Numbers can be misinterpreted, and used to fit just about any narrative.
But in the case of Indiana’s offense, this seems about right — statistically speaking the Hoosiers have just had their three worst games of the season, back-to-back-to-back.
And by no coincidence, IU is on a three-game losing streak at just about the worst time of year.
Here are the easy numbers to understand — Indiana has averaged just 56.3 points per game over the last three games. In those games they had their three lowest amount of points per possession on the season, and their three worst effective field goal percentage contests.
While Indiana showed promised at times offensively earlier in the season, the numbers 24 games into the season are alarming. The Hoosiers currently rank No. 111 in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency. If they stay there it will be their worst season since Tom Crean’s 2013-14 squad that finished 17-15 and missed the postseason. IU has only finished worse the No. 111 four times starting with the 1996-97 season, and they missed the NCAA Tournament each time.
Coming into the season Indiana appeared to have addressed some offensive shortcomings. Former head coach Archie Miller even said “to me, no one did a better job in the offseason of being able to put important pieces in place to make their team better than Indiana.”
On paper they had a better facilitator in Xavier Johnson, they added shooters in Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp, added post-depth in Michael Durr, they had a four-man sophomore class that seemed prime to make a second year jump, and they had a borderline 5-star recruit in Tamar Bates.
Johnson has in fact been the best facilitator IU has seen since the Yogi Ferrell years. His 34.6 percent assist rate (No. 22 nationally) is in fact higher than any IU player has had since Ferrell, and further, better than any of Ferrell’s four seasons in Bloomington. Johnson comes with shortcomings like foul trouble and at times poor judgment with the ball in his hands, but he has trended favorably and has easily been a net positive addition.
Durr was never envisioned to be a major offensive contributor, and whatever impact he might have had on this team was slowed by a preseason knee injury. He’s made a respectable 52.2 percent of his 2-point shots, but Durr’s shortcomings in other areas of the game make him a liability in most situations.
The four sophomores on the team — Trey Galloway, Jordan Geronimo, Anthony Leal, and Khristian Lander — all appear to be improved versions of their freshman selves to varying degrees with Galloway making the biggest impact, but none have made a year-over-year offensive jump like others in the league, namely Johnny Davis of Wisconsin or Keegan Murray of Iowa. Davis and Murray might be unfair comparisons in the extreme, but even the progress we saw from Armaan Franklin in his second season has been missing from this group of four.
And Franklin transitions us to Stewart and Kopp, who on the season have shot 68-of-168 (40.4 percent) from three — a seemingly nice addition. But they are right where last year’s primary 3-point shooters, Franklin and Al Durham were when they combined to go 74-of-185 (40 percent) in 2020-21.
Kopp is just 7-of-21 (33.3 percent) over his last eight games, and Stewart just 4-of-15 over the last four games (26.7 percent). Due in large part to these drop-offs, Indiana finds itself in a familiar place, making just 31.5 percent of its 3-point attempts in Big Ten games, good for just 13th in the league.
More concerning when comparing Kopp and Stewart to Franklin and Durham is a lack of versatility as offensive threats.
Franklin and Durham combined to shoot nine 2-point attempts per game while Kopp and Stewart have attempted just 3.7 2-pointers per game. Franklin and Durham combined to average 5.8 free throws per game while Kopp and Stewart have combined to average just 1.8 attempts from the stripe per contest. In short, Kopp and Stewart have brought very little to Indiana’s offense beyond serving as threats to catch-and-shoot from behind-the-arc.
Bates was the guy many pointed to as that versatile three-level wing scoring threat that is missing from Kopp and Stewart’s games, but while seemingly headed in a positive direction, he has had the up-and-down freshman season most first year players experience in the Big Ten.
Race Thompson has had a solid redshirt senior season. He’s had double figures in the scoring column for five straight games, and he’s had nine or more points in every game going back to the Syracuse contest. Thompson is averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and assists this year while making 62 percent of his shots from 2-point range. But to really supercharge this offense, Thompson was going to have to step out and start making threes. Save for a two game stretch, that has not happened. He made 4-of-4 from three against Penn State and Maryland, two of Indiana’s best performances of the year, and just 5-of-36 (13.9 percent) in all of the other games combined.
Thompson’s ineffectiveness away from the paint, and Kopp and Stewart’s ineffectiveness anywhere inside the arc, means less real estate for opposing defenses to worry about. And that overall lack of offensive versatility complicates things for Indiana’s primary scoring threat, Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Without a dynamic scorer to rely on, Mike Woodson and his staff have seemingly reduced the offense to a half court, feed the post and pray system.
And Jackson-Davis is in a funk. The junior big man is just 12-of-35 from the field over his last three games, often a result of trying to out-quick and go over or around Big Ten athleticism and length. And he is for the most part trying to score against that size and athleticism with his left hand even when turning over his left shoulder.
Jackson-Davis was effective earlier in the season beating his man up the court and attacking the offensive glass, but both of those aspects of his game have waned too as conference play wears on. As a team Indiana’s tempo has been in steady decline over the course of the year according to Bart Torvik charts, and Jackson-Davis has averaged just 6.6 rebounds per game over the last seven, admittedly with some reduced minutes due to foul trouble in two of those contests.
None of this is necessarily Jackson-Davis’ fault because what Indiana is trying to do is not playing to his strengths. He’s never been a consistent back-to-the-basket player against high major foes.
So what are the solutions?
It seems a 1981-style unleashing of the offense might be in order. That year Bob Knight made a late season adjustment to play up-tempo and the Hoosiers tore through the remainder of their regular season and the NCAA Tournament. And no, before you say it, I am not suggesting this team has the talent to make a Final Four run. Rather, I am merely highlighting how a late season adjustment can deliver results.
Indiana has a weapon in Johnson’s speed, and they need to use more of it. Jackson-Davis and Thompson are good at running the floor, as are Galloway, Bates, and others. A more hectic pace might just put the defense in scramble mode more often and create more secondary break 3-point looks for Kopp and Stewart.
In the half court IU simply has to find ways to inject more movement away from the ball. There is too much standing around both before and when the ball enters the post, and with limited scoring circles to guard, this makes the Hoosiers relatively easy to scheme for and defend.
And it is time for the team’s more dynamic wing playmakers — Bates and Galloway — to begin to see the lion’s share of the minutes. Along with Johnson, their ability to get to get past their man should create more put-back, pocket-pass and lob opportunities for Jackson-Davis and Thompson, situations where both big men thrive.
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