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Indiana faces toughest test yet against Louisiana Tech

Five games in, and Indiana Basketball has found itself with five easy wins.

This was the position the Hoosiers were supposed to be in at this point, playing five games against five low-major conference opponents. Indiana needed to be undefeated at this point with their schedule set-up of its easier seven low-major conference opponents, all in the first seven games of the season, followed by 24 straight major conference opponents (including Big Ten play).

Tomorrow’s home contest against Louisiana Tech will be the sixth of the seven expectedly easier teams Indiana is playing this year, except for that Louisiana Tech is no pushover.

Justin Smith is averaging 15.8 points per game in Indiana’s first five contests. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

By KenPom ranking alone, it is noticeable how much better Louisiana Tech is comparatively to the other teams Indiana has faced so far this season. Currently in the KenPom rankings, Louisiana Tech is No. 86, the highest ranked of any Indiana’s first seven opponents by far. None of the teams Indiana has faced prior to the Bulldogs are even ranked inside the top 200.

Through five games, the Bulldogs are 4-1 and have challenged themselves with some of their opponents, playing more major-conference opponents than Indiana has so far. Their only loss comes on the road at Creighton where Louisiana Tech lost by 10. Additionally, in their exhibition match-up the Bulldogs traveled to LSU, a team who made the Sweet 16 a season ago, and fell by 13.

The Bulldogs present a very balanced offensive attack, with six of their players averaging nine points or more. Their top two leading scorers, junior JaColby Pemberton and senior Mubarak Muhammed each only average 11 points per game.

The balanced scoring that Louisiana Tech presents in turn allows them to be an explosive offensive team, putting up 82 points per contest. Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller has made it a priority to tighten up the defense and the Hoosiers’ best defensive effort will be needed against the Bulldogs. Fortunately for the Hoosiers, guarding the perimeter, something that has given Indiana trouble defensively should not be as much of a worry as much of the Bulldog scoring comes from inside. Louisiana Tech only has connected with 29.6 percent of their three-point attempts thus far on the year. With that being said, the pressure will be on Indiana’s post players Joey Brunk, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson and De’Ron Davis among others for guarding the rim effectively.

Something to consider, and that will only be known not long before tip-off, is if Indiana will have everyone available and healthy against Louisiana Tech. In every previous game, Indiana has had at least one scholarship player out due to injury or illness. The team has had almost a whole week off since the Princeton game, so the idea of a completely healthy roster is possible.

Regardless of who is on the floor, Indiana will need a number of players to put the ball in the hoop to keep up with the high-scoring Louisiana Tech offense. Juniors Al Durham and Justin Smith as well as freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis are the Hoosiers’ most consistent scorers, each averaging at least 13 points per game, but senior guard Devonte Green should be another useful weapon. Green is really starting to find his rhythm just two games back from injury. He recorded 16 points on an efficient shooting night, going 5-8 from the field against Princeton. In reality, it could be a couple different guys every night who pick up the scoring slack, as just about every player on the roster has the ability to contribute offensively. Nine of the 11 scholarship players have had one game of 10+ points so far this season.

Indiana is still figuring out its offensive identity, as it shifts from game to game. The Hoosiers have shown flashes of being a potent team from deep, converting on about an improved 35 percent of their looks this year. Against Troy, they shot just under 40 percent from deep, yet in the very next game against Princeton, they shot poorly from three (3-10) and were much more reliant on scoring inside and by way of the midrange jumper.

The bottom line is that Indiana will need to be at its best defensively to slow down the high-scoring Bulldog offense while also being prepared to get a lot out of its deep roster if the game becomes a shootout. Regardless of the fact that they are a Conference USA team, Louisiana Tech is the Hoosiers’ biggest test yet and should not be overlooked.

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