BOZICH | The defense rests -- and Indiana is no longer unbeaten
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Tucked in the box score from Indiana's 74-68 victory over SMU last Thursday were these two alarming nuggets:
The Mustangs made nearly 57 percent of their shots and outrebounded the Hoosiers by 13.
That's a solid recipe for acid reflux and losing most nights.
Monday was one of those nights for Tom Crean and his team. The defense disappeared on too many plays – and so did a double-figure IU lead.
Eastern Washington, a team that SMU defeated by nine Saturday night, bounced into Assembly Hall and took complete advantage of Indiana's inability (or unwillingness) to defend or rebound. That's Eastern Washington, a team that could contend in the Big Sky Conference, but is supposed to be filler on a November schedule for a team from the Big Ten.
It was one of those games when you realized that Noah Vonleh (NBA) and Luke Fischer (Marquette) were gone – and Crean lacks an alpha dog who is determined to rule the lane.
The Eagles overcame a 12-point deficit in the second half and beat IU, 88-86. They made 51.6 percent of their shots, becoming the third consecutive team to shoot 50 percent or better against Indiana.
“You have to stop the first line of attack much better,” Crean said. “That's what we didn't do as well. We just had very little awareness late in the game on the shooting. Some of it's fatigue, some of it's youth, but all of it is unacceptable.”
The visitors also outrebounded the Hoosiers, 37-32, grabbing 15 offensive boards. Eastern Washington became the third team to outrebound Indiana this season.
Even though the Hoosiers have won four of five games, their rating in Ken Pomeroy's computer formula has tumbled from 26th to 52nd. That's because Pomeroy's work values defensive efficiency – and Indiana's defense has been, well, inefficient.
“We've got to get past where our best post defender is Yogi Ferrell,” Crean said.
Ferrell is 6 feet tall. I guess Crean was using hyperbole. But maybe not.
Venky Jois, Eastern Washington's 6-8 center, looked like Wes Unseld against the Hoosiers, muscling to 20 points and 14 rebounds, eight on the offensive glass. He also blocked five shots, including a drive by Ferrell in the final 14 seconds when IU trailed by three.
“It's really not about post defending,” Crean said. “It's about fighting. It's about making it harder for the player to get it in. It's about better ball pressure … There's no question that we've got to get better at defending that paint. And we will."
The Associated Press story on the game noted that it was the first time that Eastern Washington beat a Big Ten program in 14 tries – and it was Indiana's first out-of-conference home defeat in 43 games.
But that's not the story. The story is that for Indiana the defense too often rests. Indiana's offensive numbers, like Ferrell's 27 points, will be irrelevant if the Hoosiers don't improve on the most important end of the floor.
“If the rules aren't the way they are, I'd get back out there and practice right now,” Crean said.
Here is the list of things to do. They are not complicated.
1. Stop handing every opposing dribbler who attacks the lane a piece of chocolate and a layup.
2. Learn to push guys off the post – and occasionally the glass.
3. Force lefties to the right and righties to the left.
4. Contest entry passes.
5. Guard somebody. Make dribblers uncomfortable. This is the Big Ten, not Community Park.
“We've got to learn we're not going to outscore people,” Crean said. “We're not going to outscore the best teams. We'll outscore some people but we're not going to outscore the best teams. You've got to learn to string stops together.”
The Hoosiers have not done the job stopping guys who attack the lane – and they have not done the difficult work of protecting the rim.
The Eagles outscored Indiana in the paint, 48-38. IU also allowed 48 points in the paint Saturday night while beating Lamar. Imagine what Montrezl Harrell of Louisville or Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky will do.
“It's a shame that we lost it,” Crean said. “Because they beat us … like I said, I wish we could go right now. But we don't need a violation, so I guess we're going to have to wait a little bit.”
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