That’s A Wrap: Team defense

  • 04/21/2016 10:14 am in

Welcome to “That’s A Wrap,” our recap of the 2015-2016 Indiana Hoosiers. Today, the series concludes with a look at Indiana’s defense.

Final stats (35 games): 69.9 ppg, 44.4 FG%, 49.8 eFG %, 34.3 3PFG%, 18.9 TO%, 30.2% FTR.

Indiana’s elite offense set the stage to contend for the Big Ten championship this past season, but it was the defense that won the league outright for the Hoosiers.

In 2014-2015, Indiana’s defense was a major problem. In 2015-2016, the defense grew into a strength. A comparison of defensive stats between the two seasons tells the story of improvement (Note: all numbers are what IU’s defense allowed):


Indiana had the nation’s 214th best defense in 2014-2015 according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency numbers and moved all the way up to No. 73 this season. In league play, the Hoosiers had the Big Ten’s 13th best defense a season ago and jumped up to No. 3 this season.

So how did it happen? A renewed focus on fundamentals, better communication, better personnel and a simplification of concepts.

Nick Zeisloft offered some insight into the focus on fundamentals during his appearance on Podcast on the Brink when he revealed that assistant coach Rob Judson took control of the defense in the offseason. It started with drills in June and while the improvement wasn’t visible through non-conference play, it began to take hold as the Hoosiers hit Big Ten season.

After allowing Kennesaw State to score 1.08 points per possession in the final non-conference tune-up, Indiana held nine of its first 10 Big Ten opponents under a point per possession. That’s an incredible statistic.

The growth in communication came from a variety of places. Yogi Ferrell was much more of a vocal leader as a senior and was an extension of the coaching staff on the floor, which was something that was missing last season. Thomas Bryant arrived and provided energy on the backend of the defense and like Ferrell, was very vocal.

Bryant also figures into the improved personnel, but his struggles in guarding ball screens early in the season were well documented. He improved as the season went along and so did Indiana’s defense.

But he was far from the only player who made strides as the season went on.

Juwan Morgan and OG Anunoby grew into defensive stoppers as their roles in the rotation increased. Zeisloft, a liability at times defensively, grew into a player the coaching staff felt comfortable putting on Jamal Murray in the NCAA tournament round of 32. Ferrell was a lockdown perimeter defender and a worthy pick for the league’s all-defensive team. Robert Johnson, who was called a “pure junkyard dog” by Bryant, didn’t get enough credit for his ability to guard on the perimeter.

After allowing opponents to finish over 62 percent of shots at the rim last season, Indiana put up much better resistance at the rim:


Add it all together and the Hoosiers grew from a team that allowed Duke to score 1.53 points per possession in early December to a team that held the nation’s No. 1 offense in Kentucky to .94 points per possession in the NCAA tournament. Indiana beat a major program in the tournament because of its defense, a development that would have been impossible to see coming in late December.

The simplification piece also holds importance as Indiana moved away from switching defenses mid-possession and opted to go straight man-to-man most of the time. With quality depth on the bench, the coaching staff had the ability to keep everyone accountable and use the bench for accountability. Once the Big Ten season started, if you didn’t guard, you typically sat on the sidelines.

Bottom Line: Indiana’s defense received many of the headlines throughout the season – and rightfully so – but the Hoosiers won the Big Ten with defense. It was a team effort with better coaching, better execution and better personnel to fit what the Hoosiers were trying to accomplish. It was a turnaround that nobody saw coming, but the Hoosiers finished with the third best defense in the Big Ten. In the Crean era, it was Indiana’s second best defensive team in conference play from a points per possession allowed perspective. With a strong core returning next winter and more talent arriving, it’ll be interesting to see if the Hoosiers can continue to win with defense.

Quotable: “What we learned from that game (Duke) was we need to be more aggressive. What we learned about ourselves is that we control that aggressiveness. We control our ball movement. We control our ability to not only be connected defensively, which we’ve really become, but to really get out and run. And as poor as our defense was early on in the year, our running game was equally as bad, because we weren’t getting enough stops. We weren’t getting out and playing fast enough. And really pre-Morehead State, which was December 5th, the one game that we really did it right was in the Creighton game. We played really well that night against a team at home and then we didn’t move the ball as well and we weren’t as connected defensively.

