301st or worse in the KenPom ratings, IU turned the ball over a combined 40 times. At the time, it was perhaps glanced over as an issue that would improve as the season moved along. That hasn’t happened and it’s the major reason why Indiana is now 4-7 in conference play.

· This loss crippled any remaining NCAA tournament hopes: Barring a long winning streak to close out conference play or a run through the Big Ten tournament, this loss took Indiana off of the NCAA tournament bubble. The Hoosiers are now a combined 1-3 against Nebraska, Northwestern and Penn State, a trio that I once believed IU would need a 5-1 mark against to get to nine or ten league wins.

Going into to the season, it’s fair to say that not many knew what to expect from this team. Youth is obviously prevalent on the roster, but there’s also substantial talent. The main thing that many wanted to see was improvement and a team that was playing its best basketball in February and March. There’s no denying that IU has played great at times and the wins over Michigan and Wisconsin are definitely notable. But this is the time to be hitting stride rather than taking a major step back, which is exactly what this loss was.

· The only thing left to do is bounce back: A meeting with Purdue, IU’s biggest rival and losers of four straight to the Hoosiers, looms on Saturday. This loss could either carry over into Mackey Arena and give the Hoosiers their first three-game losing streak or IU could bounce back with an improved effort. Is there a better time to focus on the task at hand other than playing your rival? I would argue no.

Crean was asked about getting his team to develop the awareness it needs to have late in games in the postgame press conference:

“We’ve got to go back to work tomorrow. I can’t psychoanalyze it,” he said. “We’ve got to go back to work tomorrow. It is what it is. This team beat Michigan a week ago. We’ve got to come back. That’s the way it is. I’ll be there. You know what I mean? That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to get ourselves ready to go beat Purdue. That is the bottom line.”

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  • Sam Robertson

    Not a thing. Just saying 9 out 10 fans I talk to are not too hot on Crean right now (a lot have not been from early on based on his style). I have said how good a job he has done rebuilding the program, bringing in talent, getting those guys to work hard… etc.. But at the end of the day you are going to have to be able to coach in a game. You know give some good advice to your players, sub in guys at the right time, draw up some plays. He’s got time to prove he can do it.

  • John Temple

    I did look. In Bob Knights last two seasons, 99 & 2000, the team had 7 TO’s per game and 9 TO’s per game. Through 24 games, this team is averaging 14 per game, that’s almost double Knight’s teams. Interestingly, in the 2001 season, when Davis took over and had all Knight’s former players that TO average jumped to 14 per game, just like Crean’s current team. Coaching matters.

  • NotTheRealSteveEyl

    Not sure why you dismiss talent as the explanation. Cody was a much more effective inside presence than Vonleh (I bet Vonleh will be better in the NBA).

    Also, we had kids who could shoot. Take a guy like Watford out of the lineup and replace him with Troy. Your team is much easier to guard.

    Our offense was good the last couple of years because we had four guys (sometimes five) that teams needed to guard all over the floor. This year, not so much. If you packed the lane on last years’ team, we’d jumpshoot you to death.

  • Lance

    And in America, success is measured in cash.

  • Lance

    Dream on

  • NotTheRealSteveEyl

    Maybe I’m mis-reading the tone your comment, but I think Vonleh should go. If a freshman in the business school got a job offer for $8M/year, would any one say they shouldn’t take it?

    No, because no one sells tickets to watch kids do problem sets.

    Vonleh will improve so much more playing for the Kings or whoever than spending another year in college.

  • Hoosier_Follower

    Agreed, I should’ve said holding the ball right after the Taylor 3 when PSU got within 4, was a bad strategy for this team. That’s the moment that I really didn’t agree with.

  • Lance

    Sounds like the normal progression of truth: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident.

    Maybe we’re finally moving into stage three?

  • pcantidote

    Wow. I don’t know where you are getting your facts but you are way off. In 1998-1999 they had 507 turnovers in 34 games, or 14.9 per game. In 1999-2000 they had 424 turnovers in 29 games, or 14.6 per game. Coaching does matter, but Knight’s later teams were just as turnover prone as this one.

  • Lance

    As success is measured in cash, Vonleh is pre-determined to leave IU early. If success meant something other than cash around these parts, if Indiana basketball had value greater than personal fortune, then we might rightly expect NV to stay. But that’s not the sort of player CTC recruits.

    Or–if we had an ability to provide a player like NV (or CZ) with the development he craves, development that might, just might, persuade a player to stick around, we could reasonably expect a young baller to stay. But that’s not the program CTC has built.

    in other words, the CTC program is not built to last.

  • NotTheRealSteveEyl

    No offense at all, but I just don’t understand that line of thinking. On one hand, there’s cash, and then there’s NBA lottery cash.

    Why do kids get chastized for going to the NBA? I was a history major. If someone came to me at the end of my Freshman year and said, hey, we’ll pay you $9M to do this job for a year, I would have done it almost no matter what it was. Does that make me a bad guy? Choosing a high paying job does not automatically make you some money-hungry psycho. Money creates freedom in our world (and not just America).

    And even if Noah’s primary goals in life are something else (curing cancer, raising a couple of great kids, running for president, founding a church, whatever you think is important), what better base to do all that from than becoming really really really financially secure by the age of 30?

