So, Monday was bad. There aren’t really any ways to spin a 20 point loss on the road in conference.
I guess I could try to make you feel better by bringing up that 50-point loss to Minnesota in 1994 and tell you that we ended that season with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen and a third place finish in the Big Ten.
Or, I could bring up how much this loss reminded me of the 29-point loss at Michigan State in 2008 in the way we came out sluggish, got behind big, and the game was over eight-minutes into the first half, with the very notable exception that the the team in 2008 flat out quit in that game, never put up a fight in that game, and didn’t really put a fight for the rest of the season, and this team on Monday didn’t lose because they quit. They continued to fight (some of them anyway), and cut a 30-point deficit to 20 by the end of the game. Which would be comforting, I guess, if effort was the problem with this team.
Effort and desire has never been the issue with any team that Crean has coached at IU. So, saying, “Hey, at least they played hard,” is ridiculous because it presupposes that playing hard is a challenge this group needs to overcome. It would be like me defending myself in an argument with my wife by saying, “Hey, at least I got that bowl for you off the top shelf!” because being tall enough to reach things she can’t has never been an issue.
So, what was the problem on Monday. To what should we affix our disappointed gazes?
Should we focus on how terribly we shot the ball?
I don’t really think so.
Let’s be clear. We shot the ball terribly, but it’s not because we suddenly can’t shoot. It’s because we took bad shots. And by ‘we’ I mean, everyone. The WHOLE STORE had the flu. And we took bad shots, in part, because Michigan State’s defense was really, really good. We took bad shots, in part, because, if you listened to Crean after the game, we were slipping our ball screens before making any contact, not moving well without the ball, and cutting without a purpose. We also took bad shots, in part, because we still have a few guys on the team whose default setting is get-out-of-my-way-I-can-do-this-on-my-own, and despite getting better at fighting these tendencies, when pushed hard past their comfort zone, they reverted to this mindset.
It’s a step in the learning process. They know in their heads that doing it the old way doesn’t work, but they don’t yet know it in their bodies. It has to become so ingrained in who they are as players and people that it overwrites their old programming entirely. And it hasn’t done that yet.
So, the fault in our stars wasn’t that we didn’t shoot well.
Should we focus on getting out-rebounded?
I don’t really think so.
Against Louisville the focus needed to be on our rebounding, but we’ve really improved in that area since early December. But not here. Let’s look at it a little closer. The rebounding margin was 50-28.
And we gave up 17 offensive rebounds, which is also bad. But a contributing factor to these numbers that can’t be ignored is that we missed a lot more shots than Michigan State, giving them more chances for defensive rebounds. We got roughly 25% percent of our offensive rebounding chances, which isn’t great, but in this game, the rebounding numbers are a symptom of the larger problem and not the problem itself.
Should we focus on James, Troy, Hanner, Rob, Nick, and every other person on the team not name Yogi, having an off game?
I don’t really think so.
It’s odd when everyone plays terribly. It’s what we in the business (and by the business, I mean the industry) refer to as an anomaly. It’s not likely to happen again to this extent, so focusing on a one-time situation is a little narrow in focus.
Now, there are reasons why everyone seemed to play so bad, and some of those reasons were the way MSU played, but most of them are on the guys who actually played so bad.
But, and this may surprise some people, but where I think we need to focus our attention for this game, and for the generally terrible play of everyone on the team not named Yogi, is on everyone on the team named Yogi.
Crean said in his post-game press conference that “our leadership was left somewhere back in Bloomington.” And guess what. That’s Yogi.
Crean may not want to put the C on anyone’s jersey, but for this team to keep getting better and be the threat in the Big Ten they can be, Yogi has to be that guy. Whether he’s called the “Captain” or not isn’t the issue. It’s whether he acts like it or not. And on Monday he didn’t act like it.
The team came out sluggish. We were sloppy on defense and unfocused on offensive. We were making bad decisions, taking bad shots, slipping ball screens we shouldn’t have been slipping, and having real trouble scoring. Yogi stepped up and scored himself, something he’s very capable of doing, and something that, in some cases, will be needed. But what he didn’t do, was pull guys aside and get in their faces, get them focused, get them doing what needed to be done to compete in this game.
And that’s what was missing in the first 10 minutes of the game. And there’s no one else who can provide it.
I’ve said before how the ceiling for this team rests on the upside of Troy and Hanner, but I haven’t expressed how this is wholly dependent on Yogi being who he needs to be. It has to be taken as a given that Yogi will be the leader of this team. He’s not prone to the same fluctuations of effort, decision-making, or self-control as guys like Hanner and Troy. He’s not subject to the first-time, youth-related, freshman-wall, struggles that James and Rob are going to experience from time to time. He’s got the most experience. He’s the elder-statesman. There is no one else to fill this role.
It’s his. He has to own it.
And on Monday, he didn’t.
But he can.
And I think he will. I’m not sure when, but he will. And this team’s chances at being consistent (which seems like it’s going to be the key as we move into the Big Ten season) are going to depend on it.
We’re good enough to compete in every game. We’re good enough to win our fair share. And viewed from 1000 miles up, we’re 1-1 in conference after two road games. That’s a good start for a young team. If you’re honest with yourself, you figured that 1-1 to start Big Ten play with this schedule was probably about as good as we could expect, and we got that.
The difference between 9-9 in the Big Ten and 11-7 or 12-6, or even better, is going to be consistency. And Yogi’s leadership is going to be the key to that.
On Monday, it wasn’t there, and as a consequence, a slow start became a terrible start, became a bad game, became a lost cause.
As with most things this season, this is a learning opportunity, a teachable moment. And the true value and meaning of it, will be in what happens next, how they respond to the lessons presented on Monday.
And how well Yogi can lead this team moving forward.