Indiana men’s basketball (10-5, 1-3 Big Ten) is looking to break a slump Wednesday.
The Hoosiers take on Penn State (11-5, 2-3) at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, tipping off at 7 p.m. on Big Ten Network.
IU head coach Mike Woodson talked about the matchup and some of IU’s players during his weekly radio show. Here’s some of what he had to say.
Pickett the key for PSU
The Hoosiers have a tough matchup in store Wednesday. Penn State is a much-improved outfit this year.
The Nittany Lions are also on a two-game losing streak, falling to Michigan and Purdue. They’ve notably beaten Iowa and Illinois this season.
IU split with PSU last year, with each team winning on its home court. Woodson knows this will be a challenge.
“They are playing good basketball,” Woodson said. “They play hard, they shoot a lot of threes, and they’ve got a guy named (Jalen) Pickett that kind of drives the car. He kind of gets everybody involved. It’s going to be a game that we’ve got to stay committed on the defensive end, because they can score points if you let them. And hopefully we’re making shots like we’ve been making here, of late.”
Pickett, as Woodson references, has been one of the top guards in the country this season. He’s averaging 17.9 points, 7.3 assists (fourth in the country), and 7.6 rebounds per game.
And with Indiana still missing Xavier Johnson, the remaining Hoosier guards will have a big task at hand in stopping PSU’s 6-foot-4 standout.
“He runs everything for their ballclub,” Woodson said. “So we’re going to have to do a job on him. But not get so locked into him to the point where we let the 3-point shooters get loose, because they take a lot of threes.”
Penn State shoots 38.2 percent from 3-point range as a team, which is second in the Big Ten and 26th in the country. The Nittany Lions’ high percentage comes at high volume, as Woodson said — PSU attempts 27.9 threes per game (13th in the country, first in the Big Ten), with 10.7 made per game (sixth in the country, first in the conference).
One of the most notable team stats to know about the Nittany Lions is their 1.69 assist-to-turnover ratio. That ranks No. 2 in the country. Pickett is a big part of that, as he averages just 1.9 turnovers per game with all his assists.
Geronimo is needed
With Race Thompson injured, Woodson doesn’t really have a ton of options at the 4.
Jordan Geronimo stepped in when Thompson got hurt at Iowa, and he entered the starting lineup against Northwestern. He struggled in both games, with a rough defensive showing at Iowa leading to even bigger difficulties against the Wildcats.
In just 10 minutes against Northwestern, Geronimo finished at -16.
Woodson and the Hoosiers will need him to turn things around. He knows the junior is capable of it, after seeing positive performances from him at the end of last season.
He’s had frank conversations with Geronimo about how important he could be for the team and what he needs to do.
“I brought him in and sat with him, (and said) ‘This is your opportunity to shine and help us. You’re going to play. You’re going to play more minutes, if you are able to help us and produce,’” Woodson said. “I’m not trying to put added pressure on him. That’s everybody. When key guys go down and you’re the next one in line, you’re getting an opportunity to play, you’ve got to try to make the most of it.”
Geronimo is averaging 5.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in 13.1 minutes per game.
Trayce the Ace
All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis has been playing at that level again this season.
But the efforts he displayed in the last two games were almost jaw-dropping. He played all 40 minutes against Northwestern and grabbed a staggering 24 rebounds, the eighth-most in a single game in IU history. That was after playing 38 minutes against Iowa and scoring 30 points.
Jackson-Davis is up to 24th in the country in rebounds per game, at 9.6.
He’s taken on that massive load for IU while battling back pain, which has limited him in practice.
“He has been playing unbelievable, considering where he was prior to the Kennesaw game and the Elon game,” Woodson said. “We didn’t know if we were going to get him back anytime soon.”
Woodson is in a tough position with Jackson-Davis.
He obviously doesn’t want to take him off the court very much with the way he’s playing, and with IU missing other key pieces. Jackson-Davis has given IU just about everything he possibly can, and he’s been able to take over stretches of games almost single-handedly.
But with the back issues, Woodson has to be careful to not overwork him.
“In the Iowa game, he didn’t want to come out,” Woodson said. “And I didn’t even ask him (against Northwestern), because we had gotten down early, ‘Do you need a blow?’ And somehow, I’ve got to free that up a little where he gets a blow, and either go to Logan (Duncomb) or Malik (Reneau) at the 5, and just see if they can just hold it or add to it.
Hood-Schifino on fire
Jalen Hood-Schifino was named Big Ten freshman of the week after a huge scoring stretch.
The freshman has recorded season-highs in points in four straight games, and the last two have been particularly impressive. Against Northwestern and Iowa, he shot a combined 10 for 15 from 3-point range. He scored 21 points against the Hawkeyes and 33 against the Wildcats.
But Woodson wants his point guard to be even better.
“I look at the total package. I don’t look at just scoring. He’s a point guard, and he had six turnovers (against Northwestern). And they were terrible turnovers. And that’s not acceptable, to me,” Woodson said. “He had a bunch of defense assignments where he had some lapses. He can’t walk away from that game because he scored 33 points and had 5-6-7 assists and think it’s OK.”
Woodson added that he’s pleased that Hood-Schifino’s scoring has picked up and that he’s been productive in that way. But he knows the freshman is capable of even better.
“He works his butt off every day. So by me saying that, he understands where I’m coming from,” Woodson said. “Because I think if he gives more, and he truly learns that position, it helps us in the long run.”
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