Defense a clear issue for Indiana six games into season

  • 11/30/2014 2:24 pm in

During his time at Indiana, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean has wanted to ensure that every play call gets to every one of his players. Each time a player hears a play call, they say it out loud so that it reaches their teammates. An “echo” is what the Hoosiers call it.

Through the first six games of the 2014-2015 season, though, Crean has not been hearing that echo. And on defense, the Hoosiers are struggling. After allowing 98 points in the paint to Lamar and Eastern Washington, in Friday’s 87-79 win over UNC Greensboro the Hoosiers allowed 1.13 points per possession and a 60.3 effective field goal percentage.

Following Friday’s win over the Spartans, Crean expressed his frustration over his defense. It simply has not been improving.

“We didn’t have communication the way we need to have it,” he said. “I’ve got to get that fixed. Every time I think that we’re better at it, then I find out that we’re not. I got to take full responsibility. It’s not on the assistants, on nobody else but me to get our communication right. And whatever that’s going to take, we’re going to have to get that right because all it is is calling out who you have and calling out when you switch and calling out when we switch a defense.”

Heading into the game against UNCG, as with any game, the Hoosiers’ coaching staff put together a scouting report on their opponents. They knew many of the Spartans’ points came from behind the 3-point line, and they mainly came from two players — Clay Byrd and Nicholas Paulos.

During the game, though, the Hoosiers struggled to stop either of them. Byrd went 6-of-11 and Paulos 6-of-8 on 3-point attempts, allowing the Spartans to stay in the game and even threaten for the lead late.

What frustrated Crean more than anything was that the two and their tendencies were on the scouting report. The on-court awareness was not there, though.

“If the scouting report says he goes over his right shoulder 95% of the time, then he’s probably going to go over his right shoulder 95% of the time,” Crean said. “We got to take the right shoulder away, or we have to take the left hand away or switch out when we’re supposed to switch out.”

“Hearts are in the right place, minds got to get in a clearer place when it comes to scouting report defense.”

Defensive faults in this season’s team is not something that Crean was just made aware of, either. The team has been working on it in practices, sophomore Collin Hartman said, especially on defensive communication.

But in games, Hartman admitted, the “definitive communication” still isn’t there. The communication whether they are switching, whether they are in zone, is not at the level it has to be yet.

“I think our coaches do a good job of getting us prepared mentally with the game plan, what guys’ tendencies are,” Hartman said. “I think we just need to carry it out more on the court by communication more, just more definitive communication.”

The Hoosiers will not get many low-pressure games to practice their defensive communication in the future, either. Pittsburgh, a team with the nation’s No. 16 most-effective offense, comes into Assembly Hall on Tuesday for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Louisville, Butler and Georgetown loom in December, as well.

Crean admitted the Hoosiers’ defense is a “work in progress” six games in. There is not much time left, though, before the big-time opponents await.

“Bottom line is our team has got to learn that it’s one thing to want to play defense, it’s another thing to be in the spot,” he said. “We’ve got to learn how to take things away. We’re not doing a really good job of understanding scouting reports, strengths and weaknesses of teams.

“We’ve got to get that figured out in a real hurry.”

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  • dssnyder1

    both the players and the coach are good at pointing out what they need to do but executing on the floor is definitely a different thing

  • Mark Hinton

    Well Coach understands what needs to happen. Players admit they have been taught correctly. Pretty sure it won’t change much before Tuesday game, and if they don’t get it yet it I’m afraid this may be a very long year.

  • Playing Louisville will give these guys an understanding of what elite defense is supposed to look like. I so envy that certainty. Nobody doubts that Louisville will have a lock down defense. And why is that? Answer: Rick Pitino. The logical question then is how does one justify paying Crean over 2 million dollars when he cannot teach elite basketball players how to play defense? After our last two games my fear is that we won’t be remotely competitive with Louisville.

  • IUBizmark

    Look on the bright side, even if we get throttled by 20, we weren’t supposed to compete anyway because we’re not even close to the Top 25.

  • InTheMtns

    I think we’ll see a significant improvement Tuesday night with defense. The game film from last week provided ample opportunities for them to learn from their mistakes and I think they will. We probably won’t be a defensive juggernaut, but I really think these guys want to get better and as more and more things start to click, we’re going to see improvement. Pitt will be a big test, though. Go IU!!!!

  • InTheMtns

    Hmm, that’s the bright side and the dark side, all rolled into one sentence.

  • 3AM Burrito

    This coming stretch is critical for growth with Pitt, Georgetown, Louisville and Butler coming up, these are going to be tough, disciplined, physical teams. I hate to say it but the IU team that played the last few games is going to be destroyed by these teams – if UNCG, Eastern Washington, and Lamar were able to get pretty much any shot they wanted and hang with IU on the boards with lesser athletes and players (on paper at least), I can’t imagine what will happen when the competition ramps up and IU has to play these defensive minded, physical teams who are also great screening offensive teams. I don’t see a toughness or competitive spirit from this IU team so far on defense – I see a finesse team whose effort on defense is too much tied to if jump shots are falling and treats the defensive end as something to pass the time until they get the ball back as opposed to digging in and competing every possession on defense.

