This blog post hasn’t actually been written yet.
It will be written on April 9th as a reflection on how Indiana’s season played out from the point of its five-game losing streak through the balance of the regular season.
But due to a brief, fortuitous tear in the space-time continuum, it mistakenly appeared in our WordPress dashboard three months early. I quickly hit “Publish” before it vanished.
So if you want to see how things play out from tonight on, keep reading.
You might be surprised at just how reasonable a path there always was to 10 wins, even after the five-game skid. And it all started with a slump-busting victory over Michigan …
Indiana entered its January 25th home tilt with #6 Michigan on a five-game losing skid and in desperate need of a win. Buoyed by early 3-pointers from Rob Phinisee and Al Durham, the Hoosiers got off to a strong start and lit the fuse of an Assembly Hall crowd that approached tip-off ready to explode.
Michigan battled back, and the Hoosiers endured a few prolonged periods of offensive inefficiency, but Indiana’s resurgent defense allowed the Hoosiers to nurse a slim lead for most of the game.
Romeo Langford ultimately took over down the stretch, scoring eight of his game-high 22-points after the final media timeout, and the Hoosiers prevailed 65-61 — snapping the seemingly interminable losing streak and giving Archie Miller his first signature win as Indiana’s head coach.
After a much-needed four-day layoff following the Michigan game, Indiana took on Rutgers in Piscataway. With the Scarlet Knights having already defeated Ohio State and Nebraska at home, no one was taking this game for granted. And it was as ugly as most predicted it would be.
The Hoosiers got off to a slow start, especially on defense, which caused immediate panic on Twitter. But the Hoosiers did enough on offense late in the first half to turn an early 12-point Rutgers lead into just a 5-point deficit heading into halftime.
Juwan Morgan asserted himself early in the second half, the defense recovered to hold Rutgers to 0.74 points per possession during the final 20 minutes, and Rob Phinisee made two key 3-pointers late.
Ultimately the Hoosiers survived with a 67-62 victory, improving to 14-7 and getting back to .500 in conference play.
at Michigan State
Next, the Hoosiers traveled to East Lansing for a meeting with a Michigan State team playing as dominant as anyone in the country. After defeating Purdue by 11 on January 27th, the Spartans had beaten three straight top-30 opponents by double digits.
Indiana would fare no better. The Spartans jumped on Indiana early and never looked back, winning 77-59.
The only silver lining was that the trip home from East Lansing marked the end of Indiana’s six-road-trips-in-eight-games gauntlet, of which the Hoosiers had won just a single game. Now 5-6 in conference play with nine games to go, Indiana would get to play six of them at home.
A much-needed two-game win streak followed.
Iowa visited Bloomington first, sporting one of the nation’s best offenses but a subpar defense.
The Hawkeyes actually jumped on Indiana early, again causing waves of social media panic normally reserved for national disasters or delays in Apple product announcements.
But Juwan Morgan eventually recovered from early foul trouble and settled the Hoosiers down with a methodical approach in the paint that was helped out by Rob Phinisee and Al Durham hitting 3s to loosen up the defense.
Indiana also clamped down defensively in the second half, holding the explosive Hawkeyes to just under one point per possession. It would be enough for Indiana to hold on for a 77-74 victory.
v Ohio State
Ohio State visited next, in desperate need of a victory to save their fledgling season. But it was not meant to be.
Indiana delivered its most impressive performance since the Marquette victory, racing out to a 24-7 lead at the second media timeout of the first half, and carrying that margin all the way through to the final buzzer with a 77-60 victory.
Romeo Langford fell just one point shy of matching his career high, scoring 27 points. And Al Durham continued to be a steady offensive presence for the Hoosiers, notching 15 points, including three 3-pointers.
The Hoosiers improved to 16-8 and finally had their head above water in Big Ten play at 7-6.
But the good feelings wouldn’t last long, as the Hoosiers fell flat at The Barn against a Minnesota team coming off four straight losses.
Indiana simply didn’t have its defense, which had been so important in winning four of its last five. Jordan Murphy pounded the offensive glass, Amir Coffey got the ball anywhere he wanted it, and the thin Hoosiers were plagued by foul trouble and dismally cold shooting.
