Indiana enters the 2019 Crossroads Classic with just as many questions as the past two Classics. In 2017, it was all about figuring out Archie Miller’s system. In 2018, it was about sustaining the early-season success.
In 2019, it’s all about figuring out Indiana’s identity: its defense.
The Hoosiers (10-1) are 145th in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 67 points per game. Albeit a very flawed statistic, Indiana is 183rd in the country in opponent 3-point field goal defense, allowing opponents to shot the ball just under 33 percent from beyond the arc. Finally, Indiana is 220th in the nation in fouls. Through 11 games, Indiana is issuing over 17 fouls per game.
All of that is to show you the many areas Indiana’s defense is falling short in so far this season. These aren’t numbers Archie Miller isn’t aware of. For a coach who wants to hang his hat on defense, he knows they have a long way to go.
Indiana’s defense will be put to the test again Saturday against a Notre Dame team (8-3) that is not shy about shooting threes.
Defend the 3-pointer
As stated earlier, Indiana struggles to defend the 3-point line. Nebraska shot 37.5 percent (12-for-32) from deep in the Hoosiers’ overtime victory, including a 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime.
Notre Dame will test Indiana’s weakness outside the arc. The Irish are 13th in the country in 3-point attempts this season, averaging more than 29 attempts per game.
The Irish shoot 34 percent from deep. Four players shoot over 31 percent from long range, including Dane Goodwin, who shoots 42 percent from outside. T.J. Gibbs (39.7 percent) and Prentiss Hubb (37.1 percent) will put Indiana’s guards to the test on the perimeter.
Irish big man John Mooney will challenge Joey Brunk with his interior play and his ability to shoot threes. He is only shooting 31.4 percent this season, but he’s not afraid to shoot the long ball.
In Notre Dame’s most recent action, a 75-61 win over UCLA, the Irish shot 15-for-39 (38.5 percent) from beyond the arc.
A tough matchup down low
As much as Notre Dame likes to shoot three pointers, they ride and die with the big man down low. Mooney is averaging 14.8 points and 13.4 rebounds per game, both best on the team.
The last time Indiana saw Notre Dame in 2017, Mooney played 15 minutes and scored six points. He’s come a long way since then. Last season he was named to the 2019 All-ACC Third Team. He was the leading rebounder in the ACC with 11.2 per game and 12.6 per conference game.
He had 13 double doubles in ACC play, the most since Tim Duncan’s 15 in 1996-97. He also finished the season as a 37.8 percent three-point shooter. He shot 41.9 percent from deep as a sophomore. In his Notre Dame career, the big man is shooting over 38 percent.
Indiana has had trouble against versatile 5s. Nate Reuvers gave Brunk fits to the point where he didn’t play much in the second half. Akok Akok was a shot-blocking machine at Madison Square Garden. As important as Brunk is to this team’s success, against a good shooter like Mooney, Indiana may be best suited to play Trayce Jackson-Davis more at the 5.
Indiana hasn’t played since Friday, Dec. 13. That’s a solid eight days off after playing four games in 11 days. Indiana went 3-1 in those four games, losing the only road game of the four.
They’ve recently added Rob Phinisee back to the lineup, which should tremendously improve the on-ball defense. Miller has talked many times about the team’s inability to guard guards, and a healthy Phinisee should help with that. This extended break also gives him a chance to practice with the rest of the team, something he hasn’t done much of all season.
Devonte Green is dealing with some soreness and may have to miss Saturday’s game. If that’s the case, Indiana will need another big effort from Armaan Franklin, who has grown up fast in Miller’s system.
After going from Madison to Bloomington to New York City back to Bloomington in the span of a couple days, this eight-day break should help Indiana get rested and refueled for Christmas break. After this Notre Dame game, another eight-day break awaits before hosting Arkansas.
The Hoosiers and Fighting Irish will tipoff at noon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.