The Hoosiers currently stand at 21-10 after their win over the Bulldogs. Now Indiana was not "crushed" in any of its 10 losses, but if you take a closer look at many of the games they lost you'll see that they were "blown out" in the sense that they were clearly out-played and never really in the game. Indiana looked very poor in losses to Illinois last week, as well as against Purdue and Ohio State, and in the second half of the Michigan State game in East Lansing earlier in the year. First-year coach Kelvin Sampson has the Hoosiers playing a defensive system that allows them to stay close to their opponents, but it's a very particular style, and just one style doesn't play a defense that is a particular style and only one style. Indiana focuses all of its defensive energy packing their defense inside the three-point arc, giving good help and taking their chances if their opponent starts to shoot threes. Indiana's man defense is predicated on the Hoosiers, particularly the guards, going underneath all screens, especially off-the-ball screens. This prevents the opposition's guards from driving the lane, but it allows open looks from behind the arc if the opposition decides to utilize that option. Most Big 10 teams don't focus on three-point shooting (except Iowa and Michigan State when Drew Neitzel gets hot), while others are very poor shooting teams, like Minnesota and Penn State. Keeping that in mind, many of Indiana's opponents choose to curl off screens into the lane instead of flaring out when Indiana's defensive players go underneath the screening player. A defender can get through a screen basically two ways. The first (the one that Coach Ben Howland and the Bruins utilize) is to "chase" your man by fighting through a screen; in essence, following your man. The second way, the way Indiana works, is to go "underneath" the screen. As an offensive player, if your defender is chasing you, then you look to curl down the lane and look for the pass. If the defender goes underneath the screen, then you flare out and can get a good look at an open jumper. I was quite surprised that Gonzaga, a team with several solid three-point shooters, never made the adjustment of flaring off screens. Countless times Derek Raivio and Jeremy Pargo curled off screens only to find themselves running right into their defender again. So, This advantage really favors the Bruins. Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison and Mike Roll naturally flare off screens, even at times when they shouldn't. If Indiana continues to play their style of defense on screens then expect all three Bruins, and Josh Shipp, too, to get many open looks from the outside. One last point: The Bruins curled more against Weber State last night as the game went on. That just means that the Bruins make adjustments. Let's see if Indiana does the same. Sampson preaches defense and rebounding, just like he did when he was at Oklahoma. Defensively the Hoosiers have held opponents to 42% from the floor for the year. That's a very good number, but it is based on their style and the offensive style of their Big 10 brethren more than Indiana's superior defense. Don't get me wrong, Indiana does play very solid defense. But the Big 10 is not a three-point shooting, run-and-gun conference, so Indiana focuses all of their defensive energy packing their defense in and hoping no one takes advantage of the open looks from three. In terms of rebounding, Indiana has only out-rebounded its opponents this season by 78. Considering some of the poorer teams that Indiana has played this season, including Penn State twice, Northwestern and Minnesota in the Big 10, that number should be much larger for a team that focuses on rebounding.
UCLA has been hurt this season by offenses that spread out their defense. Oregon and California especially caused the Bruins fits by using the entire offensive side of the halfcourt. Indiana is not such a team. The Hoosiers run a base motion offense with the idea that the first option is to get the ball into the low post. If that doesn't work after the first set of screens, then Indiana works the ball back to the top where their guards get ball screens set for them. As that works through you'll see that Indiana goes into what is essentially a 4-out/1-in offense. Keep in mind that all of these options are based on variations of a motion offense. Indiana naturally runs their offense from around the three-point line and in. Oregon and Cal looked to work their offenses from around 30-35 feet away from the basket. In terms of style, this should be much less of a problem for the Bruins. They will be able to slide over in help and rebound better because Indiana doesn't look to run a "spread" formation. The key then becomes the individual match-ups.
Indiana senior off-guard Roderick Wilmont (6'4" 203 lbs.) is a big factor because of his outside shooting. He is the one Hoosier that you really have to be concerned about getting hot from the outside. He can carry his team for chunks of games at a time, as he did in the first half last night against Gonzaga. Wilmont is the second-leading scorer at 12.8 PPG and is shooting 40% from behind the arc. When he gets hot, however, he will make upwards of 50% from behind the arc and he will take a lot of their shots, as he did against Gonzaga. Enter Afflalo, who wasn't really challenged last night by Weber State. A player like Wilmont is crying out for a defender like Afflalo. Wilmont is a shooter first and slashes only when he has to. Whatever driving Wilmont does almost always goes to the right, and Howland will certainly have Afflalo shade Wilmont to the right. Also, expect Afflalo to keep Wilmont working and moving to get open. This will both tire out Wilmont, as he plays a lot of minutes, and not allow him to set his feet for a shot. Finally, it was nice to see Afflalo get 8 boards last night as Wilmont is the Hoosiers second leading rebounder at 5.9 RPG.
