Photo Gallery: Indiana vs. Rutgers

Check out 41 photos by Jamie Owens from Indiana’s 76-57 win over over Rutgers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Purchase prints from J. Scott Photography.

Video: Tom Crean reacts to win over Rutgers

Tom Crean met with the media following Indiana’s 76-57 win over Rutgers on Sunday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Watch his postgame comments below:

Video: Steve Pikiell reacts to loss at Indiana

Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell met with the media following his team’s 76-57 loss to Indiana on Sunday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Watch the full press conference below:

Video: IU players react to win over Rutgers

OG Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr. met with the media following Indiana’s 76-57 win over Rutgers on Sunday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Watch their postgame comments below:

At the Buzzer: Indiana 76, Rutgers 57

Quick thoughts on a 76-57 win over the Scarlet Knights:

How it happened: Save for a suspect start from Indiana, Sunday’s matinee at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall went just about as expected. After Rutgers raced to a 15-6 lead with 14:26 to play in the first half, Indiana outscored the Scarlet Knights 35-17 the rest of the half to claim a nine-point halftime lead. From there, the Hoosiers were good enough defensively to overcome a poor 3-point shooting game and a below average offensive output to win comfortably. It was a much needed victory for Indiana, which moved to 12-6 overall and 2-3 in Big Ten play. With three of its next four games on the road, the Hoosiers have to hope they’ll be able to use this win as a springboard into a critical stretch of the conference schedule.

Standout performance: Sophomore OG Anunoby came off the bench to score 11 points (4-of-8 shooting). But that wasn’t the most impressive part of his stat line. The 6-foot-8 forward had seven steals to go along with three rebounds and two assists. It was the most steals in a game by an IU player since Michael Lewis had eight in 1999.

Statistic that stands out: For the first time in Big Ten play, Indiana held an opponent under one point per possession. Rutgers scored just .77 points per possession in the loss. The Scarlet Knight came in averaging .82 points per trip in conference games.

Final IU individual stats:

Final tempo-free stats:

Communication, simplification continue to be focal points for IU

Having lost four of their last five games, Indiana coach Tom Crean continues to harp on the same themes: communication and simplification.

In five of Indiana’s six losses on the season, the Hoosiers were in the game in the waning moments but failed to execute down the stretch.

Indiana’s struggle in crunch time, Crean says, can be attributed in part to a lack of team communication.

“(Communication) is not a strength with anybody right now,” Crean said Saturday. “We’ve got to continue to work through it. There are responsibilities that certain guys have. That’s where some of the urgency needs to come from.”

The need for communication on the floor has been stressed throughout the season by both players and coaches, but it’s still evident that it’s a work in progress.

“Every team is different, but there’s gotta be a dynamic of constant communication, through thick and thin, through good and bad,” Crean said. “We’ve got great people. These are great kids, but they’re not there yet on how important it is.”

For a team full of players that aren’t used to being vocal leaders on the court, being able to constantly communicate has been tough to grasp.

“It becomes hard for players to understand until they’ve been through it awhile, but defense is bullet points; offense is conversations,” Crean said. “They’re quick conversations. Sometimes they’re animated. But they’re not monotone. They’re just not. We haven’t quite grasped that yet.”

Keeping it simple

Freshmen guards Devonte Green and Curtis Jones are still becoming acquainted with life in the Big Ten.

Even though both Green and Jones were impressive in stretches during the non-conference slate, neither have managed to find their footing in conference play.

Crean says that the key to the freshmen guards finding success boils down to playing a simplified game.

“The hardest thing for any player, especially a young player, to understand, is how simple you have to keep the game. How much it’s about the next pass. How much it’s about running the court both ways. How much it’s about understanding that your first step matters in so many things, whether it’s on the ball defense or cutting. Just getting into the flow.”

The two have struggled to stay on the floor for extended stretches, with neither Green nor Jones scoring more than six points or logging more than 13 minutes in any conference game.

Anunoby finding an ‘extra gear’

The soft-spoken sophomore has been somewhat of an enigma throughout his time in Bloomington, producing moments of both brilliance and bewilderment.

“There are times (Anunoby) is the guy that averaged five (points) and two (rebounds) a year ago,” Crean said. “There are times he’s like that. But there is no question he’s got another gear. You’ve seen it. Everybody has seen it.”

There is no questioning Anunoby’s raw talent. His jaw-dropping athleticism and elite defensive ability have made him potential NBA lottery pick.

But for Indiana to put themselves back in the hunt in the Big Ten, it will be critical for Anunoby to play at that extra gear at a consistent level.

“When you’ve got that kind of ability, it’s our job to keep pushing to find that extra gear and get it out of there more often,” Crean said. “I take that very personal with him. I love that kid. We’ve got to get (that extra gear). It’s there.”

