While it’s true talent is the biggest factor in winning big at any level in sports, there are also numbers and trends that we can correlate to success. Advanced statistics are the reason why Ken Pomeroy’s ratings are often more predictive than any top 25 poll or preseason prediction.
This preseason, Indiana is being picked all across the board and the season that lies ahead holds more uncertainty and intrigue than last for a variety of reasons.
– The Big Ten, beyond Wisconsin, appears to be wide open. – Indiana underwent major roster turnover for a second straight offseason. – Indiana added several players who appear capable of shoring up a major 3-point shooting deficiency. – Indiana lost the best rebounder in the conference and it’s fair to ask: “Does this roster possess the pieces to replace that production?”
All of those themes and questions will come more into focus over time as the games are played and the season rolls along. It’s quite possible the Big Ten will have a more defined hierarchy than many believe. It’s also possible that Indiana’s shooting will be better (or worse) than many are predicting. And the rebounding and roster turnover pieces may (or may not) play as big of a role as we think.
But as we study the numbers and look at what it’s going to take for Indiana to be successful this year, several things stand out. Here they are:
· Turnovers should be a major focus: Many of Indiana’s failures last season were blamed on turnovers. This was not unjustified. The Hoosiers ranked 330th nationally in turnover percentage, last in the Big Ten and last among teams in a BCS conference.
Interestingly, something not many are talking about is Indiana has been average at best in this department for the last six years. Here’s Indiana’s turnover percentage and Big Ten rank for conference games over the last six years:
Editor’s note: Only conference games were considered in this analysis.
One of the topics covered earlier this year was Indiana’s propensity for close games and their struggles to win those games. Not only has Indiana played in a lot of tight games this year, it’s actually held a lead in many of them. In fact, only Wisconsin (14) and Iowa (13) have held more halftime leads than Indiana (10) in the entire conference.
Indiana didn’t hold a halftime lead in any of its first five Big Ten games, which means that IU has been the halftime leader in 10 out of their final 13 conference games. The caveat, however, is that the Hoosiers have struggled to hold onto the lead in those contests.
The chart below shows each Big Ten team’s winning percentage in the games it was leading at halftime:
One of the harsh realities of Indiana’s season thus far is that, in so many games, they’ve been really close. How close? Six of their eight Big Ten losses have been by seven or less points and the average margin of defeat in these games is just 4.5 points.
Only three of Indiana’s 13 Big Ten games have not been “close”. (For the duration of this article a “close” game indicates that the score difference was five points or less at some point in the final five minutes of the game.) Only Ohio State and Minnesota have played in more close games than Indiana this season and each has a better winning percentage than the Hoosiers. Though no program deals in “could-haves,” the reality is that the season might have a much different feel if IU had closed out some of these tight games, particularly in conference play.
Here’s a look at how each Big Ten team has fared in close games for both the conference season and the non-conference season:
It is no surprise that the teams at the top of the conference standings — Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin — are some of the best in the league at winning close games. Likewise, teams like Indiana, Illinois, and Penn State have had trouble converting these close games into wins and find themselves looking up in the standings.
So what exactly are the good teams doing that the others are not?
Indiana is allowing a ton of looks at the rim, but the Hoosiers rank ninth in the nation in defensive effective field goal percentage. How can that be? You guessed it–shot-blocking.
Indiana is tops in the conference when it comes to blocking shots at the rim, which is part of how the Hoosiers have allowed a ridiculously low 46 percent field goal percentage at the rim. Still, even taking out the blocks, Indiana opponents have shot only 55 percent on unblocked shots at the rim, which is also the lowest figure in the conference.
That can be partially explained by Indiana’s shot-blocking prowess–after all, good shot blockers alter shots even when they don’t block them–but there also seems to be some good fortune and/or strength-of-schedule effects at work. It will be interesting going forward to see if Indiana can continue to stop opponents while allowing them so many dunk and layup attempts.
