Road woes threatening to sink Indiana's tournament chances
A handful of teams have cycled in and out of the third spot in the unofficial Big Ten power rankings. Indiana is the latest team to occupy that slot on the strength of non-conference wins over SMU and Butler and, more recently, a dominant victory against Maryland. Since that win over the Terrapins, however, a weakness has emerged that could hamstring the Hoosiers the rest of the season. They’ve really struggled to win on the road.
Indiana has lost each of its last two games, both of which were in enemy territory. After falling at Ohio State -- a realistic contender for the NCAA tournament field -- over the weekend, the Hoosiers were essentially never in an 83-67 loss at rival Purdue on Wednesday. They trailed for all but the first 48 seconds of the game, and never got closer than 10 points in the second half.
When Indiana is playing well, like when it rolled up 89 points in its cozy win over Maryland, the Hoosiers are knocking down shots from all over the floor. According to KenPom, Indiana is seventh in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, 12th in effective field goal percentage and sixth in three-point percentage. That Indiana did not show up in West Lafayette. The team shot just 37.9 percent from the field, including a woeful 4-for-19 from behind the arc. Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon entered the night averaging a combined 32.5 points per game. They slightly eclipsed that total, with Ferrell getting 21 points and Blackmon adding 13, but they needed 33 shots between the two of them to do so. All told, the backcourt duo went 13-for-33 overall and just 2-for-12 from distance.
There isn’t any doubt that Indiana, like most teams, plays more efficiently on offense at home. Heading into play on Wednesday, the Hoosiers averaged 1.146 points per possession. At home, that number increases to 1.214 points per possession; away from Bloomington, it falls to 1.022 points per possession. Of the top 10 points per possession teams, only Ohio State and Utah have a greater home/road disparity than Indiana.
The Hoosiers get into trouble when they aren’t making their shots because they rarely can force their opponents to miss theirs. Indiana ranks 216th in adjusted defensive efficiency, forces essentially no turnovers (337th-best turnover rate in the country) and allows its opponents to make nearly half of their two-point field goals.
Wednesday’s loss dropped IU to 5-3 in the Big Ten, with all three losses coming on the road. The ugly versions of Indiana showed up in those other two losses. The Hoosiers scored a season-low 50 points in their loss at Michigan State. Ferrell went 6-for-16 in that game, while Blackmon had the worst performance of his college career to this point, shooting 1-for-14. As a team, IU had more fouls plus turnovers (19) than made field goals (17).
Indiana actually shot the ball well in its loss at Ohio State, with Ferrell leading the way by making nine of his 16 field goal attempts, including six threes, and scoring 26 points. As a team, IU shot 52 percent from the floor (26-for-50). Unfortunately, the Buckeyes shot a blistering 73.7 percent (28-for-38) from two-point range, putting up 1.32 points per possession. Whenever the Hoosiers go on the road, it’s always one thing or the other.
There’s still a lot of room for jockeying in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin and Maryland, and the Hoosiers very well could head into the tournament as the conference’s third-best team. If they’re going to stay ahead of Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State, however, they’re ultimately going to have to add to their resume of road wins, which currently includes just Illinois and Nebraska. Indiana's next two road opponents, you ask? Wisconsin on Feb. 3 and Maryland on Feb. 11.