Another rebuild is on the horizon for Indiana basketball. While the top basketball programs essentially “reload” - the Hoosiers face a third major rebuild since Tom Crean took over in 2008.
The warts of the season were on full display tonight in Atlanta where Georgia Tech ended Indiana’s 2016-17 campaign in the first round of the NIT, 75-63.
Indiana’s postseason was over just two hours after it begun and the Hoosiers finish with an 18-16 record, the most losses for the program since the 2010-11 season.
In Atlanta we saw a number of the season long issues and saw one old wound opened.
From the outset Indiana struggled to defend a 15 loss Yellow Jackets team that boasted just the 270th ranked offense in the country and one of the least proficient outside shooting teams the Hoosiers have faced this season.
Josh Pastner’s team shot 48.1 percent, well above the team’s averaging coming into the game. Josh Okogie had 24, Tadrick Jackson 19 and senior Quinton Stephens 16 to lead the winners.
“Absolutely no reason to be as late defensively, coming off the ball and allowing them shots,” Crean said.
Indiana finishes the year ranking No. 109 nationally in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com.
For much of the game Indiana kept its turnover propensity in check but the floodgates opened after a Freddie McSwain dunk put the Hoosiers up one with just over 13 minutes remaining. The remainder of the game saw Indiana turn it over seven times. The Yellow Jackets owned a 16-2 edge in points off turnovers in the second half.
“We have to get better with the ball and get better with decision making,” Crean said. “We have to get stronger with the ball and better with our finishing. Those are things we have to improve.”
Over 39 percent of Georgia Tech’s points in the final half came courtesy of Indiana turnovers.
The “old wound” was the inability to move the ball correctly against a zone defense. Pastner had his team play a zone much of the game and Indiana struggled with the match-up style that Georgia Tech employs. It doesn’t hurt that shot blocker Ben Lammers is there to rim protect. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year finished with five blocks.
The struggles against that zone were reminiscent of Indiana’s well chronicled issues against the Syracuse zone in a pair of games in 2013. A different team but a similar problem.
“We weren’t nearly physical enough with the way we wanted to post up the top of the zone,” Crean said. “Then we stand too much. It’s mind boggling to me because we don’t practice that way.”
For the game Indiana knocked down just 5-for-19 from 3-point distance.
“Shooting was a real issue (this year),” Crean said. “We never shot the ball consistently enough. Our shooters did not make enough shots. When we did we were setting records in the Schottenstein Center or putting up 95 on Iowa.
"I wouldn't see another recruiting being signed here for the future, unless they're really special at certain things, coming in here that can't shoot the ball."
The last time Indiana didn’t make the NCAA in 2014, it had a major issue with lack of good perimeter shooting. That team addressed it quickly with a recruiting class that included sharpshooters James Blackmon Jr., Nick Zeisloft and Robert Johnson.
Indiana’s incoming class this time, however, has a pair of perimeter players (Al Durham Jr. and Justin Smith), known more for slashing and athleticism than outside marksmanship.
Durham and Smith do have nice defensive potential as does 6-foot-10 Clifton Moore, but only if the Philly area big man can add much needed bulk.
Where the answer lies to stopping the turnovers may the elephant in the room. Decisions with the ball were an ongoing issue for Josh Newkirk (three turnovers) and backups Devonte Green and Curtis Jones combined for four miscues in just 24 minutes of time. No Hoosier regular had an assist to turnover ratio to be proud of this season.
The incoming recruiting class lacks a true point guard so unless Indiana pulls a rabbit out of its hat with a late signee of note, the turnover issue will be hard to overcome.
When you add in the potential early departures to the pro ranks by James Blackmon Jr., OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant, it doesn’t look like any easy rebuild.
Crean, however, was confident he’s the guy to turn things around. His once long term contract with Indiana is down to three years remaining and seems undaunted by the challenge of one more major turnaround job.
“I’ve done it before,” Crean said. “No matter what’s on a contract, I am going to coach the same way. Whether I have one year or whether I have 10 years. It makes no difference.
“I have done it numerous times, whether it be at Marquette or whether it be at Indiana.”