Could defense be Indiana’s greatest strength?

  • 11/14/2010 10:41 pm in

BLOOMINGTON — Some of the old weaknesses remain. Surely, you remember them: the endless string of frustrations, the turnovers and sloppy offensive sets and lack of low-post production.

It helped that no one seemed interested in defending Verdell Jones within five feet of the basket, from his first point to his 27th. And it helped that Christian Watford got more assertive offensively in the second half, taking over during a particularly offense-deprived stretch when IU sorely needed some points.

But what does it say about this team that the fouls (24) can pile up, turnovers can still drag opponents back into games and Indiana is still capable of long scoring droughts (6:53 in the middle of the second half) and yet is still capable of winning by 23 points when the pre-game line hovered around 5.5?

“It just gives us an identity. We’re a defensive team,” Watford said afterward. “We understand that, and we’re willing to work at that.”

Identity … at Indiana … imagine that. Defensive identity to boot. This from the Indiana team that actually gave up as many points last year to Bo Ryan’s perfect-for-the-Big Ten offense in Madison as its football brethren did on Saturday. (A cheap shot, but an illustrative one.)

Indiana closed down Wright State. Outside of a brief bout of offensive success to start the game, the Raiders were smothered. At the first TV timeout, Wright State led 7-4, with a 3-of-5 shooting line. It scored 37 points, and shot a miserable 12-of-41 over the game’s remaining 35:51. The 19 points Wright State scored in the first half marked the lowest number for any opponent in the Crean era.

Not bad, eh?

“We’ve just got to cut down on our turnovers and stuff like that,” Watford added to the end of the aforementioned comment. “We’ll be OK.”

So it’s not all sunshine and light. And I acknowledge that Wright State doesn’t present the challenge of Kentucky, or of Boston College, or even of Penn State. (Maybe of Iowa. Rough night for the Hawkeyes.)

But Indiana is learning to be a lockdown defensive team. More importantly, it’s learning the varied benefits of being able to use Watford’s word: identity. Or as Verdell Jones put it: “Defense creates offense.”

Off just 12 Wright State turnovers, Indiana directly scored 16 points. The Hoosiers poured in 18 fast-break points, and doubled up the Raiders in points in the paint.

“I think the proof is there that it’s getting better,” coach Tom Crean said after the game of his team’s defensive mindset. “If there’s one thing I’m nervous about, it’s getting consistent.”

“But I think any time you have a team that is young in certain areas and hasn’t had success and hasn’t had it handed down to them how to play, that’s what our older guys are starting to do now. The consistency is what we’re looking for, every day.”

It said something, perhaps, that Crean’s first comments upon meeting with the media were about defense. Because in the end, as tired as the cliches have become, defense really is the greatest asset a team can have. Turnovers can be overcome, poor offensive stretches mitigated and games won all through a defense that is stringent, miserly and able to feed the transition game. So far, Indiana has that, or something close to it. There might not have been a more important addition all offseason.

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  • Anonymous

    This team is looking like they will have some fight to them, they are really looking better each game. Mo Creek is still getting his legs/shot to him, which we all expected.

    One thing, VJ3 makes all the difference to this team. Look at the exhibitions without him, not to having him. He really is becoming a special IU player. I hope people do not forget about him in the coming years.

  • Qtyip

    Maybe it was our tremendous defense, but that Wright St. offense looked awful… Regardless, we’re certainly headed in the right direction.

  • STL Hoosier

    Developing an identity? Not until we play some real competition. This was an average team without their leading senior. We can call it an identity when we shut down Big Ten teams.

    We need GMM back asap…TP is showing he can’t be THE big man once Big Ten play rolls around. He had flashes of athleticism tonight nut still fouled out with 0 offensive production.

    With that said, the future looks bright for our Hoosiers. But keep in mind the team is still young and they will continue to be frustrating to watch at times. But rest assured, IU is on it’s way back to the top of college basketball.

