Hoosiers get back to basics in preparation for Illinois

Having lost three straight and failing to beat a major conference foe in more than a month, Indiana is doing all it can to prevent a fourth consecutive loss.

That means it’s back to basics for the Hoosiers, who looked lost at the start of Tuesday’s loss to Wisconsin, falling behind by double-digits before many fans had made it to their seats.

“We just need to go out there with the right mindset,’’ Thomas Bryant said Friday. “We go over all the personnel and the coaches give us all that we need to know. Now we just have to go out there and execute it.”

The buzzwords came at light speed when Crean spoke to the media Friday, using terms like ‘urgency,’ ‘energy,’ and ‘awareness’ while talking about the team.

“We need to be engaged more with each other,” Crean said. “That’s the accountability and those types of things that just come in countless times during the game. That’s what we have to do to improve and to become much more consistent.”

That accountability, Crean says, needs to be there at all times.

“Accountability takes some time,” Crean said. “We’ve had it sometimes, but until you have it consistently, you really don’t have it.”

For their part, the players seem to understand the message Crean is sending.

Like after the loss on Tuesday, when Juwan Morgan admitted they didn’t come out ready to play.

“It starts with us,” Bryant said. “It doesn’t start with the coaches. It starts with us. We have to hold ourselves accountable more often on the court.”

Back to basics also means maintaining confidence on the court in the face of growing pressure.

“I feel that we have a lot more confidence going into this game than we did with others,” Bryant said. “A lot of us are holding each other accountable more. We’re really well prepared for this one.”

Missing Hartman

Tom Crean yearns for the day that Collin Hartman is medically cleared to play again.

“Everytime Collin Hartman opens his mouth in a film room or in practice, you realize just how much you miss him on the court,” Crean said. We would be so much further ahead with him on the floor.”

The lone senior on a young roster, Hartman suffered a knee injury before the season even began.

Although he has not ruled out a return this season, with each passing game, the likelihood of a comeback slims.

For Crean, Hartman’s absence on the court is most felt when it comes to his leadership.

“This is what (the rest of the team) just hasn’t gotten to yet,” Crean said. “There is a safety that you have with certain guys. It’s not about talent and it’s not about trust. They make you feel safer on the court. They move, make the game easier for (others) with cutting, ball movement, reminders. It’s countless things. They’re not obvious.”

Video: Thomas Bryant, Tom Crean preview Illinois

Thomas Bryant and Tom Crean met with the media on Friday evening to preview Saturday’s game against Illinois at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Watch both press conferences below:

What to Expect: Illinois

Indiana will attempt to stop a three-game losing streak on Saturday afternoon when it hosts Illinois at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Fighting Illini are 11-4 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten.

The game will be broadcast at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU with Clay Matvick and Sean Harrington on the call:

Indiana, which was once ranked as high as No. 3 in the Associated Press top 25 poll, is on the verge of falling out of the polls altogether on Monday. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome against Illinois, the Hoosiers are unlikely to be considered one of the country’s 25 best teams come early next week.

It’s been a stunning fall for a team that was once considered a Final Four and national title contender. Can Indiana turn things around?

The next stretch of games will answer the question. After Illinois comes to Bloomington, Indiana travels to Maryland, hosts Rutgers, travels to Penn State and hosts Michigan State. Every game is critical the rest of the way and with two homecourt losses in conference play already, the margin for error is gone.

MEET THE ILLINI

Two games into league play, Illinois owns a 25-point loss at Maryland and a narrow win at home over Ohio State. The Illini have won seven of their last eight games, including four over teams currently ranked in the top 100 of KenPom.

Game planning for the Illini begins with containing Malcolm Hill, one of the league’s most complete offensive players. The 6-foot-6 senior is averaging 18.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Hill is hitting 42.3 of his 3s and is great at getting to the foul line. His free throw rate (FTA/FGA) is 56.6 percent and he’s converting at 78.6 percent from the line.

Joining Hill in the starting lineup are sixth-year senior point guard Tracy Abrams and sophomore Jalen Coleman-Lands. Abrams is second on the team in scoring at 11.5 points per game and is shooting 45.6 percent on 3s against Division I teams.

Coleman-Lands, an Indianapolis native, looked like a potential Big Ten breakout candidate in the preseason. That hasn’t materialized so far as his shooting percentages are down across the board and his turnovers are up. Coleman-Lands is shooting just 35.7 percent from the field overall.

