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The Indiana Hoosiers Improved During The 2014-15 Season, But By How Much?

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A look back at the 2014-15 season for the Hoosiers through a 10 point analysis designed to reveal what went right, what went wrong, and whether the team met expectations for the season.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 BTPowerhouse Recapitulation Series will look back at the season of each Big Ten team through a 10 point analysis designed to reveal what went right, what went wrong, and whether the team met expectations in 2014-15.  The series will be released during early summer in reverse order of conference standings, meaning the last place team will be reviewed first and the Big Ten champions will be reviewed last.

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The 2014-15 season was a rebound year for Indiana.  Though the Hoosiers struggled down the stretch and had to sweat out Selection Sunday, it still marked a return to the NCAA Tournament for a program that expects success.  Indiana was not an elite or even a great team in 2014-15, but it was a team that had the ability to compete against top opponents and had a relatively productive season considering its major frontcourt question marks.  Coming into the year, fans may have hoped for a bit more, but an NCAA Tournament appearance was ultimately, right in line with realistic preseason expectations.

Let's look back at it it in its entirety.

1. Preseason Expectations

Coming into the season, there was some variation on where Indiana stood.  Most generally believed that the Hoosiers had plenty of talent to compete nationally and make the postseason, but with a lot of youth and the loss of the team's best frontcourt player from 2013-14 in Noah Vonleh, there were still plenty of questions to be answered, especially for a team that failed to make the NIT in 2013-14.  Still, with the return of Yogi Ferrell and the entry of 5-star recruit James Blackmon, Jr., there was still plenty for fans to be excited for in 2014-15.  Due to their returning pieces, but issues in youth and upfront, I slotted Indiana in at #7 in my Big Ten preview.

Here was my preseason storyline for Indiana:

The biggest storyline for Indiana this season will be the challenge of overcoming incredible roster turnover.  Not only did Indiana lose 10 players from the team last season, they face the challenge of losing 4 of the team's biggest contributors and easily the team's most effective big man.  If the Hoosiers can get production out of the team's newcomers, this has the potential to be a pretty good team and maybe even a very good team if a player in the frontcourt can emerge as well.  The Hoosiers should be an exciting team with James Blackmon, Jr. and Yogi Ferrell manning the backcourt, but Tom Crean will have to find some pieces to surround them in the coming year.

The Big Ten writers actually had Indiana even lower at #9 in their preseason standings behind Illinois and ahead of Maryland.  There was no doubt that there was talent on Indiana's roster, but the combination of youth, lack of proven depth, and major frontcourt questions drove many to question whether Indiana could take the next step forward from their underwhelming 2013-14 season.

2. Non-Conference Play

Despite mixed and underwhelming preseason predictions, Indiana had a fairly reasonable non-conference slate.  They had no non-conference games on the road and faced two of their major non-conference opponents in Pittsburgh and SMU at home.  If Indiana could improve on their 2013-14 play, a 9 win or better non-conference performance didn't seem all that unreasonable, especially if Indiana took care of business at home.  Here is how things went.

Indiana 2014-15 Non-Conference:
  • Win (1-0): Mississippi Valley St., 116-65
  • Win (2-0): Texas Southern, 83-64
  • Win (3-0): SMU, 74-68
  • Win (4-0): Lamar, 85-72
  • Loss (4-1): Eastern Washington, 88-86
  • Win (5-1): UNC Greensboro, 87-79
  • Win (6-1): Pittsburgh, 81-69
  • Win (7-1): Savannah St., 95-49
  • Loss (7-2): Louisville, 94-74
  • Win (8-2): Grand Canyon, 94-66
  • Win (9-2): Butler, 82-73
  • Win (10-2): New Orleans, 79-59
  • Loss (10-3): Georgetown, 91-87 OT
The Hoosiers had a really nice start to the season for a team coming off no postseason.  They started by knocking off 3 straight wins including a win over a good SMU team.  The Mustangs did have some roster movement early in the year, but it was still a quality non-conference win over a team that eventually made the NCAA Tournament and *should* have made the Round of 32.  Following the SMU win, the Hoosiers moved to 4-0 with a win over Lamar.