  • Anonymous

    Every year there are teams people don’t expect much from, either from what pundits see as a lack of talent or because they really don’t have much to base an opinion on. With a team that has been rebuilding for two years, the experience that our guys have gained just being on the court and missing pieces (Roth, Creek, the athleticism of VO) back in the picture, I see this as one of those teams that catches everyone off guard.

    Whether we can brings it every game is definitely up in the air, but day in and day out we should be able to COMPETE with everyone we play. When balls bounce our way and other teams have off nights there is no reason to believe this team can shock and win more than expected. Add in the fact that this team is no doubt dying to leave ITS MARK on the rebuilding of IU before the calvary arrives in the next few years. there is a possibility of this season being special

    They are gonna bring the fight, cause CTC can honestly tell them before every game this year that they can win. And we will snatch a few that people maybe don’t think we will, and the defense will be responsible for this.

  • BaseballBuc

    Does anybody realize we are 1/5 of the way to last years win total?! Yeah!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    and should get all the way there before entering conference play

  • Anonymous

    I think whoever did the pre-B10 schedule this year underestimated this IU team – they are much better than these small schools and could compete with better/bigger schools.

  • Remember GUY would have helped and maybe Roth. Creek still doesn’t look 100%- Of course WSU didn’t have its starting guard either.The point I’m trying to make is – ok we didn’t look so polished but its still early- many other teams aren’t so hot right now and we know we have some good players on the bench.

    Its not quite fair to say yeah we wouldn’t beat a TOP BIg Ten team right now – because #1 we don’t know for sure how they are playing and #2 we have plenty of time before we deal with them.

    As long as we win we can hope for post-season– just let’ s worry about one game at a time. Let’s enjoy our sloppy victory.

  • Anonymous

    I think the player that is going to surprise this year is Danny Moore.
    1.) He plays pesky defense
    2.) He brings energy to the game
    3.) Most importantly, He can penetrate

    The last part is the most important because there’s no one player that can penetrate on a whim. Verdell is a good pentrator, but not spectacular and he’s turnover prone. Creek isn’t fantastic, even when healthy, and Hulls is mediocre at best. That leaves an opening for Moore as a guy that can get into the lane and cause havoc.

  • BaseballBuc

    The thing with Verdell is he can get his own shot from anywhere on the court, where Moore cannot. When Moore gets in the lane, he’s going to have to pass every time. VJ can pull up, go to the basket, or kick it to an open shooter because of his size.

  • Widget

    The perimeter defensive pressure that VO brings is the biggest change to last season. He is smothering their ball handler at the timeline, disrupting things at all times. Pure speed and hustle. Add Guy to the middle and we are instantly much, much better on the D side.

  • JerryCT

    This was a nice win but we should not get carried away since WSU was short handed, has played fewer games and missed 50% of their foul shots.

    + NO, defense is absolutely NOT our strength as a team unless you are referring to specific players like JR, VO and TP …..

    + Missing 50+% from the line saved our butts and we did not turn them over . My god Jones & Watford had about as many TO’s as they did as a team for the game

    + We actually switched on the ball screens , something we did not do as a strategy last year ………… and we looked very confused at it …….. but if you cannot break through screens you are forced to switch ( kudos to Hulls who did handle screens pretty well )

    + Luckily we did not play that zone where Hulls/Moore are under the basket on the baseline to defend bigs, get rebounds and push the break …………. sound crazy ? … I think it is

    + Yes VJ3 gets his shot …………….but his focus on his own points results in us standing around while he dribbles……… his turnovers will kill us soon ………. and his defense is inconsistent

    Still a nice win and consistent play from JR again is very good to see

  • Looks like the four that will form the core of this team are CW, VJ III, Hulls, and Mo – and with CW and VJ playing solid and Mo only getting better over time – they represent a solid base. The problem is inside presence. TP is our best option so far. I hope Elston starts to play like a 4 instead of a 3 – and he should then be awarded more PT. Need Guy in there. Would love to see Guy with Elston and CW, MC, and yes JR – a group that with an impressive upside…..but I love the tenacity out there on D…

  • I noticed the screen-switching on D and I hope that’s something we can improve upon and continue into the B10 season; if we’ve finally got enough athleticism/height to do it, I’m a fan (it’s one thing we did well under Sanctions and I thought it made us a tougher opponent).

