Thursday, February 28, 2008

Free Throws and Three Fours

Now that I've had a day for the Ohio State - Indiana game to percolate (HD box), let's talk about it a little. This was a win the Hoosiers had to have to stay in the conference championship race. (Wisconsin has the clear edge there, given their schedule the rest of the way, but that's not the point right now). And the Hoosiers got that win.  It wasn't pretty, but they got it.  Really, though, we couldn't have expected it to be pretty, given the way the Buckeyes play. 

Much has been said in this space about the Ohio State D (OK, so I said it all, but that doesn't change the fact that it's been said), and their numbers are quite good.  Some of that bore itself out on Tuesday, too. The Hoosiers put up worse efficiency numbers on O than is typical for them, and they shot atrociously from beyond the arc.  Ohio State does have the best statistical D in the conference, and they are best at defending both 2- and 3-pointers. I was already to think it was just tough OSU D, and maybe it was, but PostmanE's take made me think a little more about it. He suggested it was just a bad shooting night, and if you look at the numbers it was horrific for Stemler and Gordon. Those two were a combined 1 - 14 on 3's, meaning the rest of the team was a not-great-but-certainly-acceptable 4 - 11. It seemed to me that both of those guys had mostly open looks on their three-balls, but they just couldn't get them to fall. But, the Hoosiers did shoot right on their conference number for two point FG%. So that's a case of the irresistible force of IU's 2-point offense overcoming the immovable object of OSU's 2-point defense. Still, the three point shooting of Stemler and Gordon really hurt the team on O. In fact, Gordon had one of his worst offensive games as a Hoosier this year, posting an ORating of only 80.1 while using an impressive 32% of the team's possessions. Notice I didn't say "of the team's possessions while he was on the floor." That's because, despite his poor shooting and his turnovers, Gordon never sat down. I know that sounds like a criticism of Dakich, but it's not really.  It's just an observation. Clearly, Dakich thought he was making the team better by being out there, and he does play some very good D (he managed 3 steals and 3 defensive boards, both of which are good). And Gordon is an absolute weapon down the stretch. You know he's going to get to the line and hit his FT's, which he did once again against the Buckeyes.

But I don't think all of those missed shots were the key. Granted, if a good percentage of them go in, then IU doesn't have to sweat the outcome of the game at all.  And if you look at the fact that IU went to the live 24 times against the Buckeyes, who are best in the conference at keeping people off the line, then that is clearly a key to the win.  In conference games, OSU's defensive FT Rate is a paltry 16.0. In this game, it was 39.3. Indiana's irresistible force beat OSU's immovable object there.

The other factor isn't so obvious. I was talking with Lawton yesterday and starting to claim that the +/- stat of HD box scores is only useful for guys who sit for a significant amount of time.  I was thinking you might need to sit for 10 minutes to make the number useful. In the case of Gordon, who played the whole game, we have no idea how the team would do without him on the floor.  And really, how much time does it take to make a noticeable impact? It can't be just a few minutes. However, just as I was saying that, I noticed Kosta Koufos's line in the HD box. His +/- was +9. While he was on the floor, Ohio State scored 9 more points than Indiana. That means that the Hoosiers outscore the Buckeyes by 12 when Koufos was on the bench. So Koufos must have sat a lot, right?  Wrong. He was out of the game for only 4:44.

So there you have it, getting to the line and hitting the freebies. 4:44 of bench time for Koufos.  Those were the keys to IU's win over Ohio State. Just like the title of this post says.

Now IU fans need to root for Northwestern, Ohio State, and Michigan against Purdue and Michigan St., Penn St., and Northwestern against Wisconsin to give the Hoosiers a chance at the Big Ten conference championship and #1 seed in the conference tournament.

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