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Offseason Basketball Wonkery, pt. III: the Defense


I've been intrigued by IU's defense last season - clearly some strides were made, but there was also some considerable frustration in watching them not shut teams down when they had a chance to put games away (Nebraska, Minnesota). On one hand, the Hoosiers' bread was clearly buttered on the offensive side. On the other, Crean's team showed interesting ability both as a team (forcing Kentucky and Ohio State turn the ball over a lot in December) and individually (for example, Watford's ability to trouble opposing point guards or grab 14 rebounds against MSU). So, I ran some numbers to try to make some sense of it all based on the Four Factors (which for defense, mean defensive rebounding percentage, Opponent's Free Throw Rate (FTR), turnover percentage (TO%), and Effective Field-Goal percentage (EFG%). Then I looked at block and steal percentage, and opponent's points-per-game. I wanted to look at recent years, so I only went back to 2006 (although that is all the way back to Mike Davis' last Hoosier team), and as usual, I only looked at in-conference stats. Table below the jump:

Hoosier Basketball Defense 2006-2012
Year DefReb% FTR OppTO% OppEFG% Block% Steal% Opp.PtsPG
2006 68.5 37.9 22.1 51.3 6.7 9.9 67.5
2007 67.2 51.5 22.2 49.9 10.6 9.6 64.6
2008 72.1 29.9 17.1 48.7 8.8 9.4 66.5
2009 70.3 40.7 18.9 56.5 5.7 7.7 71.6
2010 64.4 40.5 18.4 53.0 7.8 9.2 73
2011 68.6 52.2 16.8 53.1 5.4 7.6 72.3
2012 69.5 33.8 16.8 50.4 9.7 7.4 69.6

There are several interesting things going on here. A number of them jump out at me, historically. I didn't remember the 2006 & 2007 teams being so good at forcing steals and turnovers, nor did I remember the 2007 team giving up so many free-throws! Crean's first team in 2009 was actually decent on the boards, if the other team ever missed. This chart gives us a couple of nice points of comparison for last year's defense, tho. Although there was improvement, it wasn't in getting more steals or turnovers, and there was only slight improvement in the defensive boards. The improvement looks like it almost entirely came in the paint. The block rate nearly doubled at the very same time that the Free-Throw Rate fell almost 20 percent to the second-best rate listed. This largely explains the dip in opponents' effective-field goal percentage, and the corresponding dip in opponents' points-per-game. Again, the difference really did appear to be Cody Zeller.

The head-scratching decline/flat-lining of steals and foes' turnovers is, I think, explained by the fact that this is the numbers from conference games only, in the best-coached conference in the country. For a corollary, look at the block rate and FTR from 2007-2008. Did DJ White get worse at blocking shots? No, my guess is that B1G teams learned that DJ could take care of the rim in 2007, and started funneling their offense away from him in 2008, leading to small drop in block rate and a big drop in their FTR. Similarly, I think B1G teams got the memo in 2010 that with a decent amount of talent on the roster, a Crean team can notch a solid steal rate. And most Big Ten teams are pretty sure-handed with the ball, anyway. They learned to pound it inside against the Hoosiers the last two years, but now their FG% is dropping and the offensive rebound opportunities are starting to become slightly fewer, too.

In short, in looking for trends, don't expect to see a big jump in these numbers, even with the new depth on the roster. However, if Cody really has bulked up, the defensive rebounding percentage is the one are that could jump up here. Yogi Ferrell, Ron Patterson, and a healthy Maurice Creek could tick the steal rate and opponents' turnover percentages up, but my thinking is the trends predict a fairly similar performance in-conference. I wouldn't be surprised, with the increased respect that IU has now earned and the likelihood of coaches to steer their offenses away from Cody, to see that Free-Throw Rate drop even further!

The Hoosier defense should improve next season. The improvement will probably not be drastic, but when I take a look at the offense next, I suspect we'll see that drastic improvement simply shouldn't be needed.