“But I think everything is continuing to improve because it’s — the fact of the matter is the guys continue to get better at Indiana. And they don’t just get better through practice and they don’t just get better through schemes and Xs and Os. They get better fundamentally. And it doesn’t matter if you’re Yogi Ferrell, who is a McDonald’s All-American, or some of our freshmen like OG and Juwan that were mildly recruited. They were recruited but they were mildly recruited. You get better.

“And eventually you really learn that you’re going to have, you are responsible to impact your teammates, and not only in the offensive end but the defensive end. And I think that’s been the biggest thing for us, and we’ve never lost two games in a row. So they’re absolutely resilient. They learn from their mistakes, they build on their successes and there’s never been a time where I walked into practice or walked out of practice thinking that we had some guys that were full of themselves. We’ve not had that at all. And I think that’s got a lot to do with why we’re here today.” – Crean on the team’s improvement prior to the Sweet Sixteen game against North Carolina

Previously: OG AnunobyJuwan Morgan, Thomas Bryant, Harrison Niego, James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson, Collin Hartman, Troy Williams, Nick Zeisloft, Max Bielfeldt, Ryan Burton, Yogi Ferrell, Tom Crean, Team offense

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  • OK sorry for being a smart a$$. There I said it. Still don’t see why a guy has the capability to hit on 46% of his threes, which is pretty darned good.. But if he leads the team in scoring it will be to it’s detriment. just don’t see or buy the logic.

  • I hear you, and that’s a concern, for sure. Hopefully it’s something CTC can/will manage. Certainly though there’s a way he can both contribute to the team and highlight his value to the NBA…

  • b_side

    Ahh, so if we’re #6 offensively, we can’t afford it like UNC can? Not sure I’m buying that.

    At any rate, of course I want Indiana to be a FF contender every year. I want the same success that UNC, MSU, UK and Duke currently enjoy (Kansas too btw).

    My problem with your statement about being “no worse than Top 15 defense on a consistent basis” is that it’s not realistic. I needed to research only the most recent season to verify that your goal for our program is not attainable year-in, year-out . You’re setting expectations that are not met by even the bluest of the bluebloods.

  • Hoosieriniowa

    I went back to the 2014-15 season and added the better defense spread to the better offense spread and I think we would have won 7 more games in 2014-15 plus we would have knocked off Witchita State and played at least one more game in the tournament.

  • ForeverIU

    Okay, b_side, so your responses have tempered my argument, but only to a degree. I still think your examples from the blue chips are anomalous. I collected the AdjD’s for the programs below since 2007. You tell me where you think IU should be defensively. And I do think we should shoot for the stars.

    kansas 1 1 9 9 11 3 5 31 10 4
    duke 7 8 36 8 21 81 31 116 12 107
    north carolina 10 19 21 39 4 14 55 21 51 27
    michigan state 13 32 8 27 30 2 7 28 47 52
    kentucky 41 65 38 5 15 8 129 41 2 53
    louisville 16 4 2 98 3 1 3 4 5 2

  • b_side

    I’ll take the small degree! Ok, so you did the leg work, Much appreciated. I took your figures and did a simple average for each program:

    Kansas (8.4)
    Duke (42.7)
    UNC (26.1)
    MSU (24.6)
    UK (39.7)
    UL (13.8)

    The overall average is 25.9, though I’m likely to remove Louisville. Are they a blueblood? I don’t know. It would bump the average down to 28.3 There are some real outlier seasons here courtesy of Duke, a few from UK, even UL. Looking at the median, we see a much higher expectation of 13. But I’d argue the outliers are the point I’m trying to make in that there are some seasons where sh__ hits the fan.

    I totally agree that we have to be higher than 73. If we want to play with the big boys, Crean has to get these guys to be a top 30 defense, not every season per se, but certainly a majority of the time assuming we have our normal efficient offense. And we can’t just be hovering around 30 every year.

