IU set to turn the page to NIT

Juwan Morgan spent a portion of the weekend reliving his past.

A conversation with longtime friend and former Indiana teammate OG Anunoby sent IU’s senior forward down a rabbit hole of old game clips, leading him to video from his sophomore season.

Morgan and Anunoby were discussing the art of the no-look pass, and how so many dishes of that variety are telegraphed ahead of time. It got Morgan thinking about one such memorable pass of his own, a no-look fastbreak connection to former classmate Thomas Bryant during IU’s 2017 NIT game at Georgia Tech.

So on Saturday, as Indiana awaited word of its postseason tournament assignment, Morgan dug up the film and cued the footage of his helper early in the second half of that contest. The clip lasted only four seconds, but Morgan’s eyes remained fixed on the film for several minutes.

Quickly, an innocent diversion turned into a painful reminder.

He watched as a brief, one-possession Indiana lead disintegrated into a double-digit deficit and an eventual season-ending loss in college basketball’s second-tier tournament. It reminded him of the frustration felt inside of that campaign of unmet expectations, and how he’s spent the past two seasons hoping to avoid a repeat result.

“It sucked,” Morgan said. “It was terrible to go out that way, especially how we started out that season. It just hurt.”

Now, Indiana is back in the NIT, an event Morgan and the Hoosiers hoped to never see again. This isn’t how anyone at IU saw this season going after a 12-2 start to the schedule. This isn’t how Morgan envisioned going out in his final year in Bloomington. This isn’t why blue chip recruit Romeo Langford committed to IU 11 months ago, and this isn’t why Archie Miller took on the head coaching job two years ago at Indiana University.

At Indiana, the NIT is never part of the plan. But after a season full of injuries, bad luck and inefficient offense, it’s where the Hoosiers find themselves.

And they’re set on making the best of it.

“Even though it’s not where we want to be, we can still make something happen out of this,” Morgan said.

Indiana, which received an automatic No. 1 seed as one of the first four teams left out of the NCAA Tournament field, is a heavy favorite in Tuesday night’s NIT opener against eighth-seeded St. Francis at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers opened as a 19-point favorite in Vegas, while KenPom.com gives IU a 96 percent chance of victory against the Northeast Conference regular season champs.

And yet, it’s fair to wonder: what Indiana team will show up?

Will it be the one that looked like an NCAA Tournament squad during its last three victories at Assembly Hall, a stretch of games that included wins over No. 19 Wisconsin and No. 6 Michigan State?

Or will it be the one that reappeared in Thursday’s one-and-done appearance at the Big Ten Tournament, the clumsy and inefficient Hoosiers that couldn’t get out of their own way during the bulk of their conference games.

“I think the team that shows up, if they’re not playing well, we put other guys in the game,” Miller said. “At the end of the day our staff is ready to go. The guys who are ready to go, they play. If you get a feeling things aren’t going well, you have to adjust.”

Therein lies Miller’s focus for Indiana’s second NIT trip in three years. He wants to use this tournament to help his young roster, using the extra practices and game experiences to build toward next year.

But Miller’s also not about to forget about his veterans, or go out of his way to play those Hoosiers at the end of the bench.

“We need to play to win,” Miller said.

So after the initial wave of NCAA Tournament disappointment subsided on Sunday evening, Miller addressed his Indiana team with the only relevant message left to share.

The season isn’t over yet, and with games to play in the NIT, the Hoosiers might as well try to win the whole thing.

“At the end of the day, if you have an opportunity to put an Indiana jersey on, you better be ready to play,” Miller said. “For us, obviously there’s disappointment, but at the same time there’s also opportunity. We need to focus in on the opportunity, then we need to be ready to go.”

Miller stuck to that message during his session with reporters on Monday afternoon. He wasn’t interested in debating the decision-making process of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, or blaming any of IU’s resume troubles on the Big Ten’s move to a 20-game schedule.

His team’s issues have been clear to see.

“Our non-conference schedule and our schedule in general was clearly not our problem,” Miller said. “Winning the games that we needed to win was the problem. If you win a couple more games here or there, maybe just one more, we’re not talking about non-conference scheduling and what not.

“We had our opportunities. Everybody in our program knows we didn’t get enough of what we needed to get done in January and February. I also think at the end of the day we’re playing pretty good basketball here at the end. We need to see if we can’t carry that over.”

The Hoosiers, as they’ve illustrated in fits and starts, are clearly capable of playing well enough to win this event. Even after losing 12 of 13 games during the middle of Big Ten season, the Hoosiers nearly found a backdoor into the NCAA Tournament through their play during the final two weeks of the regular season.

At Indiana, talent isn’t the issue. It’s attitude.

As the Hoosiers recalibrate for their opportunity in this month’s second-tier postseason showcase, the question becomes whether they’re motivated and focused on following through.

“The season is not over yet,” Morgan said. “We play (to)night. We have to dial in, especially because it’s a one-day turnaround. We have to be ready to go.”

3 comments

  1. I wish ‘Tattoo’…and ‘Boss’ were still around. After not appearing anywhere close to a banner since the days of ‘Fantasy Island’ and a Chrysler Cordoba commercial (make sure you say ‘Cordoba’ in a sexy Spanish accent), I’d surely get my ticket punched for plane trip to a fantasy Final Four including a Hoosier basketball team.
    Would it be too greedy to ask Mr. Roarke for the use of his Cordoba and maybe for one of the island girl cheerleaders in yoga pants to strike up a conversation with me at the tiki bar tip-off celebration?

  2. IU Hoosiers OFFICIAL site:

    Why IU IS A 1 SEED IN THE NIT
    Indiana was one of the last four out of the NCAA Tournament according to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee. IU had six Quadrant 1 wins and no losses in Quadrant 3 or 4. Indiana was rated 54th in the latest NET. Six teams ranked below IU in the NET earned at-large bids. IU has played the 13th toughest schedule in the country according to KenPom.com. Indiana(Michigan State) and Michigan State(Michigan) were the only teams in the country to sweep multi-game series against a top-10 rated team in the country this season

    Indeed…Why?

  3. We sure could have used a Rod Wilmont…or a Kyle Hornsby…or a Matt Roth…or a Jordan Hulls…or a Nick “Buckets” Zeisloft for some 3-point shot barrages this season. Miss the days of Hoosier marksmen splashing from downtown.
    Archie, bring in some more downtown shooters!

    Disclaimer: The above comment was mainly a reason to play Petula Clark. Forget all your troubles…Forget all your cares and go DOWNTOWN!

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