Data dive: A look at Indiana’s Big Ten defense

  • 02/11/2014 11:21 am in

Preceded by teams that ranked fourth and third in offensive efficiency the past two years, Indiana ranks just 174th in the country this season. After losing four 1,000-point scorers to graduation and the NBA draft, the offensive struggles of the 2013–2014 Indiana Hoosiers have been frequently discussed.

Still, the team finds itself sitting in the middle of the pack in an unpredictable Big Ten conference season and with postseason hopes still intact. At 4–6 in the conference, Indiana has only lost one league game by more than seven points and is just a game and a half back of Ohio State and Wisconsin, who are tied for fourth place. Indiana’s defense has provided stability this season and it must continue to do so if the Hoosiers hope to finish at .500 or better in league play and give themselves a shot at making the NCAA tournament.

Starting with the conference season, Indiana’s defense ranks eighth in effective field goal percentage, fifth in points per possession, sixth in turnover rate, and first in assist rate allowed according to It is interesting to note that the Hoosiers are the best in the league in terms of assist rate allowed, despite being average in the other categories on the whole. Generally speaking, a defense is better if it forces opponents to take unassisted shots, but this is not an absolute truth.

Table 1

In its first four conference games, IU allowed 76 points per game; since then, the team has given up 58.2 points per game and has only allowed one opponent to score more than 70 points. In this stretch, the team has opted to slow the pace of play down — a stark contrast from the past two seasons — and play a more “grind it out” style of basketball. The slower pace may also be attributed to Big Ten opponents doing a better job of not letting Indiana leak out in transition as easily as it did in the non-conference slate. Indiana is averaging 64.2 possessions per game in Big Ten play, which ranks eighth in the league.

It may seem arbitrary to select the past six conference games to analyze, but the change in defensive performance during this period is overwhelming. It is actually possible to show, by way of statistical tests, that the team is playing better defense during the past six games than in the previous four. That is, there is a real and measureable difference in Indiana’s defensive efficiency in the past six games.

Defensive efficiency is most commonly measured by points per possession, and for the last six games of the conference season Indiana has been stellar, holding five of its six opponents below their conference season average.


The only game in this stretch where Indiana allowed an opponent to beat its points per possession average was Nebraska, which featured a second-half in which the Huskers scored 1.4 points per possession. If you exclude the second half of the Nebraska game, Indiana is allowing an astonishingly low 0.88 points per possession, holding opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 44 and owns the best defense in the league over this stretch.

Since the Wisconsin game, Indiana’s defense ranks third in effective field goal percentage, second in points per possession, second in assist rate, and fourth in turnover rate:

Table 2

A recent article by Ken Pomeroy documented the very strong correlation between a “slow” defense and a good defense — essentially saying that if a defense forces its opponents into longer possessions, it usually correlates to a strong defense. A slow defense is good enough that opposing offenses can’t find quick shots and are often forced into more contested looks late in the shot clock. Indiana’s defense ranks fourth in the conference overall in terms of average defensive possession length, and still the Hoosiers seem to be getting “slower” as the season progresses.

Table 2 (1)

There is a somewhat noticeable trend upward as the conference season goes on, and a regression test confirms this trend with a confidence level of 95.8 percent. As the Hoosiers have slowed down the tempo on the offensive end, there are fewer opportunities for defenses to get easy transition looks. This helps ensure that Indiana can get into a set defense, where they have excelled. Additionally, the coaching staff has thrown in a fairly regular mix of man-to-man and zone looks, which forces opposing offenses to adjust on the fly, usually leading to longer possessions.

Considering the various metrics presented here, there is compelling evidence indicating a significant shift in defensive performance. Whether it was strategic adjustment by the coaching staff, a pure increase in effort, or a youthful team hitting its stride, there is no doubt Indiana’s defense is becoming dominant — and just in time.

KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings have Indiana currently fourth in the Big Ten for the entire season, which matches the end of season ranking for last year’s squad, a unit that featured Big Ten defensive player of the year Victor Oladipo. With all the frustration of a young team that is last in offensive turnover percentage and just eighth in offensive efficiency, it is encouraging to see that Indiana is still the class of the Big Ten in the defense and hustle categories.

Coupling a stellar defense with the incoming recruiting class that features shooters and pure scorers, the future looks bright for the Hoosiers. Still, there is much to look forward to this season as the NCAA tournament looms and Indiana tries to ride defense to the Big Dance.

