Indiana has just three road wins all season and two of them have come against the bottom two teams in the Big Ten standings — Northwestern and Nebraska. That’s a problem because the Hoosiers’ best chance at wins in their remaining four games come away from Assembly Hall. Their last game at home comes Saturday against No. 3 Michigan and the Wolverines just are coming off one of the most impressive wins for any team in the country this season Sunday at Ohio State.
Their first chance at getting one comes at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Rutgers where the Scarlet Knights are 9-4 this season and 27-5 in the last two seasons. They win at home because they play tough at home, and for the Hoosiers to win there, IU coach Archie Miller said, they have to play tougher.
“We’re going to have to be much better playing off them than in year’s past,” Miller said on his Zoom press conference Tuesday.
The first time around in January when Rutgers beat Indiana in Assembly Hall, Miller was bothered by how much more physical the Scarlet Knights’ guards were than Indiana’s. The Hoosiers couldn’t stop Rutgers off the dribble and they couldn’t do much to get past them when they had the ball. The Hoosiers committed 12 turnovers which turned into 13 Rutgers points on the other end.
“The physicality and their guards, their ability to disrupt, their ability to stay in front, their ability to blow through screens was really a big problem in the game,” Miller said. “Our physicality on offense as well as defense was a problem.”
Miller sees physicality inside and outside for Rutgers. He considers center Myles Johnson, who ranks second in the Big Ten in blocked shots with 2.3 per game and 15th in the league in steals with 1.1 per game to be the best all-around defender in the conference.
“He should be the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year,” Miller said. “He protects the rim, does an amazing job of creating turnovers with his ability to steal post feeds, deflect balls, block shots. He’s a terrific one-on-one defender.”
That causes problems for Indiana forwards Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, but they can at least match him or come close to it on both ends. Jackson-Davis is third in the league in scoring (20.2 ppg) and fifth in blocked shots (1.5 per game) and Thompson is 10th in the league in steals in conference play. They can at least usually dish out as much as they take.
The Hoosiers’ guards, however, have not been as effective or as disruptive as Rutgers guards. The Scarlet Knights rank fourth in the league in turnovers caused with 13.1 per game. Guard Jacob Young leads the league in steals with 1.7 per game and fellow guard Geo Baker is also in the top 10. In conference play, the Scarlet Knights have four players in the top 11 in the league in steals, led by Caleb McConnell at fourth with 21 steals in Big Ten games.
All of that makes it a big test for IU’s starting guards, in particular junior Rob Phinisee and senior Al Durham, who have struggled to consistently produce. They combined for seven assists against just one turnover in the first game, but were 5 of 15 combined from the field and struggled to keep Rutgers’ guards out of the paint. Sophomore guard Armaan Franklin was still on the mend after an ankle injury at that point, and he turned the ball over three times in a 4-point game.
“The biggest thing in this game is going to be our guard play,” Miller said. “We have to play with 10 or less turnovers to have a chance. We can’t turn the ball over on entries. We can’t turn the ball over feeding the post. We’re going to have to make some plays with penetration with our guards, which we weren’t able to make in Game 1. I thought they did a great job of individual one-on-one defense and blow through just about everything we did. In my opinion turnovers is the name of the game.”
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