The exact extent and specific diagnosis of the injury suffered by Indiana sophomore OG Anunoby isn’t yet public, but the Hoosiers offered a brief update Thursday.
“OG sustained a knee injury this past Wednesday night’s game against Penn State and is in the midst of ongoing medical evaluations,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said in a statement released by the school. “He will be out indefinitely.”
Indiana was wearing their commemorative jerseys that read “COURAGE” on the back, but that might be best used to describe Maryland’s Damonte Dodd, who thought it was a good idea to try to jump with Anunoby there.
The Hoosiers have lost three straight games and four of their last six, falling to 10-5 on the season and nearly out of the top 25 despite having two of the best wins that anyone in the sport has landed.
So what happened?
How did Indiana go from being a team that can beat Kansas and North Carolina to a team that can lose at home to Nebraska?
1. Their point guard play just isn’t good enough: Indiana lost Yogi Ferrell to graduation after last season, and it’s not exactly breaking news that replacing a dude as talented as Yogi is not an easy thing to do. The issue, however, isn’t simply that Indiana lost Yogi Ferrell, it’s that the guy they brought in to replace him, Josh Newkirk, simply isn’t good enough. “I think they have no point guard,” a coach that has played Indiana said of Newkirk. “He’s really limited.” Talentwise, he’s a back-up Big Ten point guard, but he’s being asked to replace an all-american and one of the most beloved Indiana Hoosiers in a generation.
That’s an issue, and it has manifested itself in a couple ways of late.
For starters, Indiana has an enormous problem with turning the ball over. On the season, they’re 308th nationally, coughing the ball up on 21.8 percent of their offensive possessions, but in these last three games, that number has ballooned to 23.1 percent. Extended over an entire season, that would slot the Hoosiers at 342nd out of 351 Division I teams. This doesn’t simply fall on Newkirk, either. Indiana doesn’t have a single player on their roster who has a higher assist rate than turnover rate. That’s not normal.
Downgrading from Ferrell to Newkirk also hurts everyone else on the roster. Ferrell made everyone around him better in ways that Newkirk can’t. Robert Johnson has more defensive attention on him. James Blackmon Jr. isn’t getting the same kind of looks from three that he got last season. O.G. Anunoby and Thomas Bryant have to create more for themselves. None of that is ideal, particularly for a team that has so many guys – Anunoby, Bryant, Blackmon – that are reliant upon other to create shots for them.
2. The defense has been really bad, too: The Hoosiers rank 77th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric despite having played eight teams that rank outside the top 230 in KenPom. That’s not good, and the last three games have been even worse. Nebraska, Louisville and Wisconsin combined to score 1.201 points-per-possession on Indiana. Wisconsin has a top ten offense this season, but Louisville is 44th nationally in offensive efficiency. Nebraska is 157th, and they put up 87 points in 72 possessions. Combined, they’re shooting 47.4 percent from three in those three games.
Some of that falls on their point guard situation. Those three teams combined for 63 points off of turnovers, feasting on “pick-six points”, live-ball turnovers that lead directly to layups at the other end. Indiana’s half-court defense hasn’t been half-bad, either; according to Synergy’s logs, they’re in the 85th percentile in half court defense and the 28th percentile in transition defense.
But some of that falls on the fact that Indiana just isn’t, and for the most part never has been, a good defensive team under Crean.
“They play 2-3 zone because they’re [getting killed] in ball-screens,” said one coach who has recently scouted Indiana. “Blackmon will not guard. His help, his close-outs, he gives up on them.”
Maybe it wasn’t such a coincidence Indiana’s season turned around when Blackmon injured his knee in 2015-16.
3. There is a distinct lack of leadership on the roster: It took a while for Ferrell to get to where he needed to be as a leader, but once he got there, he took the Indiana team over. He was the quintessential point guard, embodying every cliché of the position: He was the coach on the floor, he held teammates accountable, he drew up plays during timeouts, he spoke as much as the coach. All of it.
“He’s been a terrific leader,” Dan Dakich, an ESPN commentator and former Indiana coach that currently hosts a radio shot in Indianapolis, told me last season. “It’s his team, everyone understands that and follows that and respects his every word. Previous teammates didn’t respect him.”
Who is there to fill that role this year?
Indiana has two first round picks on their roster, but neither of them are suited to that leadership role. Anunoby is quiet and unassuming, a blue-collar forward that can do anything on a basketball court except, it seems, take over a game. Bryant is quite the opposite. “He’s emotional,” a Big Ten coach told me. “His temperament’s not great. You can psyche him out. It’s not hard to encourage him to lose his mind. He needs to grow up.”
Blackmon doesn’t seem to be cut out for the role as he’s more of a quiet dude himself. Robert Johnson represented the men’s basketball program when they unveiled the renovated Assembly Hall, but being good at public speaking doesn’t mean you inspire 20-year olds to play better on defense. Indy Star beat writer Zach Osterman said on the CBT Podcast that he thought it would have been Collin Hartman had Hartman not injured his knee.
