Wednesday, March 5, 2008

In Search of Some D

The Golden Gophers come calling at the Assembly Hall (IN version) tonight, and the Hoosiers could use a good performance.  Of course, they could also use a win, but they really need to figure out how to play D under Dakich. After the Michigan St. game, I pointed out that the Hoosiers had posted 2 of their worst 3 defensive performances for the season since Dakich took the helm, and that's something that needs to be corrected for any team that wants to play well in any tournament.

Since this is the second game IU is playing against Minnesota, I'd like to able to look back on the HD box score from the first go-round to get some idea of what might be key in tonight's game. Unfortunately, we don't have an HD box score for that game because Minnesota didn't release the substitution info for it. I made a go at generating that data myself from the game tape, but it didn't quite work out. However, the keys to that game were defense, turnovers (sort of), and free throws.

In the first meeting, the Hoosiers turned it over on 35% of their possessions, by far their worst performance of the season in that regard. The reason that was only sort of a key is that the Hoosiers managed to win 65-60 in spite of those turnovers, which is kind of amazing to me. Still, Indiana played excellent defense against the Gophers, holding them to 0.885 points per possession, their second best defensive effort in conference play (the game at Michigan was their best, at 0.883 PPP). Jordan Crawford was huge in that game, too, posting 16 points while hitting 4 of 6 3's. Even huger for the Hoosiers was Spencer Tollackson of Minnesota, who failed to hit even one free throw in 7 attempts. That vaunted Indiana free throw defense came through for them again (although the rest of the Gophers went 11 for 14 from the line).

Still, if a team with a potent offense like Indiana's can keep its opponents under 1 point per possession, you have to like its chances. And therein lies the rub: can the Hoosiers play any D in the post-Sampson era? Big A over at Inside the Hall suggested that there might be some issues with certain players not being fully on board with Dakich, and I could see that.  In fact, I wondered about it in this space after the Northwestern game. I can't say that I've seen much of that myself, but I haven't done a good job of watching for it, either. Let's hope the East Lansing beat-down served as a wake up call for the whole team.

With their pressing D, the Gophers are second only to Purdue at forcing turnovers in conference games. So expect more pressure tonight. The Hoosiers need to do a better job at keeping their hands on the ball and throwing it to players wearing the same color jerseys tonight. On the plus side for Indiana, Minnesota ranks eighth in the conference in defending two-pointers and defensive free throw rate, as well as tenth in defensive rebounding. Those are areas that IU might be able to exploit, given that the Hoosiers rank second in two point FG%, second in offensive free throw rate, and third in offensive rebounding percentage.

Conversely, Minnesota's offense is very good on the offensive glass and in getting to the free throw line, ranking second and fourth, respectively, in the conference in those categories. But that plays into the hands of the Hoosiers D, which is the best in the conference at defensive rebounding and fourth at keeping opponents off the line.

The numbers appear to favor the Hoosiers. They should also have emotion on their side, too, given that it's Senior Night in Bloomington. Hopefully, the attendant emotion can translate into elevated play for IU. The real questions are whether IU can hold onto the ball and whether the Hoosier D can rebound enough for the Hoosiers to pull out a win.

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