One Big Thought: Indiana's defense is still bad

Max Bielfeldt and Indiana slipped up in the first round of the Maui Invitational against Wake Forest. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

There was one silver lining for Indiana fans after Monday night's 82-78 loss to Wake Forest: At least St. John's was next.

That was true of the mothership's television coverage throughout the night. During game breaks and halftime visits the Hoosier-collapse highlights were typically followed by a quick sampling of the hilariously open shots the Red Storm gave Vanderbilt in the Commodores' 92-55 (!) win. It was the highlight-package equivalent of hearing your old, beat-up car make a disconcerting noise, and suddenly worrying about how bad the repair bill will be this time because last time you chose not to fix the heat and it's already freezing outside and you were just starting to make some real progress on that credit card, and why now, car, why are you doing this to me? ... just as you drive past a person on a bicycle trying to churn through the snow. It could always be worse.

On Thursday, that moment of clarity will likely manifest itself on the court, too, when IU's unexpected trip to the loser's bracket will grant them a 2 p.m. ET matchup with the aforementioned Johnnies.

The Hoosiers should win easily, but it almost doesn't matter. Their trip to Maui is already a massive disappointment, not just because the first day ended in a loss, or because they've missed a chance to face high-quality, résumé -building opposition like Vanderbilt and Kansas. The disappointment runs deeper: On Monday, IU answered the only significant question about their 2015-16 look -- "can this team guard?" -- with a fairly resounding "no."

You know the drill, but just in case: Last season, Indiana was a brilliant offensive force that finished next-to-last in the Big Ten in points allowed per possession. The Hoosiers greeted the 2015-16 season with far more optimistic projections, but those projections largely hinged on the idea that coach Tom Crean would be able to coax far better defense out of a more cohesive, experienced and -- with freshman center Thomas Bryant arriving -- slightly larger group.

On Monday, in their first game away from home, playing a Wake team that lost 91-82 to Richmond at home last Wednesday and is missing its best player (the injured Codi Miller-McIntyre), the Hoosiers gave up 1.11 points per trip -- the exact same number they yielded in Big Ten play a season ago.

The points came in similar fashion, too. Wake Forest had its way on dribble penetration throughout the game, but particularly late in the second half, as Indiana's nine-point lead dwindled. The Demon Deacons pounded the ball around the rim, attempting 55 2-point field goals (and making 29 to Indiana's 16). Left-handed forward Devin Thomas went 10-of-18 from the field en route to 21 points. (After the game, Crean said he was "still waiting for one of our guys to remember that we're supposed to take away his left-hand.") On the winning play, Bryant -- whom optimists saw as the crucial back-line rim protector IU desperately needed a season ago -- was badly exposed on a simple ball-screen, allowing Wake guard Bryant Crawford to blow by for a straightforward right-side runner. It was not the first.

Yes, Wake Forest deserves credit for maximizing their own opportunities. And no, it wasn't all defense: The Hoosiers stagnated late, scoring just six points in the final 7:09 and just two in the final 2:59. Yet that's sort of the point: An improved Indiana defense would ameliorate the Hoosiers' need to be constantly brilliant on offense. It would allow them to make the occasional mistake. It would allow them to compete on both ends with teams like Vanderbilt and Kansas.

That was the idea, anyway. Instead, St. John's is next.

What we're thinking about today:

  • Are the new rules working? It's still too early to tell. (It also depends what you mean by "working," but for now the signs are positive.) As we wait for an ever-larger sample set, Jay Bilas comes at the new rules from a different, though no less interesting, angle, arguing that the game's restored emphasis on skill over brute strength has laid the conditions for 2015-16's rash of early-season upsets.

  • Speaking of which: Bow before your new UT-Arlington overlords!

  • "Big-time college sports departments are making more money than ever before, thanks to skyrocketing television contracts, endorsement and licensing deals, and big-spending donors. But many departments also are losing more money than ever, as athletic directors choose to outspend rising income to compete in an arms race that is costing many of the nation’s largest publicly funded universities and students millions of dollars. Rich departments such as Auburn have built lavish facilities, invented dozens of new administrative positions and bought new jets, while poorer departments such as Rutgers have taken millions in mandatory fees from students and siphoned money away from academic budgets to try to keep up."

  • “I’m going after that record. It’s gonna be hard, and it’s not gonna happen every game, but I’m gonna try every game to get one.” That was Michigan State's Denzel Valentine prior to Monday's win over Eastern Michigan, when he had 12 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. Close, but not quite ...

  • … as close as Kris Dunn, who went for 22 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and seven steals in Providence's 83-76 win over NJIT. That's four statistical marks from a quadruple-double! The Crazy Kris Dunn Line Watch lives!