Senior Jaylon Tate is averaging a team-high 3.5 assists off the bench, but struggles to score. Sophomore wings D.J. Williams and sophomore guard Aaron Jordan could also see time, but both have horrible efficiency numbers.

The frontcourt situation has some depth with sophomore Leron Black, redshirt senior Mike Thorne, sophomore Michael Finke and senior Maverick Morgan.

Black is the team’s third leading scorer at 10.5 points per game and the Illini’s leading rebounder at 7.2 per game. Black is excellent on the defensive glass with a defensive rebounding percentage of 26.4 (37th nationally). He’s a very good free throw shooter (81.6 percent) and a decent finisher at 51.9 percent on 2s against Division I competition.

Thorne is a plodder, but is finishing close to 63 percent of his 2s. He’s seventh on the team in scoring at 6.2 points per game. Finke is a good offensive rebounder (11.1 OR%) and can knock down the 3 if given space (34.8 percent). Morgan is the team’s fourth leading scorer at 8.9 points per game and is shooting 58.2 percent from the field.

TEMPO-FREE PREVIEW

There are several reasons this is a favorable matchup for Indiana. First, Illinois is even worse than the Hoosiers at transition defense, which should allow Indiana to generate more offense there than the past few games. Illinois enters as the Big Ten’s worst transition defense at 1.07 points per possession allowed, per Synergy Sports.

Illinois also struggles to take care of the ball, so the likelihood of a huge discrepancy in points off of turnovers isn’t as high against the Illini.

The Illini also like to play a slower pace, which might not be a bad thing for the Hoosiers. Indiana was, for the most part, much better offensively against Wisconsin in the halfcourt and was far less turnover prone when it wasn’t pushing the pace.

The Hoosiers should run when it’s there and makes sense, but limiting unforced turnovers is crucial. Illinois doesn’t block many shots and doesn’t get steals, either, so failing to finish at the rim or coughing up the ball should, in theory, be less prevalent in this one.

WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO

Indiana enters a must-win game as a 10-point favorite on KenPom and a 10.5-point favorite, according to Sagarin. The Vegas line, which is usually out sometime in the early afternoon, wasn’t available at time of publication.

This one goes in the must-win category because of the two home losses already on the books in league play. After Saturday, nine of Indiana’s remaining conference games will be on the road. Lose to Illinois and the Hoosiers would need three Big Ten road wins just to scratch out a .500 record in league play.

Despite the three straight losses, Indiana played relatively well against Wisconsin after an awful start. The Hoosiers are due to play better and talent is obviously there to stabilize things beginning Saturday. For that to happen, Indiana has to get back to the basics defensively and do a better job taking care of the ball. If that doesn’t happen – as we saw against Nebraska – anything can happen with this Indiana team.

What’s wrong with Indiana? It’s mostly the defense

Fifteen games into last season, Indiana’s defense was spearheading a turnaround. The Hoosiers were 12-3 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten. Both of those wins came on the road. Indiana was two games into a stretch in which it would go seven straight (and nine of 10) holding conference foes under a point per possession.

As brilliant as the offense was, it was Indiana’s defense that could be relied upon (for the most part) when the shooting numbers dipped.

This season, that hasn’t been the case. Entering the conference opener against Nebraska, the Hoosiers ranked 36th nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating at .96 points per possession allowed. Three losses later, Indiana is all the way down to 75th nationally at .99 points per possession allowed.

It’s been a complete free fall and only seems to be getting worse as the Hoosiers have had three of their four worst defensive games of the season in their current three-game skid.

The Hoosiers are being exposed in a few keys areas, some of which obvious to the naked eye and some of which require a deeper dive into advanced statistics.

Let’s start with the basics.

Currently, Indiana sits at 41st nationally in 3-point field goal defense. There’s obviously a luck factor involved in defending the 3-point shot, but it’s probably not a coincidence that Indiana is getting burned from distance in its losses and against better competition. Overall, teams are shooting 30.7 percent from deep against the Hoosiers. In their five losses, opponents are shooting 40.4 percent. In terms of made 3s, Indiana is allowing 6.5 per game overall, but 8.8 per game in losses. During the three-game losing streak, opponents are shooting 47.3 percent on 3s against Indiana (27-of-57).

