Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Tale of Two Games

It was the best of O, it was the worst of O. It was the best of D, it was the worst of D. But not necessarily in that order. This Dickensian performance was put together by the Hoosiers in the last two games.

This game was the best of D and the worst of O for the Hoosiers. The Badgers helped the Hoosiers get up close and personal with how the number 3 rated defense in the country looks, and it was a rough night for IU (HD box here). The Hoosiers did better than most on the offensive boards against the Hoosiers, but the Badgers held true to form in absolutely avoiding sending the Hoosiers to the free throw line and holding the Hoosiers to a pitiful 36% effective field goal percentage. IU just had trouble putting the ball in the basket, and shot a woeful 14% from three. It seemed that IU was rattled much of the game, as it looked to my eyes that they were rushing even their open looks a bit. The upshot of all of that is that IU scored a minuscule .778 points per possession, far and away their worst offensive outing of the year. Even the lately en fuego Armon Basset was spectacularly cold, going 0-5 from beyond the arc.

On the flip side, the Hoosiers D wasn't too bad, holding Wisconsin to .969 points per possession, which is well below their season average. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers that was more than enough for the win.

As Don pointed out in his comments to the game preview, the Badgers shoot more free throws than their opponents, and that was a significant difference in this game, judging from the 19-10 edge in made free throws for Wisconsin. All in all, it was a pretty bad night for IU, leaving me still hoping that they will manage to beat a good team or two before this season is over (especially since I'll be attending their home tilt against Michigan State next weekend).

Still, the Hoosiers had a chance to go home and get well, thanks to a game against

The Wildcats didn't want to hear about anyone getting well, given that Northwestern has not won a conference game this year. In that vein, Northwestern shot absurdly well in the first half, cutting and slashing every which way to get open layups and three-pointers, and draining almost all of them, going 7-9 from 3 and 14-22 overall for a silly 79.5 eFG%. Luckily for the Hoosiers, they forced some turnovers and were impressively efficient on O themselves, and managed to keep a lead at the half. Still, this game was the converse of the Wisonconsin game, being the best of O and the worst of D.

The second half went much the same non-defending way for the first 8 minutes, until IU switched to a 2-3 zone. I didn't exactly understand it, because I always thought the 2-3 was best for limiting the threat of talented big men, which Northwestern had zero of, while perhaps giving up some outside looks, which the Wildcats were hitting with alarming frequency. However, this new strategy worked like an actual defense, and the Wildcats cooled down on O. I suspect that the real difference was that the 2-3 kept some guys at home to shut of cutting and driving lanes to the basket, and the lack of that constant layup threat allowed the guys on the outside to pressure the shooters more effectively. Or maybe it just let the Hoosier defenders avoid having to fight through screens. Either way, it worked.

Meanwhile, the Hoosiers, or at least EJ and DJ, continued to score like ... a team that scores well or something. The Hoosiers ended up scoring an impressive 1.339 points per possession, their best offensive outing against a Big Ten team, and their best in the whole season against a team not named Longwood or Western Carolina. I mentioned that Eric Gordon and DJ White were doing some scoring, and it's true. They put up an impressive 73.3% of the team's points. Perhaps even more interestingly, the HD box score shows that IU didn't score without DJ on the floor. It was nice to see Eric find his stroke from deep, as he set up nicely on most of his outside shots and hit 6 out of 10. Throw in the fact that no Wildcat even pretended to bother DJ when he even thought about getting a rebound, and DJ pulled down 13 boards, including a full 23% of his own team's missed shots. Stellar performances out of Gordon and White.

This was a win the Hoosiers had to have, and they got it. Alas, Northwestern is not that good team I'm looking for a win over. On the downside, Bassett continued a descent to normalcy by hitting just 1 of 8 3's he hoisted. He did drop 6 dimes vs. only 1 turnover, but I like him making shots. Also worrisome was the nasty ankle sprain Jordan Crawford suffered in the first half, making it less than 3 good ankles between the Hoosiers' 2 starting point guards. That's something that bears watching with a tough trip to Champaign coming up Thursday.

Wanting to end on a positive note here, let's all laud the play of first time starter Kyle Taber. Coach Sampson said that he wanted to reward Taber for working hard in practice since the team wasn't getting much production out of that position anyway, and Taber performed admirably. In his 23+ minutes on the floor, Kyle only attempted one shot (which he missed), and he turned the ball over once, but he grabbed 2 offensive and 2 defensive rebounds, set screens, and worked hard on D. All in all, I think he was a big help to the team, as evidenced by his tied-for-highest-on-the-team +12 in the +/- column. If one wanted to play with the numbers a little more (and you know I do), one could calculate the team's offensive and defensive efficiencies while each player was on the floor. Then, one could subtract those to get the team's efficiency margin while each player was on the floor. That would tell us, while this player was on the floor, how much did we beat them by on a per-possession basis. I tell you all of this because the team had its best efficiency margin while non other than Kyle Taber was on the floor. Goodonya, Kyle!

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