Unfortunately for Indiana, that's when they dropped their worst loss of the season at home against Eastern Washington.  Now, the Eagles were better than some gave them credit for at the time and ended up winning the Big Sky Tournament and making the NCAA Tournament, but Eastern Washington was still not a great team.  Their #132 rating on KenPom was the lowest of any of Indiana's losses in 2014-15 and was rated 84 spots lower than Indiana's second lowest home loss of the season to #48 Purdue.  It was a bad loss for a team hoping for an NCAA Tournament bid.

Of course, Indiana responded quite well to the loss.  They followed the Eastern Washington loss with 3 straight wins including a win at home against eventual NIT team Pittsburgh to push their record to 7-1 on the season.  Indiana did follow that with a loss to Louisville on a neutral court, but this was certainly far from a bad loss.  Indiana then responded with another 3 game winning streak including a win over eventual NCAA Tournament team Butler.  After a loss on a neutral court to Georgetown, the Hoosiers ended non-conference play at 10-3 with a few good wins, some respectable losses, and one bad loss.  Indiana had certainly put itself in position to get back in the Big Dance.

3. Conference Play

The Hoosiers had laid the groundwork for a solid 2014-15 season and a return to the NCAA Tournament during non-conference play, but ultimately, the team's destiny would be determined during Big Ten action.  Indiana had started 2-4 in Big Ten play during 2013-14 and it really put them behind the eight ball for a postseason bid.  Indiana would look to start better in 2014-15.  Here is how things ended up playing out.

Indiana 2014-15 Big Ten Play:
  • Win (1-0): Nebraska, 70-65
  • Loss (1-1): Michigan State, 70-50
  • Win (2-1): Ohio State, 69-66
  • Win (3-1): Penn State, 76-73
  • Win (4-1): Illinois, 80-74
  • Win (5-1): Maryland, 89-70
  • Loss (5-2): Ohio State, 82-70
  • Loss (5-3): Purdue, 83-67
  • Win (6-3): Rutgers, 72-64
  • Loss (6-4): Wisconsin, 92-78
  • Win (7-4): Michigan, 70-67
  • Loss (7-5): Maryland, 68-66
  • Win (8-5): Minnesota, 90-71
  • Loss (8-6): Purdue, 67-63
  • Win (9-6): Rutgers, 84-54
  • Loss (9-7): Northwestern, 72-65
  • Loss (9-8): Iowa, 77-63
  • Loss (9-9): Michigan State, 74-72
For the most part, Indiana met expectations early in Big Ten play.  They opened with a road win over a reeling Nebraska team and although they dropped their next game on the road against Michigan State, were able to get out to a 5-1 start that included wins over Maryland and Ohio State.  At that point, the Hoosiers were sitting at 15-4 with wins over Butler, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and SMU and at least 13 games remaining.  Sure, the team had some difficult games coming up, but when you look at that resume, that doesn't look like a bubble team, that looks like a solid seed and a lock to the NCAA Tournament.

Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, that's when things came crashing down.  It started with back-to-back road losses against Ohio State and arch-rival Purdue.  Neither of those losses are bad by themselves and both eventually made the NCAA Tournament, but they were still two losses.  Indiana responded with a win over Rutgers at home, but followed that up by getting smashed by Wisconsin on the road.  Again, Indiana responded with a win at home over Michigan, but then went on the road and lost to Maryland.  In just 6 games, Indiana had gone from 15-4 and 5-1 in the Big Ten to 17-8 and 7-5 in the Big Ten with its only wins coming against teams that failed to make the NIT.

Indiana continued with this pattern by beating Minnesota at home, losing to Purdue, and then scoring a road win over Rutgers.  The Hoosiers were winning games they "should" win, but were losing against just about every good opponent they faced since they win over Maryland in January.  The red flags were there, but with Northwestern on the road and back-to-back games at home against Iowa and Michigan State, all Indiana really had to do to secure an NCAA Tournament bid was to score one more win.  It would end up being a tougher challenge than most expected.

