Could defense be Indiana’s greatest strength?

  • 11/14/2010 10:41 pm in

BLOOMINGTON — Some of the old weaknesses remain. Surely, you remember them: the endless string of frustrations, the turnovers and sloppy offensive sets and lack of low-post production.

It helped that no one seemed interested in defending Verdell Jones within five feet of the basket, from his first point to his 27th. And it helped that Christian Watford got more assertive offensively in the second half, taking over during a particularly offense-deprived stretch when IU sorely needed some points.

But what does it say about this team that the fouls (24) can pile up, turnovers can still drag opponents back into games and Indiana is still capable of long scoring droughts (6:53 in the middle of the second half) and yet is still capable of winning by 23 points when the pre-game line hovered around 5.5?

“It just gives us an identity. We’re a defensive team,” Watford said afterward. “We understand that, and we’re willing to work at that.”

Identity … at Indiana … imagine that. Defensive identity to boot. This from the Indiana team that actually gave up as many points last year to Bo Ryan’s perfect-for-the-Big Ten offense in Madison as its football brethren did on Saturday. (A cheap shot, but an illustrative one.)

Indiana closed down Wright State. Outside of a brief bout of offensive success to start the game, the Raiders were smothered. At the first TV timeout, Wright State led 7-4, with a 3-of-5 shooting line. It scored 37 points, and shot a miserable 12-of-41 over the game’s remaining 35:51. The 19 points Wright State scored in the first half marked the lowest number for any opponent in the Crean era.

Not bad, eh?

“We’ve just got to cut down on our turnovers and stuff like that,” Watford added to the end of the aforementioned comment. “We’ll be OK.”

So it’s not all sunshine and light. And I acknowledge that Wright State doesn’t present the challenge of Kentucky, or of Boston College, or even of Penn State. (Maybe of Iowa. Rough night for the Hawkeyes.)

But Indiana is learning to be a lockdown defensive team. More importantly, it’s learning the varied benefits of being able to use Watford’s word: identity. Or as Verdell Jones put it: “Defense creates offense.”

Off just 12 Wright State turnovers, Indiana directly scored 16 points. The Hoosiers poured in 18 fast-break points, and doubled up the Raiders in points in the paint.

“I think the proof is there that it’s getting better,” coach Tom Crean said after the game of his team’s defensive mindset. “If there’s one thing I’m nervous about, it’s getting consistent.”

“But I think any time you have a team that is young in certain areas and hasn’t had success and hasn’t had it handed down to them how to play, that’s what our older guys are starting to do now. The consistency is what we’re looking for, every day.”

It said something, perhaps, that Crean’s first comments upon meeting with the media were about defense. Because in the end, as tired as the cliches have become, defense really is the greatest asset a team can have. Turnovers can be overcome, poor offensive stretches mitigated and games won all through a defense that is stringent, miserly and able to feed the transition game. So far, Indiana has that, or something close to it. There might not have been a more important addition all offseason.

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  • truth teller

    I am absolutely sick of those degenerates on Peegs

  • ArtistFormerlyKnownAs_Aceman07

    VJ3’s shot looked even better last night than it did last year. It seems he’s improved his shooting every year. That could really open up his game. It never ceases to amaze me how he seems to be much stronger than he looks. He gets in the lane, takes the hit, and still gets the shot off. That one particular drive on the left baseline in the second half where he got doubled and seemed to just go up anyway and hit the shot was amazing. I was sure that was going to get blocked but he barely bumped the help defender and seemed to lock him to the floor when he did so.

  • Anonymous

    But the mere fact that Hulls is capable of making three’s puts pressure on the defense. Just him being on the court will stretch out the defense, whereas the defense can play off of Moore.

  • ArtistFormerlyKnownAs_Aceman07

    I disagree. There were some deep back cuts that lead to interior pass buckets. One came to Watford in the second half and another came to VO in the first half. Those are the two that stick out. VO also mishandled a couple of passes after making nice cuts. Elston received one pass off a back cut at about the block, but the defense recovered and he ended up kicking it out. I think they did a better job of moving without the basketball last night but I agree they still need to get better. I think they will as the season goes on. They definitely look improved!

