Four weeks ago, fresh off a home loss to Fort Wayne, we suggested that this Indiana team was missing an identity. The talent was there, as could be seen only a game earlier when Indiana thrilled Hoosier Nation with a come from behind victory over Notre Dame. But overall, the Hoosiers had been mostly soft on defense and rebounding, turnover prone, and wildly inconsistent shooting the ball.
Fast forward to today, and IU seems to be buying into Archie Miller’s system. Over the past three games Indiana has been aggressive on defense and rebounding the ball, and they’ve limited turnovers. The shooting is still hit or miss — pun intended, but the Hoosiers have been good enough with everything else to win three conference games in a row and claim a tie for 3rd in the Big Ten.
Indiana put together its best defensive effort of the season on Sunday against Northwestern. IU was downright disruptive, frustrating the Wildcats throughout. For basketball purists, it was a joy to watch. Indiana wins it 66-46. The newfound identity will meet its biggest challenge yet, against an angry Michigan State team at East Lansing on Friday night.
Overall: A This was Indiana’s most complete performance of the season. Sure they’ve had moments against better teams (Duke) and had more exciting wins (Notre Dame), but if you believe that Indiana’s identity is gritty defense, aggressive rebounding and ball security, then this was its best moment. If Indiana can continue to make its opponents uncomfortable with suffocating defense and limit its turnovers, then it is going to be a tough out. We’ll soon find out, as 4 of the next 6 games are against Michigan State (x2), Ohio State and Purdue.
Coaching: A+ Few would have blamed Miller if the Hoosiers muddled their way through the rest of the season after the De’Ron Davis injury. It seems the opposite is happening. Somehow Miller has managed to get this team to turn a corner at the moment it looked like it might just fall off a cliff. That is impressive. And it’s clear that the team is doing it Archie’s way. His reputation was aggressive defensive and ball security — and that’s exactly how IU is winning. The fact that he’s getting through to seniors who’ve operated for several years under a completely different system makes it all the more impressive.
Offense: B+ It was a tale of two halves on the offensive end of the floor. Despite Northwestern only scoring 3 points for the first 11:15 of the game, Indiana struggled to gain separation. 30 percent shooting and 7 turnovers were the main culprits. But it’s hard to be too critical here, as leading scorer Juwan Morgan spent most of the first half on the bench along with fellow starter Zach McRoberts. After the half the Hoosiers flipped a switch. Indiana’s offense was crisp and efficient in the 2nd half, as they shot 60 percent from the field, 40 percent from distance and committed only 4 turnovers. Morgan was instrumental, facilitating the offense from the post with passing and attacking the rim. We said after the Penn State game that if this team ever got hot from the field it would run good teams out of the gym — and this game was proof of that.
Defense: A+ The first 10 minutes of this game was the best defense IU has played not just this season, but in years. Holding the Wildcats to 3 points over the first 11:15 was special. There wasn’t much let up the rest of the way either. Northwestern came into the game averaging 75 points per game, tonight they had 46. They came into the game shooting 44% from the field. Tonight they shot 27%. They came into the game averaging 12 turnovers per game, tonight they committed 17. Leaving the stats aside, the effort was noticeable. The word that kept entering our mind was disruptive. Indiana always seemed like they were a step ahead, and they looked like they wanted it more.
Players with meaningful minutes:
- Al Durham, Jr.: A- This was a really good comeback game for Durham. He needed to get back on the plus side. IU needed him to step up in the first half with McRoberts in foul trouble and Durham came through. His defensive effort was great, he had no turnovers, and he was efficient shooting the ball.
- Josh Newkirk: A- Archie Miller referred to it as Newkirk’s second straight really solid game in a row. The senior guard is helping to lead this team through its newfound success. Similar to Durham, Newkirk played solid defense and was efficient on the offensive end.
- Justin Smith: B+ Smith was effective attacking the Northwestern zone from the baseline. He managed to get up 8 shots in only 17 minutes and none of them felt forced. As he develops he’ll get better at finishing at the rim. He added 5 rebounds, and continues to look like someone Miller can trust — although he only played 17 minutes despite Morgan’s foul trouble. He was 0-2 from the line.
- Robert Johnson: A This makes 2 out of 3 games where Johnson has been rock solid. He can take 11 3-pointers all day long if he hits 5 of them. It was good to see him unafraid to keep shooting. Added 6 rebounds and 3 assists and was solid on defense.
- Devonte Green: B+ Five steals. Five steals. Five steals. Sure, the shot wasn’t falling (again), but anyone who can generate five steals in only 21 minutes is giving you high energy. That shots will fall eventually.
- Juwan Morgan: A- How important was Morgan in the 2nd half? His +/- was a team high +30. In only 16 minutes he managed 8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. It really felt like his presence was the key to the 2nd half offensive surge. The 0-4 effort from the free throw line was concerning.
- Zach McRoberts: B It was a quieter game for McRoberts who was also hampered by early fouls. He still made his presence felt with trademark steals, assists and rebounds. His shot hasn’t been there the last few games after flashing some 3-point potential previously.
- Freddie McSwain, Jr.: A- It isn’t always a thing of beauty on offense, but the improvement is undeniable. He’s showing the ability to finish at the rim. He also had a really nice assist to Hartman for big 3-pointer when the defense collapsed on him. He was really key in holding things together in the first half when Morgan left with foul trouble. Of course he was effective on the glass with 5 boards in 17 minutes.
- Collin Hartman: A- It was good to see him knock down that big 3-pointer because he’s been struggling, perhaps due to the shoulder brace. He made an excellent late shot clock pass to Morgan to stretch out to the biggest lead in the 2nd half at 11. He had 5 assists on the game to go with 3 rebounds.
- Clifton Moore: A- Welcome to the big stage Clifton Moore. He made his presence felt with two big first half blocks to protect the back side of the defense and contribute to the team’s stellar defensive effort. It was good to see him get the game experience and good for the team to know that he’s an option. He will learn the nuances of the game and hopefully not pick up 3 fouls in 7 minutes of action.
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Photo credit – AP