With likely just one more win required to clinch an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, Indiana proceeded to drop its next three games including two at home in Assembly Hall - what many perceive to be the toughest place to play in the Big Ten.  The losses left many fans scratching their heads and looking for answers.  This was a team that was 15-4 on January 22nd with 13 games remaining that was now heading to the Big Ten Tournament at 19-9 overall.  Instead of talking about a potential Sweet 16 run or better, fans were talking about how to make the field of 64.

So what happened?  How did a team that started so well and had beaten so many quality opponents finish the regular season with a 4-8 record that included no quality wins during its final 12 games?  Well, despite what many believed, the schedule actually didn't get that much tougher.  Just take a look at how the opponents compared.
2014-15 Indiana Big Ten Opponents:
iu1415 opponent strentghtzzzzz
The other thing that hurt Indiana so much in its final 12 regular season games was its inability to win the "50-50" games.  Despite what many believe, the Hoosiers didn't suffer any massive upsets during this stretch.  The issue was that they stopped winning the "winnable" games.  Take a look at their performance over the final 12 games.
2014-15 Indiana Final 12 B1G Games By KenPom Odds:

iu 1415 winnable gamezzzzz
KenPom game odds are certainly not perfect, but generally, they're a decent measure of a team's likelihood to win any given game.  The Hoosiers had not relied too heavily on upsets during their start to the season, but they did use some mild upsets to get what were likely their biggest wins of the season.  Specifically, in games against Butler, Illinois, Maryland, and Ohio State, the Hoosiers had been mild underdogs, but ended up winning.  These were all winnable games where Indiana added significantly to their resume.

During the final 12 games, Indiana didn't have the same luck and fell flat on numerous occasions including their final 3 games, which were all in the winnable categories.  Their 2-7 record in games where they had 25% to 75% odds to win was abysmal, especially considering they were just 2-3 in games where they had 50% to 75% odds to win.  Even if Indiana avoids losing one of those 3 games, they're probably a safe NCAA Tournament team coming out of the regular season.

Of course, Indiana didn't win those games and headed to Chicago with an underwhelming 9-9 record in Big Ten play.  They were on the NCAA Tournament bubble and would need to score at least one win in the Big Ten Tournament to feel safe going into Selection Sunday.

4. Postseason Play

With Indiana going 9-9 in Big Ten play, the Hoosiers were considered to be a bubble candidate for the NCAA Tournament and a lock for the NIT.  For Indiana to solidify a spot in the NCAA Tournament or to help their NIT seeding, they would have to reel off a win or two in the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.  Indiana was able to grab the #7 seed in Chicago, but with a matchup against a Northwestern team that had just beaten the Hoosiers a few weeks earlier, things could be tricky.  Here is how things went:

Indiana 2014-15 Postseason Play:
  • Win (2nd Round - Big Ten Tourney), Northwestern, 71-56
  • Loss (Quarterfinals - Big Ten Tourney), Maryland, 75-69
  • Loss (Round of 64 - NCAA Tournament), Wichita State, 81-76

Entering their opening game in Chicago, Indiana was given 67.6% odds to beat Northwestern according to KenPom.  The Hoosiers were considered to be solid favorites on paper, but Northwestern's upset over Indiana just a few weeks earlier had some experts second guessing whether the Hoosiers should be significant favorites. After all, Indiana had a three game losing streak heading into the Big Ten Tournament, including the loss to Northwestern and two more losses at home.  Still, the Hoosiers needed a win for their bubble hopes and tensions would be high.

Following the opening tip-off, Indiana got out to a hot start and pulled out to a 24-6 lead less than 10 minutes into the game.  By that point, Northwestern's odds to win the game had reduced from roughly 33.3% to just 5%.  Northwestern did hit some big buckets here and there and would get the lead down for spurts, but at halftime, Indiana led 36-22.  In the 2nd Half, the closest Northwestern got was a brief 11 point deficit before the Hoosiers piled on more thanks to James Blackmon, Jr. and Yogi Ferrell.  By time the game was over, the final score was 71-56.

