Indiana takes the court again tonight with Morehead State visiting from the Ohio Valley conference to kick off the last set of non-conference games for the Hoosiers. The Eagles are 8-3 on the year with losses in each of their three games against Power Five opponents.
Morehead State opened the season with a road loss to then no. 24 Alabama, who cruised to a 32 point victory over the Eagles. Purdue also beat them by 30 in an 87-57 matchup at Mackey Arena in early November.
Since then, Morehead State has had it a little easier, winning seven of its last eight games, sometimes in convincing fashion. The Penn State game is the lone exception and will be discussed in depth below, but this should be a confident team coming into Assembly Hall.
Here’s Three Things to know about Morehead State:
Morehead State has eight players who average more than 10 minutes per game and only one of those eight is a freshman. Indiana, on the other hand, will likely be starting two true freshmen in Mackenzie Mgbako and Gabe Cupps.
Now, it’s worth noting that not all of this experience is at the Division I level. Senior Riley Minix spent four years playing NAIA ball at Southeastern University. His college basketball experience no doubt contributed to his ability to put up 19 and 18 points against Alabama and Purdue, respectively.
Morehead State also gets a lot of minutes from transfers, like Dieonte Miles from Xavier and Jordan Lathon from UTEP and Milwaukee. Despite being experienced, they aren’t necessarily a group that has a lot of experience playing together.
You’d expect a group of experienced college players to at least protect the ball reliably, but Morehead State turns the ball over on 22.6% of possessions. It also has limited success in forcing opponent’s turnovers, with opponents turning it over just 14.4% of the time against the Eagles defense.
The turnover margin mentioned above is probably the most unusual statistic for Morehead State. With a steal rate of just 6%, Indiana should feel a little more confident driving and passing against the Eagles than some of the other opponents on the roster.
Turnover problems aside, this is far from the worst team Indiana has seen this year. At 155th overall in Kenpom, they compare to Harvard and Wright State, each of whom kept it to single digits against Indiana earlier in the season.
One possible advantage Indiana will have over Morehead State is its length. The Eagles have some height on the roster in Miles, a 7 footer who plays 58% of the center minutes for coach Preston Spradlin. Spradlin also plays 6’7” Riley Minix at center for 28% of the game though, which is something Indiana should be able to exploit.
For a smaller team, Morehead State does not play fast. Its average possession length of 19.5 seconds put them as 350th nationally in offensive pace. They do, however, shoot like a smaller team, getting 34.2% of their offense from deep.
The Penn State Game
I’m focusing on this game as the blue print for how a less than elite (Penn State, 108th in Kenpom) team can still manage a comfortable victory against Morehead State. Indiana is still above the Nittany Lions in the computer rankings, but has yet to pull off a comfortable win against a Kenpom 100+ opponent.
The good news is that Penn State didn’t do anything that Indiana isn’t capable of doing. It didn’t have a spectacular shooting night from deep, instead getting to the line for a whopping 38 free throws, of which it hit 30.
The Nittany Lions did benefit from Morehead State having a bad shooting night, but Indiana’s size and athleticism should make it easy to give the Eagles a hard time on the perimeter.
Assuming Indiana can shoot better from 2-point range than Penn State’s 33%, it likely won’t need to get to the line 38 times. That and keeping Morehead State under its 34.1% 3-point season average will give Indiana a great chance to build a big lead and keep it.