BLOOMINGTON — Sometimes, it’s nice to get a fresh perspective.
Anyone who’s watched Indiana men’s basketball team recently knows Saturday’s defensive effort was vastly improved over recent games. How could it not be? Indiana had given up an average of 86.3 points in its last three games. On Saturday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Wisconsin barely cleared half that total as Indiana won 63-45.
The over-helping (Trayce Jackson-Davis said after the game Indiana wasn’t over-helping in the high-scoring losses, but they were) was largely gone. Indiana was moving over the top of screens far more effectively. It was better.
We all know that, but how did the opposition see it? Wisconsin coach Greg Gard spoke about Indiana’s defense after the game.
“I thought we had wide-open threes to start the second half, and you’ve got to knock those down. You’re on the road and specifically with them making the start to the second half that they did,” Gard said.
“Part of that is credit to their defense, their pressure they put on Chucky (Hepburn). We got to the rim several times, and I don’t think we finished as well as we needed to, and we got hesitant.”
Gard was asked whether the presence of Jackson-Davis in the lane gave the Badgers the willies when it came to being stronger at the rim. Jackson-Davis had five blocks.
“At times, yeah. At times I thought we were too hesitant and just didn’t get to the rim and just go finish the play. We were worried about what was running behind us,” Gard said.
Wisconsin was held to its second-lowest point total of the season and the lowest in a loss. (The Badgers beat Dayton 43-42 in November.) Wisconsin’s 32.1% shooting was its worst since Nov. 15.
This against an Indiana team that hadn’t defended better than 46% by the opposition this month.
Does it make sense? The effort did, so if you’re a Hoosiers fan, just ride with it, even if it seemingly came out of nowhere.
Here’s four more takeaways from Indiana’s win:
TAKE THE GOOD WITH THE BAD
Indiana might have had more than a one-point lead at halftime, but Indiana’s guards were rushing shots outside the paint.
The guilty parties were Jalen Hood-Schifino (who came around later), Trey Galloway, Tamar Bates and C.J. Gunn. They combined to shoot 3-for-18 in the first half.
Not all of them were bad shots, but many of them were quick shots. Too early in the shot clock when offense needed to be cycled through a bit.
Then again? Indiana needs some of its players to work their way into rhythm. The only way to do that is get some game shots up. So while the results weren’t there, and not every shot was advisable, it’s nice to see them go up just the same.
ROTATION EXPANDS A BIT
If there’s one thing I’ve thought needed a bit of a jolt during Indiana’s three-game win streak, it was a tweak in the rotation.
While Saturday didn’t represent a major rotation change, Mike Woodson did put Gunn and Logan Duncomb into meaningful situations in the first half.
Neither was outstanding. Gunn was 0-for-4 from the field, though he did bring a jolt of energy. Duncomb kept a possession alive with an offensive rebound and he had a steal, but he also lost the ball on a dead-to-rights post-up situation.
Nonetheless, Indiana has to find a way to get its mainstays some rest, even if it’s for a minute or two. It was good the Hoosiers accomplished that.
One encouraging sign from the first half? Malik Reneau came out of the gate productive for the first time in quite a few contests.
The freshman was 2-for-3 in the first half and had two rebounds. He offered some energy in a game that was calling out for someone to provide some.
Reneau finished 3-for-7 from the field, so he didn’t sustain his production in the second half, but he didn’t need to with others hot from the field. Indiana needs Reneau to find his groove again. Maybe he took some baby steps?
AROUND THE BIG TEN
Most of the weekend Big Ten slate will be played out Sunday, but the games that have been concluded have churned up the usual wheel of fortune where very little makes any sense at all.
Michigan State? The latest team anointed to challenge Purdue at the top of the league after seven straight wins? The Spartans lost at Illinois 75-66 on Friday.
In what might be an object lesson for Indiana fans, Illinois started 0-3 in the Big Ten. The Fighting Illini have since won three in a row to get back into the middle of the wide-open Big Ten chase.
This comes one day after previously winless-in-the-Big Ten Minnesota went to Columbus and defeated Ohio State 70-67. Yes, there was controversy -- a foul called on Ohio State’s Bruce Thornton late that appeared to be a clean block.
(Rutgers, who lost at Ohio State in controversial circumstances at Ohio State on a buzzer-beater shot in December, likely believes karma was served.)
However, the Buckeyes had only lost one game in Columbus until then, a two-point loss to then-No. 1 Purdue.
The Boilermakers did provide the one pro forma result of the weekend with a 73-55 home win over Nebraska, but for the most part, the Big Ten really is a random dartboard in 2023. It will make each game fun but ultimately maddening, too.