Things haven’t been much better inside the arc. Indiana’s 2-point field goal percentage allowed for the season is 45.1. That ranks 74th nationally. In losses, that number is 51.3 percent. Indiana’s shot blocking has also taken a dip, albeit slightly, in losses. The Hoosiers are averaging 5.4 blocks per game, but just 4.4 in losses. Indiana’s season-to-date block percentage is 13.1, but just 11.4 percent in losses.

Besides the aforementioned slides, Indiana’s inability to force turnovers has been a season long problem. But it’s a lot worse in losses. Overall, the Hoosiers are scoring 14.5 points off of turnovers. In losses, they’re scoring just eight. Indiana’s turnover percentage forced (16) is the worst of any Big Ten team and 318th nationally.

So where, specifically, is Indiana getting burned defensively? In transition and guarding pick-and-roll ball handlers.

According to Synergy Sports, Indiana’s transition defense is the second worst among all Big Ten teams. The Hoosiers are 251st nationally in transition defense, allowing 1.05 points on transition possessions. Only Illinois at 1.07 allowed is worse.

The Hoosiers are better in pick-and-roll possessions, according to Synergy, but still have plenty of work to do. Indiana is seventh among Big Ten teams and 142th in the country in guarding ball handlers out of the pick-and-roll.

And although it’s not a huge component of defense at the college level (only 7.1 percent of all defensive possessions the Hoosiers have played), IU is just 315th nationally in guarding isolation situations, according to Synergy. In 82 isolation possessions, Indiana has allowed 77 points. Of Big Ten teams, only Northwestern is worse. Indiana is also in the bottom half nationally in guarding off of screens and hand offs, according to Synergy.

Add it all up and it becomes clear that, for all the complaints about Indiana’s offensive struggles and stagnation at times, the defense is a bigger source of the problem. Indiana has dropped off offensively from a season ago, but that was somewhat expected given the personnel losses in Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, Max Bielfedlt and Nick Zeisloft. The expectation was that the Hoosiers, with a bigger frontline and more length, would be able to make up for it with a better defense. Fifteen games in, that hasn’t been the case.

Film Session: Wisconsin

In a week full of darkness for the Hoosiers, the performance of De’Ron Davis on Tuesday night was the light.

The freshman’s 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting tied for a team-high. In the first half, Davis scored his first four points on two offensive rebounding putbacks via drives from James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson. Davis’ man left him to try and block lay-ups, allowing the Colorado native easy rebounds and scores.

When he entered the game at the 16:15 mark in the second half, the Hoosiers trailed by seven. Davis scored eight points over the next 5:09 of the contest to help erase the lead and bring the Hoosiers to a tie at 51-all with the Badgers.

During that stretch, Indiana continually fed Davis — including Thomas Bryant, who seemed to be energized by Davis’ play —  where he showed poise, strength, aggressiveness and good footwork in the post. While Ethan Happ was too much for the Hoosiers to handle, Davis proved similarly challenging at times for the Badgers.

A supercut of Davis’ scores are below:

POTB 157: Indiana searching for answers after third straight loss

Podcast on the Brink is back for a new episode with host Jerod Morris of The Assembly Call. The show is now available weekly during the season.

In this edition of the show, Morris and Inside the Hall editor Alex Bozich discuss Indiana’s loss to Wisconsin on Wednesday and the program’s three-game losing streak. Among the topics discussed:

· Indiana’s start against Wisconsin
· The finish of the game and what went wrong
· Freddie McSwain, Zach McRoberts and IU’s lineups
· The point guard problem
· The continued development of De’Ron Davis
· Lack of second half shots for James Blackmon Jr.
· What can Indiana rely on each game?
· Can Indiana’s defense be fixed?

And plenty more. As always, feel free to drop the show a note at jerod@assemblycall.com.

Listen in the audio player below, download the episode, subscribe via iTunes or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Five takeaways from Indiana’s loss to Wisconsin

Indiana’s free fall continued on Tuesday night as the Hoosiers fell 75-68 to Wisconsin at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The loss was Indiana’s third straight and fourth in six games.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from the loss to the Badgers:

· A puzzling start: Coming off two straight losses to Nebraska and Louisville, this was a contest in which Indiana needed to set the tone early. A strong start to knock Wisconsin on its heels and engage the crowd, which was without students, was important for the Hoosiers to have.

Instead, Indiana came out lethargic. And Wisconsin, a veteran team with guys who have played for a national championship, executed flawlessly. By the time Indiana realized the game had begun, Wisconsin led 16-2.

