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COLUMN: IU basketball keeps winning games despite ugly performances


Sophomore forward Justin Smith commits an offensive foul trying to score against University of Arkansas on March 23 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. IU defeated Arkansas, 63-60. Anna Tiplick Buy Photos

There was one play during the IU men's basketball team’s 63-60 NIT victory over the University of Arkansas on Saturday that encapsulated the game’s ugliness as a whole in just a matter of seconds.

Midway through the first half, senior forward Juwan Morgan posted up inside and rifled a one-handed, bullet of a pass back out to the perimeter. Yet there was one small problem — the closest person to Morgan’s pass was senior guard Zach McRoberts, who wasn’t even within the vicinity of the ball’s trajectory. 

The ball continued to fly out of bounds, eventually smacking off the pixelated NIT logo pictured on the screen of the scorer’s table and sending a loud thud throughout Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

It was a perfect way to sum up what has been one big thud of a season in Bloomington.

Yet here we are, still watching this team as it keeps trucking through each game, somehow winning five of its last six.

We’re honestly past the point of trying to figure out how the Hoosiers are still alive, even if they are just grinding out victories in the NIT.

At this point, nobody is really expecting the on-court product to be pretty. If IU is going to win, it’s probably going to do so in grisly fashion. Minus a few occasions, the Hoosiers’ wins this seasons have come when things get muddy and they come out of the mess as the least muddy. 

That’s fine too. It’s time to accept that ugliness is the way IU is going to get it done, whether that means there’s much quality basketball being played or not. 

Saturday’s game was no different. In fact, it was kind of the crème de la crème of basketball averageness, capped off with the two-fingered chef’s kiss that was neither team hitting a field goal for nearly the final six minutes of the contest.

Sure, some of that came from decent defense being played, but a lot of it stemmed from the depressing fact that the two teams on the court were just not good and were simply unable to make the open looks they got.

The Hoosiers had their usual bouts of inexplicably careless play, such as when it didn't occur to anyone on the court to block out the shooter on a free throw, giving up an offensive rebound and a putback to Arkansas sophomore guard Jalen Harris early in the second half.

Yet they had their stretches of solid, cohesive basketball sprinkled throughout that ultimately saved them in the end, showing short snippets of the talented team they could be.

More wins aren't going to save this season from being a disappointment. That’s what it is and will always be — a bust, a calamity, a missed opportunity. If you’re still saying it hasn’t been that, you’re lying to yourself.

If you still want to watch basketball in Bloomington in March, that’s where this NIT run can still be a positive.

Come for the long swan song to Morgan’s career, junior center De’Ron Davis diving for loose balls like he did in the second half Saturday or the renaissance that is junior guard Devonte Green emerging as an actual main scoring option for IU. 

The atmosphere as Assembly Hall has been excellent so far. The stadium was packed to the brim with people. Little kids got to shoot on the floor prior to the game. It was great.

Yet expecting this team to develop into the one we know it should have been all season is a pipe dream. It’s not going to happen. These days, the NIT is about extending mediocrity to the point of exhaustion.

Just sit back and watch the madness of this mind-boggling IU season unfold.

Correction: A previous version of this column incorrectly stated the final score of the game. The IDS regrets this error.

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