After losing last Saturday’s neutral site game against a tough Arizona team, Indiana men’s basketball has had the week to recover and prepare for this Saturday’s matchup against last year’s national champion Kansas Jayhawks. And the rest was very much needed.
Kansas enters the game as the No. 8 team in the country, per the most recent AP Poll, dropping two spots despite not losing since November 25th. The late November loss came to No. 6 Tennessee and remains the Jayhawks’ only loss on the season.
Both Kenpom and Bart Torvik project the Jayhawks to win this one, likely in part because the game will be played in Lawrence. So long as the Hoosiers play closer to the way they did against North Carolina or Nebraska than the Rutgers or Arizona games, a loss shouldn’t be very detrimental to any postseason hopes.
On the other hand, this is the first matchup between Indiana and Kansas since the Hoosiers upset them at a neutral site to open the 2016-17 season, so it’s safe to assume the Hoosier faithful will be hoping for a repeat performance. The win would certainly boost the tournament resume and leave us all feeling a little better before the holiday lull in scheduling.
Here’s what we can expect from Saturday’s game:
The 2022 Jayhawks
Between the Battle 4 Atlantis, where Kansas lost to Tennessee in the final game, and an early season matchup with Duke, the Jayhawks enter the game with a little more experience against high-major opponents this season. Wisconsin took them to overtime and Duke managed to keep it within five points, but it’s been smooth sailing outside of those two games for Bill Self.
The first thing that jumps out when you look at Kansas’ schedule to this point is the team’s offensive production. Only three teams so far this year, Duke, Tennessee and Wisconsin, have kept the Jayhawks from scoring 80 points and they put up more than 90 in their last two games against Missouri and Seton Hall.
Part of the reason Kansas has been so dominant offensively is the sheer number of weapons they have. The Jayhawks have three players averaging more than 11 points per game compared to Indiana’s one, Trayce Jackson-Davis.
6’8 forward Jalen Wilson has led the way in scoring with 22.1 points per game, followed by 15.4 points from star freshman Gradey Dick and 11.8 points from Kevin McCullar Jr. All three have been threats from deep this year, shooting at least 36% and attempting at least three 3-pointers per game each.
Despite shooting it well, Kansas doesn’t rely on the 3-pointer disproportionately for their offensive production. Only 29.2% of the offense comes from deep, which is just a smidge above Indiana’s 26.2%.
Indiana will have to respect Kansas’ shooting potential but can’t get caught overcommitting to the perimeter like we see so many defenses do against Miller Kopp. Mike Woodson will also need to make some hard decisions on how to guard a player like Wilson who has the height of a forward, but athleticism of a modern wing.
The biggest question mark for Indiana at this point is the health of freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino, who has now missed the last three games with a back injury. The Hoosiers are 1-2 in his absence versus 7-0 when he plays.
It’s hard to quantify exactly what his absence has meant statistically, but it’s clear that Indiana is hurting without him. Turnovers and points off turnovers have been an issue in all three games, but the offense showed some signs of life and an ability to adapt against Nebraska and Arizona that were entirely absent from the loss in Piscataway.
As Taylor Lehman pointed out in his fascinating deep-dive into Indiana’s 3-point shooting this year, Indiana has been inching back towards the national average in 3-point attempts per game. The Hoosiers attempted 25+ shots from deep in each game that Hood-Schifino’s been out for and have been hitting them at a higher clip than we’ve seen since the Crean era.
What we have yet to see is this shooting truly open up space for guys like Trayce and Malik Reneau inside. Despite having good shooting around him, Jackson-Davis had a season-low 11 points against Arizona, while Race Thompson scored just four points inside the arc in that game.
This is the area where the Hoosiers have missed Hood-Schifino the most, not just for his own inside scoring, but as a distributor and facilitator. Trey Galloway and Tamar Bates are simply not the passers that Hood-Schifino is, which leaves Xavier Johnson with a lot of passing to do as the sole healthy point guard.
Johnson has filled in admirably and fought hard even when he’s struggled, like in the Rutgers game, but the Hood-Schifino injury has clearly disrupted what he set out to do this season and majorly changed his role in the offense. Woodson spent a lot of the offseason and early season this year emphasizing that Johnson would not have to be The Man and now he’s again being asked to fill those shoes again for an indeterminate period while Hood-Schifino recovers.
The good news for Hoosier fans is that Hood-Schifino was slated to return to practice Thursday, which is a good sign since he did not participate in practices before either Arizona and Nebraska.
Whether Indiana has Hood-Schifino or not, I think there’s a path for the Hoosiers to win this game if the Hoosiers can dominate inside. As always, this is easier said than done.
If Trayce and Race can keep up with their guys on defense, they should have a size and strength advantage in the paint on the offensive end of the floor. The hybrid forwards that Bill Self has relied on to this point are not the same kind of bigs that Indiana is used to seeing in conference.
Wisconsin forward Tyler Wahl put up a season-high 23 points against Kansas already this year in the Badger’s overtime loss and Duke’s center Kyle Filipowski put up 17 with only one 3-point shot in his matchup against the Jayhawks.
Of course, this can’t all come from Trayce. Race will probably need to play more like a post player again to fully exploit the matchup and some combination of guards will need to be able to get the ball inside to these two in the first place.
A big part of this will also be staying out of foul trouble. One of Indiana’s biggest strengths entering the game is the bench, who account for 38% of Indiana’s minutes on the season compared to 25.6% for Kansas.
If Tamar Bates, Trey Galloway, Malik Reneau, and Jordan Geronimo all manage to stay out of foul trouble, Indiana could have a shot at wearing down the Jayhawks for some easy buckets inside. Indiana’s 58% 2-point FG this year is good for 15th in the country and they will need to continue hitting the easy ones at a high clip to make this game competitive.