Given these numbers and the low 27.8 percent three-point shooting of Hoosier opponents, I’m not completely sold that this is a top 25 defense like KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency says it is. It seems that reversion to the mean could be biting Indiana’s defense in the near future. On a team that will have to rely on defense to grind out an NCAA tournament bid, that’s troubling.
There’s been plenty of conversation in the days following Indiana’s loss to Syracuse on just what went wrong. Some blamed the coaching. Poor preparation against the zone, they said. Others blamed the players. After all, the coaching staff wasn’t out there missing all those shots and turning the ball over. The Hoosiers were bested by a lengthy, athletic team playing a terrific zone they’d never seen before. They admitted to overthinking things on the court — which only compounded the problem.
Yet, a closer inspection of Indiana’s numbers reveal this: Its offense, the most efficient in the nation heading into the tournament, was nothing more than average, if that, in the month of March.
November (7 games)
December (7 games)
January (7 games)
February (7 games)
March (8 games)
March (minus JMU, 7 games)
Striking JMU from consideration — a contest the Hoosiers scored 1.35 points per possession against a team with a talent level more on par with a November opponent than a March one — Indiana scored less than a point per possession in its other seven games. And its shooting absolutely fell off the table. The Hoosiers shot over 40 percent from 3-point range in November, December, January and February. But in March — whether we include the JMU game or not — Indiana shot around only 30 percent from distance.
The Hoosiers are, predictably, shooting worse than last season, but not by much. Indiana is hitting 40 percent from deep, maintaining the three-point shot as a very valuable weapon. Note that the team average would be 36.5 percent were it not for Remy Abell’s 10 for 12 performance. I thought Matt Roth had graduated, but maybe he’s just wearing a Remy Abell costume. In all seriousness, Abell’s return to earth should coincide with improvement from others who have shot worse than their ability (Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey), so we shouldn’t expect a huge drop in team accuracy.
It’s still a bit surprising to see Indiana taking so many more threes than last season … Indiana has gone from reluctant to willing when it comes to hoisting three-point shots, and it seems unlikely now that the Hoosiers will fully revert to last season’s tendencies. This team is open to taking threes, which is very smart when you’re making 40 percent of them.
The Big Ten season starts in less than a month. Every men’s basketball team has played at least six games; seven have played either seven or eight games. That puts more than half the conference at or near the quarter turn of the regular season.
With this in mind, a look at where Indiana is stacking up in a host of statistical categories vs. its Big Ten foes through Sunday’s games. It’s a little early to draw any grand conclusions just yet from all this, but from available non-conference data at present, here’s a look:
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
Big Ten Ranking
Despite a 5-3 record, Wisconsin sports the 10th best offense in the country and the 23rd best defense (see below). The Kohl Center is never an easy place to play — although one of the Badgers’ losses does come at home already this season (Virginia) — so it’ll be interesting to see what the team is able to do come conference time. And if you needed any further proof that the Big Ten is good, look no further than it having five of the top 13 offenses in the country.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
Big Ten Ranking
Michigan State’s defense — which finished third nationally last season — is back, just behind Indiana’s and good for sixth in the country. With a 13th ranked offense and 19th ranked defense, Minnesota is looking like it could make some noise once Big Ten season hits. Michigan is getting a lot of deserved buzz of late for their strong start after some thought they were ranked a bit too high to start the year. While their offense has been crazy efficient (third in the nation), a 30th ranked defense has room to improve. Penn State and Nebraska? Well, neither team is very good.
Twelve non-conference games in the books. And twelve victories for Indiana.
With an assist from KenPom, here’s a look at where the Hoosiers’ strong start stacks up with their conference foes as the Big Ten season kicks off this evening:
No team in the conference boasts a more efficient offense than the Hoosiers heading into Big Ten play. KenPom currently ranks them as the No. 7 offensive in the nation in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency (115.8), though Ohio State (11th, 114.3) and Wisconsin’s slow-tempo-look-for-the-best-shot offense (12th, 114.0) aren’t far behind. (Adjusted offensive efficiency is the number of points a team scores per 100 possessions, which KenPom adjusts for level of competition.) From there, Northwestern (20th), Michigan (30th), Michigan State (33rd), Minnesota (38th) and Purdue (40th) round out the top 40. Though Illinois has played somewhat well and has spent time in the Top 25, the Illini’s offense (108th) has held them back.
