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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 12, 2018 1:00 am

Season over: No tourneys call Indiana

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

As expected, the NCAA Tournament declined to extend an invitation to Indiana on Sunday night, making it the first time the Hoosiers have missed the tournament in at least two straight years since 2009-11.

Before that, the last time Indiana was left out of the field in consecutive years was 1971-72, the latter season the first of Bob Knight's tenure as coach.

The Hoosiers did not receive an invitation from the NIT, either, likely marking the end of the Archie Miller's first season in charge and bringing the careers of five Indiana seniors, including Robert Johnson and Collin Hartman, to a close.

For those seniors, their time at Indiana did not end on a high note. The Hoosiers (16-15) lost their final three games, including a 76-69 defeat to 14th-seeded Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.

“As I look back, I've had a lot of good moments and came across a lot of good people,” said Johnson, who finishes his career 21st on IU's all-time scoring list, after the Rutgers game. “I'm going to try to think about that more than anything.

Along with Johnson and Hartman, Freddie McSwain Jr., Josh Newkirk and Tim Priller all wrapped up their Indiana careers this season. The five seniors led a team that by all accounts was close off the court despite the relative lack of success in the win column.

“Everybody as a whole, off the floor we all liked each other, we had no issues with each other, we were real close,” freshman Justin Smith said after the Rutgers game. “We'll miss these guys. We had five seniors; I mean that's a big chunk of our team. ... It's going to be weird not having them around.”

Smith, who averaged 6.5 points and 3.2 rebounds as a freshman, is one of several young players who improved noticeably as the season went on. Miller's first season as coach yielded mixed results, but the largest positives were the strides the team made as the season unfolded, especially on the defensive end.

In Tom Crean's final season, Indiana ranked 104th in Ken Pomeroy's defensive efficiency rankings. In Miller's first, Indiana improved to 66th in that category and finished fourth in the Big Ten in opponent field goal percentage in conference games, holding opponents to 43.6 percent shooting.

“They're a group that worked hard to improve,” Miller said after the Rutgers game. “As improved as any team I've been around to be honest with you in terms of where we started and finished.”

The Hoosiers will look for this class of freshmen to take another big step forward this offseason. Smith and fellow first-year player Aljami Durham, who averaged 4.8 points, both had some of their best games near the end of the season.

The third member of the 2017 recruiting class, 6-foot-10 Clifton Moore, played sparingly, but might be the most talented of the three. 

Aside from the improvement of that group, the most important development of this offseason is likely to be Juwan Morgan's decision on whether to enter the NBA draft. The junior forward averaged 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds and was second-team All-Big Ten.

He is not projected to be a first-round pick in the draft. 

After the Rutgers game, Morgan said he hadn't made up his mind about the NBA but said the loss to the Scarlet Knights will motivate him in the coming months.

“I'll probably be thinking about this all the way until the summer workouts start,” he said of the loss. “It just sucks.”

dsinn@jg.net