After back-to-back losses at Purdue and Michigan last week, an always-present, often-well-disguised fact was revealed about this year's IU basketball team.
They're not that good.
Now before anyone accuses me of treason, blasphemy or worse, let me explain…
Indiana is a solid basketball team that has put together an impressive NCAA resume. With wins over Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue, Michigan State and Southern Illinois, among others, there's no questioning their postseason credentials. When the NCAA selection committee breaks from its war room and announces the field in three weeks, the question about IU won't be about if it's going to get in, only where the Hoosiers are headed.
It's also safe to say Coach Kelvin Sampson's cast of characters is the third best in the conference. With three very winnable games sandwiched around Saturday's match-up with Michigan State in East Lansing, all indications are IU will be the No. 3 seed at the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago in a couple of weeks.
But what has become clear is the Hoosiers aren't THAT good.
In most cases, "that" word might be one of the most useless in the English language, four letters lumped together that rarely do anything other than take up unnecessary space when pen hits paper. But in this case "that" word puts the proper emphasis on just how good this year's Indiana team is, or occasionally isn't.
Indiana is good, but when faced with a quality opponent, it's not good enough to overcome…
- an unproductive or foul-laden D.J. White. The 6-9, 251-pound sophomore isn't only the team's best low post scoring threat – he's the only one. With all due respect to Mike White's solid work down the stretch at Michigan and Ben Allen's long hours on the practice court, D.J. White is the one player on the IU roster capable of commanding double teams down low and scoring in the paint.
- an injury to Earl Calloway. That was apparent Saturday, when IU's 11-game winning streak against a mediocre Michigan team came to an end in Ann Arbor. Despite an exemplary effort by Errek Suhr (10 points, 4-of-6 shooting, four assists, 0 turnovers) who started in his place, Calloway's absence is crippling on both ends of the floor. On defense he generally draws the opponent's best perimeter player, and on offense he plays 30-plus minutes/game and ranks second in the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio.
- a sub-par effort from behind the 3-point arc. When Kelvin Sampson took over the reins of the IU program, he inherited a roster that featured a handful of players who were almost exclusively 3-point shooters, most notably A.J. Ratliff, Roderick Wilmont and Lance Stemler. It's been an area the players and the staff have tried to address, working with those players and others to became better at attacking off the dribble and getting to the free-throw line. While IU has became noticeably better off the bounce in recent weeks, this remains a team that is still generally limited in the number of ways it can consistently score. And one of those ways is from behind the 3-point arc, where IU attempted 21 shots Saturday at Michigan and averages nearly 20 attempts/game.
Perhaps the most remarkable feat is Sampson and his staff have been able to change the team's mindset enough on the defensive end to more-often-than-not overcome some of these shortcomings. With that change, though, has come some different expectations from IU's fans, many of whom have come to expect success in places like Mackey Arena and the Schottenstein Center.
That may come in the not-too-distant future, but to expect it from this team is a bit of a stretch.
To their credit, this is an IU team that has won 17 of 25 games this year, has been competitive in all eight of its losses, and has spent the last couple of weeks ranked in the nation's top 25.
I'll be the first to admit that shows this year's team is pretty good, occasionally very good, every once in a while darn good.
But THAT good?
No. At least not yet.
DECKER: Face It - They're Not "That" Good
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