Former Indiana great Victor Oladipo now plays for the Indiana Pacers, and the other night, he checked his phone in the locker room to get the score of his Hoosiers’ opening game against Indiana State.
What happened next went mildly viral. Oladipo saw that IU had lost 90-69 at home, shook his head and muttered that it’s going to be “a long year.”
— Jim Ayello (@jimayello) November 11, 2017
It might seem that way right now, sure. Indiana followed its loss to the Sycamores with a rather unsettling 86-77 win at home over Howard, a game in which Archie Miller’s team shot just 12-of-29 from the line.
Not to mention, the Hoosiers are now staring at a 1-2 start to the season. IU visits No. 23 Seton Hall on Wednesday, and that will be one tall order for an Indiana team still finding its identity.
Even so, I’m not sure the signs are quite as dire as a 21-point home loss to a middle-of-the-Missouri-Valley-pack opponent would suggest. Here’s a look at where the Hoosiers stand right now:
Indiana’s perimeter defense can be both bad and due for better luck
Thanks to the invaluable database at sports-reference.com, we can sift through thousands of Division I basketball games from last season and quickly find the number of contests in which a team made 17 or more 3s, the way Indiana State did on Friday in Bloomington. That number would be 81.
That means that, just in terms of sheer volume, the Sycamores did better from beyond the arc than 99.6 percent of teams last season when given 40 minutes of basketball. ISU’s performance was a 1-in-200 kind of thing.
Heck, even Howard, with 13 made 3s, would have ranked in the top 3.7 percent of perimeter performances last season. In fact, teams that matched the Bison’s number of 3s won 74 percent of the time in 2016-17. Look at that, IU is actually beating the odds!
Fine, beating a MEAC team at home isn’t exactly “Rocky.” Nevertheless, Indiana is learning the hard way that 3-point karma is a force to be reckoned with in this sport. Indeed, one year and a few days ago, it was the Hoosiers who drained 15 3s in 45 minutes in a thrilling, neutral-floor win against eventual No. 1 seed Kansas. That game too, we now know, was something of an outlier.
Eventually, IU will play an opponent that will not (gasp!) make 13 or more 3s. When that happens, we’ll get a more balanced read on what this team is capable of in 2017-18.
Just because a bunch guys left doesn’t mean the ones still around aren’t talented
Last summer, OG Anunoby, Thomas Bryant and James Blackmon Jr. all left school early to pursue professional opportunities. Obviously, this would be a much different roster with those three still on campus (Anunoby and Bryant would be juniors; Blackmon would be a senior), but the optics created when a bunch of guys leave can be somewhat deceiving.
Before you feel too sorry for Miller on account of his empty cupboard, please remember that De’Ron Davis was a top-60 recruit. Robert Johnson rated out as top-50, and Curtis Jones ranked in the top 40 in his recruiting class.
Looking at more recent arrivals, top-100 recruit Justin Smith, a freshman from Buffalo Grove, Illinois, recorded a 16-12 double-double against Howard in a mere 27 minutes. Throw in the eminently proven likes of Josh Newkirk, Juwan Morgan and Devonte Green, and you have a rotation that on paper is fit to look the non-Michigan State portion of the Big Ten in the eye without flinching.
Miller has talent on hand. The team is plainly still finding its way at a time of transition, but ask a first-year coach such as Wyking Jones at California or even a second-year type such as Kevin Stallings at Pittsburgh if they think they could struggle through with Miller’s roster. I suspect they would switch places in a heartbeat.
There are hopeful signs in IU’s start — if you squint
In two games in which Indiana was outscored by 12 points overall, the Hoosiers still outshot their opponents inside the arc by no less than 23 percentage points. That gaping margin won’t last, but even in Year 1, it isn’t so wild a dream to think Miller can make inroads with this defense.
In Big Ten play last season, IU fouled at by far the highest rate in the league, even though it wasn’t forcing turnovers but was allowing opponents to connect on half their 2s. There is little chance that all three of the above statements will hold true in Miller’s first season.
On offense, Indiana’s crippling weakness in 2016-17 was its high turnover rate. When coupled with a low rate for takeaways, the Hoosiers were slogging uphill all season in terms of opportunities to score.
Yes, IU is still committing turnovers, but at least Miller’s guys are recording just as many takeaways. Keep doing that, and things will look much different in at least one respect than they did a year ago. Indeed, if Indiana had attained turnover parity with opponents last season, the Hoosiers would have made the 2017 NCAA tournament with ease.
Miller’s team is no shoo-in for the field of 68 in 2018, goodness knows, but somewhere between tournament-lock status and the understandable despair of opening night, you’ll find this team’s most likely trajectory.
Cheer up, Victor. Things might not be so bad after all.