It has been a tumultuous campaign in 2023-2024, but the Indiana men's basketball team showed a sense of resilience during it's tough road loss to Illinois. Regardless of their rally, the 62-70 defeat at the hands of the Illini leaves the Hoosiers at an underwhelming 12-8 overall. They also fell below .500 in conference play with the loss, now locked into a 4-way tie for 7th spot at 4-5.
If they are going to get things back on the tracks, they are going to need to hit the drawing board to identify exactly what has worked for them and what has not worked for them. IU's next 3 games are against opponents that sit below/tied with them in the conference standings, so if there was ever a time to build some momentum it would have to be now. Creating that positive wave will begin with producing a positive plan. The foundation of a positive plan, in this particular case, starts with deciphering the pros and the cons.
What is Working: Interior Scoring, Youthful Progression, 3-Point Defense
First and foremost, the big fellas down low have been solid all season. Malik Reneau has been downright dominant all year, and while Kel'el Ware's numbers may have deflated a pinch compared to early in the season he has still been the backbone of this team. The super sophomores have come a long way in their second seasons in college, and the Mackenzie Mgbako-Gabe Cupps combo has come a long way in the pair's freshman season as well. Mgbako in particular has recently cancelled out a lot of negative noise tied to his name which was being heard in the first few games of the season. While the young team has struggled through it's growing pains, it has been refreshing to witness their growth nonetheless.
Another department which has been functioning properly on a more subliminal level is the team's perimeter defense. While the Hoosiers have not been good from downtown themselves this season (33.1%), they have at least been able to hold their opponents at bay from beyond the arc (33.5%). When you are a team that scores a bulk of it's baskets inside the arc, you do not want to allow your opponents to hit their outside shots at a high clip.
What is Not: Leadership, Shooting, Ball Control
Leadership is everything within a team environment. When your leaders are not setting the right example, it tends to reflect in terms of results. Without throwing too much shade on his name (because he has already received an abundance), Xavier Johnson has to be better. And in terms of this entire team, the outside shooting simply has to be better. There is no excuse for failing to connect on a single trifecta over the course of a 40-minute ballgame. You are simply not going to win if you are not hitting shots.
Aside from those glaring areas in need of drastic improvement, the Hoosiers also need to improve in the ball control department if they are going to make any type of noise going forth. They are coughing it up 12 times a game, just slightly slotting in to the bottom tier of the NCAA in this statistical category. This starts with the ballhandlers, but this is also an area that Malik Reneau needs to work on from an individual perspective as well.