  • 3AM Burrito

    I really hope you are right, but I am just really disturbed that after losing to EW, the defense against UNCG was really no better. I really thought they would annihilate UNCG and hold them to 50 or less points – and there really is no excuse why they did not. I am worried that this group is going to take a lot longer to understand and develop what it means to really play defense. Hopefully I am wrong and they can start it Tuesday night though!

  • mdtreat

    UNCG was also hitting contested threes like it was their job. It was like they couldn’t miss. 60% from 3 (with 22 shots!) will get any game a little closer. I thought it was a bright side that they did defend the paint a little better, but the end of the game was far too sloppy.

  • 3AM Burrito

    But the point is they were known catch and shoot guys, so shouldn’t have even been able to catch the ball and when they did needed to be forced to dribble it. UNCG is statistically one of worst teams in country, playing on assembly hall after IU just lost to Eastern Washington and no reason IU could not have held that team to 50 points. Sure teams get hot, but alot of that was due to just poor and unaware defense.

  • InTheMtns

    I was disturbed (frustrated, disappointed, etc.) that the defense against UNCG wasn’t better, too. And like you, I really thought they would annihilate UNCG. I’m hoping that the combination of those two games showed the team what happens when you don’t play defense. And I’m hoping this slightly longer break between games has given them time to regroup and focus on the complete game.

  • Guyton25

    I think we should be giving minutes to April. There are teams we’ll play where a 6’11” body down in the paint we’ll be crucial. We don’t have bad defenders though.. I don’t think it’s going to be nearly as bad as people are thinking right now. Perimeter defense is not the problem (despite last game); it’s our inability to deny in the paint without fouling. I honestly believe occasionally sticking April down there with his hands up will help us have more consistent rebounding and limit the amount of times opponents take it in. Definitely better than our 1-2 guards playing center at times.

  • CreanFaithful

    The same can be said for a 6’8″ Perea with a 7’4″ wingspan. Unfortunately, he not only doesn’t seem to keep his man in front of him (there are exceptions) but he bites on up fakes more often than not. I’m pretty confident that April would get some reps if CTC thought he could add value. I was happy to see Holt get +10 min and I’d like to see him stay 10+ until he proves the game is “too fast” for him. We all talked about Hanner defending the rim and limiting mistakes. From what I’ve seen of Holt I think he can do that. I’ve been particularly pleased with his ability to find a man and box out. Hopefully CTC see’s that in the film. He had nice things to say about him in the post game presser, so that’s encouraging. Not saying I don’t want to see April, but I trust CTC to insert him if/when it’s fitting… still don’t know how healthy he is. CH was on a “minute limit” and CTC saw enough to use him within those limits, and a good decision IMO.

  • HoosierDawg

    I’m thinking back to one year ago when the glaring problem was turnovers-also against “lesser” teams and hearing Yogi and Will talk about how they would get it fixed. Obviously they never did. This year’s glaring problem is defense, and that’s a harder problem to solve than turnovers in my estimation. Let’s just say I’m not optimistic…

  • SCHoosier

    Contested??!! Maybe one or two..most of them had a car length between the shooter and the “alleged” defender. Their two shooters were great at comiing off multiple screens. Maybe there’s a lesson there for TC..or call it an opportunity for Blackmon who has to get his own shots off the weave . Now that would be a shock.

  • SCHoosier

    Louisville creates pressure of some kind on every possession. Eventually it catches up with opposing guards who turn it over or force quick shots. If IU does it’s usual dribble too much and pass too little it will be a long night for the Hoosiers. On the other hand..if IU uses good passing to relieve the pressure..there could be some open looks for our shooters. They better hit them..second chances with UL’s front line will be few.

  • inLinE6

    Not to be pessimistic but anybody sees us improve significantly on defense when season goes along? I’m a bit frustrated. Is March still too far out of reach?

  • IUfanPurduePhD

    Last year’s Syracuse game = this year’s Louisville game?

  • inadvertentelbows_stillhurt

    The In_iana defense needs to make significant improvements fast in order to have any real chance of making the NCAA’s. In_iana has 5 preseason wins and I think most will agree will need @ 10 wins going into B1G season to get to tourney …The pressure and scrutiny that will be on the program trying to win 10 or more B1G games will be huge and hard to overcome …that means getting through PITT,GTOWN, Butler and L’Ville with no more than 2 loses….a tough task but can be done…even with this team. #DancingOrBust

  • Hoosier1158

    Yes, i agree. If HMP gets in foul trouble we need at least one more guy than can play inside, one more guy that isn’t 6′ 3″…

  • N71

    Similar to a conversation I had with my mother after a less than stellar grade card when she says, “you know, that’s not so bad considering you’re abilities”.

    Or my brother commenting on my first college girlfriend, “eh…I wouldn’t but I guess if I were you…(long pause as he thinks)…I suppose I’d have a go”.

