The Indiana men’s basketball team is looking for solutions after two one-ball losses in last week’s resumption of Big Ten games.
The problem? There are many questions that suddenly arose.
Indiana’s two losses — last Thursday in Iowa and Sunday at home to Northwestern — have cost the Hoosiers their spot in the top 25 and damaged their NCAA tournament resume. Indiana (10-5, 1-3 Big Ten) will try to bounce back Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Penn State.
The two losses played out differently, but some of the issues overlapped.
Indiana started very well against Iowa, leading early by 17 points only to fade after Race Thompson’s knee injury. Indiana’s defense was crumbling, and the Hawkeyes rode a home wave to a 91-89 victory.
The Hoosiers, playing without Thompson and starting point guard Xavier Johnson, were never realistic in Sunday’s game against Northwestern. The Wildcats scored on 10 of their first 13 possessions. Only a desperation late comeback – Northwestern led by double digits with two minutes to go – handed Indiana their one-point loss.
Defense, or lack thereof, and turnover were the most common issues. The Hoosiers are seventh in conference games in goal defense, but one telling sign is that Indiana is last on opponents’ free throw attempts and executions. Both Iowa and Northwestern scored 20 points or more through turnover.
Indiana’s coach Mike Woodson also saw the pattern.
“When I look at our stats from the four Big Ten games, they’re staggering. We shoot 47% of 2s and 41% of 3s. Our opponents of 2s shoot 43% and 31% of 3s. Say, ‘How can you be 1-3?'” Woodson asked on his Monday radio show.
“You go to turnovers and put guys on the free throw line. We’re shooting from the free throw line in our mid-60s and our opponents are shooting 75, 76. That’s the difference, our turnovers and fouling. We’re beating ourselves, for me, and we’re not competitive enough for 40 minutes and that’s on me.”
So what’s the solution?
“Defensively we have to be solid all game and we can’t play in spurts and now it’s time to catch up,” said Woodson.
Indiana faces another paradox. Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino have been unusually productive on Indiana’s losing pair…but they get virtually no help.
The pair combined for 51 points, 27 rebounds, 11 assists and were 20-36 from the floor against Northwestern. The rest of the Hoosiers combined for 32 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and were 12-to-26 from the floor.
Jackson-Davis, who nursed a bad back, played every 40 minutes.
“If I have to play 40 minutes, I have to play 40 minutes. The most important thing for me is that I have to be ready and set up as best as possible to play in the next game and I will keep doing that because I know my team needs me,” Jackson-Davis said after the game defeat on Sunday.
Admirable, but Woodson knows it’s unsustainable.
“I can’t play 40 minutes a game against Trayce and Jalen, so we have to produce some of the other guys, too,” Woodson said.
Woodson also challenged Hood-Schifino. Although he had 33 points against Northwestern and averaged 27 points in his last two games, he averaged four turnovers and made defensive errors during that span.
“He played well, but I want more. I look at the whole package. He’s a point guard and he’s had six turnovers, and those were terrible turnovers. This is unacceptably noted.
“He can’t escape this game because he scored 33 points and had seven assists and thinks it’s okay. We lost the game. He has to give me more if he wants to win at a high level. If I say so , he understands where I come from.”
Indiana is 0-2 in its Big Ten Road Games and Penn State (11-5, 2-3) presents a tough challenge. The Nittany Lions have been fickle but competitive. An away win in Illinois is the highlight of Penn State’s Big Ten season.
Point guard Jalen Pickett (17.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.3 assists per game) powers the Nittany Lions and is one of the most versatile talents in the Big Ten. Also productive are forward Seth Lundy (13.7 points per game) and guard Andrew Funk (11.6 points per game).
“They play good basketball. They play hard and shoot a lot of 3’s and they have a guy named Pickett driving the car. He involves everyone. We have to stay committed defensively,” Woodson said.
IOWA BLOW UP REVISITED
During his radio show last Thursday, Woodson also addressed the last-minute controversy between the Indiana and Iowa banks. After a foul was called on Iowa forward Filip Rebraca, the Hoosiers and the Hawkeyes Banks engaged in a brief confrontation — one that saw Iowa coach Fran McCaffery angrily cross the centerline. A technical foul was called by official Paul Szelc but was withdrawn without explanation.
The Big Ten has not commented on the situation. Woodson said he spoke to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren about it.
“I’ve made it clear that if you let trainers go over the line like that, you’re opening a can of worms for something bad to happen. He didn’t just do it once, he did it twice. It is unacceptable and I made that very clear to the Commissioner. I would never go into another trainer’s room. The coach is part of it, it can never happen again,” Woodson said.