Indiana Basketball: Report Card for Hoosiers Midway Through Big Ten Play
The Indiana Hoosiers (14-8, 4-5) have arrived at the midway point of the Big Ten basketball season. It's been a roller coaster ride as they upset Wisconsin and Michigan but lost very winnable games to Northwestern, Nebraska and Illinois.
So, let's take a deeper look at how the Hoosiers have been thus far in conference play by assigning grades to aspects of their game. The traditional A-F scale will be used for offense, defense, rebounding, turnovers and coaching. At the end, a final overall grade will be given.
All stats are from Big Ten play unless otherwise noted.
Indiana's offense has been average at best to this point in the Big Ten season. Have there been some bright spots? Sure. The 80 points at Illinois, 79 at Penn State and 75 against Wisconsin all come to mind.
But, there have also been some duds. Against Northwestern, the Hoosiers looked like they had never shot a basketball before. They scored 47 points and shot just 25 percent (yes, you read that right) from the floor.
The 55-point output at Nebraska wasn't a shining moment either.
Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh have been revelations for the Hoosiers offensively, but players who were expected to show off their perceived offensive talents (Will Sheehey and Jeremy Hollowell) have yet to. Without a consistent third threat, the points are coming at a premium.
Another reason why the offense struggles is because the Hoosiers give the ball away far too much (more on that later). In the end, the point production for Indiana is a shadow of what it was a season ago.
Indiana's defense has been more than solid. You may not be happy with IU's record, but the defense is not the problem.
Indiana has the third-best scoring defense in the conference as opponents are mustering just 65.2 points against it per night. Even better, the Hoosiers are defending the three-pointer excellently, as opponents are making only 30.7 percent of their attempts.
Indiana plays great defense and counts on its rebounding to limit second-chance opportunities. The defense is keeping the Hoosiers competitive, and they will have to keep this type of play up in their last nine Big Ten games.
For anyone who thought the Hoosiers' turnover issues in the nonconference would resolve themselves in conference play, they have to be wildly disappointed.
There's no other way to put it. The Hoosiers have been absolutely terrible in this aspect of their game. They lead the conference in turnovers per game with 14.7 and there isn't a close second. On top of that, they own the B1G's worst turnover margin at minus-3.11.
I understand that the roster is full of young players, but the Hoosiers are 22 games into the season. Eventually, the mistakes have to be cut down—and they better if Indiana is to rally and make the NCAA tournament.
During the nonconference season, Indiana was one of the best rebounding teams in the country and it has continued to crash the glass in Big Ten play. The Hoosiers are second only to Iowa in the conference in rebounding margin (plus-6.4).
Noah Vonleh leads the rebounding charge for Indiana. The conference's leading rebounder is pulling down 9.2 boards per game. With him in the post, the Hoosiers always have a chance to dominate the glass.
This is important because they need all the possessions they can get. The offense has struggled and the Hoosiers commit a lot of turnovers, so anytime they can secure possession off an opponent's missed shot, it's a positive. So far, Indiana has done that extremely well and deserves high marks.
Tom Crean is having a decent season at the helm of the Hoosiers. With the talent he lost off of last year's team, it's not surprising that IU isn't near as good as it was a season ago.
But, in his defense, he finally knocked off Wisconsin and ended Indiana's 12-game losing streak to the Badgers. He rallied his team to a must-win victory over Michigan to keep Indiana's NCAA tournament hopes alive.
However, the losses to Northwestern and Nebraska, a game where his Hoosiers had a 13-point lead at halftime, don't work in his favor.
His lineup choices have been questionable at times. Early in conference play, Crean would pull Vonleh, the league's best rebounder and team leader in defensive rating, late in games when the Hoosiers were on defense. If anything, defensive possessions at the end of the game are where Vonleh is needed most. This move almost cost the Hoosiers the game against Wisconsin.
He's also used offensively deficient lineups featuring players such as Austin Etherington, Jeff Howard and Jonny Marlin on the floor together for lengthy amounts of time, and the scoring has come to a complete standstill.
But, he deserves credit for making Stanford Robinson a starter and making sure he's on the court. Robinson has been a major bright spot for Indiana since Big Ten play started.
In the end, Crean has done fairly well given the hand he's been dealt. The good thing for him is because IU is still such a young team, they should improve from game to game, meaning the Hoosiers could end up being very good as the season winds down.
Yes, the Hoosiers are right around where they were expected to be, but they missed two huge opportunities to pick up conference wins early in the schedule. The loss at home to Northwestern and blowing a substantial lead to Nebraska are two outcomes that could cost Indiana a trip to the NCAA tournament.
They still have some time to right the ship, but the fact that they could be 6-3 in the conference standings has to hurt.
The Hoosiers have been average, so they receive an average grade with nine games to go in the conference season.