The Indiana Hoosiers had a chance to salvage a very disappointing season in the end of season NIT Tournament. Despite battling a rash of injuries throughout the season, the Hoosiers entered the NIT as a favorite over their opening round opponent, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Unfortunately, the result of this game brings more questions than answers for the Hoosiers. A disappointing 75-63 loss will do nothing to quiet the fans of one of the most storied programs in college basketball history.
Let’s look at the takeaways from this opening round NIT game.
What We Learned:
1. Tom Crean’s coaching seat is very hot.
Indiana head coach Tom Crean is in his ninth season at the helm of the Hoosiers. While his list of accomplishments include two Big Ten regular season championships (2013, 2016) and a Big Ten Coach of the Year Award (2016), the Hoosier faithful are growing antsy and frustrated.
Those detractors will point out that Indiana has missed the NCAA tournament five times in nine years. Also, they will point out that, even in 2013, when the Hoosiers earned a number one seed in the NCAA tournament, they were upset in the Sweet 16 round by a four seed Syracuse team.
The most concerning part of this game? It was originally scheduled as a home game for Indiana since the Hoosiers were the higher seeded team. The explanation from administration was that since Indiana was on Spring Break, a home game would not produce a quality basketball atmosphere.
The result? Georgia Tech packed their stands and head coach Josh Pastner actually bought tickets for the students to attend.
Giving up a home game at Indiana? Never a good sign for the head coach’s job security.
2. The Hoosiers should have a solid foundation returning next season.
No player better exemplified Indiana’s season than junior guard James Blackmon Jr. When he was good, he was outstanding. But injuries and some disappointing shooting performances produced a very up and down season.
Blackmon still looked injured in this game, playing only 26 total minutes and scoring just 11 points. If he follows Yogi Ferrell’s lead and returns to Indiana for his senior season, it would be great for Hoosiers’ fans and better for his NBA draft stock.
Sophomore center Thomas Bryant failed to take the huge step forward many people expected. His statistics (12.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg) were solid, but not significantly better than his freshman year. Bryant held his own against Georgia Tech center Ben Lammers, finishing with a respectable 13 points and seven rebounds.
One of the bright spots for the Hoosiers this season is the development of sophomore forward Juwan Morgan who averaged 30 minutes in each of the last two games and repeated his 14 point output against the Yellow Jackets.
3. The Hoosiers need to shoot better from the deep.
Always a strong offensive team, the Hoosiers struggled for consistency from three point range throughout the season. In this season finale, Indiana shot just 26.3 percent from deep, making only five of 19 attempts. With the shooting ability this team possesses and Bryant drawing attention inside, that is an unacceptable percentage.
Bryant himself showed skill from long range this season, shooting 39 percent (23 of 59).
Junior guard Josh Newkirk also finished the season at a respectable 37.5 percent (33 of 88), and should improve his volume next season.
Finishing the season at 18-16, 10th place in the Big Ten, and a first round NIT loss is a huge disappointment for Indiana basketball. The Hoosiers dealt with injuries throughout the season, and hopefully will bring back a solid nucleus.
However, it’s hard to remember the season opening wins over Kansas and North Carolina and not classify this season as a disappointing one for Hoosiers fans. Hopefully, next year will bring the NCAA tournament back in view for Coach Crean and the Hoosiers.