Video: IU players, Crean preview Rutgers

Curtis Jones, Devonte Green and Tom Crean met with the media on Saturday to preview Indiana’s matchup against Rutgers on Sunday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Watch both press conferences below:

What to Expect: Rutgers

Indiana returns home on Sunday for a matinee matchup with Rutgers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Scarlet Knights are 11-7 overall and 0-5 in the Big Ten.

The game will be broadcast at 12 p.m. ET on BTN with Jeff Levering and Shon Morris on the call:

It’s a new era for Rutgers basketball and there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel for a program that’s been the doormat of the Big Ten since arriving for the 2014-2015 season. The Scarlet Knights are unlikely to avoid finishing in the cellar of the Big Ten, but they may finally have a coach capable of producing a successful rebuild.

Steve Pikiell, who built Stony Brook into a power in the America East Conference, already has Rutgers far more competitive in the Big Ten. The conference record thus far isn’t indicative of that, but Rutgers is coming off losses to Iowa and Northwestern that were both very competitive.

Indiana, meanwhile, is just 1-3 in the Big Ten and in desperate need of a win. The Hoosiers have dropped five of their last eight games. Indiana’s league schedule is road-heavy the rest of the way, so it’s a must for the Hoosiers to take care of home court to have a shot at finishing better than .500 in the league. It’s not the position Indiana expected to be in at this point, but it’s the current reality with this group.

MEET THE SCARLET KNIGHTS

Rutgers has balanced scoring with four different players averaging in double figures.

The starting backcourt is junior Nigel Johnson, a Kansas State transfer, and sophomore Corey Sanders (pictured) who looked at his professional options before opting to return to Piscataway.

Johnson is the team’s leading scorer (11.9 ppg), but has been horribly inefficient in Big Ten games. In five Big Ten losses, Johnson is shooting 30.2 percent on 2s and 23.8 on 3s. He’s taking 26.3 percent of the team’s shots while on the floor, the 13th highest percentage in the Big Ten.

Sanders is incredibly talented, but also struggles with efficiency. He’s got the ninth best assist rate in conference play (22.2 percent), but is hitting just 30 percent of his 3s and 37.7 percent of his 2s. He’s using the fifth highest percentage of possessions of any Big Ten player in league play.

Junior guard Mike Williams comes off the bench and averages 10.5 points per game. Like Johnson and Sanders, he’s a low efficiency shooter. In Big Ten games, Williams is shooting just 31.8 percent on 3s and 33.3 percent on 2s.

Deshawn Freeman, a 6-foot-7 junior forward, is the anchor in the frontcourt. Freeman averages 11.7 points, second on the team, and a team-high 8.8 rebounds per game. Freeman is finishing 50 percent of his 2s in Big Ten games and ranks in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage.

Senior CJ Gettys, a 7-foot, 280 pound graduate transfer from UNC-Wilmington, has been decent on the glass and an adequate shot blocker through five Big Ten games, but is converting just 40.7 percent of his field goal attempts. Gettys is a plodding big man who IU should look to expose in transition.

Other names to know in the Rutgers rotation are Candido Sa, Issa Thiam and Jonathan Laurent.

Sa, a 6-foot-9 native of Portugal, is 20th in the league in block percentage. Thiam, a 6-foot-9 native of the Senegal, isn’t afraid to shoot, but is just 3-of-18 from the field in conference games. Laurent is a 6-foot-6 sophomore wing that can finish at a decent clip (57.1 on 2s in Big Ten play).

TEMPO-FREE PREVIEW

We’ve transitioned to conference-only stats for these charts moving forward and it really lays out some of the extremes on IU’s overall profile.

The Hoosiers are the Big Ten’s best offensive unit despite having the league’s worst turnover percentage. That’s driven by elite shooting and offensive rebounding. Defensively, Indiana is 12th in points per possession allowed, 13th in opponent free throw rate and 14th in opponent turnover percentage.

The standout on the Rutgers profile is the offensive rebounding. The Scarlet Knights are third in the league in offensive rebounding percentage. Rutgers has the Big Ten’s worst offense at just .82 points per possession. Given that Indiana’s defense has yet to give up fewer than 1.14 points per possession in a league game, it’s worth tracking how much resistance the Hoosiers put up against a mediocre offensive team.

WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO

Indiana is a 15-point KenPom favorite and a 16-point favorite according to the Sagarin ratings.

It probably goes without saying, but this is a must-win for Indiana. A 1-4 Big Ten start, including three home losses, would be a catastrophe. If you believe in the theory of building momentum going into the next game, the way Indiana plays on Sunday is far more important than just getting a win.

The Hoosiers have a season defining stretch coming after the Rutgers game: at Penn State, Michigan State at home, at Michigan and at Northwestern. Anything less than 2-2 in those games and the prospects for a winning record in the Big Ten begin to look slim. And a subpar performance against Rutgers, even in a win, isn’t a way to springboard the Hoosiers into that stretch with any confidence.

