Despite a tumultuous offseason that resulted in six players leaving the program, including three dismissed from the team, this Indiana Hoosiers team still came into the season with high expectations. This talented group mixed with experience was expected to compete for a Big 10 crown and was considered by many a National Championship contender. Led by senior point guard Yogi Ferrell, the Hoosiers were determined to make a deep run in March and end up in Houston for the Final Four. The Hoosiers achieved one of their goals by winning the Big 10 outright regular season championship but the ultimate goal of hanging banner number six was dashed after a beat down in the Sweet Sixteen at the hands of North Carolina. Here are a few reasons Indiana fell short of the ultimate prize.
Early Season Hiccups
The Fire Tom Crean camp, myself included, never had more momentum then after Indiana’s atrocious performance in the Maui Invitational followed by an embarrassing performance at Duke in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Losses to Wake Forest and UNLV, ranked 154 and 141 in the RPI respectively, were major blemishes on Indiana’s tournament resume. Followed up by a 20-point blowout at Duke the next week, Indiana appeared to be a team ready to crash and burn after these early season setbacks. Despite a miraculous turnaround in Big 10 play, it was apparent on Selection Sunday how these missteps had haunted the Hoosiers. Only receiving a five seed in the NCAA tournament enraged many Hoosier faithful but the weak non-conference performance was a prime reason the selection committee bumped down Indiana. Perhaps a better performance in Maui and Cameron Indoor would have given Indiana an easier path to the Final Four.
Heading into the North Carolina game, Indiana was a team ravaged with injuries. Robert Johnson was dealing with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the last two weeks of the regular season and most of the Kentucky game in the Round of 32. When Johnson was officially listed out of the Sweet 16 game, this was an instant blow to the Hoosiers shot of pulling off the upset. In Johnson Indiana was missing arguably their best perimeter defender, a sniper from long range, and another ball handler to help out Yogi Ferrell. One of the best glue guys in the country, Johnson’s presence was sorely missed in this game. Juwan Morgan and Colin Hartman were also dealing with injuries that required surgery in the offseason. Morgan dealing with a separated shoulder all season and Hartman an injured wrist were clearly affected by these injuries. Being two of Indiana’s bigger bodies, they needed to be at 100% going against the Tar Heels massive frontline. A healthy Hoosiers team would have given Indiana a much better chance at knocking off North Carolina.
Ran Into a Buzz Saw
Heading into the North Carolina game, the formula for Indiana to pull of the upset would be to control UNC’s dominance inside and force them to shoot outside jumpers. This seemed like a good idea considering North Carolina finished the season ranked 266th in the NCAA in three point shooting as a team. However when Marcus Paige opened the game with four early 3-pointers, it was instant trouble for the Hoosiers. North Carolina was hitting everything from the field regardless if it was contested as they shot 18 of 29 from the field in the first half, including 7 of 8 from distance. It didn’t matter what Indiana did on defense as it was evident early on it was the Tar Heels night.
It was a disappointing end to a remarkable season and not being able to win a National Championship in Yogi’s final season really broke my heart. Indiana appears primed to be a contender again next year with the likes of Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby, and Robert Johnson all returning. It appears likely that James Blackmon Jr. will remove his name from the NBA Draft and if Troy Williams follows suit, Indiana has a great chance to hang banner number six next year.