Indiana sports the second-highest eFG% (57.7, 6th in the nation) in the conference behind Michigan (58.2, fourth in the nation) and its 3-point percentage (45.9 percent) is tops in the conference and good for second in the nation. The Hoosiers’ free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 50.5 also tops the conference.
As we’ve seen, the offense has been a multi-pronged attack: easy buckets in transition, efficient scoring from Cody Zeller down low, slashing and mid-range work from Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, lots of free throws and deadly 3-point accuracy no matter what the situation. Add in an offensive rebounding percentage of 36.7 percent (57th in the nation) and Indiana is getting second-chance opportunities as well.
But conference play will test all this, as several Big Ten teams sport some of the best defenses in the country.
Two bigs problems for Indiana’s defense this season.
You may know them already.
Its opponents’ free-throw rate of 50.2 percent ranked 333rd in the nation. Not one major conference program fared worse. This team fouled and fouled and fouled, and then fouled some more. Tom Pritchard (6.5 fouls per 40 minutes) Derek Elston (5.7) and Bobby Capobianco (10.7) were Indiana’s biggest culprits. But freshmen Will Sheehey (5.5) and Victor Oladipo (4.8) contributed to the problem, as did Daniel Moore (5.0) in a limited role.
Most games the opponent held the advantage at the line. Twenty-plus attempts from the opposition was common. When your margin for error against quality Big Ten opponents is already small, giving away so many freebies can sink your ship fast. To put this in perspective, Indiana finished dead last during the conference season by allowing 473 free-throw attempts. Northwestern, which finished a spot ahead in 10th, allowed over 100 less at 358.
Indiana’s other defensive issue — one not in the box score or measured by advanced statistics — was a communication and assignment breakdown. Often, Indiana failed to execute in its half-court defense, leaving opposing players wide open for 3-pointers, something Film Session covered early and late. And a lack of strong communication between the five players on the court sometimes left Indiana scrambling to pick up the pieces as the opponent got a clean look at the basket.
Between the open looks and free throws, Indiana finished the season allowing 1.14 points per possession, which tied them for last in the Big Ten with Northwestern. And their adjusted defensive efficiency in-conference regressed year-over-year, too (111.8 in 2009-10 to 113.7 in 2010-11).
A little over a month ago, I took a look at Indiana’s efficiency numbers just four games into the Big Ten season.
Things were not pretty on the defensive end.
Have things changed with a larger sample size?
Last time around, Indiana ranked last in the Big Ten, as it was giving up 1.26 points per possession to its opponents. Though not a spectacular defensive squad now, the Hoosiers have improved. They now sit at 1.11 points per possession, ahead of only basement-dwelling Northwestern (1.15), tied with Michigan and just behind both Iowa (1.1) and Michigan State (1.1). So if Indiana flashes some solid D the rest of the way out, it’s possible it could leapfrog the Hawkeyes and Spartans and finish seventh or better in the conference in terms of defensive efficiency, provided Michigan and Northwestern don’t jump ahead of them.
Better communication, more resolve and less lapses have allowed the Hoosiers to defend the 3-point line better. After being up at 51.4 percent (eleventh) through four games, the team has now allowed Big Ten opponents to shoot 39.2 percent (ninth), ahead of Michigan State (42 percent) and Northwestern (39.5 percent). This has helped drop their opponents’ effective field-goal percentage from 59.9 percent (tenth in conference) to 51.9 (seventh).
Indiana has also done a better job of fouling less frequently, as their opponents’ free-throw rate has dropped from 69.5 (eleventh) to 53.6 percent. Mind you, this is still dead last in the league by a long shot, as Northwestern is tenth at 43 percent.
Again, not stellar, but it’s an improvement. This team is better defensively than their wayward start showed.