Bloomington, Ind. – Indiana fans were dealt a dose of reality about this Indiana basketball team over the weekend.
It wasn't going undefeated.
Many of the IU faithful, downright giddy about a top-10 ranking, a Bloomington-based non-conference schedule, and a less-than-ominous Big Ten slate had begun to chatter about the Hoosiers' imminent climb to No. 1 in the national polls and the prospects of a sixth national championship.
But on their way up the mountaintop, IU ran over a pothole called the Xavier Musketeers, an unranked but veteran-laden squad that whipped the Hoosiers by 15 and sent IU Coach Kelvin Sampson checking under the hood.
What he found was something he already knew – his second IU squad isn't short on talent, but the presence of six first-year players left plenty of work ahead if the Hoosiers were going to be worthy of its current lofty ranking come March.
"They exposed how immature and inexperienced we were," Sampson said.
While the loss revealed some shortcomings, it didn't necessarily give Sampson reason to panic. While result of IU's double-digit stumble on paper was a slip in the national polls from No. 8 to No. 15, the Hoosiers' head coach was more concerned about what the result would be on the floor and in the makeup of his playing rotation.
"It's a game – one out of 36," Sampson said. "That's not the last game we're going to lose. But a game like Saturday would have been a waste if we hadn't been able to draw something from it."
What Sampson learned was that players like Eli Holman, DeAndre Thomas and Brandon McGee might be the future, but the team is probably better served in the present if 6'6" senior forward Mike White is on the floor and not relegated to the bench.
"I said we can't go to the transaction wire and get somebody," Sampson said. "We've got someone sitting right here that can help this team."
Sampson said on the plane ride home from the Xavier loss was when he began to waver on redshirting White, a senior junior college transfer who had sat out the team's first five games. The first couple of weeks of the season suggested that White could in fact fill a very important role on a team that has championship aspirations.
"This team needs (White)," Sampson said. "We're playing Lance and Dre (DeAndre Thomas) and D.J. (White) in the post. You think about it, which one of those guys other than D.J. can you count on to go get a traffic rebound?"
Sampson decided his next best rebounding option would be Mike White, and the decision was made soon afterwards to get White back on the floor. Sampson added that an ankle injury that hampered White in the Bahamas and had lingered ever since also played into the earlier plan to redshirt him, but he's since recovered, caught up from a conditioning standpoint, and appeared ready to be a factor based on his play in practice.
White proved his coach right with a six-rebound effort in the Hoosiers' 83-79 win over Georgia Tech Tuesday night, including a team-high four offensive rebounds. While White's effort didn't grab the same sort of headlines like Eric Gordon's 29 points or even D.J. White's 18-point, 14-rebound evening, it was critical against a long, athletic Georgia Tech frontline.
White's play helped the Hoosiers to a 37-32 rebounding edge against the Yellow Jackets and ultimately to their first win in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in five years.
The Xavier game, meanwhile, went a long way toward highlighting a deficiency that IU could still address before the games get more meaningful.
"Maybe if the Xavier thing didn't happen, maybe we wouldn't have progressed as quickly in the last two days," Sampson said.
Lessons Learned from Xavier Setback
Peegs.com Top Stories
Video intro: Sophomore walk-on Quentin TaylorIndiana sophomore walk-on Quentin Taylor compares this Indiana team to last year's Big Ten champions and looks ahead to his future after his IU career.
Indiana depth chart vs. MarylandCheck out the Indiana two-deep for this week's game against Maryland.
Hoosier Newsstand, Oct. 26Get the latest articles on Indiana basketball, football and other sports in today's edition of the Hoosier Newsstand.
B1G Teleconference: Wilson, Durkin transcriptRead the full transcript of what Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson and Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin had to say yesterday on the weekly Big Ten Coaches Teleconference.