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What has gone wrong with Indiana?

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Indiana’s season is on the brink.

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.

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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.

Gross.

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.

BLOOMINGTON, IN - DECEMBER 28: James Blackmon Jr. #1, Thomas Bryant #31, and OG Anunoby #3 of the Indiana Hoosiers meet in the second half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Assembly Hall on December 28, 2016 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

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.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 31: Josh Newkirk #2 of the Indiana Hoosiers shoots the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals in the Countdown Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 31, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.