The Hoosiers badly needed a win.
They had lost their last three games and four of their last six, with the only two wins coming against Austin Peay and Delaware State. It didn’t matter that three of those four losses were to No. 18 Butler, No. 9 Louisville and No. 13 Wisconsin.
Indiana needed to win on Saturday, and the did. The No. 25 Hoosiers used a 15-0 run to open the game, winning 96-80 in what was one of their best offensive performances of the season. James Blackmon Jr. had 25 points. Thomas Bryant had 16 of his 20 points in the second half. As a team, the Hoosiers hit 13-for-25 from three.
More importantly, they didn’t turn the ball over, coughing it up just 12 times in a 68-possession game. That’s a totally reasonable 17.6 turnover percentage; they had turned the ball over on 23.1 percent of their possessions the last three games.
The concern, however, is that their defense just didn’t get any better. The Hoosiers entered Saturday 77th nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric and will exit the day 91st. Illinois finished with 80 points despite going scoreless for the first five minutes. Outside of that early run, Illinois played the Hoosiers to a stalemate. Illinois may have been the better team in the second half.
But none of that really matters.
We know Indiana is a team with issues, a team that is still trying to figure out exactly who they are and how they are going to play this season. That’s not going to change in a couple of days. We also know that Tom Crean is a coach that turned a team around last season that had some of these same issues, and there is enough talent on this roster for him to do something similar again. The Big Ten title may be out of reach, but a Sweet 16 run isn’t.
So what matters is that Indiana, a team that seemed to be having a crisis of confidence, got a win, and there’s no better way to build confidence that to win games.
Is beating Illinois the start?