GAME INFO / HOW TO WATCH:
When? Wednesday, December 2nd, 9:15 PM, ESPN
Vegas? INDIANA +9.5
Pomeroy? DUKE by 10, 19% chance of Indiana victory
Well, here we go.
There is a very good chance that this will be the most difficult game Indiana will play this year. Ken Pomeroy certainly seems to think so. A date with #6 Michigan State in the Breslin Center awaits on Valentine's Day, and that's the only game on the schedule. Certainly, teams like Purdue and Maryland look quite formidable, but Indiana gets the luxury of playing them at home. They could easily lose to either team, but neither can possibly be as daunting as going into Cameron Indoor to take on the reigning National Champions.
In a different world, Indiana enters this game with one or less losses after a strong showing in Maui, but in the actual world, Indiana is carrying a couple barely-top-100 losses back to the mainland and their best win over #53 Creighton in Bloomington. The Hoosiers leaned on Maui for strength of schedule purposes but were unable to dispatch of Wake Forest to make the trip to the island even remotely worthwhile. They will head into Durham untested, where better teams than them have failed. A non-conference team hasn't beaten Duke within the confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium since 2000.
There's no question that the Hoosiers could erase quite a few early-season doubters by beating Duke on Wednesday night on national television, as it would be a candidate for one of the best wins any team gets all season long. But is victory even possible?
HERE WOULD YOU LIKE SOME FACTORS?
|INDIANA (#7 Adj. Offense)||64.3% (2nd)||22.9% (328th)||38.0% (34th)||32.4% (260th)|
|DUKE (#29 Adj. Defense)||49.1% (166th)||19.5% (127th)||30.4% (177th)||27.2% (32nd)|
|INDIANA (#83 Adj. Defense)||49.1% (165th)||20.8% (76th)||29.6% (151st)||28.7% (46th)|
|DUKE (#1 Adj. Offense)||55.5% (39th)||16.0% (66th)||39.3% (22nd)||50.0% (27th)|
Indiana's defense has run out of time to sort out its issues ahead of one of the nation's most elite offenses. It could be the only time all year that the Hoosiers will play a team that is actually better than them at scoring points. Granted, Indiana's defense makes just about every team they play look like an elite offensive unit. Only one team (Kentucky) has been able to make Duke's offense look anything short of incredible, and they may very well be the best defense in the country.
Indiana, as you may or may not have heard, is more on the other end of that particular spectrum.
Many teams will tighten their rotations as the season goes on and coaches get a better idea of the personnel they're dealing with. Coach K, always ahead of the curve, has already done that. Only eight guys are playing more than 10% of the team's total minutes, and one of them (Chase Jeter) is playing less than 20% of the team's minutes.
Duke does a decent job of taking care of the ball, but only Grayson Allen has an assist rate that exceeds his turnover rate. Along with being the team's primary distributor, no one takes more shots or plays more minutes than Allen, and for good reason: he leads the team in offensive rating, fouls drawn, assist rate, and is second on the team in 3PT% at 48.6%. Grayson Allen is a legitimate Player of the Year candidate in the same year his dad eyes the Republican nomination for President.
But Duke is far from a one-man show. Amile Jefferson is one of the very best on the offensive glass and is shooting 70% on his two-point shots while also getting to the line at an excellent rate. Fouling the 6-9 senior isn't a terrible idea assuming you prevent the basket, as he's been a 50/50 proposition from the charity stripe in his career at Duke. Junior Matt Jones gives Coach K another sharpshooter from distance, but outside of him and Grayson Allen, there isn't much else to act as a perimeter threat for the Blue Devils. The three-point shot makes up only 34.6% of Duke's shot attempts, good for 189th in the country (Indiana is 45th, for reference).
Duke has a trio of freshman contributors: Brandon Ingram (24.9% possessions used), Derryck Thornton (19.6%), and Luke Kennard (18.0%), that are playing significant minutes. None are afraid to shoot, as the group has hoisted 68 three pointers this season, but have only hit 27.9% of them. None of the three possess an eFG% of greater than 50% and that is dragging down their offensive ratings. They all possess great size and skill for their positions, and it's probably only a matter of time until they adjust to the college game and become reliable options for Duke.
Then, of course, there's Marshall Plumlee. The latest model of the storied PLUMLEE, INC. isn't quite the threat the last one was, but at 7 feet tall and possessing two legs, two hands, and the ability to place a basketball inside the rim, he is a huge threat Indiana's very existence. Thomas Bryant will have his hands full keeping Plumlee in check and keeping himself out of foul trouble (Plumlee leads the nation in Free Throw Rate) putting extra pressure on the guards and wings to keep free runners out of the paint.
So, uh, good luck with that.
STUFF TO WATCH FOR:
What about that zone? I know bringing up a zone tends to activate some bad memories for Indiana fans and is a surefire way to get a piping hot take by someone on Twitter. But for a team that struggles to keep anyone out of the paint, don't you at least consider it? I don't have any statistical evidence that when Indiana has gone to a zone it has actually helped their deficiencies on defense, but this is more of a "well hell doing the same thing isn't working so why keep doing it?" Indiana couldn't defend driving players on Monday night against Alcorn State, I don't think any switches have flipped in 48 hours that will allow Indiana's guards and wings to check Duke's athletes for 40 minutes in Cameron Indoor.
- Has Robert Johnson played his way into the starting lineup? By putting Robert Johnson in the starting lineup (at the expense of Max Bielfeldt / Collin Hartman), Indiana has a lot more flexibility in their substitutions. Tom Crean would have the option of pulling anyone off the floor to bring in Bielfeldt, Hartman, or Ziesloft while still having sufficient size and ball handling on the court. RoJo has been one of Indiana's most consistent players since the start of the Maui Tournament, having turned it over 8 times in the first three games and only 4 times in the four games since (with 15 assists), while shooting over 50% from beyond the arc. Granted, he hasn't done it against anyone quite like Duke, but neither has anyone on this team.
- Is Indiana up for the challenge? Indiana hasn't had a game of this magnitude in some time. If you go strictly by KenPom, the last comparable game would have been last winter in Madison, where Wisconsin built a huge lead fairly early in the second half that Indiana chipped away at (in a very non-threatening way) for one of the more amazing backdoor covers I remember witnessing. The Hoosiers outscored the Badgers 32-16 over the last ten minutes of the game to lose by 14. Wisconsin was a 16.5 point favorite in that game. That's insane!
- Anyway. The players spoke after the Alcorn State game about how they were looking forward to the Duke matchup and I'm sure they all want to atone for the Maui debacle. The question is: will they come out calm and collected in a raucous environment or will they press themselves to make plays and end up making the same mistakes they have been making over the last couple of seasons? I know we're all down on the Hoosiers, but it's not outside the realm of their ability to win this game. If their execution could match their inherent talent, there's no limit to what they could do. But it seems like it has been a long time since we've seen them do that against a top-notch opponent.