As the last leaves fall from the trees and the cold, biting air becomes the norm, it’s not just the weather season that is changing.
It’s become an annual tradition for Indiana football to dominate the minds of Indiana fans in the month of November. This year in particular has been a wild ride as the pursuit of #9WINDIANA has nearly come to fruition. The excitement has neared its apex following an exhilarating win in the Bucket Game last weekend as the Hoosiers wait to hear their bowl fate. Wherever it may be (Nashville, NASHVILLE, PLEASE GOD LET IT BE NASHVILLE), we can assume that Hoosier Nation will be rolling deep like they usually do for the football team’s postseason endeavors.
Tonight, however, is when basketball season begins. After a long month of exhibitions, the Hoosiers tip off their regular season tonight in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Florida State.
If you’ve been fully immersed in the adrenaline filled rush of Indiana football, now is the time to get acclimated with the Hoosiers on the hardwood.
Oh cool, we’re 7-0! We must be good!
Yes, the Hoosiers are 7-0 to start the season, which is the best start since the 2012-13 season in which Indiana started 9-0 as the No. 1 team in the nation. Sadly, the rest of that year has been scrubbed from the Indiana basketball canon.
The 7-0 record should be taken with a grain of salt. According to Kenpom, Indiana has played just one team in the top 100, which was an 88-75 win over a decent but not great Louisiana Tech team. The rest of the schedule has been a potpourri of mediocre mid-major teams. Through the first seven games, Indiana has put up the second best scoring margin in the country at 22.9 points per game, trailing only Ohio State. The Holt Man is at it again folks.
While the gaudy win margins may look the part of a dominant team, Indiana has done it against the No. 340 schedule in Kenpom’s non-conference strength of schedule rating. The only Power 5 teams with worse schedules are Vanderbilt (349) and Notre Dame (353). For those football fans who are accustomed to having 130 teams in the FBS, there are 353 teams in Division I basketball.
Sooooooooo are we good or not man?
Possibly! The other way to spin Indiana’s performance thus far is to say that good teams should be having their way with mediocre foes. However, the Hoosiers are currently ranked No. 26 in Kenpom, and received votes in the most recent AP Poll. Their average scoring total 86.4 points per game is sixth in the country, and the tempo and opponent adjusted metric on Kenpom puts the Hoosiers at No. 33 in the country offensively.
Indiana is the best team in the country at getting to the free throw line right now with a 50.1 percent free throw rate (FTA/FGA). For reference, the top free throw rate in the country last year was 48.1 percent. The Hoosiers have taken advantage of their size advantage in every game by shooting 58.2 percent on twos.
Defensively, the Hoosiers have been solid with the No. 32 defense on Kenpom. Indiana has blocked a lot of shots, controlled the glass and done a pretty good job of forcing turnovers. Only Portland State was able to muster more than 1.00 points per possession. Pretty good!
Who are the players I need to know?
Freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (TJD) has been the star of the season thus far. The McDonald’s All-American has quite simply been a stud. He’s the leading scorer and rebounder at 15.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Oh, and he dunks and blocks everything. He’s fun.
Justin Smith, the much maligned junior, has seemingly put it all together. Similar to TJD, he dunks the hell out of everything. He’s averaging a career-high 14.3 points per game so far and might be Indiana’s most versatile defender.
Al Durham also appears to have taken a leap early on this season. He’s been the most reliable shooter from deep, hitting 42 percent of his attempts so far. He’s also handled a lot of the point guard duties in Rob Phinisee’s absence.
And how could we forget Noted Sauce Haver Devonte Green. The senior guard has seemingly embraced a super-sub role, and it’s produced pretty good results early on. He’s pouring in 12.3 points per game in only 24 minutes per contest and has connected on 45 percent of his threes. When the Hoosiers need a bucket, he’s probably the one to get it.
Two guys above 40 percent from deep? WE CAN SHOOT?
Uh, kind of? As a team, Indiana is shooting 34.7 percent from behind the arc, which would be the best mark of the Archie Miller era in Bloomington. But Durham and Green are the only ones above 40 percent (Damezi Anderson has hit 6-15 for 40 percent), but Indiana’s dominance in the paint hasn’t required a heavy reliance on the deep ball. The Hoosiers have only taken 29.1 percent of their shots from behind the arc, which ranks No. 319 in the country.
Also, the three-point line was moved back to the international line of 22 feet and 1.75 inches from 20 feet and nine inches. As a result, three-point shooting is down as a whole in college basketball. According to Kenpom, teams are shooting just 33 percent from deep, which would be the lowest mark since in the inception of the line in 1987.
Cool. Are we healthy?
Not as healthy as they could be. Sophomore guard Rob Phinisee has missed three of the last four games due to injury. His status for tonight’s game against Florida State is currently uncertain. Devonte Green also missed the first three games of the season.
Other than that, everything has gone relatively smoothly on the injury front [gently rubs Monkey’s Paw].
This all sounds good, but I only care about making the tournament.
It’s still too early to say where the Hoosiers stand in regards to their likelihood of going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years. While they haven’t lost any games, they haven’t won any games that are even remotely worthy of moving the needle on their resume.
However, using T-Rank’s TourneyCast, Indiana is on the right path. At this current juncture in the season, his simulation puts the Hoosiers in the field 82.8 percent of the time with an average seed of 7.3. Use that information however you please.
I’m excited, are we going to win tonight?
It’s going to be tough! Florida State is off to a strong start to the season. The Seminoles sit at No. 17 in the AP Poll and already have wins over Florida, Tennessee and Purdue. They also boast the tallest team in the country in terms of average height. Leonard Hamilton doesn’t play any guys under 6’4” and can roll out multiple seven-footers. With the No. 3 defense on Kenpom, Florida State can make it a chore to score.
Kenpom projects the Hoosiers to win tonight, 70-69, with a 54 percent chance of victory. Vegas has the line at Hoosiers -1.5 with a total of 136.5 points.
I’m all set. How do I watch?
Tonight at 9:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Go Hoosiers.