    One of VJ3’s turnovers — maybe two of them — came from people not looking for the pass; not his fault. I could live with 4 TOs from him if he put up 20+ points… I’d love to see more assists, though. And the reason VJ3 is at the point is because he can penetrate — a deficiency for Hulls.

  • Anonymous

    Good point on VJIII’s turnovers. One was the lead bounce pass through traffic on the break that Victor couldn’t handle. The pass was beautiful, and the finish would have brought the roof off. That one particular pass would have been one more assist and one less turnover.

  • Anonymous

    If Guy’s time away ends up being what others are speculating, which is missing five games because he played in five games with the French team, he should be back for the Northwestern State game 11/26—-Happy Thanksgiving!

  • LDIU

    I like our defense a lot. I am quite concerned about some really stupid turnovers and some dumb fouls, though. However, “IF” we can get Guy back, we could better pretty good and we do play really hard and this is much better than I might have thought.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with everything you say here. I don’t think IU’s defense was as good as this post makes it out to be as Wright State didn’t have any firepower last night outside of Duggins.

    I worry about what will happen during the B10 season if Crean throws out a starting lineup of VJIII, Creek, Hulls, Watford and Pritchard. I don’t think Creek can guard the 2 until the strength is back in his knee (less limping in this game in fewer mins) and I’m certain that Hulls can’t guard the 3 against legit B10 teams. I’d rather see VO in there on the perimeter or Elston down low with Hulls being the first man off the bench for VJIII or Creek.

  • millzy32

    I hope you’re right because I’d like to see him get some action in before we have to go up against Boston College on National TV. NCAA as usual dragging their feet.

  • Ryan_Btown

    I loved the way Hulls rebounded the ball tonight. He really gets after the boards for a little guy. With that said, the offense seemed so much smoother with Moore or Jones running the point, and unfortunately, Hulls seems less of a threat without the ball. So what I’m getting at is that I really liked the Moore/Jones combo better than the Hulls/Jones combo.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry to pee in the punchbowl, but shouldn’t we wait until we play a team that can make a layup before we pronounce our defense sound.

    Wright State had lots of open shots (and layups), they just missed them all (along with all their free throws).

    I thought our best defense last night was defensive rebounding.

  • millzy32

    Our very own AD wanted this weak schedule to get easy wins. I guess it’s great practice for us but in future years I’d like to see a much tougher preseason to get us ready for the Big Ten. Boston College is ok and Kentucky will be good but probably pretty raw and without Kanter a little short handed.

    Should be able to get at least 11 wins in this little preseason since Wright State was probably the 4th toughest of the 13 game schedule.

  • Swishmac IU

    Was our defense that good or did WSU stall in the absence of their PG. Couple observations from the peanut gallery:

    * I keep witing to see the fast paced transition game that Crean talks repeatedly about – I think we missed a ton of opportunities to run last night.
    * It is obvious that our defense is drastically improved over last year, but our half court offense still drives me crazy – I dont think the sets he uses fits our talent makeup. If we are going to run a 5 wide set, we better hit 40+% from the field to win. I wasnt overly impressed with our ability to get mismatches and exploit them.
    * If we had that many turnovers in a “track meet” style game, maybe you could understand – but that many in a half court set will kill you.

    All that said, I am glad to see that I am not saitisfied with just a victory anymore – I really believe this team has talent to do some damage in the B10.

  • stonaroni

    I still think we win 18 to 20 games this year as long as Guy is eligible.

    If he isn’t, it is a 15 win season.

    He is the key to this season. TP, BC, and DE will not get it done in the Big 10. GMM may not be the answer either, but atleast he is 7′ and can alter shots and add 5 more fouls to the defensive rotation. The 5 fouls to give may be more important than him scoring any points.

  • stonaroni

    See on a night Hulls isn’t making 6 3’s, he adds little to the fold; D Moore is just as good and JR physically matches up better than Moore and Hulls.

    I think when Creek is 100%, Hulls will see his time decrease.

    VJIII dominated the game tonight.