  • ArtistFormerlyKnownAs_Aceman07

    I see what you’re saying with the better basketball thing. IU for years bread Indiana basketball people and the state has always been known for having smart, savvy basketball fans. Unfortunately, as generations seem to get dumber and dumber when it comes to common sense, so goes the smart and savvy basketball fan in the state. Part of this is because IU basketball hasn’t been strong for a decade and it just hasn’t been the same for these kids watching games in Indiana as it was for us when we were kids. I hope that someone in the athletic department or coaching staff teaches them a little respect for the game and how to show the class that IU fans and students showed back when we were fans and students!!!

  • Jm23

    So far there have been some bad and good things from the Hoosiers first couple of games. I will start off with the good. 1. We have a bench. (Victor and Rivers can provide energy and a defense mind set to go along with DE who can score). 2. We can score in the open floor (Last year it seemed like we had trouble in break aways and transition offense. The team especially VJIII looks a lot more confident in their ability to finish in the open floor. 3. The defense while not great is better (I wouldn’t go as far to say that we are a defense team still too many miscues) 4. Offensive rebounds (So far are guys have gone to the glass hard which they have to in order to win games). The bad. 1. No inside game (I know we are without Guy but someone has to step up and produce whether it is TP, DE, or Watford. (I know Watford wants to play as a 3 but the kid has to play down low more with Guy out. With Watford playing outside our offense consist of people standing around the perimeter. Whether its Watford posting a man up or VJII taking a smaller guy inside something has to happen. 2. Turnovers (I don’t need to say anything but doesn’t always seem like when it rains it pours in term of turnovers with this team. It makes me want to pull my hair out if I had any. 3. Offensive sets. (A lot of teams will play a zone against us this year. I haven’t seen anyone flash to the middle in our zone offense. Which is kinda of scary because basic coachs know that in order to beat a zone you have to move the ball and have a guy flash middle and baseline. I feel as if we are trying to run Crean’s system but our talent or skills don’t match up to the system. Go Hoosiers! Instead of a “you suck” chant we should replace it with “lynch lynch” or simply fire lynch.

  • Anonymous

    There is a saying that goes something like, “Act like you’ve been there before.” We are Indiana. The students at Indiana should not have to berate Wright State in order to get excited or prove something. Save the “You sUcK” chants for teams that deserve to be reminded that they do (the PUKes.)

  • Anonymous

    I remember a time when BS chants were saved for insanely bad calls (ones you would throw a chair at if you were a coach.) Now, it is just another chant. Chill out, people. Boo if you are unhappy. A loud, continuous boo is a lot worse than chanting BS (IMO.)

  • HoosierFromCT

    im kinda of worried for some reason

  • dbmcubs21

    True IU in it’s great history has “been there before”, but the current students definitely have not. We have not seen a team compete for a Big Ten title, much less a NCAA berth, Final Four, etc. We have to take what we can get with the program right now, and these wins against anyone are what we can get excited about. I totally understand how a veteran Hoosier fan sees the chant as classless, but as someone posted above “college students will be college students.” If it gets the crowd a little extra rowdy then the chant has done its job for the Hoosiers and the home court advantage.

  • Anonymous

    I live with three roommates and I am the only one who bought student tickets. One of my roommates hasn’t even ever been to a IU basketball game and he’s a junior!

  • Anonymous

    really really hate to say it, but I don’t think anyone around the IU basketball program is in quite a position yet to say anyone “sucks” – our record that last two years is 16-46 🙁 I can see other fans turning this around on us when IU plays at their place.

    I know its all fun and meant to annoy the opposing teams but these chants also in a way puts down your own team. If you say the other team “sucks” then that in a way means your team shouldn’t be credited enough for beating them (or if your team ends up losing then its even worse). Same with the stupid “overrated” chant – I would rather my team beat a highly rated team than one that wasn’t near as good in the first place.

  • Jm23

    Honestly as a current IU student I have no idea what the “original” chant is supposed to be. I agree I don’t think that we are in a position to say that anyone sucks. It seems to me that the student section is just now getting better organized with the big heads and t-shirt design contest( the shirt this year sucks big time) so maybe the chant will die down over time. Raybert, Glass and the athletic program is testing the first come first serve with a couple games this year so that those seats will be full prior to game time. I think we should switch to this system because that’s what most colleges do and looks better on TV when every seat is full. Side note I know a lot of you older guys like Dan Dakich but I can’t stand the guy (I know he is a legend for holding Jordan to like 9 pts and seems like a nice guy but I just can’t stand the guy for whatever reason).But at least he’s not as bad as Collinsworth who I have to mute when he’s on which is a shame because Al Michaels is great. Last point, I think that Glass is facing his biggest challenge because he has to fire lynch there is no way around it. I say we go after a SEC defense coordinator but we have to be willing to pay someone if we want to turn this thing around.

