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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, January 03, 2017 9:35 pm

Hoosiers' ceiling in need of revision

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON — An Indiana media relations official intervened in Juwan Morgan's postgame interview session shortly after the words "we weren't ready" came out of the sophomore forward's mouth, the suggestion being Morgan hadn't chosen them quite right.

In fairness to Morgan and program staffers, no mix of phrases could adequately explain a mystifying beginning to the Hoosiers' 75-68 home loss to No. 13 Wisconsin on Tuesday night. So much buildup, such a fast comedown as the Badgers ran out to a 13-0 lead.

"We broke down completely on the defensive side on our coverages," Morgan said. "We didn't come out ready. That's not who we are."

Maybe Bill Parcells was wrong, that you are not always what your record says you are.

But Indiana, which fell into a tie Monday for 25th in the AP Top 25 poll, is a disappointing 10-5 with 16 games left in the regular season.

The Hoosiers, 0-2 in Big Ten play, aren't nearly as good as we thought, or at least don't look it right now. They've demonstrated that their 8-1 start, including stirring wins over No. 3 Kansas and No. 14 North Carolina, may have been something of a mirage.

Coach Tom Crean had some harsh assessments for both himself and his players after losing for the fourth time in six games. In stunning setbacks against IPFW and Nebraska, the excuse outsiders made for the Hoosiers was that they weren't motivated by the lesser competition they faced, that they were waiting for No. 9 Louisville or No. 13 Wisconsin to muster their best effort.

Needless to say, after failing each of those litmus tests in a span of four days, that theory belongs in the trash can.

Time will tell if this is just a slump or something worse. And for fans to panic would seem a little rash. Nine conference victories should still be enough to assure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

But it is fair to examine the schedule and wonder about a close call.

To get to that magic number of nine Big Ten wins, the Hoosiers may have to bounce back from Tuesday's humbling to win every single one of their seven remaining home games (Illinois, Rutgers, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue, Michigan, Northwestern) while also winning twice away from home with a remaining road schedule that includes games at Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State, Minnesota, Iowa and Maryland.

Bottom line: the Hoosiers have to quickly stop reverting to some of the same behaviors they’ve often exhibited, such as letting their offense dictate their defense by dropping their heads after missed shots and not taking care of business at the other end.

"The defense," Crean said. "That's just what it is. The defense is what's got to pick up. The defense. And we'll get there."

They might, but more than likely too late to accomplish goals of finishing first in the Big Ten and earning a high seed in the Big Dance.