The second most important Hoosier is center D.J. White (6'9" 251 lbs.). White leads the team in scoring at 13.8 PPG and in rebounding at 7.1 RPG, but you would think that White would do more on offense at this stage of his career. He really has stagnated since his breakout freshman year. He's still a dangerous player but relies on the same moves he made as a freshman, mainly the fade-away jumper from the baseline and the hard, shoulder-lowering drive from the mid-post, especially going to his right. Lorenzo Mata, if he's over his flu-like symptoms, is a tough match-up for White. Mata is both strong enough and athletic enough to deal with White without help. Howland likes to give help against tough big men, so expect it to happen again, but White is a decent passer out of the double team, so that strategy may not work all that well. White passes especially well when off the low block. When he does get it in the low block then expect a shot as White becomes more of a "black hole" the closer he gets to the basket. Finally, White isn't an outside threat at all, so Mata can play off him when he does venture outside. As an added bonus for the Bruins, White is an average athlete and the mix of Mata and Alfred Aboya may throw him off his game.
The starting point guard is freshman Armon Bassett (6'1" 176), who is third on the team in scoring at 9.7 PPG. Bassett actually has a higher percentage from behind the arc than Wilmont (41%), but when you watch him you know that Bassett has to feed off the two leaders. When he has been asked to carry the team his shooting has gone down considerably. Bassett is the real slasher on the team, but his shooting percentage has gone down below 40% when he shoots inside the arc. He is one of the two best free throw shooters for Indiana at 83%. Bassett certainly plays his age at times, which means that Sampson has to deal with poor decisions on the floor. He will go to either side when he drives so if Darren Collison isn't 100% with his ankle, he will have a hard time handling Bassett, who is quick. If Collison is healthy then Bassett will have a much harder time initiating the Hoosier offense. Finally, Bassett doesn't do a great job of coming off of hedging big men when the ball screens are set for him so watch to see if he can get by Collison off of ball screens.
The third guard in the starting line-up is senior defensive specialist Earl Calloway (6'3" 173 lbs.), and the third Hoosier who averages over 9 PPG, but he makes his "money" by playing defense on the opponent's best perimeter player, and will be matched-up on Afflalo. Calloway is quick and reads plays well, but he is very slight compared to Afflalo so if Afflalo decides to post up on Calloway, he will have a decided advantage inside. On offense, Calloway is almost entirely a slasher, shooting just a shade over 29% from behind the arc. On the other hand he has been to the line more than Wilmont and Bassett. Calloway is also tied with Bassett as the team's leading free throw shooter. If Josh Shipp is placed on Calloway expect Shipp to back way off of Calloway, almost inviting him to shoot.
The other starting post is junior Mike White (6'6" 232 lbs.), but he doesn't play much, especially when Sampson feels that the 4-out/1-in offense will be Indiana's best option. At that point Sampson will give the majority of the minutes at the ‘4' spot to junior Lance Stemler (6'8" 210 lbs.). Stemler is an outside shooter that Sampson has used to create mismatches at the offensive end. However, Stemler is a poor ball handler and a decent passer so the mismatch will probably be in the favor of the Bruins and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Stemler hasn't faced anyone as athletic and long as Luc throughout the Big 10 season. Finally, Stemler is a defensive liability against quick players, so with Coach Howland trying to get Luc involved in the offense last night may have foreshadowed what will happen tomorrow.
The key guard off the bench is junior A.J. Ratliff (6'3" 188 lbs.), who should be starting but then you'd have to ask, for whom? He can play any of the three guard spots that Sampson has, spelling Bassett at the point, Wilmont on the wing and Calloway as the defensive player. But while Ratliff does all of them well, he isn't as good as the other three players at their particular strength. Still, he's stronger than anyone that UCLA has coming off the bench. He averages 9.7 PPG and he is a steadying influence on the squad. If he comes in for Calloway then UCLA may be faced with a match-up issue. Howland will have to move Afflalo onto Ratliff as he is an outside/in threat and slide Shipp over to Wilmont. Ratliff also averages 41% from behind the arc.
Sharp-shooting freshman Joey Shaw (6'6" 193 lbs.), is the only other Hoosier who tends to get double digit minutes in a game. That's because he can be such a deadly outside shooter, but that doesn't mean that Shaw sits behind the arc and fires away. Quite the contrary, Shaw is an old school mid-range jumper specialist. He's not particularly quick and needs some screens to get open for his shots, but he is dangerous. Shipp will have to change his defensive strategy when matched-up on Shaw.
I laughed last night when the announcers of the Indiana/Gonzaga game were touting the Indiana bench. In terms of scoring the Hoosiers are no better than what the Bruins bring off of their bench. Aboya/Stemler, and Roll/Shaw are basically a wash while Indiana has an advantage with the Ratliff/Westbrook match-up. But make no mistake; Indiana's bench is nothing great, certainly not like the waves of players that North Carolina can run out.
The final piece of the game puzzle is tempo. While Indiana is solid defensively, they like to push the ball and don't typically use all 35 seconds of the shot clock. The Bruins would much rather play at that tempo. Interestingly, though, Indiana struggles to score more than 70 PPG.
Look, Indiana is a good team. They can beat most teams on any given night, but like Tracy Pierson wrote last week, basketball is a game about match-ups and this one really doesn't favor Indiana. Look for the Bruins to start slowly, as is their M.O., even to be behind by the 10 minute mark. As the half goes on, though, look for the Bruins to pull ahead and then away in the second half. The score might not reflect how comfortably the Bruins should win this game.