[Postgame 3-2-1] What We Learned From Indiana's Exhibition Against Marian
We break down three key stats, two observations, and one lingering question from Indiana's exhibition game against Marian.
Before we get into the X’s and O’s, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Emma Pawlitz, and I’m a junior studying sports journalism and the IU Media School. I worked for the Indiana Daily Student for my first two years of college, serving as a sports editor and men’s basketball reporter last season.
I’m a major hoops junkie, so I’m super excited to start sharing content within the community!
Indiana took a big step forward in its 94-61 win over Marian on Friday night. Pretty much every aspect of the game looked significantly better than it did in the first exhibition matchup on Sunday. However, some tune-ups and adjustments are still going to be necessary in preparation for the regular season opener next Tuesday.
The newcomers looked a lot more comfortable from the get-go, and the Hoosier backcourt showed the mature decision-making that’s to be expected out of two upperclassmen. Half-court defense was a glaring issue, but there is a lot to be encouraged about from the improvements that were made over the past week.
Here are 3 stats, 2 observations, and 1 lingering question coming out of Friday’s exhibition.
Did you miss yesterday's edition of the postgame show?
3 Meaningful Stats
1. Indiana only committed two turnovers.
When was the last time this happened? I can’t remember, and neither can Mike Woodson, who voiced his pride in this stat postgame.
The most encouraging aspect of this, though, was that the backcourt trio of Xavier Johnson, Trey Galloway, and Gabe Cupps did not commit either of the team’s turnovers. They did, however, combine for 19 assists.
Yes, it’s an exhibition. Yes, the quality of the opponent is not nearly what it will be during the majority of Big Ten play. Still, two turnovers in any context is really impressive.
Woodson also emphasized the importance of making the extra pass, and he’s made sure his team is cognizant of that in both practice and games. Not a bad concept to preach, considering the Hoosiers’ primary facilitator for the bulk of Big Ten and postseason play last year (eventual first-round NBA draft pick Jalen Hood-Schifino) was not quite a pass-first point guard.
Johnson drew a couple of groans from the crowd after refusing some open looks in transition but ultimately ended up making better decisions by finding a teammate or choosing to set up the offense. Frankly, it was a level of on-court maturity that we haven’t always seen from him — on a consistent basis, at least.
In their two exhibitions, the Hoosiers have had little issue so far in taking care of the ball — they committed a respectable 10 turnovers in an objectively not-so-pretty game against Indianapolis on Sunday. Considering their starting point guard hadn’t played a legitimate college basketball game since Dec. 17, 2022, this is a trend worth some optimism, despite the small sample size.
2. The Hoosiers gave up 12 second-chance points on 12 offensive rebounds.
This statistic is fairly concerning, considering the 7-footer in Kel’el Ware and 6’9 Malik Reneau spearheading Indiana’s paint defense and rim protection. It’s even more concerning when you take into account that none of Marian’s starters are taller than 6’5.
Still, Reneau and Ware weren’t necessarily the issue. They ended with a combined 16 rebounds out of the team’s 36 total.
It was more so a general dysfunctional defensive dynamic that was the root of that problem. There were a LOT of miscommunications in switches and box outs, along with a lot of visible (even from section K!) frustration from players like Johnson and Reneau, the leaders of their respective units.
Still, this is to be expected. It’s not very pretty to watch right now, but it’s also probably not the end of the world given the raw defensive talent of guys like Ware and Anthony Walker coming off the bench. After all, the eye test clearly states that, yes, this is a new group of teammates who have mostly never played significant minutes in a real basketball game together.
Luckily, the Hoosiers have a few games to ease into more established rotations and gain more competitive experience playing with their new teammates before facing what currently appears to be a behemoth of an opponent in No. 6 UConn. But, if Indiana can’t get their defensive act together — or simply communicate well on the court — things might get ugly pretty fast.
3. 27 of Indiana’s 94 points came in transition.
This Hoosier team’s biggest strength might very well be its athleticism. Especially with an ultra-quick backcourt who isn’t afraid to weave around defenders and drive into contact, expect Indiana to push the break every chance it gets this year.
The Hoosiers were a decent transition team last year. Trayce Jackson-Davis grabbing a rebound, pushing it all the way up the floor, and dishing to a wide-open Miller Kopp in the corner is a sequence that occurred no fewer than two or three times per game.
This year, though, there will be many more options, and the pace will be a whole lot faster. Johnson and Galloway both have the experience and handle of veteran point guards, and the three frontcourt members are fully willing and able to rip and go themselves. Even drawing from the bench, there’s not really a single player who played against Marian that slows the Hoosiers down with or without the ball in his hands.
Communication in general is still a pretty big issue, though, and transition points won’t come as easy or often against tougher competition without good synergy. I think that at this point in the season, it’s still incredibly encouraging to see the high level of aggressiveness in attacking the basket and not settling for contested midrange jumpers too frequently.
Indiana got to the line 25 times against Marian and converted 84% of its attempts from the charity stripe. Woodson said postgame that he’s appreciative of how much pressure the high free throw rate takes off of the offensive sets, which — similar to the half-court defense — has been a bit of another weak link for the Hoosiers.
The most entertaining part of the Hoosiers’ transition game, though, was the performances and energy of Gabe Cupps and CJ Gunn. Cupps and Gunn seemed to have formed a two-headed snake of intensity and volume scoring off the bench that rivals Galloway’s role as a 6th man role in previous years. The two got a massive ovation as Woodson’s first subs off the bench and proceeded to deliver incredible sequence after incredible sequence each time they entered the game.