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My Two Cents: Don't Overreact to Big Win (Purdue) or Bad Loss (Michigan)

It's been a heck of a week at Indiana, with a couple of big nights and then the first bad performance of the year at home. It's a great reminder that this team, with all of its flaws, will make you happy one day and disappoint you on others. That's how it goes at this level.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Thursday was so much fun, and Sunday was a dud. Heck, even last Monday was fun, too.

The road demons — eight straight losses dating back to last February — were erased on Monday. That painful nine-game losing streak to Purdue disappeared on Thursday. And then on Sunday, Indiana got buried by a barrage of three-pointers from Michigan and lost 80-62, dropping their first home game all year.

It was a long, hard week, and two out of three isn't bad.

There are those out there who continue to whine after each of Indiana's five losses, and they look at that 14-5 record and complain that they should have won them all, and be 19-0. 

But why? Sure, they've been capable of winning those first four losses, and Sunday was the first time they really didn't have a chance to win.

But people keep forgetting that this is a flawed team. They are a top-30, top-40 team nationally — not a top-10 team that deserves nightly national recognition. They are a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, not a team capable of winning the league crown. Not this year. 

How quickly people forget that Indiana hasn't had a winning record in the Big Ten since 2016. Here's your refresher course from the end of the Tom Crean era and the four years of ugliness under Archie Miller:

  • Indiana 2016-17 — 18-16, 7-11 in Big Ten
  • Indiana 2017-18 — 16-15, 9-9 in Big Ten
  • Indiana 2018-19 — 19-16, 8-12 in Big Ten
  • Indiana 2019-20 — 20-12, 9-11 in Big Ten
  • Indiana 2020-21 — 12-15, 7-12 in Big Ten

And how quickly they forget that Mike Woodson inherited a team with serious confidence issues. This is a team that didn't know how to win, didn't know how to play with swagger, didn't know how to put a throat on teams and bury them down the stretch.

Sure, they are much better than a year ago — and if you don't see that, then you just don't know what to look for.

Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson are both much better than they were a year ago. Trayce had 17 points in Sunday's loss and missed five other shots right at the rim. Race missed a few easy ones, too.

And that happens.

The three transfers who start — guards Xavier Johnson and Parker Stewart, and forward Miller Kopp — are all better than the guys they replaced. And they are better than the guys who sit behind them.

But that doesn't mean they play great every night. Let's not forget that Xavier Johnson is not Isiah Thomas, Stewart isn't Steve Alford and Kopp isn't, well, isn't Mike Woodson. They are guys who have had slightly above average college careers and they've made Indiana's roster better.

But they aren't perfect, either. They are 14-5 good, not 19-0 good, so quit being so stunned when Indiana loses a game.

Reserves on a basketball team are like the backup quarterback on a football team. Fans want them all to play. But when it comes to dispersing minutes, trust me on this:  Mike Woodson knows how to best utilize this roster far better than you do.

If Indiana's bench guys could play at a high level for 30 minutes every night, then they would be starting. But that's not the case. Sure, they will all have their moments, and some — like Rob Phinisee and Trey Galloway — will be counted on often to close out games.

But they aren't first-team All-Americans, and they're going to have moments where they struggle, too. Phinisee had that career game on Thursday night against Purdue — a career-high 20 points and the game-winning three-pointer — but on Sunday he missed his first four shots and didn't score his only two points until there was 2:35 left in the game and it was long over.

Galloway, who provides a lot of juice off the bench, was 0-for-5 shooting and missed all three three-point attempts. Sure, he had three assists and two steals, and his plus/minus was ZERO in an 18-point loss, but he didn't make a difference, either.

It was just one game, though, too. There is a reason why Woodson hasn't tinkered with his starting lineup all year. It's been the same for 18 of 19 games, and only changed once when Parker Stewart was being disciplined and Anthony Leal started a game.

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They are the starters for a reason. Even Trayce Jackson-Davis said so on Sunday after the loss to Michigan.

"It's honestly on us. That falls on us,'' Jackson-Davis said. "It's our home court, and the starting five, we need to regroup, and we need to figure that out because it's unacceptable, honestly, to come out with no emotion and no drive.

"Like when we were at the Purdue game, that second unit really helped us and got us going (after falling behind 16-8) with Trey and all of them blowing up ball screens and stuff like that on defense. Our starting five is our starting five for a reason, so we've got to figure that out.''

That says it all right there to me — "our starting five is our starting five for a reason'' — and they just need to do a better job of starting fast, something that's been an issue throughout the year.

Prior to the win over then No. 13-ranked Ohio State, Woodson and his staff started to get Stewart and Kopp on the move a little more, and that's helped. We saw from Michigan how quickly a game can flip with a barrage of three-pointers, and Indiana can definitely benefit from that, too.

Who are their best three-point shooters? That's Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp. And they need to get more involved offensively, especially early. Stewart hit three straight threes late in the game when it became a priority, but he was 0-for-2 in the first half.

What could be done better is getting them better looks. Teams have been hesitant lately to leave Indiana's shooters when the ball goes in the paint, so do something different then. Run some sets with off-ball screens to free them up. It can be done.

Woodson isn't being stubborn when it comes to a starting lineup. Quite frankly, he doesn't really care about who starts. He cares more about who finishes, and he's rode Phinisee and Galloway to the finish line several times lately, with great success.

But there's this question, too. Do you really think Indiana would be a better team if Phinisee and Galloway played 30 minutes a game instead of 18 or 20? If Stewart and Kopp only played 10 or 15 minutes?

There is no need to blow this up right now because they are still doing some good things. There are also ZERO guarantees that it would make a big difference.

The win over Purdue was great, and there will be more huge wins like that in the final six weeks of the season. The loss at Michigan was tough, and that might happen again, too. 

Someone tried to argue with me on social media that Indiana might only win three more games, and that four was an impossibility. I think that's crazy.

I still think this is a 20-win team, minimum. I still think that this is an NCAA Tournament team, and a top 5-6 team in the Big Ten. 

So just roll with the highs and the lows. The Michigan loss was the first of its kind all year. And what killed them — being a step slow defensively all night long in attacking with double-teams and closing out on shooters — hasn't really been an issue for most of the year.

It's also fixable, and I'm not worried about that. Michigan was dead last in the Big Ten in three-pointers made coming into the game and they just got crazy hot. It happens, too. 

I firmly expect to see better from Indiana against Penn State at home on Wednesday, a team that they lost to on the road in early January. Same with a trip to Maryland on Saturday. A couple of wins would be big.

This is a good team. Not great, but good. They aren't going to be nationally ranked this week either, and haven't been all year. It's a top-30 team that's going to have some really good moments.

And some bad ones, too. And that's not the end of the world.

  • WHAT WOODSON SAID: The Hoosiers are no longer perfect at home after falling to Michigan 80-62. Read or listen to what Indiana head coach Mike Woodson had to say about the letdown loss. CLICK HERE.
  • WHAT JACKSON-DAVIS SAID: Michigan ended Indiana's perfect home game winning streak dominating the Hoosiers 80-62. Here's what forward Trayce Jackson-Davis had to say following the loss. Read the transcript, or just watch the attached video of the entire press conference. CLICK HERE.
  • GAME STORY: Michigan made 11 three-pointers and jumped out early on Indiana, handing the Hoosiers their first home loss of the season in an 80-62 win. Trayce Jackson-Davis led Indiana with 17 points. CLICK HERE.
  • PHOTO GALLERY: Here are two dozen photos from Indiana's game with Michigan on Sunday at Assembly Hall. CLICK HERE