In the Quarterfinals, the Hoosiers would face Maryland.  The two teams had split their regular season matchups and the Terps came in with 57.5% odds to win the game.  During the matchup, things were really competitive throughout.  By halftime, Maryland held a slim 44-42 lead.  Indiana got some great play out of Troy Williams down the stretch, but Melo Trimble and the Terps were too much and were able to stay ahead and win 75-69.  It truly was a tight game with Maryland really only took control very late.

With the loss to the Terps, the Hoosiers were forced to await their outcome on Selection Sunday.  Most thought the team had done enough, but it would ultimately be up to the Selection Committee to decide.  Eventually, once the field was announced, Indiana was revealed to be a #10 seed with a Round of 64 matchup with Wichita State.

Coming into the game, the Shockers had 74.3% odds to win.  Indiana would not only be an underdog in the game, but would be a solid one at that.  Again, this would have been crazy to imagine back in January, but at least Indiana had still made the field and had a decent chance to pull off the upset.

The game was back and forth for most of the afternoon and Indiana really outplayed Wichita State for the majority of the 1st Half and held a 39-36 lead at halftime.  Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they had no way to contain Fred Van Vleet who went off for 27 points and 4 assists.  On top of that, Indiana really didn't get enough contributions outside of Yogi Ferrell.  James Blackmon, Jr. had 14 points and Troy Williams had 11 points, but Emmitt Holt, Robert Johnson, and Hanner Mosquera-Perea combined for 7 points, which wasn't enough.  At the end, Wichita State moved on for a matchup with Kansas by a final score of 81-76.

Overall, Indiana had outplayed most preseason expectations and returned to the NCAA Tournament, but it was still a season that left many unsatisfied.  After the electric start to the year, the close to regular season play and back-to-back losses to Maryland and Wichita State left a bad taste for many.  There were some things to wonder about, but it was reason enough for many, including myself, to question whether Tom Crean was the right guy to take Indiana to the promised land.  All in all, the team finished with a 20-14 overall record and a 9-9 record in the Big Ten.

5. Strengths

There's no doubt that Indiana was not a perfect team in 2014-15, but the Hoosiers did have some significant strengths that carried them throughout the season.  Notably their general offensive performance, their perimeter shooting, and their ability to avoid turnovers were all good and some fell into the elite category.  Indiana, had its issues, but its offensive arsenal was one of the best in the nation.

The Hoosiers took a massive step forward on the offensive end of the floor in 2014-15.  In fact, their offense was good enough to be ranked #9 nationally on KenPom and #3 in the Big Ten during conference play.  This was an incredible rise from their performance in 2013-14.  Just take a look at the comparison:

Indiana Offensive Stats:

1415iu off improvementzzzzzz
That's an incredible rise in just one season.  The Hoosiers legitimately went from a mediocre offensive team to one of the best in the conference and the country.  This offensive rise was undoubtedly what took Indiana from a team that missed the NIT to an NCAA Tournament team.  Other areas regressed, but there's no doubt that Hoosier fans can hang their hat on this rise over the offseason.

Perhaps the single biggest area responsible for this rise was the team's improvement in shooting from 3PT range.  In 2013-14, the Hoosiers came in at #172 nationally in 3PT% and were #268 in percentage of team points that came from 3PT shots.  It was not a great shooting team and Yogi Ferrell was really the only guy who consistently threatened defenses from long-range.  However, in 2014-15, the team was one of the best 3PT shooting teams in the country and it paid massively dividends in the offensive rise.  Just take a look.

2014-15 Indiana 3PT Stats:

1415 iu 3pterzzzz

The other area where Indiana really improved was in avoiding turnovers.  Perhaps no other area crippled Indiana's 2013-14 team more than its inability to hold onto the ball.  It routinely cost a mediocre offensive team valuable possessions and put the team at #330 in turnover rate nationally.  Despite this, Indiana improved to be one of the better teams at avoiding turnovers in 2014-15 and eventually finished at #60 nationally.

2014-15 Big Ten Turnover Stats:

1415 iu big turnoverzzzzzz

Indiana may not have been in contention for the Big Ten title, but its offense, 3PT shooting, and ability to avoid turnovers went a long way in making the Hoosiers a dangerous team.

