Initially when the Crossroads Classic was announced 2010 and to be first played in 2011 I was giddy with excitement at the possibility. Indiana is a great basketball state with great basketball traditions and an annual event where those teams are forced to collide should be a big deal for everyone. Now going into its third year the event is hitting the reset button and coming back to the match-ups of the debut 2011 season. Purdue and Butler will have a rematch where Butler came out on top in the previous competition. Indiana and Notre Dame will also duel again after Indiana won the last game.
Notre Dame will be the final match up in the non-conference that will provide any sense of intrigue and even then, I'm not sure it is going to qualify as a quality win if the Hoosiers pull off the W. Notre Dame was expected to compete as one of the best teams in the state and a competitive ACC to start the season, but things have just not gone well for the Irish. Coming into the game at 7-3 they're already facing a backs against the wall must win game to salvage their non-conference season.
Notre Dame started the season off with some wins over cupcakes before getting popped by 13 at home by Indiana State. They followed that up with wins over poor competition before losing to a very good Iowa team on the road. The thought at that point was that they were done with losses until the back to back competition of Indiana and Ohio State starting tomorrow. Instead they let another mid-major come into their house and pee on their rug. North Dakota State, who isn't a bad team by any means, walked into the Joyce Center and ran away with a 4 point win.
At this point if Notre Dame doesn't get the win against Indiana on a neutral court in which they're underdogs the Irish season is sunk. 8-5 in the non-conference with the signature win being a home victory against Delaware is no way to impress the selection committee. Add in the fact that they only play 7 teams worse than their current victory in conference play and we're looking at a cornered rat. Notre Dame desperately needs this game.
So now that we've established some context for this game, you know a little more what Indiana is facing and what kind of game is going to be necessary for the Hoosiers to leave Bankers Life Fieldhouse with the win. You'll be surprised to hear that despite Notre Dame's disappointing season to date, they've actually been a pretty good offensive team. They currently rank 28th in offensive efficiency and do a good job of spreading that production around.
Four of their starters are currently more efficient than all of Indiana's starters. Only Evan Gordon rivals the efficiency of Notre Dame's strongest players. So obviously the key to this game is playing strong defense and keeping Notre Dame from getting into any sort of offensive rhythm. When they're feeling it they can score the ball with some of the best. Still there are some flaws to discuss in the system.
Notre Dame normally plays through the post, which means that probably the biggest key to defending the Notre Dame offense is going to be Noah Vonleh. Garrick Sherman, though not as efficient of a scorer as most of his teammates, is a terrific passer from the post. Notre Dame does an excellent job of feeding him and then moving on the perimeter to lose their defenders. Because of this they tend to shoot about 4 threes a game more per average than the national average. In turn, they don't get to the rim a whole lot. Take away Sherman's 84 shots at the rim and ND only gets to the rim 40% of the time (IU is at 54%), That's barely above the national average but well below what a typical power conference team does. Good teams get to the rim often. This also means they're prone to some very cold streaks of jump shooting if you can keep a body on the perimeter players and make their shots tough. If Noah can provide strong resistance to Sherman or induce early foul trouble, then Notre Dame could be in some hot water fast.
The guy Indiana most needs to keep an eye out for on the perimeter is Jerian Grant. We've already faced his younger brother Jerami with Syracuse two weeks ago. The Hoosiers were able to hold the bigger, younger and debatable more talented brother to a relatively ineffective game of only 6 points in 27 minutes. Can the Hoosiers do the same to Jerian? The elder Grant is big point guard though and can cause a lot of problems on both ends of the floor.
Grant is one of the nations better passers with an assist rate ranking in the top 70 and a turnover rate sitting at 11%. You aren't going to force him into making bad decisions. On the other end he's a great defender that generates steals without fouling. He's the biggest guy that Indiana needs to shut down outside. If Will Sheehey and company can do that while Vonleh disturbs Sherman in the post, the Hoosiers should have a pretty easy time of things.
Defensively, Notre Dame has struggled to offer a ton of resistance. They're just a bit better than the national average which means they're not very good in the context of a high major, top contender basketball team. This is good, because the same case could be made for Indiana's offense. The Hoosiers won't be able to rely on offensive rebounding in this one as Notre Dame continues to be the very good rebounding team they've always been. Currently 18th in the nation in defensive rebounding, they don't let teams get second chance points.
That means ball movement is critical for Indiana. If Evan Gordon can come on and continue to provide Indiana with a second shooter it so desperately needs, then Indiana has a great chance to drop a lot of points on Notre Dame. The Irish are currently 17th in the nation in points allowed from three pointers. ND has some major problems with losing shooters on the perimeter and it has allowed teams to hit 38.6% of their shots from behind the arc. Now Indiana is far from a good shooting team, but if guys are left alone on the perimeter it's going to give them that much more space to drive as well. I don't expect to see shooters standing alone and firing threes, but I do expect to see a decent amount of players standing alone with space to get to the rim.
If Indiana can get the ball rotation necessary to mount an unrelenting assault at the Notre Dame interior it could provide a lot of benefits on the defensive end as well. The more Indiana goes to the rim, the more easy buckets or free throws they're going to shoot. The Hoosiers are going to need those easy buckets and mounting Notre Dame fouls as we get down the stretch in the second half.
I wouldn't say this game is a guaranteed win, in fact it is far from that. But I think this Notre Dame squad is vulnerable to getting run on. If Indiana can generate two to three runs of 10-0 or 12-4 type runs then this game could and will swing heavily in Indiana's favorite on a semi-home court in Indy. Look for the Hoosiers to win this one. Pomeroy says 4, I'm looking for double digits to make a statement.