Postgame, both Tom Crean and the IU players struggled to explain the slow start. Juwan Morgan said IU “didn’t come out ready” and Crean said “I don’t even know what to tell you about the start of the game.”

15 games into the season, the lack of answers is alarming.

· Defense falters again: For the third straight game, an opponent had its way with Indiana’s defense. After allowing Nebraska to hit 9-of-18 3s in Bloomington to open league play, Wisconsin marched into Bloomington and knocked down 10-of-20.

Indiana’s 2-point defense also faltered again as the Badgers shot 50 percent inside the arc. Saturday’s opponent, Louisville, shot 59.4 percent on 2s.

In two conference games, Indiana is allowing 1.22 points per possession. Last year’s team allowed a point per possession in conference games, which was third best and a major reason the Hoosiers won the league.

Indiana has now played six major conference teams and held just one of them (North Carolina) under a point per possession.

· Lineups late make little sense: With the game in the balance tied at 56 with 8:50 to play, Crean made the decision to remove De’Ron Davis and bring Freddie McSwain into the game.

Two other substitutions were made, too, as James Blackmon Jr. and Thomas Bryant replaced Robert Johnson and Juwan Morgan. Less than two minutes later, with 7:06 to play, Curtis Jones replaced Zach McRoberts. At that point, Indiana was up one.

That next stretch of 2:36 is where the game was lost. In the sequence, IU’s three offensive possessions were a McSwain turnover, an Anunoby dunk and a missed 3-pointer by Blackmon Jr. Wisconsin, meanwhile, scored on all of its possessions and built a seven-point lead at 66-59.

With Davis on the bench, Indiana went away from what made it successful offensively in the second half. And defensively, the Hoosiers couldn’t stop Wisconsin with a lineup that featured several below-average defenders. Momentum disappeared in that decisive stretch and as a result, so did Indiana’s chances to win.

· Davis again makes case for more minutes: While Bryant continues to struggle with taking care of the ball and finishing in the post, Davis is emerging as Indiana’s best post threat offensively.

Wisconsin had no answer for Davis when the Hoosiers were able to find him in the post. In 18 minutes, he finished with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and 2-of-4 from the line.

Moving forward, will Indiana extend the minutes for Davis? After missing the summer while finishing up academic obligations in Colorado, Davis has yet to play 20 minutes in a game this season.

· Disappointing performances by several players: To beat the best teams in the country, your best players have to play well. That didn’t happen for Indiana on Tuesday night.

OG Anunoby made all four of his shots from the field, but had four turnovers. Anunoby’s turnover rate this season is at 20 percent.

Bryant continues to struggle in the post against length and only grabbed three rebounds in 21 minutes. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, meanwhile, went for 19 points and six rebounds.

James Blackmon Jr. didn’t have a single rebound and after scoring 10 points in the first half, only took two shots and went scoreless in the second half.

And Josh Newkirk, who again started and played 17 first half minutes, finished 1-of-7 from the field.

Notebook: Crean struggles to find answers as Hoosiers continue sliding

Nearly an hour after the final buzzer sounded inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall after Indiana’s third consecutive defeat, Tom Crean sat in the press room, giving his opening statement.

“I don’t even know what to tell you about the start,” Crean said of the opening three minutes, where the Hoosiers committed three turnovers and allowed the Badgers to score the first 13 points of the game. “It absolutely made no sense to me that we were giving them as much space as we gave them.”

Indiana was able to overcome the abysmal beginning to make the game a contest, but the veteran Badgers never faltered, coming away with a 75-68 victory and improving to 2-0 in the conference play, while the Hoosiers dropped to 0-2.

When the game slowed down late, Indiana’s offense failed to penetrate the post, passing around the perimeter as the shot clock ticked down.

A perturbed Crean rehashed the same issues with the media that have plagued his team for weeks — overhelping on defense, careless turnovers and lethargic starts to games.

“We’ve got to fix … those things,” Crean said, more than two minutes into his opening statement. “I’ve said it over the last couple of days (to the team). It comes down to a matter of inches. Today we were a little bit too far off. The game seemed like we were yards off.”

“Ummm…”

Crean tried and failed to find the words that would come next. For nearly nine seconds before he opened up the press conference to questions, all he could do was twiddle his index fingers on the mic stand and offer a few stray umms and buts.

There were no answers, at least not now. Everything that needed to be said already had.

For the third consecutive game, Indiana allowed their opponent to shoot over 48 percent from the floor, failing to come up with stops when they needed them most.

