With under ten minutes to play, Indiana appeared ready to do the unthinkable. Until Mike Woodson switched to the 2-3 zone, Louisville was carving up whoever Woodson had out on the floor for defense.
There were foul troubles again, leading to a lot of subbing and lack of consistent lineups, but Indiana really struggled to defend an offense that came into the game ranked 104th in KenPom. Before the zone, Indiana really had no answer for Ty-Laur Johnson.
Thankfully, Indiana is coached by Woodson and not Kenny Payne, whose inability to crack the zone (a thing he admitted he never saw coming) down the stretch may have brought back some bad memories for Hoosier fans. It was a weird night.
This is a win that has potential to age better as the season goes on. Louisville has been awful for most of the last two seasons, but they still have a level of talent that sets them apart from some of the similarly-ranked Kenpom teams that Indiana has beaten so far.
Indiana plainly has some problems that could sink the season if they don’t improve every game. I am sure Mike Woodson is aware of this.
Thankfully, it hasn’t cost Indiana a bad loss yet and Woodson’s willingness to switch to zone is a good sign of his flexibility with this group as they get things sorted out.
Here’s three things we learned:
Coming into the season, the concern with the backcourt was the lack of depth, not the starters. The expectation was that the experience between Xavier Johnson and Trey Galloway would carry the Hoosiers through the early portion of the season.
That has not been the case yet. In 32 minutes tonight, Trey Galloway had just two points. Xavier Johnson got his points again, but got himself into too much foul trouble to be available in the way Indiana needs him to be.
I know Galloway will start to see shots go down. Statistically speaking, it’s inevitable. What’s more concerning has been the way he’s played, looking indecisive at times and chucking late 3s or forcing bad passes.
I have faith that he can turn things around, but the overall level of play of late has shown just how crucial offensive production and leadership from Galloway and Johnson will be this year.
On the bright side, C.J. Gunn has looked better and better. He hasn’t gotten hot from beyond the arc, but has defended at an extremely high level and made a few crafty shots that should warrant some more playing time.
As was expected, Gabe Cupps has been having a harder time defending the high-major athletes that Louisville and UConn both have. He’ll be fine in time, but Indiana will be better if they don’t have to rely on him too much in big games.
Wow was I wrong in my last writeup after the UConn game. In extended minutes tonight, Payton Sparks and Anthony Walker just about willed Indiana to victory with their energy and aggression off the bench.
As I said earlier, Gunn also contributed nicely, but Sparks and Walker really shined early in the game. For most of the game Walker was Indiana’s leading scorer and his 11-point night was easily his best in an Indiana uniform.
Kaleb Banks also looked really solid tonight, leading Indiana with 8 rebounds alongside four points and three assists. He’s another guy I’d like to see pull up more from beyond the arc, but I trust that he’ll have more opportunities to show his shooting ability with the way he played today.
Most importantly, Banks was in the game for most of the crucial stretch at the end when Indiana took the lead and held off Louisville with the zone. As compared to Walker and Sparks, he’s clearly somebody Woodson trusts with the game on the line.
The Zone (?)
As it stands, Indiana’s 2-3 zone was a quick coaching decision that Woodson made to eke out a win against a pesky Louisville team. He’s not gone to it for any extended period in his first two years at Indiana and it’s not something he’s discussed a fondness for in his media availability.
Since the game ended though, I’ve been forced to consider: what if this is a zone team? Like the Syracuse team that upset Indiana a decade ago, Indiana has a team with a top-5 average height in the country.
Beyond optimizing Indiana’s length, it could be a way to hide some of the individual defensive deficiencies that have plagued Indiana so far. Mackenzie Mgbako got off to a nice start offensively in the first half, but had to be pulled after blowing a couple of defensive assignments that led to a Louisville run.
It will be interesting to see if and when Woodson returns to the zone this year, but there is no doubt that it worked well tonight and kept Indiana from suffering an ugly, ugly loss.