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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, December 31, 2016 4:30 pm

Hoosiers hit crossroads after loss to Cardinals

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS — Even when they've been healthy, the Hoosiers have been inconsistent, and it's very evident in watching coach Tom Crean's team that these players are not absorbing his message on an every-game basis.

No. 16 Indiana (10-4) has to figure out why the on-court chemistry is so bad on a team full of so many good, character guys. The truth is the Hoosiers don't look cohesive out on the floor together. Their games appear joyless, none more so than Saturday's 77-62 loss to Louisville at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, an NBA arena where Thomas Bryant gave a reminder of just how far he is from being NBA-ready.

The Hoosiers force too many shots, whether out of selfishness, a lack of trust in teammates or just plain old low basketball IQ. And, in fairness to Bryant, they too often don't keep their talented center involved in the offense.

Sure, Indiana has 10 victories, many of them blowouts, but that is deceptive. The schedule covered up some holes.

Here's a harrowing thought: Of those 10 wins, eight came in home games against small-conference opponents who were massive underdogs, which means Indiana is 2-4 in all other games.

That's 2-4 against legitimate competition.

I repeat: two and four.

Luckily, the two consists of Kansas and North Carolina, but I think it's going to take all the Hoosiers can muster to obtain a No. 4 seed or better in the NCAA tournament.

Crean quickly dismissed the notion of his team being at a crossroads, but they are.

After the stinker against Louisville was over, neither the players nor Crean could explain exactly why the Hoosiers can play so well one game and follow that up by playing so poorly the next. With 17 games left in the long grind of the regular season, the Hoosiers have to make a decision as to which way they want their season to go.

"We've got to follow the game plan a little better," shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. said. "We've just got to come together and know what type of team we are, have confidence in each other and just believe. We were here before, so we've just got to come together as one group and figure out what works for us."

There are a lot of warning signs, but this is a talented group of players that still believes it can contend for a Big Ten championship this season. On that note, Tuesday's home game against No. 14 Wisconsin shapes up as a must-win for Indiana.

A loss to the Badgers would mean a three-game losing streak and would be the kind of setback that can shatter a team's confidence.

Blackmon said he's not worried about Indiana's pysche.

"It's got to be strong," Blackmon said. "We can't look in the past or go back to games that we can't (change). We've got a great coaching staff, and we've just got to buy in and have a short-term memory and get a win on Tuesday."