There’s no one to pull this team together in a moment like this, a moment when coming together is really the only way to turn things around.
“They just look like their confidence is shot,” the Big Ten coach said.
4. Indiana will be fine, but maybe “fine” is all they were ever going to be: There is talent on Indiana’s roster. There are really good players – future NBA players – and guys that can be difference-makers at the college level. In the end, they are going to be just fine.
But the idea that this is a team that can consistently beat the likes of Kansas and North Carolina, a team that isn’t going to have their ups-and-downs throughout the year, is wrong.
That’s not who they are.
At the end of the day, this is an Indiana team with a flawed roster. They have no point guard, which makes them entirely reliant on making difficult threes to win games, and they have no alpha-dog, which makes it just that much more difficult to stop runs within a game and to stop losing streaks within a season.
They’ll finish in the top four or five of a Big Ten that isn’t all that intimidating. They’ll win 22 games and get to the NCAA tournament, and if they get the right draw, they might be able to get to the second weekend.
But that’s about all Indiana fans should expect from a team that used Juwan Morgan to initiate offense on critical possessions at home against Big Ten favorites Wisconsin.
Wisconsin started strong but perhaps finished even stronger to notch a road win Tuesday night at Assembly Hall.
The 13th-ranked Badgers scored the game’s first 13 points and closed the game by outscoring Indiana 19-11 in the final 7 minutes to down the 25th-ranked Hoosiers, 75-68.
Wisconsin has now won nine-straight games while Indiana is in the midst of its first three-game losing streak since late in the 2014-15 season, with two of those losses coming at home.
Here’s what we learned in the Badgers’ victory:
1. Wisconsin is now the early Big Ten favorite: Yes, most Big Ten programs are just two games into an 18-game grind, but it’s difficult to see anyone having a better shot of capturing the league title than the Badgers right now. They sit at 2-0 after handing one of their biggest competitors, Indiana, its second home loss of the conference schedule already.
It wouldn’t be wise to count out Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who similarly sit at 2-0, but the Spartans’ wins haven’t been as impressive as the Badgers’, and there’s still the matter of getting Miles Bridges back on the floor healthy and productive.
Wisconsin will have another chance this weekend to strike a crippling blow to another contender as they travel to Purdue, which also already has a home loss to its name in Big Ten play.
You can’t start engraving the Big Ten trophy yet, but Wisconsin has established itself as the prohibitive favorite.
2. Thomas Bryant was relegated to a non-factor: The Hoosiers’ big man may be a first-round prospect, but he was made mostly insignificant against Wisconsin. He finished with six points on five shots along with three rebounds and one block in 21 minutes. He managed to get up just two second-half shots in 14 minutes, and was at times torched by Ethan Happ offensively. Which brings us to Point No. 3….
3. Ethan Happ is Wisconsin’s best but maybe not most important player: Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are the Badgers’ most well-known players, but Happ is their most productive and consistent. He was the best player on the floor Tuesday night, putting up 19 points on 8 of 11 shooting to go along with six rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes.
He won’t wow you with his physical tools most of the time, but Happ’s patience, awareness, footwork and touch make him a devastating matchup. He’s going to produce, which makes him dependable but not dominating. He needs help from his teammates, especially his senior frontcourt companion…
4. Nigel Hayes can still fall in love with his jumpshot: Hayes is probably the Badgers’ most important player because he unlocks so much of what makes them be at their best. He’s a ballhandler and distributor at the power forward position in a way that allows Happ to put in work on the block and Koenig to hunt his shot rather than initiate offense.
It’s no accident that Wisconsin’s nine-game winning streak has coincided with Hayes’ rejection of 3-point shooting. He took 31 3-pointers in the Badgers’ first six games and just six in the subsequent nine games, never taking more than two in any one contest. He didn’t fire up any from beyond the arc against the Hoosiers, but too often he settled for mid-range jumpers, with a number of those coming off the dribble and being tightly contested. When those were flying, that’s when Indiana was often able to claw back in the game.
Those are bad shots not simply because they’re inefficient but because every time Hayes takes one, it means he’s not moving the ball to Happ or Koenig or getting a post-touch himself. It’s just not good offense for Wisconsin, not only from an efficiency standpoint but also from an opportunity cost perspective. The Badgers can get so many better looks than those contested mid-range jumpers, and they can do it in large part because of Hayes’ strengths.
Hayes deserves a ton of credit for re-engineering his game on the fly this season , but if he can continue to tighten things up, it could go a long way for Wisconsin.
No. 5 There’s no reason for Indiana to panic: Yeah, it’s not great to start conference play with a pair of home losses with a defeat to Louisville in their for good measure as part of a three-game losing streak. The Hoosiers, though, fought back from a 14-point deficit and had chances to keep the game close and ultimately beat Wisconsin before some late-game execution got in their way.
