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COLUMN: Hoosiers can only go so far without a true point guard



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Junior guard Josh Newkirk fights for control in front of the Indiana net. The Hoosiers beat Illinois 96-80 Saturday night. Victor Grössling Buy Photos

No matter how well big men Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby play, no matter how hot the shooting is and how many swishes are heard, no matter how many offensive sets IU head coach Tom Crean implements, it doesn’t matter if there’s no true point guard.

IU thought it could withstand it.

With former point guard Yogi Ferrell’s departure, the Hoosiers thought they could get away with the fact that they don’t have a dominant ball handler.

“The point guard is going to be the guy that, after the made basket, gets the ball on the break and can make the best decisions, advance it with the dribble or the pass, can score at the rim, score in a pull-up situation, hit a three, get into a ball screen, those type of things,” Crean said during Big Ten Media Day. “Then everything else has got to be free flowing so that the decision-making process for us is really on that break.”

It’s a wonderful thought, yet as the season’s progression has signified so far, it hasn’t come to fruition.

There are too many empty possessions.

Too many times has Bryant found himself holding the ball behind the arc, and too many times have guards James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk looked to score without acknowledging their fellow teammates.

What this team needs is a general on the floor. The chaos and constant disorder prove this necessity is absent.

With 14 turnovers compared to Maryland’s eight in the 75-72 loss to the Terrapins, the constant fumbles and flubs have been a calling card for the Hoosiers thus far.

This was less than average for the Hoosiers, a team averaging a little more than 15 per game coming into Tuesday’s game.

IU was also at the bottom of the conference in turnover margin with minus 4.1. The second lowest is Michigan State’s minus 2.6.

This comes down to quite a few explanations — from play-calling to weak passes — but the number one reason is the lack of someone who can run the offense.

Tuesday’s loss was another example.

IPFW, Nebraska, Butler, Wisconsin.

In 17 games, the Hoosiers have six losses. In four Big Ten games, they have three losses. The number one problem has been a dearth at the point guard position, and it doesn’t seem as if this conundrum will be answered anytime soon.

IU is okay at basketball right now, but with the tremendous talent and lofty expectations, this seems like a waste.

At some point, someone with the ball in his hands needs to be better.

This brings us to junior Josh Newkirk.

The Pittsburgh transfer may be the last hope for this squad. We know what Blackmon and Johnson are — a dynamite shooter and all-around player, respectively. However, neither has proven that they can be anywhere near the distributor of a Ferrell.

Newkirk, on the other hand, still has some room to grow on this team. He has played less than 20 games under Crean and has slowly begun to look for teammates instead of throwing the ball at the rim hoping he will be bailed out by a foul call.

These are not yet dire times for IU. Most recently projected as a 9-seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament by Joe Lunardi, the squad is still fighting nightly in the upper echelon of college basketball.

But then what?

This isn’t a team that can make an actual run. Without a point guard, IU will end up losing the same way it did to Maryland in a close back-and-forth game.

So close. No cigar.

That’s where the Hoosiers are right now.

Simply put, they’re just not good enough.

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