Spears’ Spiel: IU’s Stellar Season won’t Guarantee NCAA Tournament Success
By: Matt Spears
It’s been an unbelievable year for IU basketball, but I hope fans appreciate the surprise season because it’s coming to a close as the NCAA Tournament approaches.
Not to dash the hopes of Hoosiers fans, but the team isn’t ready for the next step despite having their best regular season record (24-7) since the ’92-’93 season. IU has three factors going against it, making it highly unlikely they advance much past the first round of the tournament.
1.) They can’t win away from Assembly Hall.
Yes, they finished 6-6 outside Assembly Hall this year (including a victory against Notre Dame at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a neutral venue), but anyone who has faith in their ability to win away from home in the tournament is kidding themselves.
Road wins: Evansville, NC State, Penn State, Purdue, Minnesota
Road losses: Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa
They have solid wins against the Wolfpack and Boilermakers (more so because of environment and circumstances than overcoming talent). Their losses were a mix of head scratchers and understandable defeats.
For whatever reason, the Hoosiers don’t play with the same sense of urgency when they don’t have an arena full of fans supporting them. Nothing stands out from their road performances to suggest their ability to beat quality teams is going to suddenly change come tourney time.
2.) They lack late-game, offensive execution.
I can’t get myself to trust IU’s ability to execute in close, back-and-forth games when it counts.
Two games in particular stand out in my mind. They were both wins, but it was IU’s inability to stomp on its opponent’s neck and close out the game when it had the chance that resonates.
The first game of the 2012 calendar year was a 73-71 win vs. Michigan. When the Hoosiers defeated the Wolverines, they had led 68-61 with 6:18 remaining. All they could muster from that point on was a Verdell Jones III jumper and three free-throws because Michigan was fouling to get back in it. They finished the last six-plus minutes going just 1-for-4 from the field with five turnovers.
The other incidence occurred in their signature win vs. Kentucky. The Hoosiers were ahead 66-57 with nearly eight minutes left. During that span, however, the team went 3-for-14 with three turnovers. The three made baskets consisted of a pair of lay-ups and the Christian Watford three-pointer that will forever remain a lasting image of this Indiana program.
There isn’t a large sample size of the team’s performance in these circumstances because, to its credit, IU has done a good job winning comfortably. But with their relative inexperience winning close games, this small trend doesn’t bode well for them.
3.) March Madness success typically comes down to guard play.
The two best players on this team are Cody Zeller and Christian Watford—neither of whom are guards.
While Tom Crean’s cast of perimeter players are solid, they aren’t (to this point, anyway) made up of guards who typically help carry their team deep into March. If you look at the teams that win in the tournament, they usually have reliable guards who score and would be considered their team’s best or second best player.
This is not to discredit what a great year IU has had. The program doubled its win total from last year with their triumph over Purdue on “senior night.” The five IU seniors, in particular, have a lot to be proud of considering what they’ve endured.
It’s been a remarkable ride and one that has put IU back on the map in terms of college basketball prominence.
Just don’t be upset if it doesn’t last much longer.
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