The Hoosiers now have a manageable stretch of games (vs. Illinois, at Maryland, vs. Rutgers, at Penn State, vs. Michigan State) that should allow them to steady their footing. If Indiana struggles through that stretch, though, the Big Ten opening loss to Nebraska at home is going to look much more ominous that flukey.
Five Takeaways as No. 6 Louisville knocks off No. 16 Indiana
Fresh off of an embarrassing home loss to Virginia, No. 6 Louisville went into Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday and knocked off No. 16 Indiana, 77-62.
Donovan Mitchell played his best game of the season. Deng Adel looked like a guy that is good enough to be considered for an all-ACC team. Indiana? They lost their second-straight game and their fourth this season in the state of Indiana.
Here are the five things we can takeaway from this game:
1. This is the Donovan Mitchell we expected to see this season: Donovan Mitchell was the guy everyone had pegged has a breakout player this season. The expectation that he would be a top 30ish player in the sport and an all-ACC guard is a major reason that the Cardinals were projected as a top ten team in the preseason. And through the first seven weeks of the season, Mitchell has been … a disappointment?
That’s probably going to far. Mitchell’s been fine. He wasn’t’ the one that put that burden of expectation on himself.
But however you want to phrase it, the bottom line is this: Mitchell entered Saturday averaging 11.5 points and 2.1 assists while shooting 35.7 percent from the floor and 28.8 percent from three. If the Cardinals are going to compete for an ACC title and a Final Four, he has to be better.
He has to be the guy he was Saturday. Mitchell finished with 25 points and three assists off the bench, shooting 8-for-15 from the floor and 4-for-8 from three. He hit important threes. He attacked the rim in the half court. He made plays in transition. He was, as he usually is, a pest defensively, but it was the points that he created that mattered. We all saw the game against Virginia and we all saw how much Louisville can struggle to score, so we all know what Mitchell means when he plays like this.
2. Anas Mahmoud is a difference maker: Deng Adel is going to get much of the credit for Louisville’s run late in the first half that opened up a 12-point lead at the break, as he should. He hit a pair of threes in that run and had an assist to Jaylen Johnson for a dunk. He finished with 17 points and hit a trio of threes, which matters for the same reason Mitchell’s offense matters, but he wasn’t the second-best player on the floor for Louisville.
Anas Mahmoud was.
He finished with 10 points, three blocks, two steals and two assists, but it was his presence as much as anything that had an impact. His length makes him a difference-maker defensively, both in his ability to change shots at the rim and to create steals and deflections in Louisville’s zone and press. Offensively, he’s better than people will give him credit for. He has a soft touch in the paint and can pass out of the post and out of a double-team.
Saturday was Mahmoud’s first start of the season. I would be surprised if it was his last.
3. The importance of Indiana’s early wins even more evident: The Hoosiers are going to head into the New Year having lost two straight and three straight games to teams that aren’t named Delaware State and Austin Peay. They’ve dropped a home game to Nebraska, who entered the game having lost six of their last eight, and fell at Fort Wayne earlier this season. They’re 10-4 on the season and, quite clearly, a team that is still trying to figure out what, exactly, they are.
There are a lot of teams in that spot right now. And like most of those teams, the Hoosiers are going to take a few more losses before the season is over.
But those other teams don’t have wins over Kansas and North Carolina in their back pocket. However this ends up playing out, those two wins give Indiana a much-higher seed floor than anyone else that will lose to Nebraska at home.
4. Indiana’s go to guy issues exposed: The knock on the Hoosiers all season has been that they lack a point guard and they lack a go-to guy that can create shots when their offense stalls, and that hasn’t been more evident than it was today against Louisville and the nation’s-best defense. The Hoosiers shot 32.2 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 14 times. Robert Johnson was 1-for-13. James Blackmon was just 3-for-8. Other than O.G. Anunoby, who was 6-for-10 and had three dunks, the Hoosiers as a team shots 26 percent. No one had more than two assists, and they assisted on just eight of their 19 field goals as a team.
The question Tom Crean has to answer is this: Who on his team makes others better, and how can he put them in a position to do just that?
5. Louisville suddenly looks like the favorite the ACC: On a day where North Carolina loses at Georgia Tech and Duke gets humiliated by Virginia Tech, the Cardinals beat Indiana in the state of Indiana, which, when combined with their win over Kentucky earlier this season, gives Louisville bragging rights in Kentuckiana and the look of a team that could end up winning the ACC title.
Granted, that’s likely going to require the Cardinals going into Charlottesville and beating a Virginia team that they haven’t been able to figure out in years. But if it really just is a matchup thing with UVA, if the Cavs find a way to drop games to lesser opponents that have the tools to breakdown their Pack-Line defense – like, oh, I don’t know, Florida State? – the Cards look like a team fully capable of taking advantage.
Now imagine what we would be saying if they hadn’t blown that 22-point lead to Louisville.