Leading into IU’s big game against No. 2 Kansas, Mike Woodson knows his team has to play harder.
He said it after the Auburn game, and he said it Friday on a Zoom availability. The Hoosiers started strong against the Tigers in Atlanta, and then just stopped fighting at a level that will give them a chance to win games. There are many other reasons why IU lost that game in blowout fashion, but among the biggest are the physical advantages Auburn exploited and Indiana’s constant defensive breakdowns.
When IU takes on the Jayhawks on Saturday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (12:30 p.m. tipoff on CBS), those things can’t happen.
“Play harder, fight. That’s the name of the game. I thought we came out, established ourselves in the last game. But to give up 104 points is unacceptable,” Woodson said. “We normally fight and try to hold teams in the 60s. To give up a hundred points, you’re not going to beat anybody in college basketball doing that. We had to come back and go to work, emphasize defense along with the offense. Now we’ve got to see where it leads us.”
IU has to defend better to stand any chance against Kansas. Woodson knows it. The Jayhawks are better than Auburn, and IU made the Tigers look like world-beaters.
Kansas is 11th in the country in effective field goal percentage, at 58 percent. KU shoots 40.3 percent from 3-point range, the 12th-best mark in the nation. Auburn’s athletic guards caused a lot of problems for IU last week, and if the Hoosiers’ backcourt isn’t up to the task on Saturday, Dajuan Harris and Kevin McCullar will do the same thing.
In some ways, though, Kansas’ offensive profile sets up like an opponent that’s a good matchup for IU. The Jayhawks attempt 17.1 3-pointers per game, which is No. 332 in the nation (out of 362). IU, of course, averages just 12.7 3-point attempts per game — 359th in the country — and has had trouble defending the 3-point line at times this season. And KU makes far more of its attempts from beyond the arc than IU does.
But, in theory, a team that doesn’t jack up a ton of 3-pointers could make it easier for IU to stay in the game, if it’s defending well enough. Kansas scores 1.101 points per possession this season (55th in the country), while IU is allowing 1.022 PPP defensively (205th in the country). On the other end, IU is putting up 1.039 PPP (127th), and KU is allowing 0.915 PPP (34th).
Indiana’s offensive struggles from beyond the 3-point line are well-documented, but defending the arc could be even more important in this matchup.
“We take enough threes. We’ve just got to make what we take. We work defensively to defend the three. We’ve had some struggles in that area. Hopefully tomorrow we will fix that – hopefully. It’s all you can do,” Woodson said. “You got to go into the game and you got to put up a 40-minute ballgame to beat a great team.”
The other side of the coin, when it comes to stopping Kansas, is its rock-solid frontcourt between K.J. Adams Jr. and former Big Ten foe Hunter Dickinson. This will be a big challenge for Kel’el Ware and Malik Reneau, on both ends of the court.
The Hoosiers battled Hunter Dickinson five times while he was at Michigan, and IU has won the last three of those games. Of course, those are different circumstances. Kansas is not Michigan, and Indiana no longer has Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Woodson praised Dickinson’s scoring prowess, both in the paint and from 3-point range, as well as his defensive ability.
“He’s having another great season. He’s one of their top leading scorers. I think he’s their leading rebounder. I mean, he’s a handful. Somebody we’re going to have to deal with tomorrow,” Woodson said. “He’s not changed as a player. You got to prepare for him the same way. He can make threes and he’s great on the low block. I mean, nothing’s changed. He’s taken his act to Kansas and he’s having a stellar season so far.”
A win over Kansas could be season-changing for Indiana. The Big Ten, overall, is off to a rough start to the season. Outside of Purdue, the non-conference slate has not gone well for the Big Ten. That means there could be fewer opportunities during conference play for these sorts of outlook-altering wins, with fewer really good teams on the schedule.
Even keeping this game close would be a positive sign for IU. Kansas is just a 6.5-point favorite, but Indiana has suffered lopsided, double-digit blowouts in each of its marquee non-conference games over the last two seasons, aside from one — IU’s home win over North Carolina last year. The big-game atmosphere at Assembly Hall should help IU get footing in the game.
But the Hoosiers have to take advantage of that and show more fight to get the crowd going, and to give themselves a chance.
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