[Postgame 3-2-1] What We Learned From Indiana's Loss to UConn
Emma breaks down three key stats, two observations, and one lingering question from Indiana's Empire Classic defeat by the defending champs.
Day 1 of the Empire Classic began with plenty of optimism — big city, big fanbase, and big opportunities for the Hoosiers to prove themselves on the biggest basketball stage of them all.
Unfortunately, I left Madison Square Garden just as concerned with Indiana’s schematics on both ends of the floor, and its overall lack of growth, as I felt during some of the lower points of the Hoosiers’ three wins this season.
To say the least, it was not a pretty game. There were a handful of questionable officiating decisions, but none that truly defined Indiana’s struggles. It felt very much like a Big Ten game with the physicality and focus on both teams’ frontcourts.
The positive news? The Hoosiers competed, at least for a while, notably in the first half. They did not look like the same team that struggled to contain Army just a week ago.
Still, Mike Woodson has harped on piecing together a complete game for the whole season now, and the 77-57 loss to UConn was far from that.
Indiana will return to action tomorrow against an intriguing Louisville team that should make for an interesting matchup. We’ll see how the Hoosiers respond to the loss and how Woodson’s words have resonated with them in just less than 10 hours.
Did you miss yesterday's edition of the postgame show?
3 Meaningful Stats
1. Xavier Johnson played merely 14 minutes.
While it was great to just see X healthy enough to play at all so soon after the scary fall he took against Wright State, those three fouls he picked up in the first half hurt Indiana and seemed to prevent him from getting into any sort of flow.
UConn head coach Dan Hurley stated postgame that the Huskies' knew they would have to control the paint on defense more than anything else. Hurley repeatedly brought up “their 4 and 5” — referring to Malik Reneau and Kel’el Ware. With X missing 85% of the first half, it was much easier for UConn to devote more attention to packing the lane.
X might not be a standout in any particular category, but when he’s going good he is capable of doing nearly anything that his team and coaches require of him. He’s arguably Indiana’s best passer and a very skilled slasher for his size. Not to mention the relentless energy and improved leadership that round out his intangible skillset.
Playing without their starting point guard not only deprived the Hoosiers of a mature presence and aggressive scorer, but it threw off every cog of the offense. It was harder to get the ball inside to the bigs, push in transition, and play with a productive sense of urgency. Gabe Cupps did a good job when he entered the game early in the first half, but it was obvious he wouldn’t be able to attack or score like X can.
2. UConn shot 7-22 from 3-point range.
Finally, a game in which Indiana’s opponent did not totally capitalize off of the Hoosiers’ biggest weakness!
Perimeter defense had become a glaring issue throughout Indiana’s lackluster wins over three mid-majors, so it’s encouraging to see a top-10 opponent unable to overly exploit it. The Huskies’ 32% outing from downtown made for the Hoosiers’ best defensive effort in terms of percentage and total 3-pointers allowed.
Still, there are plenty of defensive kinks that Woodson and the Hoosiers will need to work out before facing other good shooting teams. While UConn might not have made many shots, plenty of them were wide open. There were still frustrating instances of clearly-missed rotations and poor communications that the Huskies just couldn’t take advantage of.
A box score won’t exactly tell you whether Indiana’s defense truly made a big jump or if UConn had an off-night from beyond the arc. Nonetheless, it’s a small step in the right direction.
3. Indiana’s backcourt combined for 3 rebounds and 3 assists.
This is far from ideal.
With X out, Trey Galloway, Cupps, and eventually CJ Gunn absolutely needed to step up by providing energy and production, while maintaining control of the offense. As Woodson noted after the Wright State game, guard rebounding was crucial to sparking a more fluid, fast-paced offense.
The trio underperformed, especially in the first half, and its inability to stay poised under pressure led to more offensive woes.
Woodson commented postgame that the poor rebounding was due to a lack of effort, something over which all of his players have complete control. And, with only three assists between four guards, there was a lot of standing and watching in the half court sets.
Now let’s get to two important observations and one lingering question, including the key moment when the game slipped away from Indiana.