    I just don’t get the value judgement people put on kids who leave early. Are some of them jerks who never gave a *** about school? Sure. But so are some of every type of student. If college graduates didn’t make more money than high school graduates, how many people do you think would go to college? Not as many, that’s for sure.

    And I honestly don’t think this is about IU vs. another school. I totally agree with you that our coaching staff is probably not developing Noah as much as some other schools would. But I don’t think any school’s going to develop him more than an NBA team, even a really bad one. Noah can probably score at will in practice. Would he be doing that in the league? Just on pure hours of practice time, game play, etc., NCAA ball doesn’t come close to the NBA as a development tool.

    Just because most of us on this board like college ball better (I’m frankly not sure I do any more- the product is so much worse than it was in the 90’s/00’s) doesn’t mean it IS.

    Geez, sorry for the rant. Way too long.

  • Ole Man

    Not UCLA, but UNC most assuredly. I would also argue that UK is almost plug and play.

    No, it’s not blaming Crean. It’s saying that the offense is only as good as the players plugged into it. It struggles to set screens, feed the post, and attack zones.
    The talent and cohesiveness of the past two teams overcame these pitfalls.
    It’s been no secret that I am not a fan of this offense.
    So, we will have to agree to disagree.

  • b_side

    But isn’t that the case with any coach? I mean, UK likely makes the tournament last season with a healthy Nerlens Noel. So Cal’s program is no different than ours. In effect, you’re only as good as your players.

  • Rosco73

    Not in one part did I say one Big Ten Championship a year was “cool” with me. I just don’t think our “last 2 games last year took away from last year’s success” (which is what you said and sums up to our Big Ten Championship and all other successes). I originally was talking about CTC anyway, so whatever you say furthermore is invalid to me.

  • Doug McDaniel

    “if we had an ability to provide a player like NV (or CZ) with the development he craves, development that might, just might, persuade a player to stick around” I think Victor Oladipo might want to have a word to you about Crean’s ability to develop players.

  • Lance

    Good stuff, Eyl.

    I don’t fault a player for leaving. After all, that’s what they’re trained to do. My beef is more with the recruiters who pursue those type of players in lieu of those with basketball IQ. I’d take an Alford over a Vonleh ANYDAY.

  • Lance

    Good one. You forgot to mention Dwayne Wade in your tired argument, though.

  • Jeff

    It seems the team doesn’t possess a high BBIQ. After too many games this year the response from CC & the players has been the same, “we didn’t execute or didn’t follow the game plan”. Is it lack of buy-in or more fundamental than that? Players at the level at which IU competes must have a high BB IQ. They should instinctively know how to get a ball in bounds or call a time out. You may have to coach that in high school but not in a program that is recruiting top national talent. In spite of our issues we love our team but we want to see greater progress at this point in the season than we are experiencing. The issues are many and run deep. We will be fortunate to correct them with one years recruiting class (especially with no wide bodies to control the paint). We thought we had recovered from the bottom – let’s hope we have, but recovery to a Hoosier means top 10 rankings and Big 10/national championship level play year In and year out.

  • Robert J Morgan

    How true, take Cody. They saw the raw talent and knew Crean can not coach big men, so they decided to draft him and teach him how to play like a big man. Conley is much further along after one year, than Cody was after two. And it is still a work in progress. Noah played against mush better competion than Cody. Wasn’t many high schoolers who could look Cody in the eye.

  • NotTheRealSteveEyl

    I am with you on that one. We may find out that, like Wade, Victor is just a freakishly talented basketball player.

    Sure, Vic became a devastating college player. But who says that’s because of what Crean did?

    Also, D McD didn’t mention him because he’s smart, but I’m guessing the Bobcats coaching staff is not raving about all the work Crean and co. did developing CZ. The kid still didn’t have a jump hook at the end of last year. He’s playing 17 mins and shooting an unimpressive 38%.

    Also, didn’t make the rookie/soph game tonight, athough such leading lights as Mason Plumlee and Giannis Antetokounmpo did.

    I think people should maybe relax with the “Crean is a great developer of talent” angle, at least for now.

  • Michael McColly

    Absolutely, I didn’t see the game at all but watched via gamecast on the net and I knew when the three came in the last two minutes by PSU that we were in trouble. The sense of failure and panic lives w/ this team from early with LIU and of course NW. This team like many teams can suffer from these collective panics and they’re strangely familiar to Indiana fans through the years. High expectations and very literate fans here make for added pressure that now has turned against this team. Last year we had some of it as well but had self-driven athletes like Olidipo and Zeller have inner confidence. Confidence is hard to teach. But this team has no one to settle them in these situations. It’s almost tragic–though it’s just a game–but it has the same psychological dynamics. Watching games over the years, you can see it happen all the time. What can happen, will happen, and teams will find themselves in situations that seem impossible to imagine, but they will put themselves in it again and again, until they are led back out by a confidence they must learn, either alone or via a team and its coach. So painful to watch for the fans, for Crean and staff, and for the players, who must return to the stage/floor again. I think Crean ought to find a good sports psychologist to tell them what’s going on and how to respond when they feel it coming on. This is no joke.