Iowa (19-8, 8-6) vs. Indiana (15-12, 5-9)
Date: February 27, 2014
Time: 8:00 p.m. CT
Location: Assembly Hall, Bloomington
Point spread: Iowa -4
What a difference a year makes. On March 2, 2013, Iowa made its somewhat-annual trip to Bloomington and never really had a chance of winning. The Hawkeyes scored just 14 points in the first half, went to the locker room down by 12, and played the Hoosiers to a draw in the second half despite 20 points from Roy Devyn Marble. Indiana went on to receive a top seed in the NCAA tournament and a sweet 16 appearance. Iowa went on to the NIT.
This year, it's Indiana that looks NIT-bound. The Hoosiers have stumbled to a 5-9 conference record, with four defeats in the last five games. In their last home game, the Hoosiers fell to Penn State, a basketball team that exists only in theory. Northwestern won by seven in Assembly Hall earlier this year, starting the current death spiral. Tom Crean is actaully on a slightly warm seat. [REDACTED] is probably scouting out housing in Bloomington as we speak. It's gotten so bad that the arena is falling apart.
The reason for Indiana's downfall is simple: Turnovers. The Hoosiers are one of the nation's worst teams at protecting the basketball, committing turnovers on 22.3 percent of possessions and having it stolen 11 percent of the time. Not only is Indiana's turnover rate the worst by any major-conference team, but it's the worst by a full percent over South Carolina, and half of South Carolina's turnovers are a result of guards startled by Frank Martin's screaming. That steal rate, while on par with both USC (Carolina) and USC (California) is equally atrocious.
When the Hoosiers don't turn the ball over, they usually drive into the lane and hoist up a shot that gets blocked. Opponents are rejecting 12.2 percent of Indiana shot attempts. While that isn't the country's worst performance -- even in the Big Ten, Purdue and Northwestern have been worse -- it's still an extraordinary rate that can drive an offense into the ground. Not surprisingly, Indiana's 49.5 percent effective field goal rate is medioctrity personified; the national average is 49.6. The Hoosiers are not afraid of tempo -- they're the fastest-playing team in the Big Ten not named Iowa -- but that tempo has slowed considerably in conference play. They managed just 55 possessions in a win against Michigan, 63 in a loss at Minnesota, and 64 in four other Big Ten games.
The Hoosiers do rebound at both ends of the court. Nearly two out of every five Indiana misses fall back into the hands of a Hoosier, and 73 percent of opponent misses do the same. It's that rebounding rate, a low foul rate on the defensive end, and solid shot defense that have given the Hoosiers one of the country's best defensive efficiency ratings. Opponents who move the ball effectively have found some success, though.
The discussion of Tom Crean's personnell begins and ends with point guard Yogi Ferrell and forward Noah Vonleh. In his second season, Ferrell has established himself as one of the conference's top point guards. He's averaging a team-high 17.9 points per game, dishing out 3.7 assists per contest, and has the Hoosiers' lowest turnover rate. Ferrell is also shooting 43 percent from behind the arc, and has been Indiana's only consistent outside threat. Vonleh, a 6'10 freshman, is contributing 11.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and is not limping to the finish: Vonleh scored 18 against Wisconsin Thursday. Will Sheehey, who is somehow still eligible, averages 10.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest. Both Vonleh and Sheehey can knock down an outside jump shot -- Vonleh is over 55 percent from three on the season -- but neither is a frequent outside shooter.
Freshman forward Troy Williams (6.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and sophomore forward Austin Etherington (2.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg) were in Tuesday's starting lineup, but neither player has shown signs of being particularly productive or dangerous. Sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell is fifth on the team at 6.3 points per game, but is averaging less than three points per game in Big Ten play and has yet to reach double figures in a conference game. Senior guard Evan Gordon plays 21 minutes a game, but is shooting just 41 percent from the field and 33 percent from behind the arc, and scores just 5.7 points per game.
Indiana needs Ferrell to go big and the rest of the team to shoot the lights out to win. The Hoosiers shot at a 63 percent effective rate in their win over Michigan (Ferrell had 27). They shot at a 63 percent effective rate in a win over Wisconsin (Ferrell had 25). They shot a 61 percent effective rate in a win over Northwestern (Ferrell only had 12, but it's just Northwestern). If Iowa can stop Indiana from making half of its shots and limit Ferrell as effectively as possible -- say, 15 points -- the Hawkeyes should have a decent chance of pulling out the win. But the effective field goal rate of Iowa's opponents has skyrocketed in recent games, and Indiana is capable of raining fire from the sky if given the chance. Iowa needs to stop the bleeding, and has a general idea of how to do just that Thursday night. It remains to be seen whether they can actually do that, though.