Big Ten Preview Part III: Key Questions for Indiana and Penn State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 1st, 2017

With the season just a little over a week away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Indiana and Penn State.

#10 Indiana – Will the Hoosiers buy in defensively?

Archie Miller is preaching defense in Bloomington. (Joe Ullrich, CNHI Sports Indiana)

Over Tom Crean’s last four seasons at Indiana, the Hoosiers ranked outside of the top 50 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency three times, including a 2014-15 campaign that set the program’s worst mark in the KenPom era (106.0). During that same span, Archie Miller-coached Dayton finished in the top 50 three times, reaching the NCAA Tournament all four years and twice advancing to the second weekend. The Flyers hung their hats on disciplined man-to-man defense and opportunistic aggression, principles Miller hopes to instill right away in Bloomington. If his new team fully commits, the ceiling on Indiana — projected by KenPom to go 8-10 in the Big Ten this season — should be higher than anticipated, even if it takes a step back offensively. The Hoosiers lose their three most dynamic weapons on that end of the court, with James Blackmon (17.0 PPG), Thomas Bryant (12.6 PPG), and OG Anunoby (11.1 PPG in 16 games) all leaving early. While Robert Johnson (12.8 PPG), forward Juwan Morgan, and point guard Josh Newkirk should keep the offense afloat, it’s hard to see Indiana scoring at the eye-popping rate it has in each of the past three seasons. Greater intrigue — and room for improvement — lies on defense, where frontcourt size will be an issue, but versatility will not. On the one hand, rim protection may be a concern: with the 6’10” Bryant no longer lurking the paint, only one returning player stands taller than 6’7″. On the other hand, Miller’s Dayton squads were often defined by their lack of size, great versatility and penchant for swarming the paint. With players who can defend multiple positions like Morgan, Colin Hartman, and a slimmed-down DeRon Davis, Indiana has the potential to make a vast, immediate improvement on the defensive end. That is, of course, if Miller can get can get his offensive-minded roster to fully buy in.

#9 Penn State – Can Tony Carr and the Nittany Lions make more shots?

Can Tony Carr and the Nittany Lions be more efficient? (Matthew O’Haren – USA Today Sports)

Tony Carr was an incredibly promising freshman point guard last season, leading Penn State in minutes, scoring (13.2 PPG) and assists (4.2 APG) while turning the ball over at relatively low rate (considering his usage). But he also contributed to some dreadful team shooting numbers, including a 47.2 percent effective field goal percentage that ranked 306th nationally. The Philly native shot a paltry 39.9 percent from two-point range and 32.0 percent beyond the arc; fellow starting guards Shep Garner, Josh Reaves and Lamar Stevens weren’t much better. That poor shooting especially hurt considering that Penn State ranked among the Big Ten’s better defensive units, which should remain the case again this season. With Stevens’ length at the wing, Reaves’ quick hands (4.4% steal rate) and shot-blocking extraordinaire Mike Watkins (11.7% block rate) manning the paint, the Nittany Lions will again be capable of grinding down even the most efficient offenses. Unfortunately — as narrow losses to Michigan, Purdue and Indiana showed in 2016-17 — one-dimensionality will only take a team so far. If Carr and company can find, or simply make, more open shots this season, Pat Chambers’ young team has a very real chance to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid. And there is cause for hope. The addition of Virginia Tech transfer Satchel Pierce — a 7-footer with a jump shot — should enable Chambers to deploy bigger lineups that force opposing teams to commit more attention down low. That should, in turn, result in more mismatches for Carr and his teammates on the perimeter. The point guard’s size, speed and proficiency at running the pick and roll will also help.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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