The regular season of one of the more anticipated Indiana basketball campaigns in recent memory is nearly half over. So too then is the final college basketball season of Juwan Morgan and most likely the IU career of Romeo Langford.
Enjoy this folks.
The good news? This 2018-19 IU basketball season has been enjoyable. Especially if you like close games.
And the bottom line? Despite not being elite, the Hoosiers look like a NCAA Tournament team once again. Absent from the event since their 2016 Sweet Sixteen loss to North Carolina, a return to the Big Dance would be a welcome sign of progress.
Still, getting there won’t be easy. The Hoosiers face an 18-game gauntlet of one of the deeper Big Ten conferences in a long time. But with an 11-2 start, including a 2-0 mark in league play, IU looks well on their way to playing games that matter in March.
Far from perfect, the Hoosiers have built a resume that encapsulates what it is going to take to grind out wins in the Big Ten. At one point IU had won four straight games by a total of 8 points — with all of the wins coming against KenPom Top 50 teams.
There will no doubt end up being some blowouts in league play, but for the most part, that four game stretch is what we expect the next three months to look like.
There were outliers in the nonconference as well. Indiana is not that much better than Marquette, and they could certainly give Duke a much better contest.
A disturbing trend thus far has been IU getting off to slow starts in most of their games. In our opinion this team lacks energy and an edge early in games. They have been sloppy with the ball on offense, and the defense has at times lacked intensity and lost sight of fundamentals. Stats like a league worst 7.8 offensive rebounds per game would lend support to the notion that this team is not always bringing max effort.
The key right now for Indiana is that they are balanced. They are good but not great on both offense and defense. They have a dynamic duo in Morgan and Langford, and several other guys that can have a double figure scoring night. With the possible exception of free throw shooting, this team doesn’t seem to have a glaring weakness that is going to cost them a lot of ballgames.
And the Hoosiers have gotten to 11-2 despite a inconceivable rash of injuries. Fortunately, save for the possibility of freshman Jerome Hunter, none have been or seem to have the potential to be season ending to this point.
Archie Miller warned before the season that this Indiana team would not be a great perimeter shooting team.
What he didn’t say was just how good the Hoosiers would be around the basket. IU is second in the country in overall field goal percentage, shooting 52.9%. They’ve gotten there by being respectable from long range, and elite at the rim.
The duo of Langford and Morgan has created a lot of space for everyone, and it shows with the way the Hoosiers knock down shots. At times those shots have been the result of more individual offense than successfully executing team concepts, but still, IU is 4th in the Big Ten in assists per game.
Where things have fallen apart is taking care of the basketball. IU is the second worst team in the Big Ten in turnovers per game and in the lower third nationally. As we saw against Duke and Arkansas, this too is a flaw that can cost IU games.
The Hoosiers come in at 19th in KenPom adjusted defense, giving up .926 points per possession. Four Big Ten teams rank above the Hoosiers right now (Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State). As is almost always the case, there are sure to be a lot of low scoring grinders in the Big Ten.
The major improvement over last year so far has been IU’s perimeter defense. Indiana is allowing teams to shoot just 29.7% from three point range after spending most of 2017-18 as one of the worst teams in the country in that regard. If the pack-line can prevent penetration, and IU can hold teams to 30% or less from distance, they will be tough to beat.
It is in part by design with the pack-line, but Indiana doesn’t always seem like they are making things difficult out on the perimeter. While they are forcing nearly 15 turnovers per game, those numbers are inflated against some of the lesser teams on the nonconference slate. The Hoosiers need more efforts like the early minutes against Marquette, where they forced multiple live ball turnovers, creating easier opportunities for the offense.
TOP NONCONFERENCE STORIES
- Top individual accomplishment: Juwan Morgan secures second ever IU triple double.
- Top team performance: Indiana dominates Marquette.
- Highlight of the season thus far:
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Juwan Morgan (A-) With improvements to his perimeter shot and passing, Morgan has found a way to build on his big gains last year. It is difficult to find flaws, but free throw shooting and ball security are areas for improvement.
- Justin Smith (B-) It isn’t that Smith has been bad. He has had solid games and is a key player on this team. It’s just that it seems like it could be so much more, starting with getting more aggressive on the glass, and developing a better left hand to help him finish at the basket.
- Romeo Langford (A-) The points are about where most expected, but it has been the other areas of his game that have been more impressive. Langford plays within the offense, and has proven to be really good rebounding and defending. Obviously the glaring area for improvement is his perimeter shot.
- Rob Phinisee (A-) The conversation has to start with his ability to hit big shots. Phinisee has knocked down daggers in multiple high profile games. He has also been stout defending at the critical top of the pack-line. The Duke game showed he is far from perfect, but thus far that game has been the outlier.
- Al Durham (B+) Probably the most improved returning player from last year. Raise your hand if you had Durham shooting 41% from long range this year. He’s a guy that does a little bit of everything, and overcame a difficult few game stretch to record a career high against Jacksonville.
- Devonte Green (B) Green deserves the benefit of the doubt as he has worked his way back from a nagging thigh contusion. He has shown enough in the last two games to suggest that better things are coming. He will be a major factor one way or another in Big Ten play.
- Zach McRoberts (B) McRoberts also deserves the benefit of the doubt, as a back injury has limited him all year. You simply cannot play his style effectively, or any style really, with lower back issues.
- Evan Fitzner (B-) Fitzner got off to a fast start, but teams now know to not give him any space on the perimeter. He also has decent repertoire of post moves, but it is the lack of a game off the dribble that has limited him.
- De’Ron Davis (B) There have been highs (Louisville) and lows (foul trouble), but Big Ten play should really tell the story of Davis’ season as he completes his recovery and gets back to 100 percent.
- Damezi Anderson (B) Anderson has been forced into early duty due to the injuries, and for the most part has done a respectable job. He’ll eventually add more aspects to his game, but right now he lives and dies with his three-point shot.
- Clifton Moore (B) Moore has clearly made strides year over year, and he has the length to impact games. A once dubious future with the program is showing promise due to his efforts toward making improvements.
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