Early season intra-state matchups are supposed to offer the more prominent team the opportunity to fine tune their lineups as they prepare for the rigors of conference play. The thought of the perceived lesser team actually coming away with a victory is usually considered to be the epitome of absurdity.
The Indiana Hoosiers found out on November 22nd that such beliefs are far from absurd as they watched the Fort Wayne Mastodons come away with a stunning 71-68 overtime victory. Even though the win came on Fort Wayne’s home court, that detail shouldn’t have mattered to a team that entered the contest ranked third in the country.
Just three days earlier, the Hoosiers had blown out Liberty, 87-48, a game which followed two contests in which Indiana broke the century mark with its offense. In the first of those clashes, the Hoosiers defeated another potential national title contender in the Kansas Jayhawks.
The fact that Indiana bounced back with an 85-52 rout of Mississippi Valley State on Sunday should relegate the loss in Fort Wayne to the fluke category. The problem with such thinking is that it ignores some issues that Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean needs to address weeks before Big Ten action officially gets underway.
One of the major problems that led to Indiana’s upset loss was their inability to craft a defense that kept the Mastodons out of the paint. Allowing far too many easy baskets to a team that was expected to be just another comfortable win could be an ominous situation when considering that much more talented teams may be able to exploit this flaw.
Of course, the fact that overconfidence likely played a major role in the loss might offer some comfort to the Hoosier faithful that the team will learn from their mistakes. The lack of aggressiveness on both sides of the ball was evident from the opening tap, something that Crean will no doubt harp on for the remainder of the season.
The Indiana zone defense helped get the Hoosiers back in the Fort Wayne game, yet their ball movement throughout the game was mediocre. Better leadership at the point would help improve this area, which means that Josh Newkirk and James Blackmon, Jr. need to step up in the weeks and months ahead.
In the Fort Wayne defeat, two offensive areas deserted Indiana: their three-point shot and their foul shooting. When it came to long range attempts, the Hoosiers connected on just 29 percent of their shots, as opposed to the 44 percent in the three previous games. That touch improved to 36 percent in the Mississippi Valley blowout. Meanwhile, what had been 70 percent shooting from the charity stripe decreased to 58 percent. The following game, they hit at an 81 percent clip.
While Indiana still needs work to improve, the loss at Fort Wayne might provide a service by delivering a needed slap in the face to emphasize that any title quest won’t be easy.