  • JerryCT

    I like the thoughts you guys have about JR and his value to winning games. I fear many fans will find it difficult to appreciate JR because :

    + they have not yet internalized the importance of defense in scoring and winning
    + it is easier to watch the ball than to watch the defender denying a pass or blowing up a cutter

  • Bucky

    + Agree with 1st paragraph, Walton.

    + Don’t agree that it’s all fun. It just shows lack of class. If someone wants to act like a drunk hillbilly, they should go to Kentucky.

    + The point above was made in fun.

  • Anonymous

    This is exactly right…I joke/bet with my father on weather or not the seats will be filled in non-conference games…so sad people, I know blah blah the econemy is down, but i’m sure that those seats have been spoken for and should have a$$e$ in them regardless who we are playing.

    Ray, I’m with you, if the “older” alums or season ticket holders want to downgrade from sitting in their seat the whole game to not even leaving the house, I will take those tickets asap and cheer my head off no matter the opponent.

  • MillaRed

    I don’t think it was ever up to us Jerry. It’s always been up to JR. So far
    I like what I see.

    Last season we gave him control of the team. Since then, we have slowly
    taken that away.

    Now he has a role. Not a glamorous role. But a role we can appreciate.

    I would venture to say JR could be very valuable late in a close game.
    Particularly when we are holding a lead and he is hitting his free throws!
    😉

  • Anonymous

    I would hope that the vast majority of the fans in the student section were fans before they came to IU. Having said that, they should have seen success before, as IU went to the NCAA tournament every year since the student body at IU was born until 2003, and again in 2006-08. We have all been there before.

    Even more than that, the saying, I believe, is meant for those who really haven’t been there before. Acting like you have warrants you more respect.

    My years, 03-07, were not particularly fantastic, either. I suffered through Davis and had some immediately dirty success with Sampson, but I went to every game (sans the one during an exam) and cheered on my team. I got rowdy, and I told PUke they suck. Wright State, though? C’mon!

    College students will be college students, and they should be. A big part of college is walking that thin line between growing up and being a kid. I hope they can get back on that line next game.

  • Anonymous

    As embarrassed as I am with last night’s turnout, Assembly Hall will be filled for every game just like it has been for the almost all of it’s existence when the team proves it can win consistently (which may not be long). But as this was an article about defense, that’s what I wanna talk about.- IU is terrible about flying out on shooters on the perimeter. If I was the coach of any of IU’s opponents I would shot fake them like crazy because NO ONE (excluding Oladipo) seems to close out properly. – Tom Pritchard is constantly late on help defense. He gave up several baskets due to this and was forced to foul several times. If he could improve this, he could lessen his fouls (which is crucial until Guy gets back) and take away a lot of points.-These things may be small change against weak non- conference opponents, but lack of fundamentals will cost IU games against Big 10 opponents unless they improve.+ IU did talk a lot on defense though (I sat down low), something I really hadn’t seen the last two years.

  • Anonymous

    They have been using this chant at football games all year too and they are not in the position either. Yes football where we have yet to win a conference game. The same team that had a good number for a basketball game scored on them this Sunday. We told the non-conference teams they sucked. We even told Michigan they sucked and lost anyway. There is no rationale behind this chant when you consider that we have failed to perform at a high level in recent years.

  • dbmcubs21

    you claim you didn’t see much success. Well hate to break it to you but the little success you saw( over 17 wins a year) is more than the combined wins of the last two years (16). So I think a little slack has to be given. I personally have shown up to every game since I got here (Crean’s first year). But I think it is a lot to ask of a casual basketball fan to drop $220 when you only get to see 8-10 quality opponents and are used to getting pounded by these opponents. I know I know it is Hoosier basketball, which I get, but you have to look at it from the perspective of the kids who were not brought up to in the Cream and Crimson way. I am not supporting the lack of attendance, just asking that people be reasonable with what they expect from current students.

