A deeper look at Indiana’s strong start

  • 11/30/2010 2:51 pm in

BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 23: Christian Watford  of the Indiana Hoosiers shoots the ball while defended by Samuel Chasten  of the North Carolina Central Eagles at Assembly Hall on November 23, 2010 in Bloomington, Indiana. Indiana won 72-56. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)All stats below are from Ken Pomeroy, unless otherwise noted.

Six games in November against lesser talent isn’t an ideal measuring stick for any college basketball team. Yet, there still exists enough encouraging signs that even when the Hoosiers play more talented teams, they’ll be better equipped for success.

Let us count the ways:

1) Block percentage.

The first two years under Tom Crean, this team has been downright awful at getting off shots without the other team swatting them. In 2008-09, IU got 14.3 percent of its shots blocked — which ranked WORST IN THE NATION.

In 2009-10, IU fared better. But not by much. With 13.2 percent of its shots getting blocked, the Hoosiers finished 342nd out of 347 Division I team in this category.


So far this season, IU has improved by a large margin. Hoosier opponents are swatting 8.1 percent of their shots, good for 124th in the nation.

Credit is due to this team — namely a guy like Christian Watford — bulking up over the summer and asserting a little more authority with their offensive game. IU also has more talent and experience in their rotation, which helps matters here as well.

It’s certainly not an elite mark. But even if the Hoosiers slide some, the days of ranking near the bottom of the country in this category appear to be over.

And more shots making their way to the rim equals more chances to score — which means a better shot at winning.

2) Much-improved defense.

Many have praised Indiana’s defense so far this season. But a peek at the numbers reveals this team is functioning at a higher level on D than you may have previously thought.

They are holding opponents to a 41.5 percent effective field-goal percentage (24th in the nation) and are creating turnovers on 27 percent of their opponents’ possessions (14th in the country). And in adjusted defensive efficiency (adjusted basically means how IU would perform against average competition at a neutral site), the Hoosiers are allowing 93.1 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 37th in the nation. They’re also allowing their opponents to grab just 26.6 percent of available offensive rebounds, good for 33rd in the nation.

That’s some stingy defense.

But the Hoosiers do have a weakness on D: Free-throw rate. Their opponents’ rate is 49.5, which ranks a woeful 290th in the country.

It’s certainly slipped past me, but outside of North Carolina Central, the Hoosiers have let their opponents get to the line 20 or more times in all contests with two games — Wright State (34) and Northwestern State (31) — topping 30 free throws.

IU has simply racked up the fouls too early in each half on many occasions, which is letting the opposition get to the line a lot. Whether this improves at all remains to be seen. But it’s certainly a black mark on what has been an impressive defensive performance thus far.

3) Improved offense, too.

Yeah, there is still stagnation and some scoring droughts here and there.

But fancy this: The Hoosiers’ effective field-goal percentage of 55.9 percent is 21st in the nation. Last season, they ended with a 46.4 percent mark, ranking them 270th in the country. And their adjusted offensive efficiency is seeing them score 105.0 points per 100 possessions, good for 86th in the country. Last year, Pomeroy had them at 99.9 points per 100 possessions for offensive efficiency, which was 188th in the nation.

And four-factor categories where IU was solid last year (offensive-rebounding percentage and free-throw rate) have only improved this season (ORP: 39.7, 31st in the nation; FTR: 46.6, 60th in the nation).

(Perhaps this team is just destined to get to the line a lot and send their opponents there a lot as well.)

IU may have a tough time keeping up the hot shooting all season once they face longer and more athletic perimeter defenders, and the efficiency may suffer as a result. But it’s likely not going to regress to last year’s unimpressive standing.

4) Depth.

A look at John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Ratings reveals that IU’s freshman are doing more than passing the eye test as this team’s glue guys and sparks off the bench.

Of all Big Ten players, Will Sheehey ranks third in PER (35.01), while Victor Oladipo ranks 18th (25.09). Unlike the first two years of Crean’s tenure, there’s quality depth — which is only helping on both sides of the ball.

5) About those turnovers …

Things are about the same here. After turning the ball over on 26.4 percent of their possessions in 2008-09 (342nd in the nation) and 23.0 percent in 2009-10 (306th in the nation), IU has so far turned the ball over on 24.4 percent of possessions in 2010-2011, which ranks them 288th. (Hey: At least more teams are faring worse than IU this season despite such a high mark from the Hoosiers, right?)

Part of the culprit here is opponents are stealing the ball from the Hoosiers on 11.2 percent of their possessions, which ranks IU 270th in the country.

Most everything mentioned above has improved enough to keep this team much more competitive. But turnovers are still at issue at this early juncture.

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