“You’ve just gotta go out there and guard your man, right?” Crean asked the media rhetorically. “And it’s not that complicated: early help; get your feet right; get your hands ready; heads on a swivel – things we do constantly.”

But even seemingly simple concepts have become a challenge for the personnel Crean has at his disposal.

Time and again, the Badgers were either left wide open on the perimeter or were able to cut to the basket without any resistance.

Wisconsin big man Ethan Happ had a field day inside the paint, bullying Bryant in the post on his way to hitting eight of 11 shots.

“We just weren’t taking away what we had to (from Happ),” said Juwan Morgan. “We knew what he wanted to do, and he did it.”

Wisconsin also took advantage of Indiana’s inability to value the basketball, turning 13 Indiana turnovers into 23 points. That was more than enough to counter Indiana’s 32-25 edge on the glass.

Indiana now sits at 0-2 in the conference, and a second consecutive regular season conference crown is now just a pipe dream.

Davis growing

Freshman De’Ron Davis was one of the lone bright spots for the Hoosiers, scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and grabbing two offensive boards in 17 minutes.

“We told him two months ago, by January, you’re going to be a different player,” Crean said. “He’s starting.”

Davis was so effective inside that, late in the second half, Wisconsin had to resort to double-teaming him.

Not bad for a freshman that was a late arrival in Bloomington.

Video: Tom Crean reacts to loss to Wisconsin

Tom Crean met with the media following Indiana’s 75-68 loss to Wisconsin on Tuesday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Watch his postgame comments below:

The Minute After: Wisconsin

Thoughts on a 75-68 loss to the Badgers:

Another loss, Indiana’s third straight for this first time since March 2015, and the sky grows darker over Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Does Indiana still possess talent? Yes. Were there some positives in this game? Sure. Is the season over? No. It’s just Jan. 3. The Hoosiers were in worse shape last season and turned things around.

Still, with so much mediocre play from the Hoosiers of late, it’s hard to see the way out of this right now. Indiana continues to do itself no favors. It continues to make things harder than they need to be. Tonight’s start was another clunker, the team’s worst of the season. Indiana turned it over four times in the first three minutes of the contest, and Wisconsin took advantage in a big way as it raced out to a 16-2 advantage at the 16:09 mark thanks to the Hoosiers over-helping and leaving shooters open.

“We didn’t start on time for some reason,” Tom Crean told ESPN’s Allison Williams at halftime.

Despite a horrific start, Indiana cleaned things up and made a game of it, trailing by just one (38-37) at the break. And when Indiana found an advantage on offense by continually feeding freshman De’Ron Davis in the post, things were looking up. The Hoosiers clinged to a couple leads early in the second half and were up one (57-56) with 7:06 remaining in the contest. But with Davis on the bench and a lineup that featured Freddie McSwain and Josh McRoberts — two players with little to no threat to score — the Hoosiers coughed up the lead. McSwain had one foul and one turnover in eight minutes of action. McRoberts had one assist and one rebound in 13 minutes. He was 0-of-2 from the floor, but did play some solid defense at times on Koenig.

A one-point lead extended out to seven in two and half minutes of game time. It was a curious management of personnel by Crean with the game hanging in the balance. Yes, he eventually called timeout to get Juwan Morgan, Josh Newkirk and Davis back in the game, but the damage had already been done. Indiana got it to within three with 2:47 to go, but it was as close as the Hoosiers would get.

They got a few stops to start the final stretch of the game, but Wisconsin, a veteran team with clearly defined roles and personnel, executed better down the stretch to hang on for the victory. Ethan Happ lead all scorers with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting despite four fouls. Happ’s footwork, ball skills and speed are impressive for a player his size and he was too much for the Hoosiers to handle.

“We knew what he wanted to do, and he did it,” Morgan said after the game.

Bronson Koenig got himself in a bit of foul trouble as well, but was red hot from 3-point distance (5-of-5) and ended the game with 17 points. Nigel Hayes had a bit of an off night compared to his last couple outings and what he’s done to IU in the past, but still managed 10 points (4-of-10) and had a couple of key buckets.

Indiana’s turnover percentage (21.4 percent) and defense (1.23 points per possession) were bad again tonight. The Hoosiers’ battle will continue to be waged uphill this season if these two trends continue.

The Illini come to Bloomington on Saturday for what would have seemed like an easy victory just one week ago. But with three straight losses, it’s anyone’s guess at this point what the final outcome will be.