6. Weaknesses

Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, despite their massive rise on the offensive end of the court in 2014-15, they also regressed significantly on the defensive end.  They went from being a solid defense in 2013-14 to one of the weaker defenses in the Power 5 and second to last in the Big Ten.  The offensive rise allowed Indiana to improve on its overall record in 2014-15, but the defense prevented too significant of a rise.

Much of this analysis will look like the comments on Indiana's offense, but in reverse, but the reality is that Indiana improved dramatically on offense and likewise, regressed massively on defense.  After ending 2013-14 with the #47 rated defense on KenPom, some had hope that the Hoosiers could at least remain a decent defense.  Unfortunately, they finished 2014-15 at #214 in defense and were #13 in the Big Ten during conference play.  Just look at the regression from last year to this season.

Indiana Defensive Stats:

1415 iu defenezzzzzzz

That is massive regression in one season.  As mentioned earlier, the Hoosiers truly went from a solid defense in 2013-14 to a bad one in 2014-15.  Still, these raw numbers can often be a little difficult to grasp on first or second go around, so take a look at where Indiana fit in during conference play.

2014-15 Indiana Defense During Conference Play:

  • #13 in defensive efficiency
  • #14 in scoring allowed
  • #13 in effective field goal percentage allowed
  • #14 in field goal percentage allowed
  • #12 in turnover rate
  • #14 in 2PT percentage allowed
  • #13 in defensive block rate

There's no way around the fact that Indiana was one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten last season.  They gave up a lot of points, were bad inside, didn't force turnovers, and didn't block shots.  As obvious as the defensive struggles were, it was just as obvious that the defense held back an elite offensive team.

The issue then becomes why the defense struggled so badly?  Was it the lack of big men?  Was it the lack of perimeter defenders.  Well, the common narrative is that Indiana's defensive struggles will solely due to the absence of a quality defensive big man.  This is partially true, but it overlooks the struggles Indiana had elsewhere as well, which I will touch on in a second.  First, take a look at Indiana's interior defense.

2014-15 Big Ten Defensive Block Stats:

iu blockzzzz 1415

Seeing as Indiana finished at #251 nationally in defensive block rate, it was pretty obvious that Indiana struggled defensively around the hoop.  However, what this chart shows is that Indiana's top shot blockers were also substantially below where most Big Ten teams were last season.  This clearly fits the narrative that the lack of a true shot blocker hurt the defensive significantly.  Having a legitimate shot blocking threat would have gone a long way in this category and likely, for the total defense.

However, this was not the only issue.  Indiana's defense was also pretty underwhelming in pressuring ball handlers and creating turnovers generally.  Take a look.

2014-15 Big Ten Steal Stats:

turnoverzzz iu 1415zzz

Indiana was not as weak in pressuring the ball as they were in blocking shots, but they were pretty weak in both categories and you don't become the #214 rated defense due to just one area.  A legitimate shot blocker would have undoubtedly helped, but Indiana's defense had other problems that would have still be present.  This was a bad defensive unit pretty much across the floor.

7. Top Player

Coming into the season, Indiana appeared to have a clear leader for its top player in Yogi Ferrell.  Though he fell just short of the All-Big Ten team in 2013-14, he was projected to be one of the top returners in the conference in 2014-15.  Ferrell was a great player the season before and was expected to maintain or improve on that play.  Still, several other Indiana contributors gave him a run for the status of Indiana's top player.

Let's take a look at the traditional stats.

Indiana 2014-15 Stat Leaders:
  • Minutes - Yogi Ferrell
  • Field Goal Attempts - James Blackmon, Jr.
  • Points - Yogi Ferrell
  • Rebounds - Troy Williams
  • Assists - Yogi Ferrell
  • Blocks - Hanner Mosquera-Perea
  • Steals - Troy Williams

Ferrell also held up well in the advanced stats.

