Rebounding, defense key in trip to Minnesota

  • 01/03/2011 3:35 pm in

Minnesota and Indiana enter Tuesday night’s affair kindred spirits in an unwanted way, each holding a share of last place in the Big Ten standings after a pair of conference games. Whichever team pulls itself up off the mat and out of the conference cellar in The Barn will almost surely do it in part through a strong defensive performance and good work on the boards.

Defensively, Indiana has struggled mightily over its recent four-game losing streak, allowing opponents to shoot, on average, 52.9 percent from the field. In Big Ten play, that number stands at 57.2 percent, and Penn State and Ohio State combined to shoot 57.8 percent from behind the arc as well.

The Hoosiers themselves created well on offense, particularly in shooting an even 50 percent against Ohio State, but Tom Crean acknowledged that his team’s defense was still lacking “effort.”

“I didn’t like how smart we played, and I didn’t like how we played when the ball was being reversed,” Crean said Monday, referring to the Hoosiers’ performance against Ohio State. “These guys are developing a better mindset all the time. We can see it, we just don’t have – we haven’t hit that last 10, 20 percent we’ve gotta have.”

In Minnesota, the Hoosiers will be facing a team that has been held to just 60 and 62 points in Big Ten play by Wisconsin and Michigan State, respectively. But the Gophers bring depth and experience in the frontcourt, with a number of talented post players at coach Tubby Smith’s disposal, including Ralph Sampson III, Colton Iverson and Marquette transfer Trevor Mbakwe.

That trio together averages 22.7 rebounds per game, and Crean singled out Mbakwe (9.9 per game, best on the team) in particular. The 6-foot-8 junior was a player Crean recruited for three years.

“Minnesota brings three very experienced front line guys to the table that really work the lanes well,” he said, adding of Mbakwe specifically: “He’s one of the best rebounders in the nation statistically, and he’s certainly one of the more relentless rebounders in the nation.”

Post defense was as significant an issue for the Hoosiers as any last Friday night, when attempts to defend Ohio State’s standout freshman forward Jared Sullinger forced Tom Pritchard and Derek Elston out on fouls by the midpoint of the second half. Christian Watford finished with four as well, and Victor Oladipo, who spent time guarding the post in the absence of Pritchard and Elston, also fouled out.

Crean said Monday he felt his team’s great weakness in its post defense wasn’t solely in defending Sullinger once he had the ball, but in failing to keep the ball out of his hands. It ought be noted that Mbakwe and Sampson are Minnesota’s second- and third-leading scorers, respectively.

Many of Indiana’s own defensive problems, Crean said, are ones born of poor technique, or a lack of communication.

“It’s trust and communication. It’s trusting that the guy behind you,” he said. “We’re not calling soon enough, and then we put our guards in a tough situation by running into a screen.”

Perhaps it should be some comfort, however, that the Gophers themselves rank statistically worst in the Big Ten in defense, allowing the greatest points per game average (68.4) and possessing the conference’s 10th-best scoring margin (+6.4). Their adjusted defensive efficiency (94.4) — measured through the whole season thus far — only ranks them eighth in the Big Ten ahead of Penn State (99.0), Northwestern (97.9) and Indiana (95.9).

Smith’s squad will also be without Devoe Joseph, the talented but troubled guard whose absence, it seems, might last awhile.

Battle for the glass

The Hoosiers have yet to outrebound an opponent in Big Ten play, and were outdone in that department 30-20 against Ohio State on New Year’s Eve.

By contrast, Minnesota boasts the Big Ten’s highest rebounding average (40.6 per game) and second-best rebounding margin (+6.4), thanks in large part to its talented frontcourt, led by Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III.

Equally impressive is Minnesota’s work on the offensive boards, where the Gophers pull in 14.36 rebounds per game (best in the Big Ten) and currently boast an offensive rebounding percentage of 39.7, 13th best in the country. (In other words, Minnesota collects nearly 40 percent of all available offensive rebounds, a number bested by only 12 teams nationwide.)

“There’s no question we’re going to see that size, that experience and that explosiveness,” Crean said.

All that said, the Hoosiers still aren’t all that poor a rebounding team. Indiana is 56th in the country and second in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding percentage, allowing just 29.2 percent of potential offensive rebounds to fall into the hands of opponents.

And while Indiana is eighth in the conference in rebounding offense, it is third in rebounding defense, allowing just 30.5 boards per game. More of that, as well as an emphasis on blocking out, will be key to IU’s plans in Minneapolis.

“We know they’re a tough team, they’ve got a great inside presence,” Watford said, referring specifically to blocking out. “They’re gonna be tough, but we’ve just got to keep them off the glass and go play hard.”

