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Indiana basketball looks to turn defense into offense against Michigan

Indiana sophomore Justin Smith and freshman Romeo Langford play tight defense against Louisville on December 8. (IU Athletics)

Indiana basketball is struggling. There’s no other way to put it.

Three-point shooting woes, lack of depth and defensive struggles has led to five straight Hoosier losses.

On Friday, the Hoosiers toughest Big Ten opponent thus far, No. 5 Michigan, comes to Indiana. But a strong effort on the defensive end from Indiana could be the difference in turning things around.

The first meeting between the Hoosiers and Wolverines started Indiana’s current five-game losing streak.

After going down 19 points, 12 minutes into the first matchup, Indiana showed signs of life in the second half. The Hoosiers outscored the Wolverines by four and held them without a 3-pointer in the second half.

“We’ve got to keep the floor less spaced out, they spread us out defensively and getting over ball screens is a big thing we’ve been working on ever since that game,” sophomore forward Justin Smith said. “Just basically focusing on our defense, especially on the ball screens and not letting them get as many open threes and spread us out.”

For as much as Indiana has struggled shooting the ball, it all starts on the defensive end for Archie Miller’s team.

Romeo Langford is in the midst of an 11-for-34 shooting stretch over the last three games because opponents have packed the paint in their half court defense, anticipating Langford to drive.

Indiana and Langford are at its best when they create from turnovers and run in transition, something that’s been missing during this five-game skid.

“I think in general with him now, we have to get him back out in transition more and our team has to get back out in transition more,” Miller said of Langford. “I keep saying and I can’t stress it enough, the better our defense plays, the more we’re able to create offense with it, that makes the guys much more dangerous to play.”

Over the last five games Indiana has only forced eight turnovers per game and averaged about five fast break points per contest.

Compare that to the first 14 games when opponents turned the ball over 15 times a game against the Hoosiers and Indiana was around 13 fast break points each time out.

Sure, Indiana’s schedule has ramped up now in the meat of the Big Ten season while Chicago State and Montana State are a distant memory. But even in the two losses to Duke and Arkansas during the non-conference, Indiana had just four fast break points in each of those games.

Romeo Langford defends against Illinois on Jan. 3. The Hoosiers defeated the Illini 73-65 behind Langford’s 28 points. (Mark Timko/HN)

“Just in the month of January, our defense hasn’t been terrible, but it hasn’t been you have to speed with what it needs to be with the size of our team right now,” Miller said. “We have to create more with our defense and that’s a huge problem for us right now. Obviously you’re playing against really well coached teams. Michigan is one of them. They don’t turn the ball over very much, but we have to find a way to disrupt if we are going to have a chance to get out on transition.”

Michigan is a tough team to disrupt on offense, but Wisconsin was able to do it in the Wolverines lone loss of the season last Saturday.

The Badgers forced 16 turnovers and locked down the perimeter (5-of-18 from 3-point) as they pulled off the 64-54 upset, a recipe that Indiana should follow in order to be successful Friday night.

It won’t be easy for Indiana to score Friday night, as Michigan is the third best team in the nation in adjusted defense efficiency according to Ken Pom. However, creating defense into offense and running the fast break is probably their best bet.

“We’re not as tight and connected on defense and from an offensive perspective, our defense has got to create some offense for us,” Miller said. “Our last four games, whatever the losing streak is, you can think back on it, what are we not doing and I just think forcing turnovers, the activity level, the ability to get defense, the offense hasn’t been there for us, which has hurt us.”

Zain Pyarali

I am a junior from Edwardsville, Illinois majoring in Sports Media. I formerly worked for the Indiana Daily Student for two years serving as the Sports Editor and beat reporters for Men’s Basketball, Men’s Soccer, Baseball and Field Hockey during my time with the student newspaper. Currently I am the Men’s Basketball beat reporter for IU Student Television while I also broadcast games for BTN Student U. Email me: zpyarali@thehoosiernetwork.com and follow me on Twitter: @ZainPyarali

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