“How A Matter of Seconds Altered the Future of Indiana Basketball”—By Evan Golodner
With 1:50 left in the first half at Penn State, OG Anunoby finished one of his signature vicious dunks. The assault on the rim was a play only he could do.
That is what OG represents to this IU team: he does things simply no one else can do. With the build of a linebacker, elite athleticism, a 7’6 wingspan, and the ability to guard just about every position, he is the most complete player on the Hoosiers. He doesn’t have the shooting of James Blackmon or the post up prowess of Thomas Bryant, but he does a little bit everything. Anunoby also happens to be a lock down defender, as his 7 steals against Rutgers last week suggests. He has taken on every assignment, from blocking Jamal Murray’s 3’s to taking on Nigel Hayes down low. His Kawhi Leonard-esque
A little over 100 seconds later, OG was laying on the ground as the 1st half buzzer sounded, clutching his knee. He had to be carried by the trainers into the locker room and did not return.
You could tell by the Indiana players’ faces this was serious. Those aren’t the faces you typically see when your team is headed into half time of a must-win road game with a 7-point lead.
Indiana responded well in the second half with tough play. Already missing Collin Hartman for the season and Juwan Morgan for the game, freshman De’Ron Davis went down with a leg injury. Veteran players Bryant, Blackmon, and Robert Johnson took over the rest of the game. Just as it seemed Indiana was about to blow another late lead, and suffer a devastating loss, they finally caught a break. With a tie game and only 5 seconds remaining Blackmon hit a 3 at the buzzer to preserve the hard-fought win. It was a great moment and a great half, but one can only wonder if it is sustainable from here on out.
Let’s face it: Tom Crean crying after the game is not a good sign regarding OG’s status (a non-contact knee injury is rarely good news). Even if Morgan and Davis are fine, losing OG for the season would be a devastating blow. An already poor defense simply cannot afford to lose him. Johnson is the only other above average defender in the rotation. This Indiana offense, still without a true point guard, cannot make up for atrocious defense like it has in years past. Juwan Morgan is not the shooter or perimeter defender that OG is, so IU would lose some versatility. If IU opts to play more small-ball, they lose size and rebounding (their biggest strength). Indiana doesn’t have the luxury of taking its time to figure out life without OG, since they decided to drop 3 of their first 4 big ten games and 5 of 8 overall. With 7 of the remaining 12 games on the road, Hoosier fans have to deal with the reality that this team may not even make the NCAA tournament.
Without OG, making it would require Bryant, Blackmon, and Johnson to be elite every night. The pressure is on them to carry this team on their backs and step up as mature leaders, something neither of them have ever been relied upon to do. Tom Crean also just got a load of pressure put on him.
In many ways, this was a pivotal season for Crean. Winning the Big Ten title and beating Kentucky last season were enough to get him off the hot seat. It was his second Big Ten title, and Indiana entered the season as a favorite to repeat. A repeat would be huge for the program. No dominant program has emerged in the Big Ten in the past 7 years. With Indiana’s storied history, the high-level recruits in the state of Indiana, a track record of recent NBA lottery picks, and the aura of Assembly Hall, IU has a chance to again become the elite program in the Big Ten. Now the Hoosiers find themselves at a crossroads where their season could fall apart. OG would still be a top 20 pick in the draft, as would Bryant. Blackmon would likely test NBA waters as well. With a lackluster recruiting class coming in, if those 3 players leave, next season could be tough sledding as well. If Indiana doesn’t make it to the tournament this season (now a real possibility) and don’t next year either, Tom Crean’s seat will be in flames. He still wouldn’t have the monkey off his back of advancing past the Sweet Sixteen, and missing the tournament would likely continue the trend of Indiana missing out on elite prospects in its own backyard.
If only OG could have survived 5 more seconds and walked into the locker room under his own power. Those 5 seconds could have just destroyed the momentum Indiana basketball has gained in the past couple years under the guidance of Crean, Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, Bryant, and Anunoby as well.
Hoosier fans everywhere should pray the doctors bring good news about OG’s knee. Until then, Indiana Basketball will be reentering the unknown.