Hoosiers face Notre Dame at Crossroads

Coming into the Crossroads Classic, there are more than a few questions Notre Dame will force Indiana to answer.

IU coach Archie Miller was asking a few, himself, as the strengths of the Fighting Irish were laid at his feet.

“Can we do a good enough job of working longer into the clock offensively to find good possessions where you can find a way to get fouled?” Miller asked Friday.

Notre Dame leads the nation in fewest turnovers and ranks second in fewest fouls.

“Can you defend the 3?” Miller asked next. “Are you going to do a good job in the areas you can control, not shutting them down from getting a lot off?”

In their last two games, the Irish have hit 35 3-pointers. IU allowed a dozen 3-point makes last time out versus Nebraska.

“You have to do some things that require intelligence and communication, some smarts,” Miller said. “That’s a big deal coming into this game with Notre Dame because if they hit the 3, they’re not turning it over, they’re going to be tough to beat.”

IU (10-1) is going to have to do a lot of things right Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to maintain its one-loss record. And some of those things are crucial as far as the arc of the Hoosiers’ season is concerned.

For the most part, IU has done what’s necessary to bolster its NCAA tournament resume in the non-conference. The Hoosiers out-shined then-No. 17 Florida State at home. They went to the Jimmy V Classic and out-slugged UConn for a primetime victory at Madison Square Garden.

But the early conference results, including a flat performance at Wisconsin and a nail-biter with Nebraska, sent the Hoosiers into a week off with plenty to ponder. The Hoosiers’ perimeter defense has been a recurring sore. Getting to the free throw line, at times, has pulled IU out of shooting droughts.

The Crossroads Classic, a featured event for the four in-state programs involved, has significant meaning in itself. For the Hoosiers, it also happens to be a significant test of their strongest and weakest points thus far.

For starters, IU is currently the nation’s No. 1 team in free throws attempted at 323 (29.4 per game), and Notre Dame ranks sixth in free throws allowed per game (11.5).

“It’s a game within a game. Your style versus their style,” Miller said. “They have a lot of things they do really well. One of them is they play really good team defense. They’re very smart. They’re disciplined. They don’t beat themselves in terms of unnecessary fouling.

“It’s a big thing for us on the other end, obviously, to attack.”

If the Hoosiers can draw fouls, that would put the Irish (8-3) in a tough position. Mike Brey works with a rotation of seven, which benefits cohesion between the starting five. IU has relied on a much deeper rotation, utilizing all 11 of its scholarship players, when healthy.

Notre Dame rarely has someone on the floor that can’t shoot, either. That will stress the Hoosiers’ frontcourt players, who will have to guard out to the perimeter.

“When you’re playing a team that has everybody that can shoot the ball and spread you out, you got to be really disciplined, be really sound in your principles,” junior forward Joey Brunk said. “I think it’s going to be a great, great test for us again. Kind of get out and show what we’ve been working on in practice day in, day out.”

IU has had its full complement at practice, as well. Miller said senior guard Devonte Green has dealt with Achilles and hamstring soreness but should be good to go Saturday.

At all levels, the Hoosiers will be tested. But at the very top of the to-do list is containing forward John Mooney.

The 6-foot-9 senior leads the nation in rebounds per game at 13.4. Miller describes Mooney as having “mitts” for snatching the ball.

“He’s angles, smelling the ball. He goes and gets the ball with two hands, too … When a ball hits his hands, it’s his ball,” Miller said. “To lead America in rebounding, I don’t think a lot of people understand how hard that is — 13 rebounds a game is just an astonishing number.”

Luckily for the Hoosiers, they have two Indianapolis natives in the frontcourt who cherish an opportunity to play in their backyard at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Brunk and freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis.

Brunk, who played at Southport, and Jackson-Davis, a Center Grove alum, each played Indiana All-Star games at Bankers Life. They have both attended games at the pro venue, and IU’s secret scrimmage with Marquette was played there. It’s a familiar environment.

And they are more than aware of Mooney’s added presence.

“We just got to keep boxing out,” Brunk said. “He goes after the ball, so we’ve been doing a lot of rebounding drills in practice to try to get ready for that.”

Brunk will be the second player in the history of the Crossroads to play for two teams. Austin Etherington played for both Butler and IU, as well, just in the reverse order.

So the 6-11 forward was on the losing end last year when Rob Phinisee hit a 3 at the buzzer to beat the Bulldogs.

“It will be definitely different going in wearing an Indiana uniform,” Brunk said. “But I’m excited for the opportunity. It’s a great, great event. I’ve always loved playing in it, so I’m excited to be back.”

One comment

  1. Joey…JOEY>>>JOEY! You finally listened. You stopped hopping and started rebounding. You’re keeping your feet on the ground and picking the spots to go up judiciously. Kudos! See how everything falls into place when your feet do the right things…and you’re active with eyes and positioning?
    Well done, sir. I knew you could be a difference-maker. Now burn this first half onto your brain cells and repeat, repeat, repeat.

    More Armaan Franklin, too! Think I started saying this about a month ago. Archie would have to eventually give in…The freshman is not a freshman. And he’s by far our most pure shooter.

    Things looking good…Hope it continues in the second half.
    Attaboy Joey!

    Let’s get Jackson-Davis rolling….

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