Indiana hit rock bottom last Wednesday, losing to Northwestern for the first time in 15 years. Indiana has lost its last five road games and gave Northwestern its first Big Ten win of the season.
Every game in the Big Ten is tough to win on the road, other than the game at Northwestern. The Hoosiers went into Wednesday's game assuming they would win, giving Northwestern the chance to grab an early lead. Yet, in a must-win game for Indiana, every player on the court with the exception of A.J. Moye looked lethargic, despite trailing by double digits to the Wildcats.
Again Mike Davis benched Jeff Newton and George Leach for much of the first half, after the two played without strength and intensity inside. After pulling down rebounds, both players allowed Northwestern's smaller players to strip the ball forcing Davis to pull both big men early in the first half in favor of Mike Roberts.
Davis looked dumbfounded throughout most of the game and refused to speak with the media afterwards. He cannot motivate Newton and Leach the way he motivated Indiana's inside players the last two years. Davis took several different approaches towards motivating Newton and Leach. He criticized them publicly, attacked them privately and even benches them during games to establish the point. Newton and Leach have responded during some games, but look indifferent during others. The lack of consistency inside disrupts Indiana's offense and affects their defense.
Big Ten teams have developed a blueprint to shutdown Indiana's offense. Northwestern followed the blueprint perfectly, defending and frustrating Indiana's perimeter shooters while guarding Newton and Leach with a single defender. Despite having a huge size advantage against Northwestern's front line, only A.J. Moye took advantage of the one-on-one matchups inside. Newton and Leach did not produce at all and Sean Kline did not play against the Wildcats.
Newton and Leach need to adjust their games, so they are not so easy to defend against. Newton continues to fade away from the basket, playing more on the perimeter rather than attacking the basket. Newton attempted one free throw against Northwestern because he played most of the game on the perimeter instead of in the post.
Leach has to develop a shot going to his right if he ever wants to be effective inside. His defenders know he always goes left in the post. Leach is left-handed and never developed an attack going to the right. He would be much more of a threat if his defenders did not know ahead of time he was going left.
Without an inside presence, IU's guards continue to struggle shooting the ball because they rarely get open looks. Tom Coverdale, Bracey Wright and Kyle Hornsby combined to shoot 0-for-12 from 3-point range on Wednesday. The guards forced tough outside shots out of frustration, resulting in poor perimeter shooting which has plagued Indiana recently.
Indiana's guards can generate better looks for themselves if they run the motion offense better. Davis told the team he wanted them to pass more and dribble less, but Northwestern was the superior passing team on Wednesday. The Wildcats made crisp passes on backdoor cuts, leading to layups. The Hoosiers stood around the perimeter passing the ball until a guard would try to penetrate or force an outside shot.
Finally, Indiana cannot continue to allow average players to explode for huge games. Players like Ohio State's Brent Darby, Louisville's Francisco Garcia and Temple's Alex Wesby are good players, but they should not combine for 36 points above their averages against Indiana. On Wednesday the combination of T.J. Parker and Jitim Young combined for 44 points on 17-for-28 shooting. If these players dominate Indiana, then what will Brian Cook do when Indiana faces off against the Fighting Illini on February 25th?
The Hoosiers need to regain the swagger and confidence they had at the beginning of the year. Since losing their first game against Kentucky, the Hoosiers have looked much more unsure of themselves. They need to remember they made it to the NCAA Finals last year. They need to realize that they are defending Big Ten champions and beat their chests when they enter an opponent's home floor.
Davis has tried to get this message across to the team without success. The Hoosiers need a leader to step up. Last year Jared Jeffries led Indiana on the floor, and Dane Fife led the team emotionally. Someone needs to fill those roles on this year's team.
Indiana can recover from this bad start. They started 7-5 last year and made it to the NCAA finals, but this is not the same team as last year's squad. The schedule will not get any kinder for Indiana with visits to Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois looming. Indiana must pick up the pieces soon or risk missing the NCAA tournament.
Where does Indiana go from here?
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