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  • Hoosier Hall

    Before the Big 10 season started, I came to the realization that this team would never (collectively) shoot the lights out. They have lost some close ones and are still learning but they have earned every game they did win by hustling, fighting for offensive rebounds and drawing fouls. With these tough defenders and improved shooting from the current and incoming players, we will be a dangerous team next season. I still haven’t given up on them this year…

  • Arch_Puddington

    Great stuff. Objective measures of strategic adjustment and improved efficiency do not square with the narrative that Crean can’t coach, and so, ironically, this news will not sit well with everyone. What this says to me is that there is indeed some talent on this team, that the players have continued to improve as the season has progressed, and that the coaching staff is doing all it can do to work with the players on hand. The struggles on this team are mostly due to inexperience and a lack of technical offensive skills, neither of which can be quickly fixed. Give this group an entire off-season to work and mature, bring in three (or more!) players who will significantly improve our weaknesses, and we will be in business.

    Oh yeah, and bring back NV. Just one more year, man!

  • 5_Banners

    If, and its a big if, IU can be more consistent/efficient on the offensive end, they could make a run. But they have figure it out quick. I still have slim hopes of this team getting to 9-9

  • Guest

    Looks like you all hired some consultants

  • Eric SIr

    Looks like you all hired some consultants..Great stuff!

  • Ole Man

    “do not square with the narrative that Crean can’t coach, and so, ironically, this news will not sit well with everyone.”

    Why was that even necessary? It ruined an otherwise good post.

  • CreanFaithful


  • Ole Man

    Huh? LOL.

  • Arch_Puddington

    Because it is a real part of the dynamic. News of this sort does not appear in a vacuum, it is received by people with great energy tied up in the IU basketball program. Some are of course Crean supporters, but both here and elsewhere in the blogging world there are those who are so intensely committed to the notion that Crean can’t coach that this will be seen as, if not threatening, at least controversial.I find that interesting.

  • Ole Man

    You and I have both been “critical” of CTC at times, but in a more polite and “I don’t understand” kind of way.
    You and I both know that the man can coach; and that part of our “critique” is frustration.

    I agree that there are some who have taken it much too far. The mods seem to be doing a good job in calming that down.

    However, do me a favor. Go back and reread your post without that comment. See how great it is?
    Let’s not feed the trolls; or even acknowledge them unless absolutely necessary.
    At least that’s my approach to it.

  • marcusgresham

    I was thinking it before he typed it. I’d expound on his thought and point out that when this team wins it wins in a totally different manner than last season’s team, furthering the evidence that CTC knows what he’s talking about and builds from his team’s strengths.

  • JerryCT

    I really like this kind of analysis but in this case I am struggling to find wisdom in it …………. what does all this mean ?

    In previous seasons I would have concluded that giving up a lot of assists was because our HELP D was poor …….. but this year I am just not so sure about that.

    I am thinking we need more info on how our D generates offense if at all or do we waste our good D on TO’s .

    As for CTC ‘s coaching ? I do not think this analysis tells me anything directly about that except that the team is getting better on defense.

    My criticisms have mostly been the difference between my preferences and his , not about his ability to coach within his preferred style

  • shknqk

    Love this.

    I’d say until in see evidence to the contrary, I feel really comfortable with the coaching effort.

    Almost all great coaches have had “chops” when it comes to coaching defense. While it’s easier to harp on the offense, if you can improve defense that has to sit squarely on the coaches shoulders.

    NO KIDS INSTINCTIVELY EXCEL AT DEFENSE. that is the lead and carrots of basketball. And to push deep into the shot clock takes discipline and knowledge.

    If I were a betting man, there has been an over emphasis on defense in practice and that might be at the expense of offensive performance.

    It’s just so incredibly easy to have one player ruin in for all on D – totally dig what this is saying about coaches and players. And summer school will be in session for offense. Can you imagine how good we might be next year when we can press a bit more? Makes me giddy.

  • MillaRed

    I guess I will never understand this “you either accept Coach without question” vs “he can’t coach” philosophy as if it’s one or the other.

    Personally I support every coach that sits on the IU bench. Furthermore, I will criticize any coach that plays 13 players in a half. Guess I’m just weird.

  • Arch_Puddington

    I don’t know if you are weird, but you are taking issue with something that was not said. I made a reference to Crean’s most relentless and boorish critics, some of whom have become so overbearing on ITH that Alex has had to bring on new moderators to keep the hate under control. So unless you are claiming either a) not to know that such individuals exist, or b) that taking any exception to even the most hostile critics is the same as saying no one is allowed to criticize Crean, ever, then you are refuting a premise that neither I nor anyone I know has put forth.

