After taking their first home defeat in an 80-62 loss against Michigan on Sunday, the Indiana men’s basketball team is in a must-win situation to close out its three-game homestand. IU will face Penn State, a team they’ve already fallen to, on Wednesday. Here’s what went wrong against the Nittany Lions on Jan. 2, and here’s how the Hoosiers can fix it.
PUSH THE PACE
My biggest gripe with Indiana in its 61-58 loss at Penn State was how slow the game was. Penn State is a deliberately slow team. The Nittany Lions play at the slowest pace in the Big Ten, with an adjusted tempo of 62.3 possessions.
In the first matchup, there were 59 total possessions per team. That’s the lowest amount of possessions that IU has had all season. This slower pace plays in Penn State’s favor because Penn State is the less talented team. Thus, the lower amount of possessions means the gap in overall skill is reduced.
When the game is played that slowly, IU’s margin of error becomes much smaller. The Hoosiers need to speed it up to separate themselves on Wednesday.
TIME TO SWITCH IT UP?
The other large issue that occurred in the earlier game was the ball screen defense. Mike Woodson acknowledged this following the Penn State game, saying, “We just weren’t good in our pick and roll coverage. It was terrible.”
The pick-and-roll defense has continued to be an issue for the Hoosiers after that game. Michigan runs a lot of the same spread ball screen concepts as Penn State, and the Wolverines also ate IU alive with those schemes.
The baskets that Penn State and Michigan scored on the Hoosiers look eerily similar. IU has flat-out done a poor job containing this action this month.
Concerns with defending ball screens coincided with giving up good 3-point attempts. Sound familiar? That’s exactly what happened to Indiana against Michigan on Sunday. The inability to contain the initial screen action has left IU out of rotation.
Another reason the Hoosiers allowed Penn State to knock down 11 3s is that they helped too aggressively. Helping one pass away appears to be a part of Indiana’s defensive scheme, but I’m not sure it should be. Watch these two possessions, as Rob Phinisee has the drive restrained yet Jordan Geronimo helps at the foul line, leading to open 3s.
Indiana’s 3-point defense will be vital for its success on Wednesday. Penn State has the highest 3-point attempt rate in the Big Ten, as 43.5 percent of Penn State's field goal attempts come from beyond the arc.
When the Nittany Lions shoot over 35 percent on 3s, they are 5-1 this year. When they shoot over 33 percent, they are 8-1. Penn State only has eight wins on the season, meaning most of its games are solely reliant on how well the team shoots from outside. IU needs to make sure that Penn State doesn’t go 11-for-22 on 3s again.
My suggestion to fix Indiana’s issues of ball screen and 3-point defense is to switch more often. At the beginning of the season, it appeared IU wanted to switch rather frequently. IU would switch the point guard through power forward positions with Trayce Jackson-Davis and Michael Durr continuing to hedge.
Watch this possession in IU’s season opener against Eastern Michigan and pay attention to the number of switches that occur both on and off-ball.
In 11 seconds of action, I count at least three (maybe four) switches. Switching like this makes it harder for offenses to easily pull up or drive right to the basket. The downside of switching is the possibility of the opposing offenses hunting mismatches.
I believe both Race Thompson and Jordan Geronimo are versatile enough to make the switching scheme pay off. As long as Jackson-Davis and Durr can avoid being the players that have to defend on the perimeter, switching may be wiser than the current attempts of hedging and recovering.
Where Indiana occasionally struggled against Penn State offensively is moving the ball. In particular, the Hoosiers had a hard time swinging the ball around when the Nittany Lions “iced” screens. Penn State ices screens to restrict offenses from driving down the middle of the lane.
The way to beat the ice is to quickly reverse the ball to the other side of the floor without trying to dribble through the strong denial. IU struggled to create legitimate ball reversals at times against Penn State.
Indiana did not provide a good response to Penn State’s defense in the first matchup. Penn State has consistently gone with ice coverage against ball screens, and will continue to do so on Wednesday. The Hoosiers must reverse the ball with a purpose to keep the Nittany Lions on their toes.
Other than that, Indiana just has to shoot the ball better on Wednesday. Jackson-Davis missed a few bunnies at the rim in the earlier matchup. The team shot 4-for-17 as a team in the Jan. 2 loss. If Jackson-Davis hits two more layups and IU knocks down a couple more 3s, then the Hoosiers probably win that game.
Playing at Assembly Hall should help Indiana put together a more efficient effort on open looks. But Indiana will need to move the ball more to create more of those looks.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND KEYS
Hoosier fans are longing for a good start to a game. They usually recover from the slow starts, but building a decent lead over Penn State early on would be preferred. Getting an early lead and playing with place could go hand in hand.
Many will be looking to see if IU can make a stand early against pick and rolls. Will it be more of the same, or will the Hoosiers tighten up the defense? Overall, I think the defense will come down to limiting Penn State’s 3-point opportunities.
And on offense, just hitting the good looks will go a long way. Indiana’s guards should be more equipped to handle ice coverage now that they’ve faced it multiple times throughout the year. As long as they don’t let the defense completely take them out of their sets, the Hoosiers should be fine.
The goal for this homestand was for Indiana to come out 2-1. After upsetting Purdue, the Hoosiers had a letdown game against Michigan. IU has to avoid a resume-altering loss against Penn State.