Golden Gophers vs. Indiana Hoosiers
6:00 pm (CST) at Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Tickets: Row 28, corner, lower deck (obstructed)
When the clock struck 12 midnight on January 1, 2011, it officially marked the end of one of the more turbulent years in the history of Golden Gopher basketball. After a relatively drama free few months, it looked like the focus would finally be on basketball. So much for that. Word broke this morning that reserve guard Devoe Joseph is either suspended, quitting, or planning to transfer. Regardless of his status or plans, Joseph won’t be playing Tuesday night against the Indiana Hoosiers, and it is unknown if and when he will play again.
We try to avoid speculating on off the court issues here at From the Barn, something that the media doesn’t always have the luxury to do. If they don’t have readers, they find a new job. If we don’t have readers, we get slightly lazy and spend more time on twitter. So I won’t speculate…at least not too much. Instead, humor me for a second.
I think every kid should play sports, or at the very least be part of some sort of team growing up, because there is little else that can prepare someone for the real world as much as working towards a common goal with a group of people within the confines of a set of rules. In order to be part of team, to have the right of participation, the rules of the group need to followed. Judging by Joseph’s suspension earlier in the season and his current situation, it seems pretty obvious that he wanted the rights without the obligations of following the rules. This is of course his choice. If he doesn’t want to or won’t follow the rules, he can’t be part of the team. We shouldn’t wail or gnash our teeth. He has made a choice and hopefully things will work out for him wherever he goes. However, whatever he decides to do, wherever he decides to play next, and whatever society he chooses to be part in his adult life, not following the rules will have consequences. Tubby Smith understands this, most people do. Hopefully Devoe Joseph will some day too.
And now about that basketball…
It is hard to believe it has been three seasons since Tom Crean arrived in Indiana. A rough season or two was inevitable with the mass exodus following phone gate, but even the staunchest Crean supporters must be wondering how long this rebuilding process will last, and how long Indiana’s almost embattled coach has left.
Even big time programs have down years. Kentucky struggled briefly after the departure of Tubby Smith. UNC has struggled to put its many talented but oh so young pieces into a talented order. But Indiana has been awful. With their tradition, base of support, and nearly incomparable talent within a days drive of campus, rebuilding the Hoosiers should have been a relatively easy task regardless of the number of departures and the circumstances under which they occurred.
This year, things should have turned around. Tom Crean has had two full recruiting classes and two seasons to incorporate his system, and things might be getting worse. Indiana has avoided the truly soul killing losses that were the norm over the past few years (George Mason and Loyola Maryland last year, Lipscomb two seasons ago) but that is only because they have refused to even challenge themselves. They have no quality wins, only Wright State is in Ken Pomeroy’s top 108 teams. Their other wins came against #’s 294, 323, 173, 313, 272, 292, 340, and 316. They’ll come into Tuesday’s game on a 4 game losing streak after losing to the less than powerful Panthers of Northern Iowa, Colorado, and home losses to Penn State and Ohio State. Those losses combined with double digit losses earlier in the season to Boston College and Kentucky give Indiana one of the least meaningful 9-6 records imaginable.
Talent hasn’t been the problem. Christian Watford returned from a successful freshman season and is averaging better than 17 points and five rebounds per game. Verdell Jones’ scoring has dropped, but his shooting percentage is up. Now about those 3.8 turnovers per game. Jordan Hulls is making 52% of his three-pointers and is an incredibly dangerous outside shooter. Maurice Creek hasn’t been the same player since he was injured a year ago, but still averages 9 points per game. Victor Oladipo might be the best freshman in the Big Ten who doesn’t play for Ohio State. The hyper-athletic guard averages 8 points and 4 rebounds per game. Getting the talent to play as a cohesive unit, especially defensively, has been the problem.
Statistically, Indiana doesn’t look that bad, but why would they with non-conference strength of schedule ranking 286th in the country? Because none of Indiana’s wins came against anything resembling a real life Division 1 major conference basketball team, it is much more instructive to look at their losses which represents a compelling mix of quality not unlike the Big Ten. The method is obviously flawed in that they didn’t play well enough to win any of their six challenging games, but I would argue it is more useful than looking at their wins, none of which were by a margin of less than 13.
The two big numbers in Indiana’s losses are their offensive and defensive efficiency. Indiana’s averaged 1.04 points per possession, which would rank 108th in the country (compared to 57 in the country when looking at all their games). Their defense, however, is ghastly. It is bad looking at all their games, ranking 92nd in the country. In their losses alone they give up 1.23 points per possession, which would rank worst in the country.
Normally, I would break down how Indiana arrived at those efficiency averages, but because of the non-conference schedule, it just wouldn’t be instructive. Instead, I can tell you that they are a decent outside shooting team, and can also hit shots on the inside. The Gophers would be well advised to watch the perimeter. The Hoosiers’ main weakness offensively is taking caring of the ball, even against bad teams. Defensively, the Hoosiers give up lot of three pointers (opponents make 35% of their threes) and give up an absurd number of free-throws, nearly one free throw attempt for every two field goal attempts. Even with Minnesota’s free-throw difficulties, it will be essential for the Gophers to get the ball inside just to get the Hoosiers in foul trouble.
It isn’t good to start the Big Ten season 0-2, and a mid-season transfer is never good, but if the Gophers had to play any one under such circumstances, the Hoosiers would be near the top of the list.
What to watch for the Gophers:
Who gets Devoe Joseph’s minutes? Chip Armelin has been playing well in short stretches, but is still a freshman who may be a better football player. Tuesday will give him a great opportunity to earn a permanent place in the rotation.
Who to watch for the Gophers:
Al Nolen is still recovering from an injured foot, and has looked tired at times since his return. He’ll need to stay on the court for as long as possible as long as Joseph is out.
What to watch for the Hoosiers:
Is the defense as bad as it seems? Admittedly I haven’t had much of chance to watch the Hoosiers, but anyone who allows Boston College to score 1.45 points per possession has to be historically bad.
Who to watch for the Hoosiers:
Verdell Jones III, who jilted the Gophers during a press conference in a pizza shop will certainly draw the ire of Gophers fans with his nearly constant tongue wagging. He has had some big games against the Gophers, but has a horrible assist to turnover ratio, especially for combo-guard.