    Really, Milla, it is your comment that is “all or nothing”.
    Essentially what you are saying is that either we must accept all comments and criticisms of Crean, however hostile or unfounded, or else we can’t accept any. There is a respectful — and large — middle ground on this, and you know it.

    And for the record, you defending yourself from a comment that was not directed at you. I have seen your criticisms of Crean, some of which I agree with and some of which I do not, but I do not see you as one of the haters. You are more critical of Crean than I am, but you always couch it in terms of your passion for the program, and you are always quick to refer back to the decorum of ITH. I might argue a point here or there with you, but I would not lump you or any sensible critic in with those who Alex and his crew have to police.

  • Alford Bailey

    Makes no sense, Marcus. This team wins in a totally different manner because they can’t win like last years team did. Its still pretty much the same offense as last year. IU is headed for a below .500 conference record and probable NIT bid. I am not saying the man can’t coach but using this team as your evidence “CTC knows what he’s talking about” does not help your argument.

  • Alford Bailey

    I think everyone can agree the defense has been much better as of late. Even our zone has improved. Unfortunately what all these numbers dont tell you is when you have Evan Gordon on Minnys quickest player at the KEY point in the game, when you HAVE to get a stop, that one simple mistake costs you the ballgame.

  • Ole Man

    So basically, IU’s standard is now “wait until next year”?

  • Ole Man

    3 down votes? Thank you 🙂

  • Ole Man

    You’re not weird, Milla.
    Not necessarily referring to Arch, because he has been critical of CTC at times; but there are absolutely some kool aid drinkers when it comes to Crean.
    I have both praised him and questioned him.
    As a fan, I thought we had the right to do that.
    Somehow, in this season, if you question him you have become a troll, a hater, ignorant of basketball–the list is long.
    It’s “reverse trolling”, if you catch my drift.

    As for me, I’m withholding my personal, very opinionated judgement about CTC’s coaching job this year until the season is over.

    Frankly, I’m disappointed that the IU basketball standard appears to be lower than it use to be.

    I watched the BTN program on the ’87 team tonight. I had not realized that up to that point under Knight, no Senior had gone 4 years without winning a Big Ten title.
    Imagine that, from ’71 through ’87, IU won or shared a Big title at least every four years (according to the program).

    Now, I’ve heard so much talk about how great we’re going to be “next year”, that it saddens me.

    I’ll probably be deleted because of the kool aid comment.
    But I honestly don’t care.
    So tired of the reverse negativity of some of the fans.

  • MillaRed

    Good grief dude I wasn’t attacking anyone. If it came off like that not my intention.

    It was more of a general sentiment that we are either with him or against him that I see in here at times.

  • IUBizmark

    I believe the overwhelmingly good news is that, historically, in order to win a national title, your team has to play lock down D (top 20 in the country).

    The recent success IU has had was built by an offense-oriented team that eventually learned to play lock down D. It will be a fun experiment to watch a defensive-oriented team learn to play offense through the rest of this season and next season.

  • MillaRed

    You are getting a few “guest” down votes from a regular. Dont worry about it.

  • Ole Man

    Thanks, Mila. I appreciate that. And I’m at the point now where it’s almost a joke.
    I get down votes no matter what I say. LOL.

  • JerryCT

    Personally I do not think CTC had much choice. I would have preferred SR but he was killing us with TO’s. I think the goal was to rely on HELP if EG could not stop the drive. I suppose you would have preferred YF but he was regularly beaten as well. If you re watch the plays there was NO HELP at all not even anybody looking. If there is a coaches mistake I think it is that we do not have a “pack Line” type alternative D for end game situations. Hopefully we will not see Frazier tonight in the same game situation

  • MillaRed

    This blog is no different than anything else in social life Ole Man. You have good things to say, you are well known on the board, and it’s simply impossible to please 1000 people. I appreciate everyone ITH, call it like I see it, many dig it, some don’t. Such is life. I focus on the people that support me. Just like anything else I do with my time. Keep posting brother.

  • MillaRed

    Well I don’t have the perfect answer, but I “think” we should have called the timeout. “Force” them to shoot a contested jumper. And “not” let them have a flipping layup. Terrible!

  • Alford Bailey

    I would argue you foul much earlier to extend the game and make them earn it at the line. Mathieu is very quick and has become their go to guy in that situation. You just gotta have Yogi on him. I agree no help came. Thats asking too much of Evan IMO.

  • Ole Man

    Thanks. You may not know it, but you made an old man’s day 🙂