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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, February 16, 2017 11:46 am

Hoosiers on verge of epic collapse

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

As Indiana is learning, there’s a reason why they play the games.

As recently as a month ago, one would have seen odds for the Hoosiers making the NCAA Tournament as over 50 percent. For Indiana to miss the Big Dance seemed to require a litany of unlikely calamities, all somehow leading to a sudden collapse by a team that had banked wins over Kansas and North Carolina.

Well, guess what?

The Hoosiers (15-12, 5-9 Big Ten) are well on their way to pulling off such an unlikely feat. They’re in such poor shape with four regular-season games left that, even if they stop their current free fall and finish strong, they still would probably need a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament to have a chance at an at-large bid.

It’s hard to overstate what an unlikely turn of events this has been. On Jan. 21 – 26 days ago – Indiana had beaten Michigan State 82-75 and stood at 14-6. The odds of being left out of mock brackets seemed minute.

Yet here we are. How’d things get so bad so fast in Bloomington?

Even now, the Hoosiers are one of the nation’s top 50 teams in point differential, but they’re minus-56 in this miserable seven-game stretch in which they've won only once.

The tempting fan narrative is that the team has begun quitting on coach Tom Crean, but if you’re arguing Indiana has stopped trying on defense, the data offers flimsy support for that conclusion. In five of the past six games, Indiana’s D was as strong as it had been all season against major-conference competition.

Offensively, on the other hand, Indiana has been driving off a cliff in slow motion.

The Hoosiers generated 115.8 points per 100 possessions in their first 15 games, and that made them the Big Ten’s top offense. Things started turning sour after that, sour as in, lemon concentrate. They've basically turned into Nicholls State over the past six games, scoring 96.6 points per 100 possessions.

Perhaps injuries to OG Anunoby, Juwan Morgan and James Blackmon Jr. created too many roster limitations. Perhaps this team can rediscover its early-season offensive strength, beginning with Tuesday’s game at Iowa.

But one thing is certain. If the Hoosiers don’t get their offense fixed, they are headed for an epic collapse that will leave them out of the NIT, as well. A month ago, it seemed there was virtually no chance for Indiana to miss the NCAA tourney because so many losses would have to pile up. Well … they’re piling up.