For the second straight road game, the Hoosiers never really had a chance. Minnesota won comfortably, 75-64.
The Hoosiers returned home for a game three days later against Purdue. Still smarting from the beatdown the Boilermakers levied up in West Lafayette, the Hoosiers emerged right from the tip ready for a 40-minute fight.
Romeo Langford played with an edge he rarely displays. The freshman was clearly determined to avenge the worst performance of his career. And he did a little bit of everything.
He made two 3s, he hit a mid-range step-back, he sliced and diced his way to the bucket, he got to the free throw line, and he delivered the highlight of his freshman season when he skied over Nojel Eastern for a dunk that nearly shook the Assembly Hall roof into orbit.
When the buzzer finally sounded on a tight but impressive 72-70 Hoosier victory, Romeo had set a new career high with 31 points. After the game, Purdue coach Matt Painter said, “Getting old and staying old is the way to build a consistent program, but damn, sometimes even experience doesn’t have an answer for elite talent. Romeo was amazing today. Our hats off to him.”
Now 8-7 in conference play, the Hoosiers traveled to Iowa City for a rematch with the Hawkeyes. This time, the Hawkeyes were ready. They blitzed Indiana from the opening tip, hitting six 3-pointers before the second media timeout.
The Hoosiers were able to minimize the damage with some productive offense of their own, and they kept getting within arm’s reach of the Hawkeyes at different points throughout the rest of the game, but Iowa ultimately had too much offensive firepower on their home court. The Hawkeyes won 82-74.
Indiana returned home 17-10 overall and 8-8 in conference play, with three home games and one road test remaining. All bracketology projections had the Hoosiers firmly in the NCAA Tournament on the strength of their wins over Marquette, Louisville, Butler, Michigan, Iowa, and Purdue. The volume of losses and the lack of an impressive road victory was holding the Hoosiers’ seed projections down, however.
Wisconsin came into Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall riding a three-game winning streak, which had included handing Michigan State its first Big Ten loss of the season. And the Badgers would actually control much of this game, nursing a 5-7 point lead for nearly 30 minutes after jumping on the Hoosiers early.
With Juwan Morgan struggling in his matchup against Ethan Happ, and Romeo Langford having an off night, it was the supporting cast that had to keep the Hoosiers in the game. Rob Phinisee and Al Durham combined to hit six 3-pointers, each of which was pivotal, and Justin Smith was opportunistic in finding points in transition and off of offensive rebounds.
Midway through the second half, with Wisconsin threatening to build a double-digit lead, Clifton Moore came in to spell Juwan Morgan and stumbled his way into a blocked shot on Ethan Happ that brought the crowd to its feet after a few pensive minutes. A Durham 3-pointer came next, followed by two Romeo Langford free throws, and the Hoosiers were right back in it.
Controversy ensued at the end of the game, as Langford twice drew shooting fouls on questionable calls, much to Greg Gard’s dismay and Assembly Hall’s unabashed delight. Langford made all four free throws, his final two putting the Hoosiers up one with 24 seconds to play.
Wisconsin predictably dumped it inside to Ethan Happ on their final possession, and Happ appeared to score the decisive points on a beautiful post move as time expired … but he was whistled for a travel. The basket was waved off, and Indiana inbounded the ball to secure a 65-64 victory.
Replays suggested that a firm lower-body bump by Juwan Morgan had probably contributed to the travel, but the basketball gods simply shrugged their shoulders and said “Tough shit, that’s life on the road in the Big Ten” as Gard angrily shook his fist in their direction after the game.
Asked about the call, Archie Miller smirked and said it looked like a good, physical, late-February Big Ten play by Morgan and he trusted to the officials to get it right. Juwan Morgan laughed and said, “Yeah, I probably fouled him, but it’s not my job to call it.”
The win pushed Indiana to 18-10 overall, 9-8 in conference play, and inched the Hoosiers closer to the KenPom top 25. (They were only getting a small smattering of votes in the human polls.)
v Michigan State
A visit from Michigan State followed, with the Spartans having lost two straight road games to Wisconsin and, one week prior, at Michigan. The Hoosiers actually led 35-29 at the half, as the Spartans mostly sleep-walked through the first half, leading the announcers to suggest they were experiencing a post-rivalry hangover after the loss to Michigan.
