BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — It's nice when you're looking to break down an opponent that a coach right up the road has seen them up close and personal. That's the case with Arkansas, Indiana's opponent on Sunday, and Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich can tell you to be prepared for a battle.
Lottich's Crusaders just played Arkansas last Saturday, losing on the road, 72-68. The Razorbacks went to 10-1 after that win, and Lottich said they're legitimately good.
"They are very explosive,'' Lottich said by phone. "They have two guys (guards Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones) who can really fill it up. You really need to do a good job of running them off the line.
"They're really good offensively. Their actions aren't really all that complicated, but they're all high-level players. They're a real challenge.''
Indiana has a lot of recent history with Arkansas, of course, losing to the Razorbacks 73-72 in Fayetteville in November a year ago but then winning the rematch 63-60 at Simon Skojdt Assembly Hall in the second round of the NIT Tournament in March.
But then Mike Anderson got fired and Arkansas hired Eric Musselman. The styles might be a little different, but the Razorbacks are still very good. They're small and often play with four guards, and they can create matchup nightmares, Lottich said.
"It's different with Eric. There wasn't a lot of full-court pressure, but they were still really solid defensively,'' Lottich said. "They did a good job of keeping us out of transition, and they didn't really give us any easy points. We had to earn everything.
"You see it a lot when you get (mid-majors) playing bigs. Some of the stuff we usually finish, we couldn't finish against them. We were able to run our stuff, but we really had to be persistent.''
Arkansas doesn't start anyone over 6-foot-6, which must sound great to Indiana's two big men, 6-foot-11 center Joey Brunk and 6-foot-9 forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. But it's a two-way street too, because they are going to have to guard opponents out on the perimeter as well. The Hoosiers have struggled with that for stretches of games this season during their 11-1 start.
"They aren't real big, so if Indiana can be effective inside, they'll be able to score. The challenge will be on the defensive end, because they basically play with four perimeter-oriented guys all the time,'' Lottich said. "Especially in transition, the bigs really have to get out on those shooters, and that's not always easy.''
"Their 'big-man' (Adrio Bailey, who's only 6-foot-6), he can really shoot it, too. He hit a couple of 3s against us.''
Jones and Joe, who combined to score 45 points in the two games against Indiana last year, lead the Razorbacks in scoring this year, averaging 19.6 and 16.8 points per game respectively. They rarely leave the floor if the game is still on the line, so that might be an edge for Indiana, who has a very deep roster.
"They don't have a lot of depth, which is something that can be exploited,'' Lottich said. "They're great athletes, but they play a lot of minutes, too.''
Valparaiso, 7-6 on the season, had an eight-point lead midway through the second half at Arkansas, but couldn't hang on.
"They caught us at a tough time, because we were on the tail end of a week-long road trip,'' Lottich said. "Our kids really fought, but we just couldn't hang on. Arkansas is very good, very athletic, and that was a tough environment to play in.''