Here is an analysis of Saturday's 73-56 loss to No. 5 Michigan State in Indiana's Big Ten home opener at Assembly Hall. This analysis is a regular part of our AllHoosiers.com coverage of Indiana basketball this season.
WHAT LOOKED GOOD: Indiana coach Tom Crean seemed most pleased in his postgame remarks on Saturday about the job that Will Sheehey was able to do on Adreian Payne. Payne came into the game averaging 17 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. With Sheehey being the player that was primarily guarding him, Payne was limited to four points and five rebounds. Last year against IU, facing a much bigger lineup, Payne scored 18 and 17 points in the two games against the Hoosiers. "I thought Will Sheehey did a phenomenal job on fighting Adreian Payne for space for his touches and really being aggressive with him,'' Crean said. The other real positive to come out of the game for Indiana was the spark provided by Stanford Robinson, who played a season-high 26 minutes and scored a season-high 11 points. He hit 5-of-9 shots from the field including a long perimeter shot just inside the 3-point line. He also attacked on offense and went to the rim, something Indiana desperately needed at a time when the Hoosiers appeared to be standing around and watching the game get deep into the shot clock on most possessions.
WHAT NEEDS TO IMPROVE:The same themes come up over and over with this Indiana basketball team. While 15 turnovers doesn't seem like a long for this particular team, it was more how and where they occurred and how invariably they led to easy Michigan State baskets. Eleven of the 15 turnovers resulted in baskets, many of them on quick layups or dunks. Defensively, Indiana allowed Michigan State to hit 15-of-26 shots in the second half, 57.1 percent. There were several blow by drives to the basket and other times when the Hoosiers would score on one end and then get beaten back to the other end and give up a quick two. Gary Harris did a nice job "hunting his shots" as Crean would say later and poured in a career-high 26 points. Another area of concern was free throws where the Hoosiers were 13-of-20, 65 percent. When a team has a small margin of error it has to find a way to convert the free ones. Troy Williams missed three of his five attempts. Devin Davis missed the front end of a one-and-one in the first half. When you're playing possession-to-possession against a really good basketball team, you can't afford to not take full advantage of the free opportunities when they arise. To quote former Hoosier guard Jordan Hulls who said the goal was to never, ever, miss a free throw. "That's why they're free,'' Hulls would say.
FOR STARTERS:Same starters for the Hoosiers for the 14th time in 15 games: Will Sheehey, Jeremy Hollowell, Noah Vonleh, Troy Williams and Yogi Ferrell. Against Michigan State, the starters scored 43 of Indiana's 56 points. The starters combined to hit 13-of-32 shots from the field, 5-of-10 3-pointers and 12-of-17 free throws. The Hoosier starters had just 18 rebounds though and six assists.
SHEEHEY CRACKS TOP 50 IN SCORING: Sheehey moved into 50th place on the IU career scoring list with 929 points, now needing 71 to join the 1,000 point club. He scored in double figures for the fourth time in the last five games, eight times this season and 39 times in his career.
INDIVIDUAL OBSERVATIONS: Here's a look at my own thoughts on a few Indiana players from Tuesday's loss to Illinois:
1. NOAH VONLEH: Here's how you would recap Vonleh's first four halves of Big Ten basketball: He had a strong first half against Illinois. Since then, not so much. The most glaring statistic of the game with regard to Vonleh Saturday was the fact he had zero points, zero shots and zero free throws in the second half in 11 minutes. Basically, he was missing in action. While Vonleh is only a freshman he is the one player inside that Indiana simply cannot afford to have disappear. Vonleh only attempted four shots in the game. He did have nine rebounds but only one on the offensive end. It's safe to say it was one of Vonleh's most disappointing efforts of his brief IU career.
2. TROY WILLIAMS: Another tough day at the office for the 6-7 freshman, who was limited to four points and four rebounds in 25 minutes of action. Here is the thing with Williams. There is no doubt he is trying hard to live up to his preseason expectations. And at some point the light may indeed click on and he'll look like he did against Washington at Madison Square Garden on a more consistent basis. But until then, Williams had to do the little things better. He made a significant improvement Saturday in terms of turnovers as he did not commit a single one. That means he has only committed one turnover in his first two Big Ten games. Compare that to nine total against Nicholls State and Kennesaw State and you can see the improvement. But now it's his free throws that are becoming more and more of an issue. Saturday, he made 2-of-5 foul shots and missed a big one-and-one opportunity in the first half. In his last three games, Williams is 3-of-9 from the foul line. It's just not acceptable for a player of his ability. He just has to work on that area of his game and make foul shots automatic.
WILL SHEEHEY: His 13 points was a significant upgrade over the nine he scored against Illinois when he was 3-of-10 from the field. He made 4-of-6 shots against the Spartans including all three of his 3-point attempts. Consistency from the perimeter could be a big key for Sheehey's game moving forward. Crean also gushed about the job Sheehey did defensively against Adreian Payne. He held Michigan State's second-leading scorer to four points and five rebounds. But there was one concerning statistic in the 30 minutes that Sheehey played Saturday against Michigan State. He didn't have a single rebound. That's actually the third time that has happened this season in 15 games, too. He also did not have one against Stony Brook and Syracuse. Indiana needs a rebounding presence from Sheehey, there's no question about that.
NEXT UP: Indiana (10-5, 0-2 Big Ten) has a week off before travelling to face Penn State on Jan. 11 in State College. Considering the cold temperatures, this is probably a good week for the Hoosiers to be in Bloomington and working on their games.
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch