After a 16-5 start and being considered as safely in the NCAA Tournament, the Indiana men’s basketball team has dropped four straight contests. The Hoosiers will now have a rematch with Ohio State on Monday. IU defeated Ohio State 67-51 at Assembly Hall on Jan. 6.
Can the Hoosiers do it again? Here’s a look back at how IU beat the Buckeyes in January and where each team is currently heading.
THE LIDDELL STOPPERS?
Indiana’s defense limited Ohio State to just 51 points and 0.75 points per possession in the Jan. 6 showdown. That’s the Buckeyes’ worst offensive performance by far this season. But were Ohio State’s scoring struggles due to good defense and unlucky shooting, or did Indiana’s defense do that well to shut the Buckeyes down?
It’s been well-documented that Ohio State’s offense runs through forward E.J. Liddell. Liddell is averaging 19.7 points per game this season, as he’s emerged as a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate. But against Indiana, Liddell logged 11 points and was 3-for-12 from the field.
While it is unlikely that Liddell shoots that poorly at home against the Hoosiers, IU’s defense deserves the credit for his struggles in the first matchup. Liddell’s ability to shoot, post up and handle make him a mismatch nightmare for most opponents. But Race Thompson and Trayce Jackson-Davis are the rare defenders that contain the strength and athleticism to stick with Liddell.
Even when Liddell drew mismatches against smaller players, Thompson and Jackson-Davis were on the backline to prevent easy buckets. “It really just comes to playing hard and playing team defense,” Thompson said about guarding Liddell.
The one part of Liddell’s game that has changed since the first game is his 3-point shooting. Liddell came into the Jan. 6 game shooting 33 percent from beyond the arc, and he shot 1-of-5 against the Hoosiers. Since then, Liddell is making 50 percent of his 3s (20-for-40). Liddell’s improved 3-point shooting brings another aspect for the Hoosiers to worry about on Monday night.
On a team level, Ohio State’s offense is dangerous due to their ball screens and their 3-point shooting. Neither of those showed up against Indiana earlier this season. The Hoosiers consistently stopped any immediate success against the Buckeyes’ ball screen actions.
The Hoosiers have been inconsistent at times guarding ball screens, but they didn’t allow Ohio State to wreck them with the action. “I thought that when we played Ohio State we handled their pick-and-rolls pretty well.” Mike Woodson said.
Of course, there was the occasional breakdown in IU’s defense.
If Indiana can defend ball screens with similar success on Monday, then they’ll be set up for success against the Buckeyes. I do believe that IU’s defense matches up well with Ohio State’s offense. The results of that first matchup were nowhere near a fluke, but Ohio State barely reaching 50 points can’t be expected in round two. Indiana should still be able to deliver a strong defensive performance.
PLAYING WITH TEMPO
Indiana’s offense was just mediocre on Jan. 6, as they scored 0.99 points per possession, which is exactly what they average in Big Ten play.
What stood out to me about Indiana’s offense against Ohio State was the pace at which they played. The Buckeyes have an adjusted tempo of 65.5 possessions per 40 minutes. That marks the fourth-slowest pace in the Big Ten. In their last four outings, Ohio State has not had a game with over 63 possessions.
But the Hoosiers did not settle for methodical basketball back in January. In that game, there were 68 possessions. IU was able to get out in transition and expose Ohio State’s lack of athleticism.
The Buckeyes want to play slow for a reason. They don’t have the type of open-court defenders that can deter fastbreaks. When the Hoosiers decided it was time to run on Jan. 6, there was very little that Ohio State could do about it.
Indiana’s ball movement also shined at times against Ohio State. IU did a fine job at making ball reversals and timely passes, and it led to quite a few buckets.
Once again, IU’s offense was nowhere near being great in this game. There were still plenty of moments where the Hoosiers were at a standstill.
IU’s offensive struggles in their first game against Ohio State resembled their offensive struggles all year. The Hoosiers hit only two 3s in this game despite generating open looks. Inside the arc, Indiana was unable to create great opportunities for anyone besides Jackson-Davis.
The offense has been an issue for Indiana all season, and things have only gotten worse as of late. The Hoosiers have now gone five games straight producing under a point per possession. IU hasn’t cracked the 70-point threshold in that span either. IU is shooting just 26.1 percent from 3 in this stretch and 43.6 percent on 2s.
Due to their lack of athleticism and elite rim protection, Ohio State’s defense is far from a stifling one. The Buckeyes’ defense has stumbled just as much as Indiana’s offense has. Although they are traveling to a tough road environment, the Hoosiers’ offense has the chance to bounce back if they execute on Monday.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND KEYS
If the Hoosiers can defend at a level anywhere close to what they did on Jan. 6, they should be in very good shape. Ohio State has a very precise and efficient offense, and they likely remember how pedestrian IU’s defense made them look in the first game.
To limit Ohio State’s offense once again, Indiana will need to contain the Buckeyes’ complex ball screens and reduce E.J. Liddell’s scoring output. Ohio State may knock down more of their outside attempts on Monday, and IU will just need to be prepared to close out on those shots. The Buckeyes shoot 37.6 percent on 3s.
On offense, Indiana has to find Trayce Jackson-Davis some help. Following IU’s loss to Wisconsin, Badgers guard Johnny Davis said that Jackson-Davis “doesn’t really have too much help around him”. Someone on the IU squad had to have seen Davis’ comment, and chances are they weren’t too happy about it. The support that Jackson-Davis gets in the final five games of the regular season will either prove or disprove that statement.
Indiana is desperate to end their current losing streak. Ohio State is coming off an embarrassing defensive performance at home against Iowa. The crowd will be electric in Columbus on Monday night with both teams looking for something to prove. There is a good chance that yet another game comes down to the wire for the Hoosiers.