  • millzy32

    Wright State may be down this year but they consistently give Butler fits in the Horizon League year in and year out and Butler seems to think that they are the newly anointed Kings of the world of BBall.

  • it’s Indiana

    Reasons Why Hell Is Freezing Over:

    1. I’ve become a Rivers cheerleader
    2. A Freshman (subbing in for Rivers) continues to lock down opponent’s main threat
    3. 10 minutes left in the game…akward, unfamiliar feeling….I’m CALM!

  • Walt

    IU overall performed pretty good. Illinois looked real good in its win over SIU. IU must keep on improving. Since Zachary brought this up, What Wisconsin did to IU was an embarassment, the laughing, sneering and overall disrespect shown by wisc.was unconcienable. At the same time how could IU be that pourous on defense? I hope when payback comes it is IU basketball doing it first.

  • Anonymous

    I was discussing the ” hey you suck” chants last night at the game. Just immature and classless behavior. That is not the way Indiana fans should act under any circumstance. We are simply better than that. Something needs to be said to the student section. They can watch from home if that is their idea of support.

  • MillaRed

    It’s hard for me to label these guys a defensive team until we cutdown on the turnovers. Defense is predicated on discipline and disciplined teams do not turn the ball over 20+ times a game. Some of the TOs come directly after a defensive stop or rebound. We need to calm down a little.

    Now with Guy in there, if he can patrol the lane, might be a different story. There is no doubt we are more athletic and that gives us better defensive pressure. You can see that Mo and VIII are trying their best. Mo will be a good defender when he in playing shape. I think Sheehey will get there when he gets stronger.

    Victo and JR seem to take the defense personally. They are fun to watch.

  • Anonymous

    The “You Suck” part usually just makes me roll my eyes. It’s one thing if we’re yelling it at Purdue or Kentucky–but Wright State? Come on, that’s just embarrassing. However, it’s the part that follows the “You Sucks” that’s just classless. I can understand keeping the chant because it does hype up students and that energy is important especially come Big Ten season (At one game this year the guys in front of me were so stoned they didn’t even get up for the under 8 minute timeout)–but only without the cursing at the end. Possible? Of course not!

    Better basketball could very well breed smarter, classier fans. We’ll get there.

  • millzy32

    Agreed. Especially against a lesser opponent. If they want to chant like that vs Purdue or Michigan State it’s one thing but against Wright State? Come on man.

  • MillaRed

    I agree. First of all, Coach is using him perfectly. More importantly, JR seems to have bought in. He is not looking for his shot at all on the outside, he is consistently making the extra pass, and he is right in the grill of the ball handler he is defending.

    If he keeps it up, this will pay off down the road when we have tired legs.

  • Anonymous

    +I noticed the switching, but man our inability to get through screens is a little ridiculous. Verdell got caught on a few and took about three seconds to get back to his man.

    +I think the issue with the Watford turnovers is that he dribbles the ball so far away from his body that it’s very easy to steal. If he doesn’t have space to work inside it seems like the ball is always getting poked away.

  • Anonymous

    The biggest issue with the offense to me is no one cuts. There were so many points in the game where I could see that a back cut and a good pass would lead to an easy layup, but no one cuts ever. Cutting into open space would also help a lot with our complete inability to get penetration on offense.

  • Anonymous

    I would actually prefer VO or JR to be on the floor at all times. They bring great energy and athleticism to the floor and are really important on defense.

  • HoosierFromCT

    agreed. Watching them was like watching us 2 years ago. No “true” PG out there to run the team, missed layups, missed free throws, and no athleticism on the break. Even though I haven’t seen 1 second of GMM, we need him.

  • Anonymous

    I agree BUT will take any W’s at this point. I’ll leave the style points for a couple yrs down the road, for now let’s just get back to +.500 and gain experience & confidence.

    As for pUKe, I’m convinced they are not a top 10 team, especially without the Turk. Let’s beat them.

  • MillaRed

    I was thinking the same thing. I almost thought to say JR should start but I
    realized my head may have exploded.

