The No. 5 Indiana Hoosiers are just one game away from opening their Big Ten schedule against the Iowa Hawkeyes, and despite having one loss thus far, there is still work to be done.
The Hoosiers are one of the most talented and balanced teams in college basketball—having five players average double figures each game—but the wheels can come off at times. That’s what happened when Indiana fell to the Butler Bulldogs in overtime just a short time ago.
Indiana let its guard down, and Butler took full advantage of it, shocking the No. 1 team in the country at the time. That can’t happen once the Hoosiers start their in-conference slate of games.
The Big Ten will be about as tough to win as ever this year, as the conference currently has six teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 (via ESPN). Indiana has to be at their best for each and every contest, and here are some ways the Hoosiers can prepare before traveling to Iowa on New Year’s Eve.
Handling the Ball Better
Indiana hasn’t been great at keeping the ball from opponents this season, averaging around 13 turnovers per game, which ranks tied for 123rd amongst Division I college basketball teams (via ESPN).
The two biggest problems are Victor Oladipo and Kevin Ferrell, who both play significant roles for the Hoosiers and log over 26 minutes per game apiece. Oladipo and Ferrell have turned the ball over a combined 54 times in the 12 games Indiana has played this season.
Even though Indiana has a very good passer in Jordan Hulls—who has just 14 turnovers on the year while logging the most minutes on the team—the Hoosiers have to be a better passing team as a whole.
Indiana may have blown out Mount St. Mary’s, but the Hoosiers committed 19 turnovers in that game. Luckily for them, Mount St. Mary’s did a poor job making the Hoosiers pay for them. Big Ten teams, on the other hand, will.
Boxing Out on Defense
Rebounding has been one of Indiana’s biggest strengths this season. The Hoosiers currently rank 10th in the NCAA in rebounds per game with 42.3—13 offensive and 29.3 defensive (via ESPN).
But at times, they’ve gotten lazy and allowed for opponents to snag more offensive rebounds than they should. Yes, the Hoosiers have only allowed double-digit offensive rebounds a few times in their 12 games this season, but Indiana can’t afford to have that become a trend.
The one instance that really hurt Indiana was in its loss to Butler. The Hoosiers allowed the Bulldogs to pull in 17 offensive rebounds. That’s an extra 17 chances to score that Indiana could have prevented from happening and might have be the biggest difference-maker in the game.
Cody Zeller and Christian Watford have to get more physical down in the post, doing their best to grab every rebound that they can—especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Have Cody Zeller Shoot More
Cody Zeller is one of the best shooters in college basketball. So why doesn’t he have a large advantage in shot attempts compared to the rest of his teammates? Zeller has 107 attempts on the year. Watford has 104. Oladipo and Will Sheehey have more than 90 each.
Although Oladipo has a higher field-goal percentage, Zeller is still ranked in the top 30 in the country (via ESPN). He’s extremely smart with the ball and takes good shots. Getting him the ball more should only result in more good shots, right?
Zeller may be the go-to guy on the floor already when Indiana needs a basket, but giving him more opportunities to shoot may benefit the team in a different aspect. If Zeller can draw a double-team from the opposition, that leaves one of the other good Hoosiers shooters open for a shot.
Indiana has the second-highest field goal percentage in the college basketball (via ESPN) and can share the wealth when Zeller feels pressure from opponents. Making teams bring the pressure can be done by giving him the ball more often and seeing what he does with it.
Don’t Get Lazy
On several occasions this season, Indiana has been ahead by double-digit points at the half. That’s usually a good thing unless the Hoosiers don’t feel like playing anymore since they feel the game is out of reach.
In six games thus far, the Hoosiers have allowed more second-half points to their opponents than they did in the first half. Four times their opposition score at least eight points more in the second half. One time that cost Indiana the game.
Playing deep into the NCAA tournament this year will depend on how effective Indiana can be for all 40 minutes and not just the first 20. Each and every player on the floor should be running the court on each possession like they’re losing instead of winning by 20 or more.
Play More Big Men
Winning the Big Ten this season could come down to which team is the biggest and most physical. That may very well be Indiana if head coach Tom Crean makes a few small changes to his rotation to work in some of the bigger bodies.
Peter Jurkin is a seven-footer who has only played four minutes this season. Derek Elston is 6'9" and has played less than 10 minutes across two games this season. Hanner Mosquera-Perea is 6'8" has played nine minutes across three games this season.
Sure, Jurkin and Mosquera-Perea may be freshmen, but Crean’s time to work then into the lineup should have been before conference play started, not after. As Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star writes, Indiana will need them a lot once the Hoosiers start taking on some very competitive teams:
Getting those two bigs [Jurkin and Mosquera-Perea] into the flow is really important on several different levels. Indiana is going to need some athleticism in the post, both in terms of offensive and defensive rebounding in particular. Getting those two guys involved, along with senior Derek Elston (who could return any game) is an important intangible for the Hoosiers right now.