The Curse of the #1 Ranking Continues, Hoosiers fall to Illini
I am now convinced that it is a curse.
A week ago, I predicted that the Hoosiers would beat the then #1 ranked Michigan Wolverines. And they did. Indiana is the better team, but I now see that Michigan was also a victim of the curse.
Last night, a mere days after regaining the #1 ranking in the country, Indiana dropped a game to the Fighting Illini of Illinois, 72-74. They lost on a wide open layup off an inbounds play with only nine-tenths of a second remaining in the game. All the Hoosiers had to do was defend a simple inbound play for less than one second to send the game into overtime where they could regain their composure and escape with a close win…
Yep, definitely a curse.
The Hoosiers were in the driver’s seat for much of the game. At half they led 41-21, and they maintained a ten-point cushion until the 7:33 mark of the second half when Illinois cut the lead down to eight. But Indiana managed to keep the lead at eight points until just under the three minute mark when D.J. Richardson of Illinois hit a three that cut the lead to five. Only fifty seconds later, he hit another to further close the gap to two points. It only took twenty more seconds for Richardson to hit the tying jump shot, capping off his own 8-0 run down the stretch.
Indiana finally woke up and scored a basket off a Victor Oladipo slashing layup with just under a minute remaining. However, Brandon Paul of Illinois was able to step up to the free throw line and calmly knock down two free throws to tie the game with only thirty-seven ticks remaining.
Last shot opportunity. Worst case scenario is that the game goes to overtime and Indiana is able to regroup and win the game. But that’s not how it happened. Instead, Oladipo made a rare mistake and lost the ball as he was trying to make a behind-the-back move to the basket. All seemed lost, until Oladipo chased down Richardson and cleanly swatted the would-be winning breakaway layup.
They had dodged a bullet. All they needed to do was defend for nine-tenths of a second. Less than a second. Essentially, just don’t allow some sort of tip-in lob at the basket.
And then it appeared to happen in slow motion. Illinois overloaded one side of the court, and all of a sudden an Illinois player emerged from the mass of players completely unguarded. All of the Hoosier players had their backs turned as he calmly hit a wide open layup at the basket. He even had the presence of mind to release the ball quickly and not dunk it, thus safely assuring the ball was clearly off in time as the final clock buzzed.
It was seemingly the easiest position to be in for the Hoosiers to push it to overtime. Even before that, it was an eight point lead with under three minutes left on the clock. And they blew it.
They only hit one field goal and one free throw in the final 4:20 of the game. Three points in the final four minutes of the game.
They allowed two players – Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson – to completely take over the game and beat them. They scored all but four of the Illini’s points in the final ten minutes of the game (21 of the 25 points scored).
Indiana Coach Tom Crean appeared to do nothing during this meltdown. He called an Indiana timeout at the sixteen minute mark of the second half, and didn’t call another until Illinois was within two points with just under two minutes remaining in regulation. He also elected not to call a timeout to set up a final play when Indiana had the opportunity to hold for the last shot. Having the ball in Oladipo’s hands was the right thing (even though he made a mistake), but calling a timeout to set something specific up for Oladipo would have been the best thing to do in that situation. He also elected not to call a timeout before the final inbound play to remind his players of the situation. To watch a lead crumble while doing nothing is a problem. It does nothing to quell the creeping doubts I have had of Indiana and Coach Crean’s ability and decision-making to finish off teams and close out close games.
So, yes, Indiana made some crucial mistakes, but is there a curse? Absolutely. And if you don’t believe me or Indiana, then ask Michigan, Duke, or Louisville. You can have your #1 ranking back, because as an Indiana fan, I don’t want it anymore…