Yes, it’s still early in Big Ten play, but time is running thin on Indiana to turn this season around.

(Photo credit: Rich Graessle, Rutgers Athletics)

IU’s lack of a playmaker hurts in late clock situations

Seventeen games into the season, Indiana has the nation’s eighth best offense in the country according to KenPom.com. If the Hoosiers can stay in the top 10, it would be the fifth time in sixth seasons the program finishes with a top ten offense nationally.

It’s been well established that much of Indiana’s struggles of late can be attributed to defense. The Hoosiers have yet to hold a Big Ten opponent under 1.14 points per possession in four conference games. Last season, Indiana held opponents under a point per possession in nine of its first ten conference games.

Digging back into the offense, there are a few obvious areas where the Hoosiers need to show improvement as the season rolls along. One is turnovers, where Indiana ranks 311th nationally and last in conference games in turnover percentage. The other is finishing more 2s without being blocked. Through four league games, Indiana is having 15.8 percent of its 2-point attempts blocked, which ranks 13th in the conference.

One other theme that has developed, perhaps unsurprisingly when looking at the personnel lost from last season, is Indiana’s lack of success in late clock situations. With the help of Synergy Spots, which defines these possessions as having fewer than four seconds left on the shot or game clock, it’s clear that Indiana has regressed significantly from last season.

That probably shouldn’t come as a surprised when you consider that Indiana lost its two best late clock players from last season in Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams. Here’s a look, via Synergy, at how Indiana performed in late clock situations last year as both a team and individually (players with 15 or more possessions in these situations last season are included):

Williams and Ferrell were both elite in this regard a season ago during IU’s run to the Big Ten title. In late clock situations, both could create and knock down shots to bail the Hoosiers out of broken possessions.

Much of the offseason discussion around this team centered on replacing Ferrell and how effectively the Hoosiers would be able to do so. Wins over Kansas and North Carolina were certainly encouraging, but those performances currently look like more than the exception than the rule.

Against Kansas, the Hoosiers scored 103 points and won on the strength of strong 3-point shooting (15-of-31). And against North Carolina, Indiana won because of its defense. The Hoosiers held the Tar Heels to less than a point per possession. That’s still the only major conference opponent that Indiana has held to under a point per trip.

Despite the defensive struggles, Indiana has been in nearly every game it has lost to this point. Five of its six losses have come by seven points or less. The Hoosiers lost the Fort Wayne, Butler, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Maryland games by a combined 22 points.

We know Indiana’s turnovers have been costly, but struggling to score in late clock situations has also been an issue. In seven such possessions against Maryland, Indiana scored just one time. In six against Butler, Indiana scored just once. Overall, Indiana has only scored (or drawn a foul) in 14 of 45 late clock possessions in its six losses.

This is where the loss of Ferrell and Williams, coupled with Indiana’s lack of a point guard, is causing problems. Here’s a look, via Synergy, at how Indiana has performed in late clock situations as both a team and individually so far this season (players with 10 or more possessions in these situations this season are included):

When possessions break down and Indiana needs someone to go to for a bucket, it simply doesn’t have a clear option.

As well as Blackmon Jr. has played in some key spots, he hasn’t been great in late clock situations. Bryant’s efficiency in these situations is way down from where he finished last season. Some of that can probably also be attributed to the loss of Ferrell and Williams, who were good at finding him late in possessions for easy scores.

Not included in the chart above are Josh Newkirk, OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan, who have combined to score seven points in 21 late clock possessions. Morgan has five of the points.

So what’s the answer to improving these numbers?

There might not be one. Sure, Indiana could have games coming up where it makes the one or two plays needed to pull out close games. A couple of them against Butler and Maryland and wins in those games would make the season look completely different at this point. But more than halfway into the season, Indiana’s reality is that it doesn’t have the late clock playmakers it had a season ago. And in close games, it’s been tough to overcome.

POTB 158: Gregg Doyel of The Indianapolis Star

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 are joined by Gregg Doyel of The Indianapolis Star to discuss the state of Indiana’s 2016-2017 season. Among the topics discussed:

· Gregg’s reasons he was actually encouraged by IU’s loss at Maryland (Zach Osterman’s piece from Maryland)
· The wild swings in momentum for Indiana the last three seasons
· Gregg’s reflections on the first piece he wrote about Tom Crean as IndyStar columnist
· Why Gregg believes the Indiana program is in fine shape
· What needs to happen for Indiana to take another step as a program
· The development of Thomas Bryant and his emotions
· Gregg’s recent column on James Blackmon Jr.
· What the baseline is that Indiana fans should expect from the program
· Is Crean the right for Indiana? Is Indiana the right fit for Crean?
· The progress of OG Anunoby as a sophomore

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

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