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Indiana's Place After OT Loss To Illinois - The Impact of Noah Vonleh

Indiana fell on the road against Illinois. Where should the Hoosiers go from here?

Noah Vonleh fights for a rebound
Noah Vonleh fights for a rebound
Ben Woloszyn-USA TODAY Sports

What a rough loss for the Hoosiers on New Year's Eve. Things had seemed to be going according to plan with just under 5 minutes left. Noah Vonleh made two free throws to put the Hoosiers up by 4 points over Illinois on the road. Unfortunately for Indiana, the next sequence of events was probably less than satisfactory: Joseph Betrand basket, Vonleh turnover, Rayvonte Rice basket, Vonleh foul and turnover, and Rice basket. In just over a minute, Indiana's best big man was put in foul trouble and a late 4 point lead turned into a 2 point deficit. Never for the remainder of the game would Indiana lead. The Hoosiers had high hopes in the waning minutes of Tuesday's game, but came up just a bit short in overtime.

The question for today is where this leaves Indiana. Whatever your thoughts on the loss, a few things have appeared clear for this year's Indiana team. First, this team is much too reliant on Noah Vonleh. Vonleh is a great player and a fantastic athlete, but Indiana needs to to get better production from the team's backup big men. Luke Fischer announcing he would transfer certainly didn't help things, but at some point Indiana has to get better production out of their backups. Hanner Mosquera-Perea had 6 points in 15 minutes on two shots, but the dropoff is painfully obvious anytime Vonleh hits the bench. Maybe this production is good enough to compete with Illinois, but there are Big Ten teams with far better frontcourts than Illinois has right now (no disrespect Illini). Competing against them with that kind of production just will not cut it.

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2013 - Hanner Mosquera-Perea 14 9.1 1.1 1.6 65.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.8 2.4 73.5 0.8 1.7 2.5 0.3 0.7 0.1 0.4 1.5 3.9

The other question for Indiana's team is how they are going to address their turnovers. They lost the turnover battle against Illinois by 13(!!) on Tuesday. It's one thing to turn it over, but you basically gave Illinois an extra 13 possessions during the game. We all know the tempo feeds partially into this, but even look at last year's loss to Illinois on the road. We all know the teams were different, but Indiana only lost the turnover margin by 4 on that night. Indiana is going to turn over the ball, but the margin is simply too high right now. Indiana's guards and notably Yogi Ferrell with 6 turnovers need to find a way to make that at least closer or else they are going to have a lot of trouble when they face even better defensive teams like Ohio State and Wisconsin.

Outside of schematic and player development concerns, this loss leaves Indiana in a place no fan hoped they would have been to start the season. They've now arrived in 2014 without a marquee win. What is perhaps more frustrating about this is that they had serious chances to beat UConn, Notre Dame, and Illinois with none of the games at home, but fell short. I wrote about this last summer and it just seems to be getting more true by the day. The people who set up Indiana's schedule this year made some major mistakes. Maybe they looked more positively on the team than they should have or made their decisions for monetary reasons, but they absolutely should have scheduled a decent opponent at home in the non-conference season. Indiana is going to win a marquee game this year and it's likely going to happen by early February, but Indiana should have never been put in this position to begin with and if things don't go as planned later in the year, things could get even worse.

Indiana has a brutal stretch in their next few games. Their next three games are MSU (home), Penn State (road), and Wisconsin (home). Indiana certainly has a shot to win all three games, especially with the team's undefeated record at home this year, but it's going to be very difficult to do against Top 5 teams MSU and Wisconsin. That Penn State game has trap written all over it as well. The Nittany Lions fought hard against MSU and are much better than they were a year ago. So as possible as it is for Indiana to win their next 3 games, it's also possible they could lose all of these games, which would make Indiana's situation even more troublesome. Coming away with 1 win here is crucial and pressure will rise even more if they can't snag one over MSU or Wisconsin.

Is this loss the end of Indiana's season? Not even close. Indiana still has a boatload of opportunities to capture some marquee wins and start building a resume. Having said that, it still doesn't remove the sting over losing a game late that Indiana was in position to win. Add in that things get no easier going forward and there has to be some concerns in Bloomington. The good news is the Hoosiers will finally get some real opponents at home.