Friday, March 21, 2008

Searching for Identity

During the Big Ten conference schedule, the Hoosiers established pretty clearly the areas in which they excelled. A gander at the Big Ten tempo-free stats shows that the Hoosiers were second best in the conference in 2-point FG% (only Ohio State was better) first in free throw rate, first in free throw percentage, and first in defensive rebounding. So they hit their shots in side the arc, got to the line (where they were deadly efficient), and kept their opponents from getting offensive rebounds.

Recently, though, either those strengths deserted IU, or Indiana got away from them. In their loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament (HD Box here), Indiana still got to the free throw line a ton, but they didn't hit them with anywhere near their normal accuracy, hitting just 67.6% in that game when they connected at a 77.9% clip during the conference season. Especially different, though, were the two-point shooting and defensive rebounding. IU hit a paltry 41.7% of their 2's (and an atrocious 1 of 14 3's), and they allowed Minnesota to rebound an incredible 43% of their own misses. When you compare that to the conference season number of 28%, something was clearly amiss.

But there's no point in nattering on about such things. Everyone in the country probably knows that there's something amiss with the team. I will confess something, though. After all the missed free throws at the end of the game, when DJ finally hit the freebie to give IU the lead with just over a second left, I told the girl, "IU doesn't deserve to win this game. If Minnesota hits some ridiculous shot to win, I won't be surprised." Well, the only thing everyone in the country knows better than that something is amiss with the Hoosiers is that Blake Hoffarber hit an absurd left-handed almost hook/prayer to beat both the buzzer and the Hoosiers. The Girl was not the least bit pleased with me, claiming that I jinxed the team. If that's the case, please accept my apology.

But I say again that we should dwell on something else.  How about Indiana's NCAA game against Arkansas? First, a look at the kenpom scouting reports (IU Ark) makes me wish that I had full tempo-free conference stats for all conferences at my disposal, because both teams numbers are significantly worse for conference games only. The overall numbers predict a 73-69 IU win in 70 possessions, while the conference numbers predict a 70 - 69 IU win in 67 possessions. Either way, a close game is predicted by the numbers.  So let's look at some details.

When Arkansas Has the Ball

Arkansas' biggest strength on O seems to be their offensive rebounding, as the Razorbacks rank 21st in the country in O rebounding percentage. Couple that with their 48th best 2-point field goal percentage, and it seems that they are pretty strong inside. That's not really surprising, as the Razorbacks boast 5 players on their roster at or about 6'8". Four of those are 6'10" or better. That height has more of an impact on defense, according to Ken Pomeroy, but it plays out some on O, too. These Arkansas strengths lie in direct opposition to Indiana's defensive strengths. We mentioned above that IU was #1 in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding, and they are also 28th in the country on the overall season in that category. The Hoosiers are also 44th best in the country on the season in 2-point FG% defense. So it will be interesting to see how those elements play out.

The Arkansas offense turns the ball over quite a bit, shoots poorly beyond the arc, and doesn't get to the free throw line much, but the Hoosiers D rarely forces turnovers, doesn't defend 3's terribly well (but not terribly poorly, either). The Hoosiers are pretty good at keeping opponents off the free throw line, though, and they are excellent at defending the free throws they do give up.  ;-)

When Indiana Has the Ball

Interestingly, given their height, is that the Razorbacks are not especially adept at defending 2-point field goals. That seems even odder when you note that they are 13th best in the country at blocking shots. Furthermore, Arkansas is pretty middle of the road at keeping opponents off the free throw line. What the Arkansas defense excels at with all of that height, aside from blocking shots, is defending 3-pointers. All of those factors seem to play into the hands of the Indiana team we saw play throughout most of the Big Ten season, as 2-point shooting and free throws are the best pieces of Indiana's O.

However, the only other tall, shot-blocking defense the Hoosiers have played was UConn, and that didn't go their way. Still, UConn was good at stopping 2's but not 3's, and Indiana doesn't shoot a whole lot of 3's.

Really, the way the teams' strengths and weaknesses align, it seems like the Hoosiers should have the advantage.  But that's only if the team we saw play for most of the season shows up. If the team that has been frequently ineffective since the beginning of the Dakich era shows up, Indiana won't have to worry about how they match up with North Carolina.

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