Believe it or not, Indiana has played more than half of its 2022-23 regular season games.
And by this point we typically have a pretty good read on the identity of each edition of IU basketball — strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and so on.
So as we do around this time each season, let’s take a deep dive into the advanced statistics to see what they can add to our understanding of this year’s team.
Below we’ll focus on games against top-100 opponents — nine of IU’s 17 games played to this point — thereby eliminating all of the games against low and mid-major competition, and the game at home against Nebraska. Leaving out that game seems fair since the Cornhuskers were missing arguably their best player.
The top-100 is the most instructive right now, since all but one of IU’s remaining 14 games come against teams fitting that description. We’ll compare those nine games to Indiana’s 24 games against top-100 foes a year ago.
The rankings are national and according to Bart Torvik unless otherwise noted.
BIG PICTURE — TRADING DEFENSE FOR OFFENSE
Signs of a better offense
A year ago, IU was just No. 109 in adjusted offensive efficiency vs. top-100 opponents. This year they’ve moved up to No. 74 so far against the top-100. That’s still not anything approximating elite offense, but clear progress to this point.
IU has scored at least a point per possession in seven of those nine top-100 games, with the two below a point coming in true road games at Rutgers and at Kansas. Were those games Indiana collapsing on the road, or perhaps losing Jalen Hood-Schifino during pre-game vs. Rutgers, and Xavier Johnson in-game vs. Kansas? Probably some of both to fair.
Here’s at least some food for thought — Indiana’s best two offensive games against top-100s have come on the road — at Xavier when the team was 100 percent healthy, and at Iowa, despite losing Race Thompson mid-game. IU’s best offense at Iowa came before Thompson was injured. When healthy, there are at least some signs IU’s offense can travel.
Why has IU improved offensively? Combining Trayce Jackson-Davis’ ability in the paint with improved play from Tamar Bates and Trey Galloway, along with the emergence of Hood-Schifino are major reasons. And don’t forget, Johnson played at an elite level in the wins over Xavier and North Carolina.
But that defense though…
Unfortunately for IU, the year-over-year juxtaposition on the defensive end highlights a trend in the wrong direction — and it’s a more extreme change than the offense.
A year ago IU was No. 43 against top-100s on the defensive end. They also had the most efficient defense in Big Ten games. This year the Hoosiers have dropped all the way down to No. 128 in top-100 games, and ninth in the Big Ten.
Part of the equation is no doubt transfers and an overall lack of health in the backcourt.
When IU was at its best defensively last season, they leaned on Rob Phinisee, Johnson and Trey Galloway. Phinisee transferred to Cincinnati, Johnson has missed four top-100 games and most of another, and Hood-Schifino, who many thought could replace Phinisee’s defense, missed big games against Arizona and Rutgers.
Against Iowa, the defense seemed to implode once Race Thompson left with an injury, and he wasn’t there for two really bad performances against Penn State and Northwestern.
In the absence of those players, IU has had to rely more at times defensively on Bates and Miller Kopp, who to this point haven’t been nearly as effective. Last season Indiana went to that defensive closer lineup, but so far this year the pieces have just not been there consistently to lean on the defense in second halves.
Against Northwestern, Indiana couldn’t guard the ball, and against Penn State they didn’t stick with shooters. That capped off five straight games against high majors where IU gave up at least 84 points, all losses. Was that a lack of effort, lack of health, a poor game plan, or a lack of execution? Probably all of the above, along with Jackson-Davis’ back issue limiting his rim protection at times.
IS THE 3-POINT SHOOTING BETTER?
The simple raw data answer is yes. Across all games, IU has made 37.1 percent from behind-the-arc. That’s good for No. 43 in the country right now. The Hoosiers haven’t finished a season inside the top-200 from three since 2016-17.
But in top-100 games, IU is making 34.2 percent. That’s still No. 103 nationally and much better than their 30.5 percent (No. 210) last season, but obviously still a meaningful drop-off in significant games.
And it’s interesting to note, IU is just 3-6 in those top-100 games, and they’ve made just 24 percent from three in the wins. It’s some of the games they lost — Arizona, Northwestern, Penn State, where they shot their best from three.
What really stands out is Indiana’s 3-point shot volume. The Hoosiers rank just No. 335 in threes as a percentage of total field goal attempts in top-100 games. But with IU making right around 50 percent from two in those games and 34 percent from three, it is almost a statistical wash when it comes to where the shots come from.
FREE THROW SHOOTING STILL A PROBLEM
Indiana is shooting 67.3 percent from the stripe in their nine games against the top-100. That rate is two percentage points lower than IU was a year ago in top-100 games, They missed nine freebies in a two-point loss at Iowa, so at least on one occasion you can clearly say it cost them the game.
Indiana has been torched from three in some of its losses, especially Arizona and Penn State. To this point their defensive 3-point percentage has gone from 35 percent a year ago against top-100s to 37.9 percent (No. 260 in the country) this season.
Interestingly, top-100 teams were shooting a far higher percent of their attempts last year (41) from three vs. this year (34).
A LACK OF TURNOVERS
Another struggling feature of IU’s defense not garnering as much of the headlines is an overall inability to create turnovers. Against the top-100, Indiana is generating just 14.9 percent forced turnover rate. That’s No. 287 in the country. Last year against the top-100 IU forced turnovers in 17.2 percent of possessions. The absence of Johnson would seem to be a key contributing factor to the decline this season.
TWO-POINT DEFENSE AND BLOCKING SHOTS
While the previous two items suggest IU is struggling to guard the perimeter, the Hoosiers have been much more effective when defending two-point shots.
Top-100 teams are making 47.4 percent of their twos this season. That’s No. 45 nationally. And IU’s blocked shot rate is 14.2 percent, good for No. 11 overall by teams against the top-100. Both the two-point defense and block rate are a constant positive, year-over-year.
With Indiana struggling to guard the perimeter and able to hold its own inside, perhaps the answer is more pressure on the ball, less help off of shooters, and more reliance on shot blockers to clean things up underneath. That appeared to be the plan against Wisconsin — and IU delivered its best defensive performance of the season.
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