Monday, January 28, 2008

Thoughts on UConn - IU 1-26-08

This game didn't work out very well for the Hoosiers or their fans, with the Huskies becoming the first non-Hoosier team to win in Bloomington in the last 30 games, pulling out a 68-63 victory. A look at the HD box score shows a few things. First it shows me that the defenses once again were the story, but the Connecticut D was particularly parsimonious, holding the Hoosiers to 0.955 points per possession. Since the Connecticut D is what ruled the day, and since it seems that the Husky guards are not the drivers of that excellent defense, I submit that they didn't miss the suspended Dyson and Wiggins very much.

Despite the good advice given in our preview, the Hoosiers decided to test their strength (shooting inside the arc) against the Huskies' strength (defending inside the arc). Predictably, the UConn D, ranked number 2 in the nation in that category, proved to be the more resistable force (or the less movable object, if you prefer). While the Husky big men only blocked 3 shots on the day, they altered numerous others, causing the Indiana shooters to offer up several off-balance and double-clutched layups and floaters. Perhaps most illustrative is that DJ White, who, though he is having an excellent and very efficient season, posted a PPWS of 0.87. Or, if you prefer the offensive rating metric, his was 87.9 for this game, while using a near average 22% of the team's possessions. What it all added up to was Indiana hitting just 28.6% of their two point shots, bringing their effective field goal percentage down to 45.9% despite hitting a very nice 11 of 20 3-pointers.

Since we're talking about trifectas, I can't help but wonder where Eric Gordon's shot has gone. He has been struggling from behind the arc of late, and this game was no different, with him making just 1 of 5 threes, helping him to an offensive rating of 80.1 for this game. When you couple that with him using a hefty 35% of IU's possessions, you can see that as a rather large chunk of Indiana's offensive struggles. In fact, it seems that the lone bright spots (yes, I said "lone" along with a plural "spots" -- you can handle it) for Indiana offensively were Jordan Crawford and Armon Bassett. Crawford might be learning to pick his spots, as he used only 18% of the offensive possessions while he was on the floor, but he was blery efficient with them, posting an O rating of 141.3. That efficiency might also be the result of him playing less with the ball in his hand and more as a catch and shoot guy, but it's goodness either way. If he is learning to pick his spots, he might well be under the tutelage of Bassett, who continued his torrid shooting and quality play against UConn, hitting 6 of 8 3's (although even he couldn't hit 2's against the Huskies, going 0 for 2 on those shots), and posting an impressive O rating of 184 while using a typical 13% of the team's possessions. With numbers like that, Mr. Bassett might need to start taking a more active role in the offense.

This game didn't quite turn into the foul shooting contest I thought it might, but Connecticut did still get to the free throw line quite a bit, shooting 26 freebies, hitting on 69% of them. While the game wasn't a foul shooting contest, one could certainly argue that it played a big part in UConn's offense, and that's typical for them. No one person had an especially good offensive game for the Huskies, save perhaps Hasheem Thabeet, who posted an O rating of 155.2, although that was using only 11.4% of their possessions. That lack of stellar Husky offensive play suggests once again that it was the UConn D that ruled this game.

All in all, I think this game will serve as one of those "lesson games" for the Hoosiers, and, luckily for them, it's a lesson that doesn't affect their standing in the conference race. In a way, I don't think it's worth getting too worked up about, since there are precious few defenses in the country that play as well as UConn's, and there are even fewer who are so well-equipped to thwart the way the Hoosiers like to play on O. There just aren't many 7-footers in the country, much less those of the athletic, shot-blocking variety, and even that is to say nothing of him being bookended by two additional quality shot-swatters.

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