There are only six out of fourteen teams with winning records in Big Ten play so far this season and two will face off in a critical matchup on Wednesday. One is used to being in this situation and even though it’s been four years since the program’s last NCAA Tournament appearance, Indiana is still a marquee program. The other is the surprise of the conference, as Rutgers looks to remain undefeated at the RAC this season after an 11-0 start at home.
In an effort to find out more about the Scarlet Knights’ next opponent, I was fortunate to speak with Mike Schumann of The Daily Hoosier. Indiana comes to Piscataway with a 13-3 record overall and 3-2 in Big Ten play. They just defeated formerly ranked Ohio State at home this past Saturday, but have struggled away from Assembly Hall having lost the only two true road games they’ve played. I asked Mike about the current state of this team, why they’ve struggled on the road, their rebounding, personnel, and more. Let’s tip things off here.
AB: Is this the team to break Indiana’s modest NCAA Tournament drought based on what you’ve seen from them so far and was that a fair expectation heading into this season? Is Archie Miller the answer long term?
MS: Those are the big questions right now, without clear answers.
This team has been an enigma thus far. Yes the 13-3 record looks good, and there are some nice wins in there including Florida State, UConn, Notre Dame and Ohio State. But Indiana’s offense has been struggling and this team has yet to win a true road game. That will need to change in league play.
Even over the last two games IU has seen the highs and lows. Trailing by ten at home in the second half against Northwestern, it looked like a season was about to collapse. The Hoosiers managed to pull that game out with a late rally, and then put together a solid effort against a good Ohio State team for another win.
Have they found something? The road will tell the true story. Indiana has been down by 30 in both of their Big Ten road games. With trips to Rutgers and Nebraska this week, we should find out what this team is about.
Most expected a NCAA Tournament bubble team, and that directionally appears to be where things are headed.
AB: Indiana has been mostly impressive at home aside from a quality loss to Arkansas, but has struggled away from Assembly Hall. What has been the biggest difference with this team on the road?
MS: The common denominator in their two road losses is probably giving up big runs. That has been an issue at home and on neutral courts as well, but on the road things snowballed quickly and Indiana was unable to recover.
But the losses at Wisconsin and Maryland were very different games. The Badgers jumped all over IU from the opening tip and the Hoosiers never really recovered. Indiana probably played its worst defensive game in that one.
Against Maryland, IU led early and was within three about five minutes into the second half behind good defense. Somehow they ended up down 71-41 before making the score look a bit closer in the final four minutes.
Indiana seems to lose focus and lacks intensity at times. They have also let their offensive struggles turn into points on the other end. The Hoosiers played with a high level of intensity against Ohio State, but now the questions are whether that will travel, and how will IU handle adversity.
AB: The Hoosiers seem like a much different team when Rob Phinisee is healthy and playing really well. What makes hhim so important for this team and what strengths and weaknesses does he have?
MS: That is an astute observation held by many that follow the program closely. Archie Miller has said on multiple occasions that high level guard play is the key to beating good teams, and he places special significance on the point guard position -- a position Miller himself played in college.
Phinisee has missed several games this year with various minor nagging issues. It isn’t entirely clear what his health status is for Wednesday as something was clearly bothering him against Ohio State on Saturday. But he started that game with three 3-pointers in the first four minutes and completely set the tone.
Phinisee is the only true point guard on IU’s roster, he is the best player on the team at running their transition offense, and he is also the best on-the-ball defender.
He missed several games last year with a concussion and even upon returning wasn’t himself for several weeks, including the road loss to Rutgers. Once Phinisee rounded back into form, Indiana played well down the stretch, including wins in their last four Big Ten games.
AB: Indiana is a strong offensive rebounding team and does a good job limiting opponents on the offensive glass as well. What has been the formula for success in this area?
MS: The Hoosiers are a much bigger team than they have been in recent years. Miller has been starting a three forward lineup including 6-foot-11 Joey Brunk and 6-foot-9 Trayce Jackson-Davis, both of whom weigh around 245. Seven of their eleven scholarship players are forwards, and they emphasize rebounding by their guards too. Last year 6-foot-8 forward Juwan Morgan played as the team’s center.
With that size, offensive rebounds have been a point of emphasis, and for the most part Indiana has been winning the rebounding margin.
The other major factor that comes into play is Indiana’s offensive style. Miller runs a transition offense, and the Hoosiers are looking to push off makes or misses. On the offensive end the Hoosiers are getting a lot of second chances from running the floor. Meanwhile, in an effort to defend against Indiana’s transition game, teams have been opting to get back on defense rather than crash the offensive glass.
AB: What is your biggest reason for optimism and biggest reason for concern for Indiana heading into this game with Rutgers?
MS: the is it in a band On the optimistic side, Indiana just played their most complete game of the year and beat a really good team. As stated above, more than anything else the effort level stood out against the Buckeyes. The offense was much better against OSU too as the ball moved and Indiana got open looks from the perimeter. Although they only scored 66 points, IU missed 16 free throws, meaning the offense was efficient against a very good defense.
With Indiana relying on defense, rebounds and getting to the foul line, on paper those attributes along with toughness is a formula to win on the road.
The biggest reason for concern right now is the fact that Indiana needs to prove it on the road. Miller’s Indiana teams have generally improved defensively over the course of seasons. The bigger area of concern is on the offensive end. Teams are packing the paint to avoid letting Jackson-Davis and Brunk beat them in the post. The Hoosiers have shown no signs that they will become a good shooting team, so they have to find a way to impose their will. Indiana will need to find a way to get out in transition, turn defense into offense, secure extra possessions on the offensive glass and get points at the stripe on the road to get over the hump.
AB: What is your prediction for this game?
MS: Really tough to say. I expect a close game due to Indiana’s road struggles and their offense going up against what appears to be a very good Rutgers defense.
I could see the game going either way, and probably the most surprising thing would be a blowout either way. If Rutgers is able to blow out IU, we will quickly realize that whatever they seemed to find on Saturday was nothing more than fool’s gold.
Thanks to Mike for taking the time to give such great insight on the current state of Indiana basketball ahead of Wednesday’s game against Rutgers. You can follow Mike on Twitter here and be sure to visit The Daily Hoosier to prepare for this matchup. To read my answers to Mike’s questions on Rutgers basketball, click here.