To get the taste of Indiana’s first loss of the season out of their mouths, Archie Miller said that the team had to “earn that right.” They can do so by playing well in a big game on a big stage, with very little turnaround time.
For better or for worse, Indiana has an opportunity right around the corner as they travel to the legendary Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan, New York. The Hoosiers (8-1, 0-1) will take on Dan Hurley’s UConn Huskies (6-2, 0-0) of the American Athletic Conference.
The last time Indiana played at Madison Square Garden, the story unfortunately did not end well either. The Hoosiers was upset by 14-seeded Rutgers team in the 2018 Big Ten Tournament by a final score of 69-76.
If the Hoosiers can re-establish their defensive prowess that they showed against Florida State and the cupcakes prior, Indiana has a chance to write off the Wisconsin loss as another loss in a difficult Kolh Center.
Otherwise, the story could be more troublesome. We all saw the fragility of the team last season where a bit of chemistry imbalance on the team created a tailspin that resulted in a 1-12 stretch in the middle of the schedule.
Will the Indiana staff be able to correct the team’s lack of communication on Saturday afternoon?
How to Watch
|Who||Indiana Hoosiers vs. UConn Huskies|
|When||Tuesday, December 10, 2019 (9:00 p.m. ET)|
|Where||Madison Square Garden – New York, N.Y.|
|Tickets||Find the Lowest Ticket Prices on SeatGeek|
|Stats||Live Stats Link TBA|
|Listen||IU Radio Network|
Getting to Know the Huskies
Preseason predictions have the Huskies finishing around fifth of the American Athletic Conference behind the likes of Memphis, Cincinnati, Houston, and Wichita State. UConn will be playing their last season with the AAC before returning to their previous conference: the Big East. That news was announced earlier this year before the 2019-2020 campaign began.
The Huskies have had plenty of time to play and study Indiana. Their last game took place on Wednesday, December 4, which means that Coach Hurley and staff would have nearly a week to game plan against the Hoosiers. You can bet the farm that he as watching and studying very closely during the Indiana versus Wisconsin match up.
At the time of writing, the Huskies are ranked 51st in the nation according to KenPom, which is the result of being ranked 65th in adjusted offense and 46th in adjusted defense. Their first loss of the season was against a weaker Saint Joseph’s team on their home court in Storr, Connecticut. Coach Hurley told reporters that he couldn’t sleep after that loss. The game kept him up at night and the cerebral coach ran through different game plan options in his head all night.
The result was a bounce-back victory against Florida, who was at the time ranked in the the top-15 in the nation. On the season, that has been UConn’s most impressive victory of the season. Their victory over Miami on neutral court comes as a close second.
Connecticut’s second loss was delivered by Xavier in a double overtime game in the second round of the Charleston Classic. The Huskies lost by just a single point 74-75.
Projected Starting Lineups
|G: #1 Christian Vital||G: #1 Al Durham|
|G: #3 Alterique Gilbert||G: #2 Armaan Franklin|
|G: #12 Tyler Polley||F: #3 Justin Smith|
|F: #23 Akok Akok||F: #4 Trayce Jackson-Davis|
|C: #25 Josh Carlton||C: #50 Joey Brunk|
As a team, they are known to be protectors of the ball with a top-40 turnover percentage through their first eight games of the season. The Huskies are averaging only just 12.1 turnovers per game, compared to their opponent’s 16.6 per game. UConn’s starting backcourt of Christian Vital and Alterique Gilbert are both upper class guards that play with maturity and collectedness.
Vital is the leading scorer on the team and he is the most dangerous at the free throw line, shooting 93.9% on the season. He is currently 15 of 43 from distance.
Like Indiana, about a fifth of all possessions are ran in transition; however, they are not quite as good as the Hoosiers in finishing those attempts. With their speed and priority on returning to the defense side of the ball, the Huskies are only allowing on 0.794 points per possession when opponents are in transition offense.
In the paint, Connecticut is led by Josh Carlton who is a 6-foot-11 junior. He is currently playing in about 60.0% of available minutes and he is a player that will be involved in over a quarter of the total possessions.
