The latest problem Indiana basketball has to fix is its defense

As would be expected for a team with a 12-10 record and a sub .500 conference mark, Indiana has been held back by an array of deficiencies. And each time the Hoosiers have a course correct with one, another seems to pop up.

For much of the early going, Indiana struggled with outside shooting. The Hoosiers can’t exactly call that problem fixed, but they’re shooting a respectable 35 percent in Big Ten games, which put them fifth in the conference. They only have four shooters with at least 40 3-point attempts, but three of them are shooting 36 percent or better and two — sophomore guard Armaan Franklin and redshirt sophomore wing Jerome Hunter — are now over 40 percent.

The Hoosiers had a string of bad starts including three straight really bad ones against Iowa, Northwestern and Ohio State in which they fell behind by double digits in the first 15 minutes. They responded with much better starts against Minnesota and especially Michigan State when they jumped out to a 19-6 lead.

But as the Hoosiers have moved from one plugging one leak to another, they’ve seen cracks start to form in what was once their foundation — their defense. The late game collapse on that end, which allowed the Spartans to average better than 1.45 points per possession in the second half, led to what might be Indiana’s most devastating loss to date and one that might eventually keep them out of the NCAA Tournament.

That performance was part of a problematic trend for the Hoosiers, who have allowed opponents to score 1.05 points per possession or more in each of their past three games. After holding each of their seven non-conference opponents under 1.00 points per possession, Indiana has held just three of its Big Ten opponents under that figure. Also, the Hoosiers held each of their first six non-conference opponents under an effective field goal percentage of 45.0 percent. They’ve held just two Big Ten opponents under that number.

Archie Miller, obviously, has determined that this is the latest thing the Hoosiers need to get fixed right now and for obvious reasons. They’re very much on the NCAA Tournament bubble right now, and to get back on the safe side of it, they could really use a win Wednesday night against Rutgers, a team that put 1.12 points per possession and a 58.5 effective field goal percentage on them in a 74-70 win over the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on Jan. 24.

“We’re too spread out,” Miller said on his radio show on Monday night. “As the games continue to pile up, we’re going to have to be more fundamental and less worried about the opponent and what they’re doing. As the course of the season has gone, in our good moments we’ve been very consistent defensively. … Being able to rebound it, being able to be better defensively from a fundamental standpoint is a big concentration. We can control that.”

And Miller said the problem comes down to the most basic of basics. Against Michigan State, Miller said, the Hoosiers struggled to to defend a smaller lineup that was spread out. They couldn’t stop the ball and they got scrambled up in rotations and didn’t get to shooters on the perimeter fast enough.

“It’s about the ball and it’s about your fundamentals,” Miller said. “You can scout all you want but at the end of the day it will always come down to, can you guard your man? And can you give the proper help that you need to give. We’re not clicking in terms of our connectedness and where we have to be at defensively at this time of year.”

The Scarlet Knights team the Hoosiers face on Wednesday isn’t the most efficient offensive team in the Big Ten. It’s 11th in the conference in 3-point field goal shooting in league play and it ranks a modest 60th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency at 110.3 points per 100 possessions. However, the Hoosiers learned the hard way at home that they can break opponents down off the dribble with guards Geo Baker and Jacob Young and forward Ron Harper Jr. all causing them problems.

“We’re going to have to do a much better job of guarding the ball,” Miller said. “That was the biggest thing that turned the game to me is we couldn’t guard them off the dribble.”

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