  • Anonymous

    What they’ve done in previous years is not the issue. They sucked last night, and that’s what this post is about.

  • Anonymous

    NO NO NO to JR as a starter!!!

  • Anonymous

    Hulls had 2 assists and 1 YO, not great numbers, but 1/7 of the total assists and one of only 3 positive on the A/TO ratio. Plus Hulls had 5 rebounds, 3rd on the team below Watford 10, Jones 6! Plus he hit 4-4 on FT. The team plays MUCH better with him on the court!

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to take my kids (5yr & 3yr) to games this year..each has gone to 1 game so far. And i’d prefer if i didn’t have to explain to little kids why people are chanting “B__LS__T” and “You SUCK.” Coach Crean has a 5 year old also, and i’m sure he LOVES that his kid gets to be exposed to that! Students bring energy..i get it..and i appreciate that energy, but there’s sometimes a lack of reciprocity between the multiple types of fans attending the games. As the respected social commentator Rodney King said, “Can’t we all just get along?”

  • Anonymous

    I propose a new policy as far as empty seats go: at the 10:00 mark (1st half), it’s a free-for-all to upgrade to empty seats below. Get in your seat before the game is 25% gone, or lose it. No exceptions. No arguments.

  • Anonymous

    I’m guessing he’s either a.) a foreign student, or b.) in the theatre department

  • Anonymous

    Maybe the “You Suck” chant is directed at the people who should be in the empty seats

  • Anonymous

    If you think Dakich wasn’t to your liking you should have turned it over to the Michigan/USC-Upstate game on the Big 10 Network ( I was flipping during commercials.) I don’t know who those two guys were, but I can’t ever remember hearing a worse pair on a college broadcast (and pretty much everyone I’ve ever heard calling a high school game was better.) I honestly wondered if they were Michigan broadcast students (and if they were they were freshmen.)

  • Anonymous

    Neither. A big ginger that’s an astro-physics major

  • Anonymous

    I would never ask a casual fan to drop $220. If you don’t want to go to the games, don’t buy the tickets. It is pretty simple, really. I am sure Indiana can find fans that would be more than happy to pay $15 or so per game for the tickets the students get now. I understand that some students are going to be fair-weather fans – you have that anywhere. I just don’t understand why you would want to pay $220 to get tickets for games you don’t want to go to. If they are merely buying season tickets so they can go to games against big teams, then the administration needs to look at some adjustments to the purchasing process. As a side note, I find it difficult to believe that a lot of students who are “casual fans” are actually paying for the tickets themselves, but that is just opinion.

    Also, I applaud you on supporting the team through a tough couple of years. I am sure it is difficult to stay motivated and positive. I think all Indiana fans that aren’t able to attend the games appreciate students like yourself.

  • ArtistFormerlyKnownAs_Aceman07

    TP even needs to give a little on his screens. A lot of times he’s set and stands still but he’s got his shoulders rolled forward and then when the defender runs into him he flattens them. If he would just make his upper body a little softer and absorb the player a little bit or even give a half step back when they hit him I think he would avoid some of those phantom moving screen fouls. He gets hit with fouls sometimes because refs expects it and then they see a player get smashed and assume he moved. He would get away with some of them if he wasn’t always trying to “Kramer” someone! HAHAHAHA – my eyes light up every time I remember that screen he set of Kramer!

  • Anonymous

    I agree the pre-conference schedule should be tougher. Not like the schedule Miss Valley State is playing this year (Butler, Kentucky, BYU, Ole Miss, IU, Marquette). But I don’t see a lot of value in racking up wins against clearly inferior teams, in this modern RPI era. ESPN featured IU in an article about the 5 most cupcake-filled pre-conference schedules, which is embarrassing.

  • Anonymous

    I agree about feeling calm. Haven’t (yet) had that sinking feeling that we’re about to blow a lead.

  • Anonymous

    I thought Illinois was perhaps overrated…until I saw them play. Big, quick, strong. Guys who can score inside, lots of guys who can shoot it. McCamy can create his own shots. Made me realize that I might need my crimson glasses to think we can go 8 – 10 in the Big 10.

  • Anonymous

    I was happy to see that actually. Much better for the team (and much more fun to watch) to have a close game against a worthy opponent.