No. 2 Indiana was dealt it's second loss of the season. The game against Wisconsin was very reminiscent of the loss to Butler earlier this season.
IU was outworked and shut down on offense by the Badgers. It seems as if the two teams (Butler and Wisconsin) have developed a blueprint for taking down IU.
If the Hoosiers still have a "Championship or Bust" mentality, then something has to change.
First let's talk about coaching and the conference. It seems a good time to remind fans that they need to have realistic expectations.
A lot of people have suggested that Tom Crean simply isn't a good enough coach, as evidenced by losses to Butler's Brad Stevens and Wisconsin's Bo Ryan. Both are exceptional coaches, but to suggest that Crean is a bad coach is a stretch.
A coach can't be just a good recruiter, he has to have some solid coaching ability or he won't be able to get those players. Some have gone so far as to say that IU won't be able to get better because of the low coaching ceiling of Crean, but that seems like lazy analysis and people holding a personal grudge against the coach.
The Big Ten is easily the toughest conference in the NCAA. It's not even close. The ACC has two really good teams (NC State and Duke). The Big 12 will be decided in the state of Kansas. The SEC is still a football conference and Kentucky is having a down year (Florida and Missouri are the only real competitors here).
The closest competitor is the Big East. One could make a solid argument that the talent between the two conferences is a toss up, but the edge has to go to the Big Ten. No conference is tougher when you are on the road than the Big Ten.
So, we knew IU wouldn't just roll through the conference. Wisconsin will be ranked soon, and they haven't finished worse than fourth in the conference since Ryan has been coach. IU still has road games at Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, and Michigan State (all currently ranked in the Big Ten). IU can realistically expect to win about 2-3 of those games.
But let's talk about what the Hoosiers need to do to improve their game.
- Keep up the defense. IU has seen an exceptional jump defensively this season. They consistently rank in the top 10 in defense and most of that starts with Victor Oladipo, who has been exceptional but seems off his game lately. He needs to remain focused and the rest of the team needs to continue playing hard on this side of the ball. Defense leads to offense (read: fastbreaks) and wins championships.
- Cody Zeller has to demand the ball. Zeller might be too much of a team player. It seems as if he would rather pass off the ball rather than score the tough points in the paint. He needs to post up and make his teammates give him the ball. The two most likely things that will happen when he gets the ball down low: 1. he scores; 2. he is fouled.
- Zeller needs to toughen up. For a man who is listed at 7-0 and 240-lbs he plays like a man half that size. He has been bullied out of the low block far too often this year. He is simply too athletic and skilled for this to happen with any kind of consistency. Zeller is a man, and one slated for a first round draft pick, its time for him to act like it.
- Run more set plays. IU seems to run a motion offense that relies too much on isolation than anything else. Players like Oladipo and Yogi Ferrell would exceed in the pick-and-roll with Zeller. Yet IU rarely runs those type of plays and when they do, Zeller fades to the outside like he is going to take a three. It really is baffling. The talent that these players have is exceptional but not so great that they shouldn't be running some sort of set offense.
- Christian Watford needs to be more aggressive. Maybe we could just say the whole team should be more aggressive. Watford has show flashes of being a near dominant player. He has been playing very good defense lately and historically when he does so, his offense is a lot better too. He has had a few games where he isn't content to just take long distance shots and has attacked the rim in an effort to get a higher percentage shot. This type of play needs to continue for Indiana to make a lasting impact in the conference.
No one has counted the Hoosiers out so far. There is no reason to do so. They are still extremely talented and should be able to earn a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Fans are expecting greatness out of this team and rightfully so. It has been quite some time since IU has hoisted a trophy and hung a banner in Assembly Hall.
The next step for IU is a trip to Chicago to face Northwestern. We will have a preview of that game up tomorrow.
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