Remember Thursday night when IU men’s basketball upset then-No. 4 Iowa on the road? Man, that was so cool.
IU’s 74-70 defeat to Rutgers was a textbook letdown game, complete with all the sloppiness and lack of focus that comes with the hangover following an emotional win.
It’s hard to blame the Hoosiers for coming out flat against arguably their 13th most bitter rival in the Big Ten, but I certainly didn’t expect the sluggishness to last all 40 minutes.
Although IU rained 3-pointers early on, the torrential downpour quickly thinned to an underwhelming drip. The strategic mastermind that is Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell deployed the one thing guaranteed to stall IU’s offense — a remotely competent zone defense.
Despite avoiding the turnover bug the past few weeks, the Hoosiers were completely infested in the second half, tripling their number of giveaways from three to nine. Be it an opposing athlete’s hand or the sideline itself, several recipients were repeatedly gifted with errant IU passes.
However, in an unexpected and slightly frustrating twist, defense was by far the greatest shortcoming for the Hoosiers.
The Scarlet Knights shot an utterly ridiculous 51% throughout the course of the afternoon and only trailed for four-and-a-half minutes. Whenever IU made an impressive play, Rutgers answered emphatically like the “bum, bum, bum” in “Sweet Caroline.”
It’s not like the Hoosiers didn’t have any scoring threats on the floor, either.
Sophomore guard Armaan Franklin contributed his typical 14 points while going 3-4 from beyond the arc. Freshman guard Khristian Lander’s pair of consecutive 3-pointers were probably almost as exhilarating for Lander as they were for a horde of journalists desperate to write a story about a breakout freshman.
Nevertheless, sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis scored just 13 points, and the double-double his viewers have begun taking for granted never manifested.
I don’t have the basketball acumen to know why a defense that stymied the most efficient offense in the nation three days ago looked totally lost against the Scarlet Knights. Obviously, a substantial degree of Rugters’ shooting success is just the result of the ball rattling through the hoop rather than out of it, but luck only gets you so far.
It’s actually not that hard to understand how IU floundered in a contest it shouldn’t have.
Regardless of Franklin and Lander’s success from long-range, it’s tough to overcome your best player getting shut down.
Meanwhile, the Hoosier defenders hung to their men more loosely than the mask constantly draped around head coach Archie Miller’s chin. The Scarlet Knights graciously accepted every wide open shot and made enough of them to leave Assembly Hall with a victory that felt much larger than just 4 points.
So, IU is doomed, right? Well, if you want to ignore everything important about statistics and form your opinion based on a sample size of one, then sure.
IU’s underwhelming 9-7 record is the result of all those scoring runs and droughts culminating in both stunning upsets and head-scratching collapses. Winning 56% of the time doesn’t mean you play like 56% of a perfect unit in every game.
Given IU’s pitiful 44-point showing against the University of Texas on Dec. 1 and its recent brilliance versus Iowa, I think it’s safe to say we can eliminate the outliers. The Hoosiers are really good but not great, and they are completely vulnerable to all the streakiness and inconsistency that defines college basketball.
If it helps process the difficult emotions, just imagine today’s loss came to another middling program like Northwestern or Minnesota.
Honestly, I don’t think IU fans would even be this disappointed by a 4-point defeat if it weren’t to Rutgers. It’s like the Hoosiers tried to make friends with the Big Ten’s unloved stepchild out of pity but still got rejected.