Indiana’s late switch to zone leads to victory against Louisville
Out of the under-eight media timeout in the second half, Indiana looked depleted and out of gas.
Louisville was up seven after freshman guard Ty-Laur Johnson made two free throws and the Hoosiers had shown no resistance to the Cardinals’ dribble drive penetration.
So with nerves rising and the biggest stretch of Indiana’s early 2023-24 season coming, Mike Woodson switched his prominent man-to-man defensive scheme for the first time this season. The Hoosiers relied on a 2-2-1 zone press that turned into a high 2-3 zone once the Cardinals got into the half-court. It transformed the game. From that timeout on, IU outscored Louisville 21-8 and left New York with a 74-66 victory.
The zone caused a few problems for Louisville. The Cardinals weren’t allowed to get in their offensive sets until 10-plus seconds had been burned off the shot clock. It also tightened up the paint, making Louisville shoot from the perimeter. The Cards shot 5-for-19 from beyond the arc. And the zone gave Indiana an advantage with its length.
“We couldn’t stop their step-up pick and roll and if we continue down that path Malik (Reneau) probably would have fouled out of the ball game. It was the right thing to do,” Woodson said postgame. “I don’t normally play zone and we hadn’t really worked on it a whole lot, but we were aggressive enough and we rebounded out of the zone.”
“The zone saved us.”
The lineup of Xavier Johnson, Trey Galloway, Kaleb Banks, Reneau and Kel’el Ware finished the game for the Hoosiers. Banks was able to deflect passes and create turnovers a couple of times and Ware’s wingspan deterred Louisville’s forwards from shooting over him at the free-throw line weak spot. Banks finished his best game of the season with four points, eight rebounds, three assists, three blocks and three steals.
“I have a lot of fun out there,” Banks said afterward. “I haven’t had a lot of playing time in the past but today I feel like I played my role well, I rebounded well and I just helped the team win.”
Despite not being the first option offensively, the 6-foot-8 sophomore impacted the game in many ways.
“Just doing the little things. Like playing defense, rebounding, blocks,” he said. “We’ve had trouble in the past with rebounding and defending the 3-point line. So if I can do those things I can find my way to stay on the floor.”
Rebounding out of a zone defense can be tricky. You don’t always have a body to go to box out right next to you. But Banks, who had a knack for cleaning the glass in limited minutes last season, made a significant impact on the boards. The Georgia native also used his length several times to deflect passes and disrupt lanes during the final stretch. Even through the television broadcast, you could hear Banks calling out ball rotations and guys in the dunker’s spot to his teammates, Ware and Reneau. He’ll have to be a Swiss army knife for Indiana this season as the Hoosiers continue to grow and find an identity.
“Kaleb Banks, I thought played extremely well,” Woodson said. “We’re gonna need that.”
Indiana held Louisville to .90 points per possession, a season-best for the Hoosiers. The Cardinals also turned the ball over four times in the last eight minutes of the game, mainly due to the confusion Indiana’s zone caused.
The sword has two edges as IU leaves the Empire Classic, splitting their two games. Yes, Indiana still has struggled mightily on the perimeter and with its guard play. But, the Hoosiers were gritty enough to beat a Louisville team that nearly beat a top-25 Texas squad the night before. There’s a lot of room left to grow for this young and inexperienced IU team that brought in 10 new faces.
After the game, sixth-year point guard Johnson admitted that Indiana hasn’t worked on the zone defense much this year, but without it, Indiana may be leaving Madison Square Garden without a win.
Having the zone in the toolkit was enough for Indiana to beat Louisville. The zone might not become a staple for Woodson and Indiana this season, but it gave the Hoosiers much-needed life against the Cardinals.
(Photo credit: IU Athletics)