Five takeaways from Indiana’s loss at Nebraska

  • 01/04/2024 8:54 am in

Indiana suffered its fourth loss of the season Wednesday night, falling 86-70 to Nebraska at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Here are five takeaways from the loss to the Cornhuskers:

Indiana’s defense continues to underwhelm

Mike Woodson built his first Indiana team on the strength of its defense. In his second season, an All-American season from Trayce Jackson-Davis and stellar play from Jalen Hood-Schifino carried the Hoosiers.

In year three of Woodson’s tenure, Indiana’s defense has taken a significant step back from where it was the last two seasons under Woodson.

After surrendering 86 points on Wednesday in Lincoln, Indiana now ranks 105th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency numbers.

The Hoosiers allow their opponents to score over 38 percent of their points from beyond the 3-point line. That’s 11th worst in the country, according to Pomeroy. Nebraska hit 12 triples against Indiana in Wednesday’s loss. That tied a season-high for the Huskers.

With 14 games played, the book is out on how to score against Indiana. Opponents know that comfortable looks will be available from the perimeter and are taking advantage. And thus far, Woodson and Indiana’s players have yet to do much to fix the issue.

Xavier Johnson returns but provides little in terms of production

After not playing for over a month, Xavier Johnson was in the starting lineup against Nebraska.

It was a night to forget for Johnson, a sixth-year senior.

The 6-foot-3 guard went scoreless in his return. He shot 0-for-3 from the field, grabbed two rebounds, dished out three assists and had one steal. But Johnson couldn’t take care of the ball as he tied for a team-high with four turnovers.

“Xavier, I know he’s been rusty and hasn’t played,” Woodson said on the postgame radio show. “14 minutes, didn’t give us much at all.”

When Johnson has been available on the floor this season, he’s been inconsistent and nowhere near as productive as his first season (2021-22) in Bloomington. In seven games, Johnson’s turnover rate (23.1 percent) is higher than his assist rate (18.4) and he’s shooting less than 43 percent on 2s. As a team captain and the program’s most experienced player, that production simply isn’t good enough for Indiana to beat good teams.

Hoosiers commit a season-high 19 turnovers

The most alarming statistic from Wednesday’s loss was Indiana’s 19 turnovers. The Hoosiers coughed the ball up a season-high 19 times, leading to 27 points for Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers aren’t known for their defensive pressure or ability to force turnovers. Most of Indiana’s mistakes with the ball weren’t a result of Nebraska’s pressure. The Hoosiers didn’t value the ball and committed careless turnover after careless turnover.

It wasn’t limited to one or two players, either. Seven different players committed a turnover. Johnson, Kel’el Ware and Malik Reneau each committed four.

Whether it was forcing a pass that wasn’t there or a big man attempting to dribble the ball and simply losing it, Indiana turnover it over in nearly every way possible on Wednesday.

“We basically gifted them 27 points on turnovers,” Woodson said postgame. “That was, I thought, the difference in the game tonight.”

Indiana’s guard play isn’t good enough

In his postgame comments regarding Indiana’s guard play, Woodson didn’t hold back. The third-year IU coach called the perimeter play “awful” in a postgame interview with longtime radio announced Don Fischer.

While true, Indiana’s shortcomings on the perimeter have been present all season.

IU needed to add another guard or two from the transfer portal – and didn’t – and the reality of IU’s shortcomings in the backcourt is setting in.

Trey Galloway’s perimeter shooting has regressed. Gabe Cupps, a freshman, is being asked to play a much bigger role than expected. Johnson has missed significant time with an injury. CJ Gunn’s development has stalled. Anthony Leal has played well in stretches, but is in a limited role.

The guards have been underwhelming defensively, letting opponents dictate what they want to do offensively. Indiana doesn’t have the playmaking, shooting or the depth it needs in the backcourt. And that isn’t going to change until roster changes occur in the offseason.

Kel’el Ware shines in return from one-game absence

The individual bright spot in Wednesday’s loss was the play of Kel’el Ware.

After missing last Friday’s game due to illness, Ware returned to the starting lineup on Wednesday in Lincoln.

The 7-foot center scored a team-high 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Ware added two assists, two blocked shots and two steals in 34 minutes.

In 13 games, Ware has averaged 15.2 points, nine rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.5 steals in 30.7 minutes per game. He’s shooting 60.2 percent on 2s, 35.3 percent on 3s and 71.4 percent from the free throw line.

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

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