Indiana is not the consistent title threat they were under much of Bobby Knight’s tenure, though they do have the odd season or there where they look more like the Hoosiers of old, minus the chairs being thrown. The season is young, but this is starting to look like another season where Indiana flirts with national relevance once again.
The Hoosiers finished last season ranked 48th by KenPom, getting into the tournament as a 12 seed. They won their play-in game (yes, I know the NCAA doesn’t call them play-ins, but let’s be real here) against Wyoming, only to fall to St. Mary’s in the first round. However, even in the age of the transfer portal, brand new head coach Mike Woodson was able to keep most of his big contributors together in hopes of building on last season. That strategy has worked pretty well so far, having hung around in or near the KenPom top 10 for most of the early season. Right now they’re coming off a double digit loss to Arizona that dropped them to 16th, but IU has a record of 8-2, with wins over Xavier and North Carolina. Their other loss was on the road against a scrappy Rutgers team, so they’ve compiled a couple of good wins without any bad losses.
Woodson’s Hoosiers haven’t been dominant in any specific part of the game, but they’ve been solid in just about every aspect of it. They’re a balanced squad, ranking 24th in offense and 23rd in defense per KenPom. They shoot the ball well, hitting 58% from inside the arc and 36.4% from behind it. They take care of the ball, only giving it away on 16.2% of their possessions. They haven’t been drawing many fouls and are just ok on the offensive glass, but for the most part they have been very strong offensively. Defensively, the do force a fair amount of turnovers, but it’s not a major strength for them. They’ve limited their competition to hitting only 43.7% of their twos, and while there’s luck involved in this stat, teams have shot only an abysmal 30% from the perimeter against them. Much like on the offensive side, their numbers on the glass are pedestrian, and while they force turnovers on just over 20% of possessions, their steal rate is nothing special, so some of those turnovers are the other team giving the ball away (which, to be fair, can still be the result of good defense). Perhaps their top defensive category is in block rate, where they rank 13th nationally, sitting at a rate of 15.4%.
The two biggest reasons for those blocking numbers are seniors Trayce Jackson-Davis at center, and senior Race Thompson at the four. The two players are 6’9 and 6’8, respectively, but while their size isn’t anything incredible, they do have a knack for getting a hand on the opponent’s shots. Jackson-Davis is certainly their top player, and may be an All-America candidate. He doesn’t shoot threes, but still leads the team by scoring nearly 17 points per game. He’s also been a strong rebounder, but moreso on the offensive glass than on the other end. For that reason, KU will need to crash the boards hard, as you don’t want the other team’s top scorer grabbing Indiana’s missed shots and creating putback opportunities. Jackson-Davis also dishes out 3 assists per game, so while he’s not an outside shooting threat, he’s a player with a variety of talents and will no doubt be a focus for the Kansas defense Saturday.
Nothing in Indiana’s overall profile really scares me, but finding buckets in the paint may be tough against the Hoosiers’ interior defense, and keeping Indiana’s bigs off the boards without getting into foul trouble may be a problem as well. KJ Adams’ strength is his defense, but he’ll be giving up a fair amount of size to Jackson-Davis, and Self hasn’t demonstrated a lot of faith in KU’s two freshman centers, so it’s unlikely he’ll give them a lot of playing time in a high profile matchup against one of the top bigs in the country.
This may be a game where the three pointer needs to fall in order for Kansas to win. This is a game where KU’s offense is at risk to go into its shell, as we’ve seen at times against good defensive teams like Wisconsin and Tennessee. The two-big lineup for Indiana is going to make it harder for Jalen Wilson to rack up the points he’s become used to scoring this year, there’s very little opportunity for Adams to contribute against a lineup like this, and that may put a lot of pressure on Gradey Dick and Kevin McCullar to hit any open three they can find. I don’t see Indiana as a great team that the Jayhawks simply can’t beat, but I do give them a slight edge due to where their strengths are compared to where the Jayhawks’ weaknesses lie.
Indiana 77, Kansas 70