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Monday, April 15
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

OPINION: The Big Ten is extremely tough, and IU men’s basketball is extremely OK


Some day, DVRs will come with a feature that allows IU fans to fast-forward directly to the roughly eight minutes of watchable basketball the Hoosiers play every game. 

That precious stretch came midway through the second half in IU’s 69-60 defeat to Illinois on Saturday, a fleeting moment of excitement in another lackluster offensive performance. 

I’m sure some viewers enjoy a style of play involving frantic scrums for loose balls and a sea of hands swatting around the rim, but I am not one of them. This game was so ugly it would have gotten second place at an uncontested pageant. 

Once again, the Hoosiers reached the end of the first half with what should be a confident lead based on their defensive showing, only to trail by a few scores. 

Holding a high-powered Fighting Illini offense to its lowest first-half score of the season is absolutely noteworthy but ultimately just a footnote in another chapter in a tome of the Hoosiers’ offensive ineptitude. 

IU committed only eight turnovers and sank 78% of its free throws, but it was out-rebounded 40-28, regularly giving Illinois opportunities at the basket. 

Offensive rebounding was a particularly sore spot for the Hoosiers, likely because so many of their shots came from a triple-guarded sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis with no friendly face in his general vicinity. 

This reliance on Jackson-Davis to drive to the hoop at all costs repeatedly condemns IU to an insurmountable deficit. The stellar forward typically ends up with close to 20 points anyway, but a slow start for him often digs the Hoosiers into a hole they can’t escape with layups and free throws. 

Jackson-Davis ended up capped at 11 points, leaving the offensive burden on a rotating cast of occasional scoring threats. Today, that was sophomore guard Armaan Franklin, who shot 5-6 on 3-pointers and netted a career-high 23 points. 

Despite an underwhelming outing attacking the rim, Jackson-Davis’ tenacity guarding sophomore center and 2019-20 Big Ten freshman of the year Kofi Cockburn cannot be overlooked. 

It’s tough for me to imagine entering Cockburn’s general vicinity without spontaneously disintegrating, so rejecting the massive center multiple times is remarkably impressive. Even with 15 points and 15 rebounds, Cockburn never felt like an unconquerable obstacle throughout the afternoon.

However, great teams find ways to win when their superstars can’t match immense expectations, and that’s exactly what Illinois did. Junior guard Ayo Dosunmu racked up 30 points for the Fighting Illini, 12 of which came from beyond the arc. 

IU’s defense generally carried its weight, but there’s something to be said for having a force like Jackson-Davis on the court. Cockburn was as bottled up as a superstar can be for most of the day, then Jackson-Davis got pulled and Dosunmu erupted.

I could easily fill this column with praise for the Hoosier defense valiantly stifling its opposition. And if IU hadn’t suffered four losses due to a horrifically unorganized offense, that’s probably what I would do. 

It feels as if Coach Archie Miller is slowly trying to develop a strategy in which his team simply holds its opponent to zero points so he can stop acknowledging his offense exists after the first few minutes. 

Miller has been playing whack-a-mole with this group all year, hammering down on one issue only to let another spring up. Today, the Hoosiers addressed free throws and turnovers but gifted away second chances like St. Nick himself.  

Anyone who learned about mean, median and mode in elementary school knows deep down why this version of IU can’t challenge the best of the Big Ten. Even when your squad stays disciplined, all it takes is one super low outlier to drag down the mean. 

And that’s just what IU is right now — average. 

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