Indiana’s systematic problems exposed again in 85-71 loss to Penn State

  • 02/03/2024 4:39 pm in

“We’ve got to go back to work.”

Mike Woodson has said something along those lines after what feels like each of Indiana’s nine losses this season.

“We’ve got to go back to work, see if we can work our way back,” Woodson continued after a crushing 85-71 home loss to Penn State on Saturday.

A lot went wrong for Indiana against the now 11-11 Nittany Lions. Penn State’s Ace Baldwin Jr. and D’Marco Dunn torched the Hoosiers’ guards for a combined 32 points. Indiana also allowed 36 points from beyond the arc on 12 3s from a PSU team shooting 30.5 percent from deep entering the game. On top of that, Indiana turned the ball over 13 times, gifting Penn State 17 points off of turnovers.

Indiana led by double-figures three different times in the first half before Penn State cut the lead to four at the break. From that point on, it was a disaster. Indiana was flat. The Nittany Lions outscored Indiana 48-30 in the second half.

While the “put in the work” sentiment is true in many ways, it doesn’t matter if the “work” isn’t coupled with effort and attention to detail on gameday. Fans, media and followers of the program don’t get to watch practice. They only know what they see in Assembly Hall or on their TVs twice a week. And right now, that’s not good enough to compete atop the Big Ten or even make the NCAA tournament. If there was any chance Indiana could make the tournament after the Iowa win earlier in the week, it’s now slim to none.

“I just thought tonight, second half, we were so flat coming out. I mean, something I hadn’t seen,” Woodson explained. “It was like we were a step slow, and it’s kind of disappointing because you play a good game against Iowa, and then you come back and basically lay an egg.”

Indiana has limited itself with its personnel. So much so that the “work” isn’t a big enough band-aid to heal all of IU’s cuts. Most of Indiana’s problems are the results of the offseason and misses on the recruiting trail.

Against Iowa, Indiana battled through adversity, but against Penn State, the Hoosiers didn’t. They folded and panicked. Limited in their versatility, IU was lethargic on defense and hesitant on offense. PSU’s full-court pressure caused miscues from Gabe Cupps and Trey Galloway, including a 10-second violation. Penn State’s guards outscored Indiana’s 48-17 — an unacceptable discrepancy.

Losses happen, it’s expected. No team has gone undefeated in college basketball since Indiana did it in 1976. But teams aren’t supposed to lose the way a talented (on paper) Indiana squad has. To put it into perspective, Indiana has six players with a four-star rating or higher out of high school. Penn State has three. Indiana isn’t developing talent in a system where the resources make it easy to acquire talent.

With the injuries and roster issues, Indiana’s margin for error is far too thin for them to lack energy, mental fortitude and toughness. Without a clear leader and steady presence, it’s easy for the Hoosiers to get overwhelmed by teams when things go awry. A lack of togetherness and fire propels this domino effect.

And when that energy isn’t created for Indiana by external factors, the Hoosiers have a tough time making it themselves.

“I want more fire. I mean, come on. Yes, I want more fire to my guys,” Woodson said. “They didn’t fight tonight in the second half and that’s kind of disappointing.”

Indiana’s inability to create a spark makes it challenging to come from behind, even against bad teams. In such a long season, it’s crucial to be proactive and not reactive. Far too many times, the Hoosiers are responders — they respond to the environment or their opponents instead of setting a tone and acting with liveliness and positive affect.

Too often this season, Indiana is left soul-searching or has to go back to the drawing board after a loss. So, with a lot of “work” to be done ahead of Indiana’s next two games at Ohio State and Purdue, Indiana will keep trying to mix ingredients and find any momentum. But the truth is that there is no quick fix to the Hoosiers’ struggles. A week of “work” may not be enough to save the sinking ship that has become this season.

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