Build It Up, Tear It Down
Shoot 50% from the field. Hit 10 of 21 threes (10 of 20 until the walkon hoisted one in the final minute). Trent is 3-4 from three, Ayo 3-5, Giorgi with 15 points and eight boards. And... lose by 18 at home to a team that was 6-12 in the conference? What?
Well, see, there's this other half to the court. The one where you have to play defense. The one where we only forced seven turnovers, only grabbed 20 defensive boards to their 13 offensive rebounds, and let them attempt thirty one layups. This Indiana team, which just went through a 3-12 stretch, took it right to us. And we nad no response.
Which means, unfortunately, that almost all of the goodwill from our little win-five-of-six run is gone. There's one last moment which will undo all of what was done: a loss at Penn State on Sunday. Win five of six... and then close the season by losing five of six. Build it up, tear it down.
Which is just so, so, so, so disappointing. All of that "IT'S HAPPENNINNNNGGGGG" tweeting I did after the Michigan State win? Mostly all gone. All of the "have you seen how much our KenPom rating is climbing?" It hasn't updated yet, but once it does, with this horrific defensive performance, I'm guessing we fall to 14th out of 14 Big Ten teams. Our chance at finishing 7th in the Big Ten? Gone.
And all we had to do was beat the teams that were at the bottom of the Big Ten standings, three of those games at home and one on the road. It was all right there for us. Mountains of momentum for next season. And now, after Sunday, we'll likely be right back to square one, playing on Wednesday in the Big Ten Tournament. We threw SO MUCH AWAY with these Penn State and Indiana home losses. I just can't get over it. This drive back to St. Louis is going to be SO LONG.
Am I being dramatic? Always. But I had pinned so much on this game. Here's what I wrote back on February 4th. I had looked at the final nine games, laid out which games were likely wins (you know, like Penn State at home), which games were likely losses, and zeroed in on this Indiana game as the litmus test:
I think that sets up fairly well. The line is directly over Indiana. Somehow win one of the bottom four games and you're OK to lose one of the four games at the top. Win the top four and lose the bottom four? Then the "met expectations or nah?" moment for the season rests on the Indiana game in Champaign (and, secondarily, winning a true road game at Penn State).
Not only did we lose the Indiana game in Champaign, we weren't even competitive. We didn't even belong on the same court. Thirty one times we allowed someone to get to the rim. Thirty one times.
Man, I was so ready for this offseason two weeks ago. Let's go back to more words I wrote. Remember my hope for a "March Push?"
But man, I really want four straight wins after the loss (at Purdue) tomorrow night. I can't help it - I'm greedy. Here's what that would look like:
+ Beat Northwestern, Indiana, and Penn State to finish the regular season 13-18 (9-11). Nine Big Ten wins would be the most since 2015 - we haven't had 10 Big Ten wins since 2010. (Note: there are 20 Big Ten games now, not 18, so 10 wins doesn't really mean what it used to.)
+ There's still a chance that gets us the 7th seed in the BTT. Ohio State and Minnesota are still one spot ahead of us with seven conference wins, but Ohio State (7-9) closes with Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern, Wisconsin; Minnesota (7-10) closes with Northwestern, Purdue, and Maryland. Get to nine wins and I really think we're the 7-seed.
+ Then that 7/10 game in the BTT is maybe Rutgers or Nebraska. Win that and it's four wins in a row, a BTT quarterfinal matchup with maybe Michigan or Purdue - the ultimate gravy game. We would be on a 7-3 run to close the season with a chance to just go out and have some fun in the quarterfinal Chicago, setting the tone for next year's leap.
All we had to do to keep that alive was beat an Indiana team with six Big Ten wins. At home, on Senior Night. Man, so much pivoted on this game. 92-74 loss.
I guess we could still regain some of the midseason momentum. A road win on Sunday plus two BTT wins would do it. I'll probably see this a lot clearer tomorrow morning. But right now I'm surrounded by giddy Indiana media hammering away on their keyboards, writing their STILL ALIVE stories. That's not a good place for anyone to be.
Ugh. It was all right there. We had built up so much goodwill. And now it's almost all gone. A loss on Sunday means we undo the whole thing. Win five of six to build momentum... lose five of six once the schedule gets easier to watch it all go away.
+ In a thread on The Deuce earlier today, after checking KenPom and seeing how both Northwestern and Rutgers had been rising, I asked out loud if we were going to finish 14th out of 14 Big Ten teams. That.. would not be good.
Well, it just updated, and we dropped 11 spots after this statistical nightmare of a game, so yes, we're 14th out of 14 Big Ten teams as of now. Statistically, Rutgers and Northwestern have been better.
See what I mean? All of that goodwill is gone. You may think I'm crazy - all of this after falling to 11-19 instead of 12-18 - but I'm telling you, this was a plate-shifting loss for me.
It doesn't "mean" anything. This whole thing still pivots on keeping the roster together, adding Kofi, and making a leap next year. That hasn't changed. But the opportunity for summer momentum had we beaten Penn State and Indiana here at the SFC and had the opportunity to finish 7th in the Big Ten on Sunday would have meant so much. This is a massive recruiting summer, and 7th is so much easier to sell than 12th.
In that sense, this feels like the Iowa football loss. Avoid doing that (at home) and the offseason looks completely different. Look like you don't even belong on the court/field on Senior Night/Day? Destroys most all of the momentum you had built.
+ You know who we're going to hate the next few years? Rob Phinisee. That kid is good. If I didn't know the recruiting rankings of the Indiana players, I would have thought Phinisee was the five-star, not Romeo Langford. How many times did he get to the rim? 20?
Yes, a lot of that rests on our defense. But he's very impressive. And probably to small to ever make the NBA, which means he's likely a four-year player. That sucks.
+ The only bright spot tonight (for me) was Alan Griffin doing about thirteen "little things" in his 12 minutes on the court. His two offensive rebounds were five points - a putback and a rebound/kickout to Trent for an open three. There were two other assists (I believe Griffin had three of our four second half assists) plus a really nice block. Had that three pointer fallen (which would have cut Indiana's 22 point lead to 10 with about five minutes left) he would have gotten an A+ for the night.
(While I have the boxscore open - Trent, Ayo, and AJ shoot 9-16 from three and we lose by 18? HOWWWW?)
I need to get out of here. I'm still surrounded by IU media. Recording videos on the court. Hammering away at "HOPE STILL VIBRATES" stories where they talk about a 5% chance to make the NCAA Tournament suddenly surging to a 40% chance. All while we're staring down loss #20 on Sunday.