Some of the cast members have changed, but in so many ways, the song remains the same.
A strong, promising start against suspect competition, followed by a February free fall in the Big Ten.
In many ways that was the story of the Archie Miller era at Indiana, and to this point the Mike Woodson era has followed the same script.
Miller was 67-58 (.536) overall at Indiana, including a 34-14 (.701) mark in non-conference games, and a 33-44 (.429) result in Big Ten contests. Woodson by comparison is 18-11 (.621) overall, with a 9-1 (.900) non-conference record and a 9-10 (.473) Big Ten mark.
In each of Miller’s seasons, the defense was ahead of the offense measured by adjusted efficiency. While the pack-line is no longer, defense continues to lead the way Woodson’s first year.
Miller’s constant challenge at IU was his team’s inability to make 3-point shots. His IU squads never shot better than 32.6 percent from behind-the-arc, and they never finished in the top-200 nationally shooting the long ball.
Woodson’s first Indiana team appears on paper to be a bit better from deep. They’ve made 34 percent on the season, a rate that places them right around the middle of the pack nationally at No. 159. But in Big Ten games those numbers have dropped off. IU has made just 32.4 percent from deep in league contests, and that ranks No. 13 in the conference.
In 9 of Indiana’s 11 losses this season, IU has shot below 32 percent from behind-the-arc. Those were all Big Ten losses. In seven of those losses they shot 28.6 percent or worse from long range.
For whatever Indiana is doing right on defense, its inability to make 3-pointers on the other end is tanking its season.
Woodson brought in Miller Kopp for the express purposes of making 3-pointers, and he has done okay, making 34.9 percent on the season. But that rate isn’t nearly high enough to offset Kopp’s shortcomings in other areas, and he has made just 6-of-24 (25 percent) over the last eight games, a span that has seen Indiana go just 2-6.
Meanwhile Kopp’s fellow starter Parker Stewart has gone just 10-of-33 (30.3 percent) over the last six games, and IU has gone just 2-4 over that span.
With its primary shooters struggling, Indiana has collectively made just 30.9 percent from 3-point range over the last eight games.
And that has meant opponents can revert to the Miller-era script we saw from Rutgers on Wednesday. After Trayce Jackson-Davis dominated the first half with 15 points and 7 rebounds against the Scarlet Knights, head coach Steve Pikiell made a halftime adjustment. Whether playing zone or man, he dropped his defense into the paint and made IU beat him from the perimeter.
And the refrain from Woodson after the loss to Rutgers was one that has seemingly been playing on repeat for a month.
“We had a lot of good looks tonight, guys. Miller had some good looks. Parker had a bunch of good looks. We just didn’t knock them down,” Woodson said on Wednesday night.
Purdue’s Matt Painter was one of the first to employ that sagging defensive approach against IU when it became apparent Miller’s teams couldn’t make threes.
The one clear distinction between the Miller and Woodson eras came on Jan. 20 when IU snapped a losing streak to Purdue that dated back to the Cold War with Russia, and the student section unwittingly surrendered all “little brother” talk with a court-storm against their in-state rival.
And now Indiana needs to repeat its effort against Purdue, this time at Mackey Arena, a place where they literally haven’t won in a decade.
The good news is that IU found a way to beat Purdue without making a bunch of threes. They made just 6-of-20 (30 percent) from deep in that game. Indiana doesn’t have to be great from three to win, but they do have to make some shots. They are 16-4 in games where they make 30 percent or better.
But to beat Purdue, Indiana needed an out-of-body performance by Rob Phinisee. He produced on both ends with 20 points, four 3-pointers and four steals, and of course delivered the game-winner from the baseline with just seconds remaining.
Painter will ensure the formula for an IU win remains the same. Trayce Jackson-Davis has averaged just 12.6 points against Purdue in five games. To beat them, someone else has to have a big game. And it will likely have to be Phinisee and his fellow point guard Xavier Johnson, as the Boilermakers will be glued to the sides of Kopp and Stewart to ensure neither has a break-out game on Senior Day at Mackey.
Producing a repeat win over the Boilers is further complicated by the fact that the Hoosiers likely won’t have the services of Trey Galloway on Saturday (2 p.m., ESPN), who is dealing with a groin injury. He produced eight points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal in that first meeting with Purdue. He was also IU’s best answer to defend future lottery pick Jaden Ivey, as evidenced by his presence on the court for the final 11 minutes of the game in Bloomington.
It is a tall task for IU on Saturday in West Lafayette, but another win over Purdue appears to be about the only thing that can salvage the Hoosiers’ NCAA tournament chances, save for a Big Ten Tournament run. And you know better than that. You can count Indiana’s Big Ten Tournaments wins since 2006 on one hand.
So it’s win at Mackey, or we enter an offseason that will feel a lot like the last four. An empty March full of more questions than answers.
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