Indiana goes 1-2 in Maui after falling to UNLV in weird game

Tom Crean has a big-time game against Duke coming next week. (USATSI)

Indiana needs to get back home as soon as possible, because it’s clear Hawaii was not the spot for the Hoosiers to get right.

Tom Crean’s 13th-ranked club lost Wednesday to UNLV, falling 72-69 in a sloppy, erratic, uninspiring game that wrapped up a 1-2 trip for IU at the Maui Invitational. The Hoosiers fell to Wake Forest on Monday, then defeated middling St. John’s on Tuesday.

This clearly means IU will plummet out from the rankings next week.

This turned out to be a dashing turn of evens for the Hoosiers, who felt they had a chance to win the Maui Invitational. After all, only Kansas was considered a bigger favorite heading into the bracket. Instead, 1-2.

For UNLV, it’s a nice win, something that could come in handy down the way. The jury is stil very much out on how good the Runnin’ Rebels will be, or if this team can reach the NCAAs. For now, it’s a 5-1 start on the season and really good vibes (Patrick McCaw is a sneaky NBA prospect, it seems) heading into a home game against Prairie View A&M on Saturday, then a big one on their home floor against Oregon on Dec. 4.

Winning that would convince a lot of people that UNLV can contend for the Mountain West title. But we’ll deal with that then.

For now, Indiana is the story. The Hoosiers (4-2) did play well defensively Wednesday, but that was partially because UNLV’s offense is far from fully formed. IU scoring a season-low 69 points is alarming. This three-day stretch was regression, not progress. The Hoosiers had 21 turnovers and missed almost half their free throws Wednesday. Had they not made 11 of 20 3-point shots, the game would’ve probably been a double-digit loss.

Is it too early to diagnose the woes of IU? Yes, to an extent. Thomas Bryant, the freshman big, is showing a lot of promise. He could turn into a ferocious weapon by January, even. And Yogi Ferrell has been mostly solid; he had nine points, nine assists and six boards against Vegas — but also had four turnovers.

Here’s the worry for Hoosiers fans. The two big non-conference games left on the schedule are at Duke and then againt Notre Dame on a neutral court in December. Splitting those two could wind up being big, but what about the five home games against dreck? All low-major teams. IU cannot afford to lose one of the games. The Big Ten schedule could overwhelm this team’s resume if it takes on another bad loss.

It is not time to panic, I promise, Hoosiers fans. It’s merely time to brace for it.

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