Big Ten Geeks: Indiana can shoot the ball

Thanksgiving week has thus far been kind to the Big Ten, with several squads in position to win their early season tournaments. Let’s hit some of the highlights.

Indiana survived its first real test of the season, needing overtime to defeat Georgetown in Brooklyn. The Hoosiers probably should have wrapped up this game in regulation, but the Hoyas used an 8-1 run over the final 64 seconds to force overtime. In that stretch, Yogi Ferrell missed the front end of a one-and-one, then made only one of two on the next trip. Ferrell is now shooting 87 percent from the foul line, so it’s fair to say that even going to an extra period was a fluky occurrence.

Still, if Indiana had instead won by a couple points in regulation, the close margin would still say something. Georgetown is a solid team that played well in Brooklyn, but the Hoyas would probably finish no better than sixth in this season’s Big Ten. The Hoosiers will have to play better if they hope to win the Big Ten title, as they will face much tougher games once conference play rolls around.

Last night’s victory came partly due to great outside shooting, as Indiana made 10 of 17 threes (59 percent). Compared to last season, the Hoosiers have been much less selective when it comes to their threes, and their accuracy surprisingly hasn’t suffered much:

3PA/FGA 3P%
2011-12 Indiana 27.5 43.1
2012-13 Indiana 37.6 41.4

Of course, we’re comparing apples and oranges a bit in this table. For the 2011-12 team, that’s 36 games worth of data, including conference play, the Big Ten tournament, and the NCAA tournament.

[RELATED: Photo gallery from Indiana Legends Classic title]

So, for a better comparison, let’s use running numbers (the x-axis is the game count):

Indiana had been shooting under 40 percent on threes until last night’s game popped the average. Now, these Hoosiers are shooting slightly better than last season’s squad at the same point. Note the pattern from last season–Indiana’s accuracy peaked at game 16, which was a win over Penn State early in conference play. As you’d expect, the rigors of facing B1G defenses every night brought the percentage steadily down, though the trajectory wasn’t all that steep. We’ll keep pulling out this chart as the season goes along, with Indiana hoping to accomplish the rare feat of shooting over 40 percent from three in consecutive seasons.

Now, let’s look at shot selection–the proportion of Indiana’s field goal attempts that are threes:

It’s unmistakable–the Hoosiers are taking a lot more threes than they did last season. The national average usually falls right around 33 percent, as shown by the dashed line. This will bear watching, as you wouldn’t expect such a drastic change from a roster that is largely unchanged. Personally, I think it’s a smart strategy to bomb away when you’ve got shooters like Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford, even if you aren’t feeding Cody Zeller quite as much as you could.

Elsewhere, Illinois has impressed in Maui, blowing out USC and handling Chaminade to reach tonight’s final against Butler. If there’s one thing shocking about this Illinois team, it is how well they are shooting the ball. A season after making a wretched 30.4 percent of their threes, the Illini are now stroking it like Indiana at 41.7 percent. John Groce comes from the Thad Matta school of shooting, so at least some of this improvement seems legitimate (boosted by some Sophomore Leaps). The level of competition hasn’t been very good, so the matchup with Butler will be very interesting. Brad Stevens’ teams have consistently held opponents to poor three-point percentages, so the Illini may be forced to score their points in other ways if they hope to win the Maui Invitational for the first time in school history.

Iowa handled Western Kentucky to advance to tonight’s Cancun Challenge final against a very tough Wichita State squad.The Hawkeye offense has been struggling with turnovers, but the defense looks greatly improved. The big change? Opponents are shooting just 38 percent on twos, thanks in no small part to the shot blocking of Adam Woodbury.

Michigan State struggled a bit in a four point win over Boise State, but that’s a better Broncos squad than you might think. The small margin is no reason to panic. The Spartans have yet to really get their offense going, and while turnovers are always an issue for Tom Izzo’s squad, it is from deep where things have really been bad. Michigan State is shooting 27 percent from three, a number that will certainly go up from here. Less certain is the status of super freshman Gary Harris, whose shoulder injury could have him out for anywhere from two weeks to “a lot, lot, lot, lot longer.”

Besides the aforementioned tournament finals, tonight brings us an enticing game between Michigan and Pittsburgh. Both squads are unbeaten, and both should challenge for their respective conference titles, so this is a marquee matchup indeed. Michigan has been surprisingly good on the defensive glass thus far, but that will be put to the test against Pitt’s always tenacious offensive rebounders.

We’re in store for a great night of Big Ten hoops, and the action doesn’t stop to give thanks. On Thursday, Minnesota faces Duke in the Bahamas, followed by a heavy Friday slate including Wisconsin vs Creighton. Have a great Thanksgiving, hoops fans.

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