Night Line: Indiana’s Weak Defense Can’t Make Up for Poor Shooting PerformancesPosted by EJacoby on January 13th, 2012
Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.
With a huge game upcoming this weekend at Ohio State, it appears as if No. 6 Indiana overlooked its opponent on Thursday night. The Hoosiers were defeated at home, 77-74, by Minnesota, a team that was previously winless in the Big Ten (0-4) and in true road games (0-2). Indiana had its worst offensive performance of the season, and the Hoosiers do not have an efficient enough defense that can make up for a poor offensive outing. They allow nearly 77 points per game against conference opponents, which is far too much to be a serious contender. IU has been able to cover up its mediocre defense this season with tremendous shooting, but their defensive woes finally caught up to them and led to Thursday night’s upset.
Indiana (15-2, 3-2 Big Ten) has been the nation’s darling this year and has put together some incredible offensive performances, especially at home. Tom Crean’s team, ranked third in the nation with a 1.18 points per possession average, has already beaten a #1 and #2 team (Kentucky and Ohio State) on its home floor this season. That’s why it was so surprising that Indiana, in front of another raucous Bloomington crowd, went ice cold on Thursday night and fell to a seemingly inferior opponent. Christian Watford came in averaging 13.5 points per game but scored only six in the game. Jordan Hulls came in shooting 58% from three on the year and went 1-5 tonight. Verdell Jones III averages about nine points and four assists, but went scoreless tonight with just one dime. While every team is capable of a stinker or two during the season, it’s still alarming that the Hoosiers could not win at home against a team at the bottom of the conference. They gave up way too many open looks to their opponent and allowed Minnesota to run its offense comfortably on the road, which is not a formula for success in the tough Big Ten Conference.
Defensive efficiency has not been IU’s strength this season, yet they’ve easily been able to overcome that with outstanding perimeter shooting and collective offensive play. Indiana came into the game on Thursday shooting a national best 47.6% from three-point range and sporting a top-50 assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.15. Against Minnesota, the Hoosiers shot a shockingly poor 4-18 from three and finished with just six assists for the entire game. It’s hard to win any games when you have a 6 to 15 assist-to-turnover ratio. While Thursday night might have been an offensive anomaly, the fact that IU gave up 77 points on 47% shooting and 16 offensive rebounds by the Golden Gophers is a worrisome sign that isn’t likely to improve. Indiana now has a 111.4 defensive efficiency in conference games, which ranks in the bottom 70 teams nationally.
Much credit for this upset obviously goes to Minnesota, a team whose 0-4 conference record heading into Thursday night was deceiving. The Golden Gophers took Illinois to two overtimes at Assembly Hall, a venue where Ohio State just lost in regulation. Minnesota also played Michigan tight on the road before losing by just five points. So it was not as much of a shock as you’d think that Tubby Smith’s team was leading Indiana at halftime. But in this game, Indiana never made the necessary adjustments, allowing Minnesota to score more points than the Gophers scored in the double-overtime game against Illinois. Austin Hollins led the way with a career-high 18 points on 7-10 shooting, while Rodney Williams finished well inside and totaled 12 points. Although they won by just three, Minnesota’s lead hovered around eight to 10 points for much of the second half, never trailing for the final 23 minutes.
The loss by Indiana just further complicates the wild mess that is the Big Ten. The two teams that entered conference play as favorites (IU and OSU) now sit at 3-2, each with a loss to a team above them in the standings. Michigan State is on a 15-game winning streak and sits pretty at 4-0 in the Big Ten, but they’ve yet to play any of the top six teams on the road. Illinois and Michigan are at 4-1, as well. Not only is the Big Ten shaping up as the strongest conference in the country, but there’s absolutely no telling who’s going to win this league. If Indiana wants to become the Big Ten champion, they have work to do at the defensive end of the floor. IU has consistently lived and died by the three-ball this season, and Thursday night proved how dangerous that style can be. Don’t expect the Hoosiers to shoot this poorly again at home, but the blueprint is certainly out on how to beat this team, and they haven’t yet shown the strength on defense that would get them through adversity. Buckle up for a wild season in the Big Ten, especially the rollercoaster ride that is located in Bloomington.