Carlton will be joined in the front-court by Akok Akok, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward that was a four-star recruit out of Putnam Science Academy. With block percentages of 6.5% for Carlton and 10.5% for Akok, the pair have propelled Hurley’s team to a top ten ranking in block percentage. They have a combined 34 blocks on the season and they are averaging nearly 18 points per game combined.
Lastly among the starters, the Huskies will bring out 6-foot-9 junior Tyler Polley who will play on the wing. Polley has been the most successful UConn player from distance. On the season, he has converted 42.5% from behind the arc, finishing 17 of 40 attempts.
Also noteworthy, former Indiana target James Bouknight will be available to play on Tuesday evening after he served a three-game suspensions for fleeing the scene of a car crash. He is on a probation program that will have his charges erased. Bouknight is averaging 17.6 minutes per game on the season and averaging a respectable 11.4 points in those contests.
The Huskies also have an athletic guard off of the bench Brendan Adams. Adams has played in all eight games of the season, although he has not been a starter for the team. You may see him at times in the small forward position as needed; however, he will be undersized in that role.
What to Watch for
1. Mental toughness after Madison
All Indiana fans are nervous about the outcome from Madison. A lot of the troubling signs from last season showed up again. Will things be different this season?
Besides the very obvious lack of communication, the Hoosiers did show signs that this team is made up differently. To start, this team is significantly more balanced and requires the entire roster to step up. The outcomes of games do not necessarily ride on the performances of one or two players — although there might be an argument for Devonte Green’s ability to raise Indiana’s ceiling.
Coach Miller very clearly stated that the camaraderie is there for this team. Players like Justin Smith coached the other younger teammates between time outs. Al Durham and Devonte Green did their best to calm down the rest of the group. Even while having a bad performance, Joey Brunk showed his hustle and willingness to dive on to the court with his 6-foot-11 frame.
At the end of the day, Saturday was the first chance that players like Damezi Anderson, Jerome Hunter, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Armaan Franklin, and Joey Brunk got to play extended minutes in a Hoosier uniform. Now that that’s out of the way, there are no longer any excuses.
2. Earning back the rebound margin
The Wisconsin game was the first time all season long that the Hoosiers were not victorious on the rebound margin. With Indiana’s size and composition of the roster, owning the glass will be a consistent key to victory for this team all season long.
UConn, in particular, finishes approximately 9.7% of possessions off of offensive rebounds. The Huskies are averaging 40.8 rebounds per game as a team, and they are scoring approximately 1.227 points per possession after each offensive rebound.
Indiana needs to get back in the rebounding margin, especially with their size in the paint in Trayce Jackson-Davis and Joey Brunk. Specifically focus on positioning without the ball, watch for opposing cutters to box out, and work as a group to fight off of the glass.
3. Can Indiana convert in the transition or will UConn’s defense prevail?
As mentioned, Indiana’s speciality in transition offense (offense in the fast break) will be directly countered by UConn, who has been especially great at defending against the transition. The Huskies have speedier guards with the motor to return back on possession and set up defensively.
The Huskies have been able to create turnovers that are not strips, and rank in the top 40 of the country in non-steal turnover percentage.
The points off of fast break metric will be an interesting one to follow on Tuesday evening.
4. Getting back to the free throw line
As the number one team in free throw rate, which is the ability to get to the charity stripe, the Hoosiers taking an average of 20.9 attempts per game and they are shooting 70.4% as a team for the season.
Lately, that trend has not looked as good. In their last three games, the attempts were still there at 18 attempts against South Dakota State, 38 attempts against the Seminoles, and 26 attempts against the Badgers. However, Indiana has only been able to convert a collective percentage of 59.8% (49 of 82) in the last three games.
UConn is a team that does not foul a lot, as opponents have only taken a little bit over 12 free throws per game. The good news for the Hoosiers is that they are not in the single digits like Wisconsin.
Featured Photo: IndianaHQ