    However, if Guy can give us 6-8 ppg, I think you have a good argument.
    Especially when we play athletic teams like OSU, MSU etc.

    VIII
    Mo
    JR
    CW
    Guy

    I know VO is more of an offensive threat, but I would rather ease him in
    right now. Maybe 2/3 into the season he gets the start over JR. I also like
    Jordy with the 2nd unit as a scoring threat along with Victor.

    This all makes a lot of sense (to me). I’m calling Coach right now to get
    this straight……….

  • MillaRed

    Check that……the new and improved JR. Plus, he’s not at the point!

  • N71

    What recruits were there last night? Any wibe on who will be next to commit? The You Suck chant seems like throwing rocks from inside a glass house. Once we finish a season .500+ maybe, but even then what’s the point.

  • joe

    IF YOU’RE GONNA SET A SCREEN….. STAND STILL WHEN DOING IT!

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the sentiment on the chant. However, as a very recent graduate and rabid student section attendee ( I actually designed last years t-shirt) the “They can watch from home if that is their idea of support” is way off base. There are a couple things the student section could do better (most obviously showing up earlier), but as a whole it is THE BEST student section in the nation. We come in droves and create 90%+ of the atmosphere in the place.

    I don’t want to create a student vs the others argument here, BUT the student section cheers the loudest, the most, and participates in ALL facets of the game. You can be disgusted by the cheer but if you want to lose the student section and all the fear it instills in opponents, then good luck bringing back the winning tradition of the Hoosiers.

    I have always said I fear the day I don’t get to sit in the student section anymore.

    Remember, the athletes themselves are students and they admire the dedication of their fellow students to come out and support them, flaws and all.

  • LOL I just added “likes” to all the posters who correctly criticized the “you suck” Chants. Wright State is a smaller college and I bet they were thrilled to come play us. We should have made it a happy experience aside from the score. How would we feel if Wisc had that chant that on Saturday – and there maybe we deserve it for lowering the caliber of Big Ten Football.Let’s show some class -even a lion licks his prey before he eats it.

  • MillaRed

    The 6 three’s were against a zone and Wright St took away the three. Pick your posion I suppose.

    It will be hard to zone against IU with Jordy, Mo, Roth, Verdell and Sheehey.

  • Walt

    Agree with you 83%. It was just plain wrong. The other 20% wonders why. Were many just drunk or something, were they students? I have been an IU fan a long time. Did not see the game, but hard to believe IU students would be that classless. I do not like the B__L S__T chants either.

  • Anonymous

    That comment was an exaggeration out of frustration. Our students are generally excellent and do provide us needed energy in The Hall. I’ve attended games every year since I was born and this was the first time I felt the crowds actions were unjustified and a bit embarrassing. When we actually fill the student section this year they will give us a big homecourt advantage. Above all the behaviors of our fans is a representation of IU to our fans, opponents fans, and potential recruits as well. So bring plenty of noise just do It the Indiana way.

  • MillaRed

    Holy crap! Mississippi Valley St lost to Georgia by 2 points on the road! We better play some ball.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I hear you. And it would best to end that chant or atleast reserve it for the likes of pUKe. But college kids will be college kids.I heard student section tickets sales were down this year to the point where one of my roommates who graduated with me actually got a call from the ticket office offering him “Young Alumni Tickets” for the same price as student tickets.These new and incoming Hoosiers better understand what they are lucky enough to be getting in the coming years. I remember the unbelievable excitement I felt freshman year when we beat #2 Wisconsin. But still, our one conference win against Iowa two year later was just as exciting. The ability to say you were apart of ANY IU student section is priceless and it should be filled EVERY time.

  • Raybert

    Let me get something off my chest…
    The “You Suck” chant has to go…but what really bothers me are the EMPTY SEATS in the first ten rows that most fans would kill for! Hey fat cat alums, who have had those tix for 40+ years–either come to the game or give them to someone like me who would drive HOURS for the privilege to sit in those primo seats. I see Mich St and Duke on TV this weekend and not an empty seat in sight!
    At IU some of the BEST SEATS IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL are empty!!
    HOOSIER NATION???????