Indiana took care of business at home last night, beating North Carolina by 12 to cover the spread, beat the analytics, and remain undefeated. What more can you ask for at this point in the season?
Coming off two losses in a row, the Tar Heels came to Assembly Hall with something to prove. While he was far from 100%, North Carolina’s star center, Armando Bacot started and did his best to keep the Heels from falling further in the rankings.
Even with so much on the line for UNC and some officiating that was questionable, at best, Indiana dominated from start to finish, making the most of the first opportunity for an early statement win. As things stand now, Indiana has two quadrant one wins on December 1st.
Things are looking up.
Here’s Three Things:
My god, can this team defend. Indiana held North Carolina to just 33.9% from the field and 27.8% from deep last night, in addition to forcing ten turnovers and grabbing 31 defensive rebounds.
The most notable aspect of the defensive performance was the effort Indiana displayed from the first to the last whistle. On North Carolina’s first possession, the Heels missed two shots before Caleb Love banked in a lucky 3-pointer that ended up being one of his better shots of the night. This competitive play continued to the last whistle.
R.J. Davis and Caleb Love, who average 15 and 19 points respectively were held to just 11 and 13 while also committing five turnovers. Jalen Hood-Schifino, Trey Galloway, and Xavier Johnson gave the guard duo Hell last night, with each of the three grabbing at least one steal and forcing transition baskets on the other end.
Notably, freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino looked completely up to the task of guarding junior Caleb Love last night, which bodes well for his continued playing time even when his shot isn’t falling. Luckily for Indiana, Hood-Schifino was still able to put on an offensive clinic despite the energy expended on defense.
He finished with a career-high 14 points last night and was the only Hoosier to make multiple shots from beyond the arc all while shutting down one of the best guards in the country. This kind of defensive performance from Indiana’s freshman is why the Hoosiers have the fifth best defense in the nation, per KenPom.
Indiana had nine players log at least 11 minutes last night, giving us a glimpse into how Mike Woodson will handle his rotations once Big Ten play starts this Saturday. For comparison, North Carolina, the preseason #1, only played two guys off its bench for more than ten minutes.
Foul trouble for Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson (and really everyone) may have forced Woodson’s hand a bit last night, but it’s clear that he has trust in more players than he did last season and will be able to play with lineups more than any coach in recent memory.
When Armando Bacot was on the bench for his own foul troubles, Woodson was able to throw a smaller lineup of Malik Reneau, Jordan Geronimo, Tamar Bates, Trey Galloway, and Xavier Johnson out there to keep Indiana competitive on both ends of the court while the starters rested. Woodson even let Reneau and Geronimo guard Bacot on their own for a few possessions, and they looked more than up to the task despite what the referees seemed to think.
This depth is going to be key to Indiana all season and will allow them to win games without playing perfect basketball, a luxury the program hasn’t had in years. The deep bench allows the starters to play hard defense knowing they’ll get a breather when they need it, and gives the offense more options when shots aren’t falling.
There were plenty of instances last night when we saw this depth bail Indiana out of stagnant offensive possessions, with Xavier Johnson driving off a pass to get to the paint after Hood-Schifino got the defense rotating, or when Trey Galloway took advantage of the defensive attention Trayce was getting to cut along the baseline for an open feed that he then moved to Race for an easy two.
Obviously, this team will need to start knocking down shots to reach its highest potential this season, which, in my opinion, is a deep tournament run. Still, the defense and depth will allow Indiana to win games that it simply could not have won over the last few seasons.
While early in the season, Indiana is using bench players for 39.1% of its possessions, which is good for 28th in the country. Last year, Woodson only played his bench for 31.1% of possessions, much closer to the national average of 30.7%.
Talking about the refs is generally lame and I try to avoid it when possible. Last night’s game, however, deserves attention.
Indiana would have probably blown North Carolina out if not for the referees last night, who sent Carolina to the line for 27 free throw attempts compared to Indiana’s 18. And the margin was even worse before the Heels started intentionally fouling towards the end to try to keep things close.
I can’t imagine Tar Heel fans even enjoying the officiating with how disruptive it was to any game flow whatsoever. What should have been 40 minutes of two preseason first team All-American bigs going at it turned into a chess game between the coaches who had to manage their minutes throughout.
I’m tempted to say, for the reasons above, that I am not terribly concerned about the way last night’s game was called, but that would not be completely true. Indiana will continue to be a defense-first team and simply cannot afford to be penalized for every time a player presses out against an opponent. The Hoosiers also still rely heavily on Jackson-Davis, so it’s going to be important to keep him on the floor in important games like last night’s.
We can hope that last night’s officiating was anomalous, as I certainly will be. On the other hand, Woodson may need to consider changing up defensive assignments to hide Trayce at points so opponents can’t go at him early and send him to the bench.
Ultimately, I am glad Indiana prevailed over a determined Tar Heels group and an officiating crew that appeared determined to make the game both close and as uninteresting as possible. This group has talent, and it will take worse officiating than that to slow down one of the country’s best defenses.