After falling behind 27-8 to No. 8 Arizona in Las Vegas on Saturday, Indiana could never quite complete the climb back.
On four different occasions the Hoosiers cut the margin to five points or less after being down by double-figures, only to see the margin swell back to where it was.
That resilience in and of itself should have been an encouraging sign for Indiana fans. For far too long, and even into last season, there has been a troubling aspect to IU basketball. On multiple occasions Archie Miller referred to his Indiana teams as “soft” or “scared,” and while it was surprising to hear him say those words, it wasn’t surprising he felt that way.
It’s difficult to measure or know for sure, but to this point in the 2022-23 season, Indiana appears to have flushed that trait from their program, save perhaps for some choppy waters at Rutgers. And that loss at Rutgers, and the loss to Arizona have at least one thing in common — Indiana was shorthanded.
That IU fell behind big early against Arizona appeared to be influenced in large part by the absence of starting point guard Xavier Johnson.
When everyone is healthy, the Hoosiers in fact start two point guards. But with freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino out for a third straight game with a back issue, Johnson’s quick second foul meant IU was missing both of its primary ball handlers when Mike Woodson took him out of the game with 15:55 left in the first half. The Wildcats made them pay dearly with an 18-2 run in just over four minutes while Johnson was out.
Hood-Schifino’s absence is no trivial matter. He scored 12 of Indiana’s first 19 points against North Carolina. It was his start to that game that propelled Indiana, and his absence in IU’s two losses has led to unsteady play. While the Hoosiers very well may have still lost to Rutgers and Arizona, it’s also fair to say Hood-Schifino’s injury has been a meaningful part of Indiana losing two of three.
Injuries are part of the story for every team every season, so Hood-Schifino missing three games is nothing to dwell on at this point. Woodson said on his radio show Monday night the Pittsburgh product is progressing and doing more basketball activities of late, if not full contact five-on-five. His situation continues to sound more like a question of when, not if, he’ll be back — and most likely that will be much sooner than later.
“He does a lot of good things for our ball club, I think you guys have had an opportunity to see that” Woodson said of Hood-Schifino on his radio show. “It will be nice to get him back eventually, we’re not rushing it. He is feeling much better, and that’s good for our ball club.”
The bottom line is this — with wins at Xavier and against North Carolina when Hood-Schifino is healthy, it still seems clear that IU is in the top tier of the Big Ten. And with a two-week break coming before the return of league play, the Hoosiers have a good chance to get healthy once again.
One of the main questions about this Indiana team coming into the season appears to have an emerging answer Hoosier fans will love.
“Yeah, but can they shoot” was a common and reasonable refrain from both the media and fans amid the preseason hype.
Now nearly a third of the way into the season, check out these numbers from 3-point range through ten games:
- Miller Kopp: 23-of-47 (48.9 percent) — last season 36.1 percent
- Trey Galloway: 6-of-13 (46.2 percent) — last season 21.4 percent
- Tamar Bates: 14-of-34 (41.2 percent) — last season 29.8 percent
- Xavier Johnson: 10-of-26 (38.5 percent) — last season 38.3 percent
As a team Indiana is shooting 36.4 percent, a rate that ranks No. 82 in the country. Indiana hasn’t finished inside the top-200 nationally based on that measure since the 2016-17 campaign. Over the last two games IU has made 21-of-50 (42 percent) at a time when they’ve seen heavy emphasis by opposing teams on packing the paint and taking away Trayce Jackson-Davis’ post game.
“We’re shooting the three ball pretty well,” Woodson said. “When you’ve got good looks you’ve got to feel good about shooting it and making them, and we’ve made our fair share the last couple of games.”
Hood-Schifino has been inconsistent from behind-the-arc at 31.6 percent, but he’s certainly shown flashes. Included in that 12-point first half outburst against UNC was a 2-of-3 effort from long range.
And while Race Thompson’s start to the season from deep was a miserable 3-of-18, his 4-of-7 effort on Saturday showed he is not a lost cause. The ability of Thompson, or whoever Indiana plays at the four, to make 3-pointers seems like a critical factor going forward with so much attention focused on Jackson-Davis.
One final item to consider is this — Indiana has been on the negative side of a pretty significant foul and free throw discrepancy of late.
Over the last four games, all against high major competition, Indiana has been whistled for 75 fouls, while their opponents (UNC, Rutgers, Nebraska and Arizona) have been called for just 62. The free throw attempt discrepancy has been even more glaring, as IU has hoisted just 49 attempts from the stripe in that four game stretch while the opposition has had 85 freebies.
Woodson wasn’t pleased with the disparity in the Arizona game.
“In a physical game like that, we’ve got to shoot more than nine free throws vs. 25.” he said. “That’s too lopsided in a game with that much contact going on.”
Indiana’s aggressive defensive style can lead to fouls, and no doubt they can be more fundamentally sound when it comes to positioning and technique. But it seems more likely than not the foul and free throw rates will balance out over time.
The Hoosiers were never going to go through the Big Ten unscathed, especially not on the road, and the were highly unlikely to get through their four high major non-conference tests without a hiccup or two, especially with only one of them at home.
IU is still perceived as a national top-15 program, and still one of the Big Ten’s best. They are far from perfect, but it is much more difficult to point to glaring issues right now when compared to some of their recent vintage teams.
If they can stay healthy, keep making threes, and perhaps see a bit more favorable whistle — it still seems like everything Indiana fans thought this season could be is well within reach.
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