It was a tough road loss for the no. 1 team in the country, as they will now lose that title come Monday. The even bigger issue to arise from the Hoosiers loss at Illinois has been their continued relative inconsistency away from home.
Indiana has a record of 20-3, 8-2 in the Big Ten. Two of their three losses have come away from home, with their neutral site loss to Butler and the loss to Illinois last night. Indiana is still 6-2 away from home, a pretty impressive record. However, the concerning aspect is that they have yet to beat a good team on the road. In the Big Ten, they have beaten Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State and Purdue on the road. All four of those teams are in the bottom half of the Big Ten right now (along with Illinois).
Even in those wins over lesser teams, Indiana did not look overly impressive at times. Indiana narrowly pulled out their win over Iowa in January, after looking uneasy down the stretch.
That was the same issue that led to Indiana’s downfall in Champaign on Thursday. The offense started to sputter and before you knew it Illinois was taking over the game in the final minutes, behind a rejuvenated crowd. Star player Cody Zeller has to step up in situations like Thursday. He is capable of scoring at will, but only when he gets the ball in the post and is aggressive. Zeller took just six shots in the game, not nearly enough, especially considering how weak Illinois is in the post. Indiana, a widely thought of national champion contender, looked startled and committed some horrific flaws, climaxing with their botched defense on the last play of the game, allowing an easy Tyler Griffey lay-up off of an inbounds pass with .9 seconds left.
Indiana can’t afford to keep this inconsistent play on the road, as the NCAA Tournament will probably not be played at Assembly Hall, I think. For such a veteran team, it is actually fairly surprising that Indiana has such trouble staying solid in big moments on the road. Indiana looked nothing like the same team that dominated Michigan last Saturday at home, in the last few minutes against Illinois. At home, they look like national title favorites, on the road, however, Indiana has to be able to consistently play at a high level.
If the Hoosiers don’t play more consistently on the road, the rest of their schedule could be very treacherous. Indiana still has road games remaining at Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan. Each of those games will be tougher than any road game Indiana has played so far this season. If Indiana wants to achieve their potential as a national champion, they will have to play better on the road, starting with their visit to a tough Buckeye team in Columbus on Sunday.