There is nothing like a quick three games in three days against power conference competition to take the early December temperature of a college basketball team, and that check-up at the Maui Invitational is complete for the Indiana Hoosiers.
Like all teams, there are ways in which Indiana has shown growth over last year’s unit, and there are more ways for it to improve before Big 10 play begins in 20 days. The Hoosiers left Asheville (with two E’s, as it will always be known by those who listened to Bill Walton describe everything but the games this week) with some solid feedback and a lengthy to-do list.
Wins against Providence and Stanford showed the excellence of which they are capable, and the loss to Texas exposed a myriad of warts and carbuncles that must be removed if they are going to make noise in conference play or March Madness.
Here are the top 10 takeaways from the wins and losses:
8 – No seniors, no problem! With Joey Brunk continuing to get his back right and Al Durham down with an ankle, there was a little worry that youth might be the undoing of the Hoosiers against Stanford. No so much. The lineup of juniors, sophomores, and freshmen played older than their years.
7 – Foul shooting still needs help. One area of ongoing concern under Archie Miller is free throw shooting. Tom Crean always had teams ranked in the top 100 in this area, and Miller never has. Against Stanford, the Hoosiers hit 80%, but over the course of the season are at a mediocre 68%. So far, the inaccuracy traces to Race Thompson and Jerome Hunter, who have hit 12-24. If those two were 18-24 instead, IU would be sitting at 74%. Nice!
6 – Indiana players are finally united in purpose. There has been a sense over the last several years that many IU players were simply waiting for the NBA to come calling. Players had been told how great they were from the time they could dribble, were feted like heroes upon arrival in Bloomington, and left without ever understanding that basketball is played by a team – not a collect of divas. This group appears to have bought into the notion that a collective success leads to individual glory. This might be the first time since 2013, IU is better than sum of its parts.
5 – End of the bench is functional. Indiana’s 11 scholarship players are good enough – top-to-bottom – that any can and should play in a competitive game. None will be groan (or cheer) inducers from fans. Gone are the days when IU lavished scholarships upon players who couldn’t compete.
4 – Wings must get better position for entry passes to Jackson-Davis. Defending the post isn’t just a matter of providing help once an offensive player makes a catch on the block. It starts with denying the wing who wants to make the pass, and then it continues if the wing catches by making an entry pass uncomfortable. Texas took Jackson-Davis away by harassing Indiana’s wings. When Providence and Stanford sat back and allowed the wings room to catch and deliver, Jackson-Davis became a game-wrecking All-American whether he was double-teamed or not.
3 – Purposeful movement provides positive results. In previous years, several Hoosiers would put the ball on the deck upon catching. They would just stand and bang, then move – or not. It was aimless, shiftless, pointless, and hopeless. The result was a shot-clock issue possession after possession. This year, the ball is popping. No one holds and evaluates. It’s like the switch has flipped. Indiana now understands that the ball moves faster when it is passed than dribbled. Of course, this is after only four games, and all it takes is one diva to wreck the whole thing, so we need to watch how this evolves.
2 – Three-point shooting must improve. In 2020, there is just no way to win against quality opponents if you can’t hit threes. Indiana has only made 29.3% of their bombs. The freshmen have been especially poor, making only four of 24. The good news is that the three-point defense has been awesome – allowing only 23%. But if Indiana wants to create space for its offense to operate, goosing their percentage by 10% would help.
1 – Key for IU is Defense! Defense! Defense! It’s clear what ability Archie Miller demands, recruits to, and reinforces with playing time – DEFENSE! For the first time in the Miller Era (as well as the last four of Tom Crean’s teams), Indiana is defending like it matters. Through four games, the Hoosiers ranked #13 in defensive efficiency. The last time IU ranked in the top 15, they went to the Final Four.