The Indiana Hoosiers are by no means a bad basketball team. On Wednesday night, they merely ran into a buzz saw of excellence that happens to be Duke. Moreover, they finally played against an offense which fully exposed how distant they are from having a competent defense.
Currently allowing 72.6 points per game, good (bad) for 186th in the nation, this seems like more of the same from a Tom Crean-led program. Last season, which was an overall step in the right direction, KenPom had Indiana ranked as the 204th best defense in the country. There are only a handful of truly competent college basketball teams as is, so even with there being more than 300 Division I programs, that number is an abomination to the senses.
No matter. This season was supposed to be different. This early in the season, nothing says it won’t be if Indiana can get their house in order. Crean needs to figure out a way to balance his team, strategy and execution better, as offense is clearly not the issue at hand.
Even Indiana’s allowing of 72.6 points per game is misleading, and not doing their defensive inabilities justice. Thanks to luxury of playing Eastern Illinois to start the season, the average is skewed to make them look like an average defensive team. Yet, if you vanish that game from the record books, wiping away their holding of EIU to a measly 49 points, the Hoosiers are allowing 76 points a game.
Considering they allowed teams that are talented and offensively inept like St. John’s, Austin Peay and Alcorn State to all score 70 or more on them, even that 76 points per is still not highlighting how awful they have been on the defensive side of the ball.
As of today, with a strength of schedule of 194, Indiana’s defensive rating is 210th in the country. Not to mention the fact that they are allowing opponents to shoot more than 49 percent from two against them, and 37 percent from three. The latter percentage might not seem like a huge lapse in quality defense, but remember that this is a level of basketball where very few players can hit shots from distance with regularity.
It shouldn’t be like this.
Even though Tom Crean has legitimately done a great job getting better athletes and players to the program, he continues to fail implementing a structure which focuses on any defense. Focuses might be the wrong word, too. It is more like Indiana players have never even seen certain types of offenses before. Their minds are often boggled — collectively. It is like a magical trick or curse has been placed on them, making them forget years’ worth of knowledge that had to be inside their craniums.
Wednesday’s loss to Duke only showcased the absurd. Sure, the Blue Devils are a good offensive team, but the Hoosiers allowed them to shoot more than 45 percent from distance. If that isn’t bad enough, had Duke not missed the plethora of wide-open looks provided to them by a lackadaisical Indiana defense, things could have looked even worse.
Indiana setting screens on itself? OK, maybe not worse…
Thing is, a lot of the defensive issues seem so obvious that they have to be fixable. Multiple times during their game against Duke it looked as if Indiana had never guarded pick and roll situations before. Time after time, the Blue Devils would run a high pick and roll, Indiana’s secondary defender would overcompensate to the ball-handler’s side, leaving space for the player he was guarding to either roll to the bucket or float away from the movement and to a spot behind the three-point line to take a — literally — wide open three.
Duke simply continued to implement basic basketball strategy. At some point Crean should have made an adjustment. It never happened. It got ugly.
This could also be pinned on the players to some degree. Yet it is Crean who is ultimately responsible for their lack of communication on the court and biddy-basketball understanding of how to hedge off picks or the plethora of other options a player has other than simply trying to double-up the guy with the rock in his hand.
The good news is that Indiana is clearly offensively-gifted. That tends to come with the quality players Crean has managed to lasso during his stay with the program. It is such a good offense — and a wickedly entertaining one — that it should hold the team afloat until they become at least competent on the other side of the floor.
Per Tom Crean law, though, the question moving forward will be “if” they can ever do so and not when. With four of their next five games being against another batch of cupcakes, we might not find out if Indiana can fix its issues until the start of in-conference play. Then again, for the Hoosiers, they are going to need all the reps they can get before other good offenses around the land embarrass them for all the flaws which they strut about the hardwood with.