Indiana Basketball: 5 Keys to Beating Ohio State in Big Ten Showdown
Indiana succeeded where Ohio State could not, winning their leg of the two teams' back-to-back showdowns with Michigan.
The Hoosiers must now travel to Columbus and face the 10th-ranked Buckeyes at Value City Arena, a venue where only another top-10 side, the Kansas Jayhawks, has escaped victorious this season.
IU did a lot of things right in defeating the Wolverines, but the Buckeyes' offense, led by a singular dynamic scorer in Deshaun Thomas, is different from Michigan's multi-pronged attack.
Here are five areas of concern for the Hoosiers as they prepare to defend their share of the Big Ten lead.
Seek Out Contact
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Ohio State coach Thad Matta runs a notoriously tight rotation, so much so that this season's eight-deep lineup is a rare luxury for him. The obvious byproduct of a short bench is an allergic reaction to foul trouble, and Indiana draws fouls like few teams in the country.
The Hoosiers' .491 free-throw rate (FTA/FGA) ranks second in the country. IU also hits 74 percent of their attempts, which leads the Big Ten and is a national top-40 figure.
Ohio State can be prone to shooting fouls, as well. The Buckeyes have committed 345 fouls on the season, leading to 344 free-throw attempts. By comparison, opponents have taken only 329 charity tosses off Indiana's 366 fouls.
The greater ratio of attempts to fouls indicates that, even though the Buckeyes commit fewer fouls per game than the Hoosiers, those hacks are more likely to be on shooters than dribblers, leading to automatic free throws.
Indiana's offense needs to seek out the contact rather than shy away from it. If the game degenerates into a foul-shooting contest, no one in the Big Ten is as consistent from the line as the Hoosiers.
Keep Craft Out of the Lane
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Over the Buckeyes' last three games, Aaron Craft has taken more shots than any player not named Deshaun Thomas. And Indiana should be perfectly fine with that, as long as Craft isn't getting to the rack.
Coming into the season, Ohio State players, coaches and fans all knew that Craft's jump shot had to get more consistent. It's been consistent this season, all right—consistently bad.
According to data collected by Hoop-Math.com, Craft has made a sickly 28 percent of shots not classified as layups or tip-ins. He shoots 31 percent from three-point land and 22 percent on jumpers inside the arc.
Whichever defender draws Craft—likely Yogi Ferrell—should look to cut off Craft's penetration and invite him to shoot jumpers until he proves he can hit. Avoid the drive-and-dish and keep Craft off the foul line, and a major facet of the OSU offense goes missing.
He's proven over the past couple of weeks that he's not above trying to take matters into his own hands, and the Hoosiers may be wise to let him.
You Only Get One Shot
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Ohio State enters this weekend's game sitting last in the Big Ten in offensive rebounds during conference play. Sophomore Amir Williams is the only Buckeye with an offensive rebounding percentage greater than 10 percent on the season.
The Hoosiers have already played the rest of the Big Ten's top nine offensive rebounding teams, yet still sit third in defensive rebounds per game.
What does all of this mean?
It means that Ohio State will need to be very happy with the shots that it gets, because second chances aren't likely to be plentiful.
The Michigan game was the first time this season that Ohio State lost while shooting better than 41 percent. A 41 percent shooting night against Indiana is a recipe for disaster. Remember, Butler had to shoot nearly 48 percent and pull 19 offensive rebounds to beat IU by two in overtime.
It's up to the Hoosiers to ensure that OSU can't crash the offensive glass the way it did against Duke (18 offensive boards) and Kansas (17).
Find a Safe Zone
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Indiana has dabbled with a zone defense for much of the season. At times, defensive efficiency has been even stronger in zone than man, or at least it was headed into the Michigan game, according to UMHoops.
Earlier in the season, the Columbus Dispatch reported on OSU's struggles against zones employed by Chicago State and Nebraska, two teams with only a fraction of Indiana's athleticism. In its first meeting with the Buckeyes, Michigan sprung a zone and used it to rally from a 28-9 first-half deficit.
Deshaun Thomas has been the only truly consistent scorer against zone or man defenses, and others will need to step up and make shots, from the perimeter as well as the paint.
The Hoosiers should be content with letting players like Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross try their luck from outside, as long as IU can take away the roof-raising dunks that are huge parts of the Ohio State offense.
A Sunday Drive for Zeller
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Late in IU's win over Michigan State, Cody Zeller was able to easily drive past Derrick Nix for a short runner that stretched the Hoosier lead to four points.
Similar to Nix, Ohio State bigs Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel have the bulk to muscle Zeller around the low post. If the Hoosier star can utilize his speed and quickness, however, the matchup becomes a mismatch. Getting Zeller moving toward the basket on pick-and-rolls or dribble drives like this one can make it a long afternoon for the Buckeyes.
IU can force OSU to burn desperation fouls to keep Zeller from getting easy lay-ins and dunks, but as discussed in slide No. 1, the Buckeyes lack the depth to sustain such a strategy all day. This could easily become Zeller's third game of 19-plus points in the last week-and-a-half.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron, home of the exclusive Back Iron Index and Bracketometry, telling us which teams SHOULD be in the NCAA tournament come March.