1415 iu wszzzzz

1415 iu perzzzzz

Of course, advanced numbers may not necessarily be a perfect reflection compared to how a player performs in big games and whether he can push them over the top.  To help assist in this, KenPom does an analysis of an MVP in each game and awards it to the best player during the game.  Here is how Indiana stacked up.

iu kp mvpszzzzzzzz1415

When you look through all the stats, Ferrell does appear to come out on top in this comparison, especially considering how much he played last season.  In total, Ferrell played 86.9% of the team's minutes.  However, Blackmon was probably a lot closer to Ferrell than many realize.  Considering he was just a freshman, that has to be a great sign for his future as a Hoosier.

8. Sixth Man

The Hoosiers had an interesting bench in 2014-15.  Indiana came in at #187 overall in bench minutes, but had a diverse selection of players that got minutes and were productive in specific scenarios.  The bench helped them upfront and on the perimeter.

Last season, Indiana's most started lineup was James Blackmon, Jr., Yogi Ferrell, Robert Johnson, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, and Troy Williams.  This was certainly not the lineup for the entire season, but these were the most started players, which is the measure for this comparison.  This left the top bench contributors as Collin Hartman, Max Hoetzel, Emmitt Holt, Stanford Robinson, and Nick Zeisloft.  Here is how the bench players broke down.

Indiana 2014-15 Bench Leaders
  • Minutes - Nick Zeisloft
  • Field Goal Attempts - Nick Zeisloft
  • Points - Nick Zeisloft
  • Rebounds - Collin Hartman
  • Assists - Stanford Robinson
  • Steals - Stanford Robinson

Here is how they held up in the advanced stats comparison.

1415 iu wszzzzzzz

iu bench per 1415zzzzz

This selection probably has to go to Zeisloft as Indiana's top bench contributor.  Hartman and Holt are definitely within shouting distance, but in terms of overall contributions, Zeisloft deserves the edge here.  His 45.0% from 3PT range was also a big boost for the team offensively.

9. Top Storylines

The storyline of Indiana's 2014-15 was one of a program getting back on track.  Indiana was solid team this season and was on the borderline of truly being a good team, but never quite put it all together.  The team's reward of getting back to the NCAA Tournament was more like a Diet Coke than a Coke.  The drink was there, but when fans took a sip out of the glass, it tasted more empty than they had originally hoped.

Before the season started, expectations were mixed, but largely underwhelming for the Hoosiers.  Indiana was not expected to be a title contender, but most thought they had the talent to compete in the conference and on the national scene. However, the team's youth and inexperience left many skeptical.  The Hoosiers had the firepower to get back into the NCAA Tournament, but on paper, there were a lot of questions.

Indiana got out to a fast start and though they dropped some games, they were in great position heading into conference play and during the first month or so of Big Ten action.  Unfortunately, the team's underwhelming finish to the regular season, inability to perform well in winnable games, and 1-2 record in the postseason hindered too much optimism on the season and really took a lot of the energy out of a rebounding season for the program.

Getting back to the NCAA Tournament was a big development for head coach Tom Crean and the entire Indiana program, but a #10 seed is far from where most Hoosier fans expected the program to be at this point and for the first time in years, fans had to sweat out Selection Sunday.  Despite solid progress, many fans still were left unsatisfied.

crean1415 review iuuzzzz

10. Final Verdict

Indiana's performance during the 2014-15 season largely depends upon the evaluator's perspective.  For instance, most Hoosier fans will hold the team's performance accountable based on the program's history and its recruiting fortitude, but for an outsider, an NCAA Tournament appearance is still remarkable given the team's severe youth and inexperience, especially upfront.

The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between.  Indiana had a lot of talent on its roster and fans were able to see a lot of it early in the season when the Hoosiers jumped out to its 15-4 start.  However, the team still had plenty of weak spots and many were exposed as it ended the season going 5-10.  This roster was probably better than a #10 seed and if the team simply had been able to close the deal during some late season games, its NCAA Tournament bid would have reflected that talent more accurately.

Indiana was not a great team in 2014-15, but its appearance in the NCAA Tournament deserves at least some credit, especially given the team's youth and performance in 2013-14.  It was a season of progress for the program even despite its collapse down the stretch and its .500 record in Big Ten play.  Indiana should avoid the lowest of grades, but it's rough finish over the last few months of the season prevents too high of a grade for its 2014-15 season.

Season Grade: C-