  • GaHoosier

    I needed a good laugh!


  • Whohadthelastperfctseason?

    I am also hopeful that there will be improved defense this week. CTC alluded to “days off” last week bc of the hectic schedule over the preceding 11 days and bc of Thanksgiving. Seems like there wasn’t much time for practice last week (Wednesday only?). I’m hoping that was a major factor for the relative lack of improvement in defense from the EWU to UNCG games.

    Still, there are going to be times (e.g. back-to-back games on Thur-Sat) when not much practice time will be available this year, so IU is going to have to learn somehow to adjust on the fly.

  • Speed

    Defense is something that does not improve quickly. You can have an off game offensively but rarely do good defensive teams lapse into a bad night. It’s the advantage of having a good defense. I like your optimism but unless this team has been playing possum then there is no way we get thru Pitt, Gtown, Butler and Lville with just two losses.

  • Possibly best ITH post I’ve ever read.

  • SCHoosier


  • Kyl470

    You and I must have a different version of contested.

  • cooper

    I can’t tell if he is saying the players don’t try hard enough to memorize the game plan or aren’t good enough to implement it.

    It really doesn’t make the team sound great when you have to discuss following the game plan. It sounds like he isn’t real happy with assistants either.

    I can understand not playing well and not bring able to implement the game plan due to playing a great team. But it shouldn’t be that hard to know what the plan is and to remember two players shoot a lot of threes.

  • Sarasota Hoosier

    What about a couple of hard fouls to knock a player off of his rhythm? Stan can certainly play that role, given his limited minutes, doesn’t hurt for him to have 4 fouls at the end of the game. Hanner needs to defend the post better and a hard foul or two certainly makes the opposing player think twice the next time. There should be no more uncontested layups the rest of the year.

  • dwdkc

    Actually I think it should be easier to improve defensively than improve the turnovers last year. Last year’s team didn’t have good ballhandlers or instincts outside of Yogi and that wasn’t going to change. Defense is more concentration and effort. Maybe fear of getting embarrassed will produce a lot more of that in the next few games against good teams. They did seem to bring more of it against SMU.

  • FinEndNow

    It just seems like they don’t put in the effort on the defensive end. One of the biggest parts of defense is just putting in the effort. Other than that the defensive awareness is terrible and especially in the post. There was a massive difference between having Hanner in the middle and Holt in the middle. Hanner would just stand back and wait when someone was taking a shot. Holt would go after the shot. I don’t care for a couple goaltending calls. Hanner needs to be a bit more aggressive and much more aware. Yogi needs to getting onto everyone while they’re on the floor to put in the effort on the defensive end. Indiana is just an embarrassment on the defensive end this year.

  • millzy32

    The improper use of “you’re” was an added bonus for me. Great post.

  • WhatsUpKnight2.0

    sorry, i really don’t. at the end of the day, it comes down to personnel, plain and simple. we are who we are, and no amount of practice and game planning is going to help. in my opinion, the biggest opportunity for noticeable improvement will be getting EH more playing time.

  • mdtreat

    I am not arguing that we weren’t sloppy, but they definitely made a bunch of threes (and a couple long twos) that were contested because they were shooting lights out. Sometimes a hand in the face doesn’t stop a hot streak. Now, towards the end of the game, our O and D just fell apart, which was the most concerning for me, but it is hard to shutout a team that goes 14/22 from three.

  • InTheMtns

    Well, we’ll know a lot more on Tuesday night, won’t we? Meanwhile, hope is what we’ve got and like you, I’m hanging onto it. I like your name and hope you can keep it for another 38 years!

  • cooper

    They weren’t playing a b10 team they were playing against much lesser competition and still couldn’t follow a simple game plan…that’s troubling

  • Norman, USA

    Questions: Is it possible that the freshmen don’t put in effort on defense because they think they can outshoot all opponemts ? Are they perhaps not in condition to play defense because they aren’t getting enough sleep and don’t care about conditioning because they think that Crean can’t sit them because there isn’t much talent on the bench? Have they decided that they don’t like the system and are ready to write off the year and then go somewhere else where they think the coach(es) won’t care if they don’t play d as along as they can score? Even if the answer to all of these questions is “no,” I still think that playing average d requires more desire and effort than athleticism. Maybe someone will figure out why these guys seem to lack both qualities.

  • Whohadthelastperfctseason?

    Agreed that hope is all we have at this point. Maybe Friedrich Nietzsche’s comment won’t apply to IU this year (“Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man”). I certainly felt that way at the end of last year after getting my hopes up countless times, only to be let down. Let’s HOPE this year will turn out to be better. Tonight would be a good place to start!!

    Thanks for the compliment on the name. Another 38 years would be excellent!

  • InTheMtns

    So interesting that you quoted Nietzsche – I remember a couple times last year after disappointing games saying to myself, “Well, another Nietzsche moment.” Now, here you and I are again, spitting into the wind and hoping to not get wet. Hope on, my friend.