Video of Crean’s press conference, courtesy of IU Athletics:

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  • Anonymous

    Not looking forward to this game. Playing at that funky court is never easy and considering the size/athleticism differential, this won’t be fun to watch. If I were them, I’d require all shot attempts to be within 10 feet of the basket, because, well, they can so that if they want to. I’d love to be surprised, but this feels like a rough loss #3 in Big Ten play.

  • Hey IU womens basketball already won at Minnesota ( and NW) and are 2-0 in the Big Ten. Maybe we should let them play again vs the Minn men and if we lose at least we have a NEW excuse- If we were to make a Depth Chart of our excuses it would be pretty sorry -the same old ones don’t have legs anymore and its only 2 games into the season.

  • Anonymous

    I think we’re catching the wrong team at the wrong time. They’ve lost by single digits on the road at Wisconsin and at Michigan State. Overrated or not, they were #13 in the polls a month ago for a reason.

    They have us at home and know they need this game and know what we did to them last year. We’re not going to catch them off guard and their biggest strength is our biggest weakness (interior play). Would love to have this one, but I don’t think the odds are good…

  • kentuckyhoosier

    I think we are screwed , we dont match up well , we historically dont play good at the barn , and really we just arent good in general . Its gonna be a long year , and I dont see us getting any help from the coach …. Guess Im just really dissapointed . I should probally stop posting

  • Anonymous

    Also wanted to touch base on something that’s been bothering me after reading some of the comments in the previous posts regarding team preparation and coaching.

    I know Crean is getting bashed by some for not doing enough in, well, just about every area besides recruiting. One thing to keep in mind is how limited coaches are by NCAA rules in this area. I don’t know the current rules, but when I was playing college basketball 7 or 8 years ago, the limit was 20 hours a week during the season. This includes: practice, games, weight lifting, team meetings, film study, and nearly any other team functions – it can be vague. And if you walk too fine a line, just look at Michigan football who got hammered by the NCAA due to confusion over practice time rules.

    When you factor in games on other things college programs do, you’re only looking at around 10 – 12 hours of practice a week. Most of that will be specific team drills, installing offense/defense, and some work on preparing for the next game. Each of those things only get a few hours a week. As much as he may want to, a coach can’t spend too much on any one thing without taking away from something else. If they’re going to work on limiting move screens, you’re pulling your ball-handlers and your bigs away from working on defensive rotations.

    This gets me to what is really hurting us (beside talent/depth issues) – experience in a system. A coach has to rely on upperclass teaching the underclassment a lot. A college team (mostly) lives together, eats together, and hangs out together. You learn a lot outside of practice about what a coach wants and expects from an upperclassmen how to play in the system. For example, if someone is having trouble learning the offense, an upperclassman at his position would show them the ropes.

    Our (current) upperclassmen came into a situation that few programs have ever been in and they didn’t have anyone to learn from, which has hurt them. I also think that Crean had to change what he wanted to do in the first season or two due to the talent level and lack of depth. That has a trickle down effect on the player development, it still has an affect on this team – though it’s lessening.

    Basically, Crean doesn’t have much time in season (and less out of season) to do what he wants with the players he has. And we don’t have the experience yet to fill that gap.

    Sorry for the long post, tried to keep it short.

  • Anonymous

    I’m ready to be surprised tomorrow. Hopefully it’s for something positive. Not a place we generally do well, though.

  • Anonymous

    Great post. Definitely brought a different perspective than we what normally see on the comments section.

    Please continue posting. Love reading viewpoints from former players.

  • Anonymous

    Joseph will not be playing, things are starting to look up

  • MillaRed

    Well said, and if the talent isn’t there to overcome lack of experience, well, we see what the production is.

  • MillaRed

    Well Kentucky you’re just gonna have to dig deep into your Hoosier heart like the rest of us!

  • MillaRed

    The CTC comments are still coming on strong.

    We all have seen a football game when a dominating run team just runs the ball all day. I remember taking my son to a high school playoff game a few years ago and the winning team threw the ball 3 times while ripping up 400 yards rushing, My son asked me, “Dad, why can they run like this when we have 8-9 guys in the box?” Fact is, if you are bigger, better and more experienced, it doesn’t matter. They just could not stop the run.

    Our beloved Hoosier basketball team is in the same boat. When you add it all up, we do not have the size, talent or experience to stop runs. Personally, I did not expect a lot from this team anyway so I am not sweating it.

    I understand that VJ, TP, DE and Capo have not developed well over the last year. But can we not admit Jordy has made HUGE strides? How about CWat expanding his game into a possible 2nd/3rd team Big Ten honors? How about Rivers! Holy cow! We wanted to crucify this guy. How about the sleeper recruits Will and VO? Do we not want to give Coach any credit for this? His recruiting ability while on probation!?!

    The guy needs more time and I’m willing to give it to him, frustrated or not.