The Beatles (specifically, George Harrison) said, “With every mistake, we must surely be learning” in George’s classic song, While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
What are we learning, Hoosier fans, about the Indiana men’s basketball program this season? Well, that’s a loaded question, many of you are saying right about now.
Doesn’t it seem like this team has enough talent to be better than 13-9 overall and 5-6 in the Big Ten, heading toward Tuesday night’s rematch with Ohio State in Columbus?
Many observers consider Saturday’s loss to Penn State, which scored 85 points despite the absence of their leading scorer, the injured Kanye Clary, the most disappointing game in a season that has had too many of them.
Coach Mike Woodson was incredibly frustrated about the second half when the Nittany Lions outscored the Hoosiers 48-30.
“Yes, I want more fire out of my guys,” Woodson said. “They didn’t fight tonight in the second half, and that’s kind of disappointing.”
Let’s be honest — that’s more than kind of disappointing.
So, back to the question at hand. What are we learning?
1. It’s been obvious all season that the Hoosiers need to shoot the ball better. We’ve seen this team go through extended periods where nobody can get the ball in the basket.
Layups are missed. Free throws are clanked. Three-pointers too often look like an under-inflated football wobbling through a 40 mph wind.
Missed free throws are especially exasperating. Those are points you should have had, and that often comes back to haunt you in the final score. As it should.
Indiana’s men’s team ranks 315th in Division 1 in free-throw percentage, at 66.47%. This is Indiana, where basketball goals dot the landscape like utility poles.
2. This team needs more fire, as Coach Woodson said. Teams that don’t shoot well sometimes still win because their players out-hustle their opponents. They block out and fight for every rebound. They jump on every loose ball. On defense, they disrupt what the other team is trying to do.
Some of us remember the “40 minutes of hell” Arkansas teams of the 1990s under Coach Nolan Richardson.
Nobody wanted to play those Razorbacks, because their suffocating, pressing defense shut down opposing offenses time after time. Those players outworked their opponents and forced countless turnovers that led to easy buckets.
We hope that prized recruit Liam McNeeley, who will arrive at IU for the 2024-2025 season, will help the Hoosiers with their shooting woes.
But what about the rest of this season? Can better shooting be taught? If so, you’d think the coaching staff would have already done that.
Could tweaking the offense lead to more high-percentage shots?
Could a pressing defense produce enough fast-break layups and dunks to compensate for lackluster 3-point and free throw shooting?
Finally, how do you teach players to play with fire? One way, I suppose, is to reward those who hustle the most in practice with more playing time in games. If anyone doesn’t work hard in practice, he shouldn’t be playing when it counts.
This goes beyond wins and losses. Any team that faces the Hoosiers should feel like they have to hustle their butts off to match IU’s level of intensity. Let’s start with that.