The Indiana Hoosiers have followed a fairly set script for the Big Ten Season: keep it close in the first half, get blown out in the second. Monday night’s game at Wisconsin was a microcosm of the entire year.
IU held a 10 point lead at halftime, and surrendered 50 points in the second half. 50. To a team that ranks in the bottom half of the NCAA in tempo and averages just 73 points per game.
What happened? Well, the Hoosiers stopped playing defense. Coach Tom Crean noted the poor rotations the defense made in the second half.
“They got some good looks,” Crean said. “In the first half, they weren’t getting as many (open) looks, because we were doing a much better job of guarding the dribble.”
Yogi Ferrell, who has seemed frustrated all season, pointed out the basic mistakes that happened multiple times.
“We just didn’t bear down and play defense. We over-helped, and they knocked down some crucial threes,” Ferrell said. “You can’t give too much, especially with Wisconsin, with them being a great 3-point shooting team.”
The second half of Big Ten games has seen the Hoosiers be outscored by 62 points. That works out to roughly 4.4 per game. That doesn’t seem like much and they have led at halftime in eight of their 14 games. In fact, they have led in eight of their past nine games after the first.
IU is just 3-6 in those nine games.
The Hoosiers stumble on defense and become stagnant on offense. The raw numbers might disagree, but when we watch the tape we see IU giving up easy buckets and wide open jumpers on defense and players standing around looking nervous on offense. They simply allow opponents to go on big runs in the second half and by the time its over, the hole is too big for the Hoosiers to crawl out.
The biggest issue seems to be the lack of progress from this team. By this point in the season, you would expect everyone on the roster to have made some measure of improvement over the course of the year, especially the freshmen. But that hasn’t really happened. Additionally, these players don’t seem to have more familiarity with each other and haven’t really gelled as a team.
There are a lot of things that Crean does poorly, but player development is not one of them. In general, his teams look better at the end of the season as opposed to the beginning (and don’t bring up last year when the outside shooters went through a massive slump). The young team has struggled on the road this season, but luckily won’t leave Bloomington again until the regular season closer on March 8th.
The one bright spot in the loss was Noah Vonleh finally getting a decent number of shot attempts. He was 8-for-15 for 18 points. The problem was that once he got hot, his teammates went away from him. That speaks to the development issue and players not recognizing or finding the hot hand on the court.
IU hasn’t much time to try to rectify those problems. Tonight they face No. 15 Iowa at home. The short 48-hour turnaround will be a big test for this team.
While both teams want to come away with a win, Iowa is in the middle of a two game losing streak. Reports indicate that the abuse from fans has gotten so bad that Fran McCaffery ordered his players to shut down their social media accounts until the season is over.
The Hawkeyes sport an extremely efficient offense and are above average on defense as well. Sixth year senior Roy Devyn Marble leads the team with nearly 17 points per game. While just two players are averaging in the double digits, Iowa is getting consistent production from their rotation. They have four players shooting over 50-percent and averaging significant minutes.
There are a lot of similarities between Iowa and Michigan, at least on paper, and were 1-1 against the Wolverines this year.
This team will push IU’s defense to the limits. The Hawkeyes are adept at moving the ball around the court and finding the open man. If the Hoosiers over-commit or fail on rotations like they did Monday night, it will be another long game.
While this seems like the sort of game that the Hoosiers could win, I don’t have a ton of confidence in this squad. The short turnaround between games isn’t going to help matters either. IU is more than capable of pulling off an upset. We’ve seen it before and I’d like to think there will be another one tonight.
Iowa still has a shot at the Big Ten title, but a loss Wednesday would surely knock them out. The Hawkeyes seem like the more desperate team right now and that is often enough to push a good team on the road over the top.