But Cassius Winston got hot in the second half, and Nick Ward devoured Indiana’s interior defense, at one point going on a personal 8-0 run as the Hoosiers’ defense lost its way for a four-minute stretch. Michigan State outscored the Hoosiers by 18 during the first 16 minutes of the second half. A last gasp by the Hoosiers late drew the score closer, but the Spartans ultimately scored a decisive 71-63 victory.
Two games remained for the Hoosiers: a road trip to Illinois and a home tilt with Rutgers. Standing at 18-11 overall and 9-9 in conference play, most bracketologists were projecting the Hoosiers into the field comfortably if they could notch one more regular season victory and avoid any embarrassing results in the Big Ten Tournament.
The first of the two games would not go well.
Illinois had won two out of three entering the battle with IU, impressing pundits by improving as the season went along under Brad Underwood. Early foul trouble for Rob Phinisee spelled doom for the Hoosiers, as a dearth of ball-handling proved troublesome against Illinois’ pressure.
Despite a few scoring runs, Indiana never seemed fully comfortable or at ease the entire game. With Illinois’ 3-point shots falling, they were able to keep Indiana at arm’s length for most of the contest.
The Hoosiers briefly seized a lead around the 9:00 mark of the second half, thanks to an individual scoring flurry by Romeo Langford, but with IU’s outside shots not falling and Illinois forcing 20 turnovers, the Hoosiers simply didn’t have enough. Illinois won 73-68.
The two-game losing streak set up an all-important final regular season against Rutgers.
Indiana needed a win to finish conference play .500 and feel good about an NCAA Tournament berth. A loss would likely set up the Big Ten Tournament as a play-your-way-off-the-bubble gauntlet for the Hoosiers, the thought of which terrified all IU fans who are collectively incapable of having even a modicum of confidence in anything good happening at the Big Ten Tournament.
The finale against Rutgers was also Juwan Morgan’s senior night, and everyone wanted to see Juwan go out a winner at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Morgan came out like a man possessed. He bullied his way to baskets in the post on Indiana’s first two possessions, then drained a 3, then got a steal and fired a one-handed outlet pass to Justin Smith for a dunk before most fans had even sat down. All of a sudden it was 9-0 Indiana.
Indiana nursed an 8-12 point lead for the majority of the day, though a feisty Rutgers team did provide some tense moments late. A Justin Smith turnover led to a Rutgers dunk with 3:21 to go that brought the Scarlet Knights within one possession for the first time since the second possession of the game.
From there, Morgan and Langford took over. They scored the final nine points for Indiana as the Hoosiers calmly ended the game on a 9-4 run to secure a 68-68 victory.
The win gave the Hoosiers a 19-12 record overall, 10-10 in conference play.
After starting the season 12-7 and 3-5 in the conference, Indiana would finish thusly:
- V Michigan: 65-61 Win
- @ Rutgers: 67-62 Win
- @ MSU: 77-59 Loss
- V Iowa: 77-74 Win
- V Ohio State: 77-60 Win
- @ Minnesota: 75-64 Loss
- V Purdue: 72-70 Win
- @ Iowa: 82-74 Loss
- V Wisconsin: 65-54 Win
- V Michigan State: 71-63 Loss
- @ Illinois: 73-68 Loss
- V Rutgers: 68-60 WIN
With Indiana penciled into most bracket projections as a 7 seed (with a high of 6 and a low of 10), IU fans exhaled with the Big Ten Tournament approaching.
A 7-10 matchup with Ohio State awaited during the Thursday session. A win or two might help the Hoosiers’ cause of getting a better seed, but it did not seem like Indiana’s bubble was at risk of being burst regardless of their first round outcome.
In the end, Archie Miller and the Hoosiers had endured the best haymaker the Big Ten could levy — losing five straight and six out of eight in January. But thanks to strong play at home down the stretch, the emergence of Rob Phinisee and Al Durham as more consistent scoring threats, and, of course, the game-in, game-out heroics of Juwan and Romeo, Indiana appeared poised to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons.
And more than one national pundit was already prepping to earmark the Hoosiers as a dangerous low seed with a chance to reach the tournament’s second weekend, depending on the draw …