    We need seasons where the defense is Top 10-15, even if the offense regresses. Perhaps that’s what we’ll get next year…


    ” good look “, those are the two key words next season when it comes to JBJ and him shooting 3’s, and yes, his percentage says he should let it go every time he has a good look.


    Excellent points, and pretty much along the lines of what I was thinking, only I wasn’t energetic enough to do the math. It also shows how hard it will be to move up in defensive rankings even a fraction of the 141 spots we did last season. I would venture to say that moving up 30 spots, into the 43rd spot, will be a harder thing to do than climbing the 141 spots. I think this coming season will be much like last season, in that the offense will be there and we will go only as far as our defense takes us. Would really like to see us be in the high 30’s. We accomplish that and I think we win the conference again and get past the Sweet 16, even if we get a route that has us playing a power 5 conference winner in games 2 and 3. The committee doing that to us still burns my a$$ !!


    See Iam4IU’s math above in a reply to BL.


    I don’t think the improvement was because JBJ himself was taken out of the equation, but rather his injury pretty much forced TC to go with a lineup that utilized 2 true guards most of the time instead of 3. We would have been a better team last year if JBJ had been healthy and playing, but IMHO, only if we stayed with the 2 true guard lineup the vast majority of the time. I’m not saying that under no circumstances will a 3 true guard lineup be successful, just saying that we didn’t/don’t have 3 guards on our current roster that can make that type of thing work.


    LOL ! Didn’t have a bit of trouble getting a mental pic of Bruce Whiner doing that, took about, ohhhh, 1 second or less. lol


    EXACTLY !! Could not agree more. Crean seems to have the offensive thing down and hopefully he had a smack in the face type wake up call as to what playing even decent defense can do for a team. Time will tell and, IMHO, it will also tell us something on the topic of can he get us back to elite status and vastly improve our chances of hanging number 6.

  • I see what you’re saying, and I do remember things heading in that direction before JBJ was hurt (e.g., again, JBJ was already starting to see the bench). I really do think all of the changes would have happened anyways, because it’s not as if OG and JM were just miracle revelations once they were on the court–I’m sure the coaching staff saw their potential in practice. Did JBJ’s injury accelerate things? Maybe, but then again, that’s speculation–and if we’re going to speculate, we can just as easily speculate that if he hadn’t been injured, he would have just been rotating with RJ and NZ in the 2 spot.

    It’s not idle speculation, either, because it’ll be a legit question next season. Obviously, I hope I’m right and that JBJ will be working hard to play good defense and thus will be a hell of a weapon. He brings a lot to the table, rebounding in addition to scoring, and if his defense is at least at NZ’s level at the end of last season, then we’ll be just fine at shooting guard.

  • Ole Man

    I keep hearing the 46%. Was that in his short time playing last year? If so, then I disregard it for it needs to be for an entire season.
    If he did that, I’d be POed if he wasn’t launching them most of the time! LOL!
    My concern, Ken, as expressed below, is that he wants to show he can still be an NBA player and goes for his points outside the team concept.
    We should have the best frontline we’ve had since Cody/Wat and I honestly think IU has to exploit that to have a truly successful season.
    My thought is that if they remain guard/wing oriented, they will fall short of the potential of the team.
    Just my opinion, of course.
    And thank you for the apology. 🙂

  • Thing is the 46% was on 80 attempts. So even though he played only ? ten games? I really don’t know but I think that was about fifth maybe fourth highest on the team. But it really was a pretty large sample size and barring going into a huge shooting slump or something, it really is indicative of what the guy is capable of adding to the team in terms of scoring. Not sure how many NZ attempted last year, but I’m thinking it wasn’t many more than 80 for the entire year. I guess I should delve into that further. I agree with your thought on being too ‘wing’ oriented.. That could hurt.. I’d like to think there’s room for an inside game as well as outside, without trading one for the other….I also agree with you analysis re: the best front line.. I really hope we will see DD and TB getting some playing together.

  • Ole Man

    That’s what I’m hoping for — a really “balanced” inside/outside game this year wherein the opponents have no clue as to how to defend IU.
    Everyone will get their points if that happens.