BLOOMINGTON — Indiana has established a strong defensive identity under first-year coach Mike Woodson, ranking first in the Big Ten and second nationally in field goal percentage defense, allowing just 35.3% shooting from the field.
The next step is for IU’s offense to come around. There have been signs of improvement, and the Hoosiers will look to continue that growth Thursday when they play at Iowa (9 p.m., FS1).
IU (12-3, 3-2 Big Ten) is still seeking its first win on the road. The game will pit strength against strength. Iowa (11-4, 1-3) leads the Big Ten in scoring (86.7 points per game) and ranks third in the nation offensive efficiency per KenPom, while IU leads the conference in scoring defense, giving up just 60.8 points per game.
But this could be a game where IU takes advantage of some of Iowa’s deficiencies defensively as well, as the Hawkeyes rank 13th in the league in both field goal percentage defense (42.9%) and scoring defense (71.6 points per game allowed).
Iowa has had a week off to prepare for IU, while the Hoosiers are coming off a 73-60 home win Sunday against Minnesota. Iowa’s last game was an 87-78 loss at No. 13 Wisconsin on Jan. 6.
“We kind of focused on ourselves a little bit more,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “You have a week off, you're not really jumping to the next game. You're trying to get better at some of the things we thought we didn't do well. We didn't defend or rebound as well as we would've liked, so [we] worked on that.”
Turnovers were an issue for IU early in the season. But the Hoosiers have valued the ball better of late, averaging just seven turnovers over their last three games.
“The ball movement and not turning it over, that's been a big key,” Woodson said. “We're not getting the greatest shots, but we're getting shots. That's important when you're talking about executing offense.
“I think the next step for us is just knowing where the shots are coming from and trying to get a better — a good shot, maybe turn it into a great shot. That's the next key.”
Shooting-wise, IU broke out of a two-game shooting slump in the win over Minnesota, going 9-for-24 (37.5%) from 3-point range against the Gophers. As more defenses collapse on Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson inside, the Hoosiers are going to need forward Miller Kopp and guard Parker Stewart to knock down open shots. Stewart is shooting 46.3% (31-of-67) from 3-point range, while Kopp is shooting 37.8% (17-of-45).
IU will see a mix of defenses from Iowa, as McCaffery’s teams often switch from man to zone to press depending on situations during the course of the game.
“They do a lot of different things in their zone,” Woodson said. “They full court, they three-quarter court, they half-court press. They play half-court zone, matchup zones. They do it all.
“I think we've seen a little bit of it all year. So we've just got to be sharp and ready when we see it. That's going to be the key, I think, one of the keys to the game in terms of handling their pressure.”
Defensively, one of the keys for the Hoosiers will be containing sophomore forward Keegan Murray, who leads the Big Ten in scoring at 24.7 points per game. Woodson said on his radio show Thompson will get the first defensive assignment against the 6-foot-8 Murray, but sophomore forward Jordan Geronimo could be summoned off the bench if Thompson gets in foul trouble.
“We're sitting here with two days to go to try to put a solid game plan together because he's really a good player, man,” Woodson said. “He leads the Big Ten in scoring, and there's nothing he can't do on the basketball floor, and that's on both ends. He's long and rangy. I like everything about him. But he's got a nice supporting cast, too.”
Woodson was asked about Indiana’s 1976 basketball season remaining the last perfect season in college basketball after the last two unbeaten teams in the sport this year, No. 1 Baylor and No. 5 USC, lost Tuesday night.
“Records are meant to be broken, but that's one record I would never want to see broken,” Woodson said. “Scott May and I talk about it all the time. Every year that we get ready for college basketball and teams start their season and they are 10-0, 13-0, I always call and say we're going to be just fine. The record is going to be intact. Just for selfish reasons alone, I hope that record never gets broken.”
Woodson didn't play on IU's perfect team but joined the Hoosiers the following season as a four-year player from 1976-77 through 1979-80.