Hoosiers looking for smoother play to close non-conference run

Four consecutive wins has Indiana where it wants to be.

The Hoosiers enter the final week of the non-conference season having authored a strong start to their postseason resume. They have five wins over teams rated inside the top 50 at KenPom.com, including two victories away from home. They’re slotted at No. 22 in the Associated Press poll and sit at No. 21 in the latest NET rankings, a new evaluation tool used by the NCAA.

By the looks of it, Indiana is in good shape. But for his part, Archie Miller wants his players focused on what matters most to him.

Right now, that means concentrating on continued improvement.

“The big thing is, like I told them, there are a lot of people right now telling you you’re good,” Miller said. “We have a long way to go right now.”

With two games left before Christmas break, including Wednesday’s tip-off with Central Arkansas and Saturday’s contest against Jacksonville, there are only a couple more opportunities for Indiana to work on itself before the Big Ten grind resumes early next month.

And as the pre-conference slate winds down, the Hoosiers are looking to use these final tune-up opportunities for what they are.

For one, that means starting games with better execution than the Hoosiers have shown lately. From Miller’s view, a mixture of bad habits have added up to create a larger problem.

IU isn’t playing well at the beginning of games due in large part to its hit-and-miss offensive execution. Miller wants to see better patience, more reversals and an added focus on post touches rather than settling for quick jumpers.

More than anything, Miller believes fewer turnovers and crisper ball movement could fix IU’s penchant for rough starts.

“It’s tough when you have to defend for 30 seconds, then you give it right back to them and you’re doing it again,” Miller said.

IU endured another slow start against Butler in Saturday’s Crossroads Classic, falling behind 15-6 by the second media timeout. The Hoosiers also authored a poor start against Louisville the week prior, trailing by eight points in the first six minutes. That came after falling behind 9-0 in the opening minutes days earlier at Penn State.

“To me, our biggest improvement level as a team and the thing that will determine how good we can possible be is how good do we get moving forward of taking care of the basketball, running our stuff better (and) executing spacing,” Miller said. “I think, from an offensive perspective, we have a long way to go to be good. That’s a good thing, because if we get there, we can even be better moving down the road.”

Although the starts have been poor, the finishes have been encouraging. The Hoosiers have found ways to grind out victories even after finding themselves in trying circumstances.

In the last five wins, Indiana is shooting 53.6 percent from the field, 57.9 percent from 3-point range and 71.1 percent from the line in the final 10 minutes of the game.

On the defensive end, the Hoosiers are holding opponents to 36 percent shooting from the floor and 34.5 percent shooting from 3-point distance during that same span. In the last 10 minutes of those five games, IU has shot 45 free throws and made 32, while opponents have shot 19 free throws and made 12.

“In the Butler game, one of the big reasons why we were able to hang in there, I think, is they only took two free throws the whole game,” Miller said. “(It’s) being disciplined. Rob (Phinisee) had like eight or nine opportunities to get backed down into the post, where he was having to go against a guy that was trying to bang him down there and beat him up. He was disciplined almost on every single opportunity down there.

“He didn’t foul, he didn’t cave in, he didn’t give them an and-1. He made them shoot tough, challenged 2s. We had a lot of different players that were good. I thought, in general, that’s a huge number for team, being able to get there (to the line). Obvioulsy, (you want to) make them. But the other thing is being disciplined defensively where you’re not bailing teams out.”

IU is also making clutch shots toward the end of regulation, Phinisee’s buzzer beater against Butler, included.

During the final 10 minutes of IU’s past five wins, Phinisee, Juwan Morgan, Justin Smith and Romeo Langford have shot a combined 10-for-14 from 3-point range.

“Our team have played really well under pressure,” Miller said. “We haven’t been a team that’s been very emotionally up and down. We’ve had to battle a lot of injuries. We’ve had a lot of guys step up. I think our team is very calm. … We think we can win a game without having a great offensive performance right now, which is very good.”

Central Arkansas comes to Bloomington with four wins so far this season — two over Little Rock and two more against non-Division I competition.

The Bears run a 5-out motion offense without many set plays. They’re shooting 35.5 percent from 3-point range, but only 43.5 percent inside the arc.

On Wednesday, they’ll provide an opportunity for Indiana to work on itself and smooth out the uneven play that has set the course for so many topsy-turvy games early this season.

“We just have to be ready to go,” Miller said. “Our intention is, to be honest with you, just be better with what we’re trying to do. We’re not worried so much about them, but be better at what we’re trying to do.”

2 comments

  1. Guess there is no Scoop coverage of the game tonight…? Phinisee not coming out of the locker room for the second half after a knee issue is rather concerning.
    God forbid something that looked minor is bad. If his season is over, our season is over.

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