The inconsistency is absolutely maddening.
Indeed, the only thing consistent about IU’s up-and-oh-so-down basketball season has been its inconsistency.
A Final Four-looking team that took apart No. 3 Wisconsin in one game followed that up with a mind-numbing home loss to Northwestern (the Wildcats first Big Ten road win in a year).
How is it possible to reverse-slam your team’s personality in a matter of days? This team is talented and unpredictable, often at the same time.
Depending on your perspective, that should have No. 5 Michigan State either licking its chops or shaking in its sneakers as the Hoosiers visit tonight.
Since the Spartans dispatched IU 73-56 earlier this month in Bloomington, the former is more likely.
It is certain if the Hoosiers do not take care of the basketball better.
Simply put, IU is one of the worst teams in college basketball when it comes to fundamentals. Occasionally, the Hoosiers are good enough to make up for it. More often, as it has lurched to a 2-3 Big Ten start, the missing basics are all too clear.
IU does not take care of the ball. The Hoosiers are 315th in the NCAA in assist to turnover ratio at .77, tied with UC-Riverside and Maryland-Eastern Shore. They also are last in the Big Ten.
For an average of 11 assists a game, the Hoosiers turn it over more than 15 times.
While no one outside of Yogi Ferrell excels, the team’s top four freshmen — Noah Vonleigh, Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson and Devin Davis — have combined for 101 turnovers with only 36 assists.
There is no sugar-coating it. That is abysmal. If you wonder why the Hoosiers are so inconsistent, it starts here.
In short, the Hoosiers often look like an AAU team—and a mediocre one at that—rather than a team that values the basketball and teamwork.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who want to do it right,” coach Tom Crean told the Ft. Wayne News-Sentinel a few weeks back. “They just don’t get it yet. We don’t understand yet how valuable that ball has to be every possession.”
Where it ends, nobody knows.
That is because it is worse, not better, now that the conference season has started, dipping to .75.
Turnovers are the more noticeable defect when watching the Hoosiers, as a number of unforced errors cost precious possessions.
And this team needs those extra shots, ranking last in the league in field goal percentage (38 percent) and next-to-last in free throws (69 percent).
Shoot fast and throw it away often is not a formula for success. Conversely, the Hoosiers are 11th in field goal defense.
It is the lack of assists, though, that may be most damaging. IU ranks last by a wide margin at only 10.8 a game, six a contest behind league-leading Purdue. For a team that likes to push the ball, that is especially befuddling.
Sure, it is easy to blame this on a team in transition, one with two freshmen starters. That worked in December, but not anymore. The reality of college basketball is that almost every team falls in that category.
At some point, the lack of fundamental execution becomes a reflection on coaching, not just players.
IU fans are enthusiastic and patient to a fault. Crean certainly has a long life left in Bloomington.
There is a limit to that patience, though, especially when the coach is the state’s highest paid employee and the program is one of the nation’s most esteemed.
Indiana basketball used to mean crisp offense that took care of the basketball and valued selfless passing and maximized possessions. It does not anymore.
Wins and losses are relative. Fundamental execution is not. It is a hallmark of the Hoosiers.
Somehow, that has gotten lost by a team that too often plays beneath its collective abilities.
It is time for IU to get back to playing Indiana basketball.
Rick Morwick is sports editor for the Daily Journal