Nearly three weeks ago, the IU men’s basketball team had just finished up a streak of four home games in 10 days, starting the season 4-0.
Since then, the Hoosiers have taken two trips away from Assembly Hall — losing to both of the ranked opponents they’ve faced — and played just one game in front of a slightly smaller home crowd than normal over Thanksgiving break.
Saturday evening, the Hoosiers have a chance to get back on track after a decisive 69-52 loss to No. 4 Syracuse in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge when they face North Florida at 7:30 p.m. in Assembly Hall.
The Ospreys come from the Atlantic Sun Conference, which also includes Florida Gulf Coast — the team that made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 in last March’s NCAA Tournament.
After coming off a struggling season where North Florida finished 13-19 and lost by double-digits 14 times, the Ospreys have begun their 2013-14 campaign 5-5. The team’s losses include a scare of then-No. 10 Florida in the season opener (77-69) as well as huge losses to current No. 3 team in the nation Ohio State (99-64) and most recently to Alabama this Wednesday 76-48.
The Ospreys come to Assembly Hall a fairly high-scoring team averaging 73.1 points per game this season. Their offensive attack is led by senior forward Travis Wallace who is averaging 12.4 points per game while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field (54-of-93).
“He’s a guy that you have to come in and understand that they’re going to run post isolations for him,” IU Assistant Coach Kenny Johnson said. “He’s an undersized post player at 6-foot-6, but he’s somebody that they’re going to run sets for.”
IU will also have to look out for North Florida spotting up from behind the arc. The team has put up nearly 20 3-pointers per game, shooting 36.1 percent. Comparatively, the Hoosiers are shooting just 28.1 percent on 3-pointers, but holding their opponents to just a 27.1 percent average.
Johnson also pointed out that the Ospreys’ balanced scoring attack, with eight players scoring more than six points per game, may cause trouble for the Hoosiers with several legitimate scoring threats able to be on the floor in any lineup.
“They’re a fast-paced, high-scoring offensive basketball team,” he said. “It’s a personnel game more than anything else because they’re going to play 10, 11 guys each and every game and they all have different strengths.”
From watching the game tape from North Florida’s first 10 games this season, Johnson noted that the Ospreys tend to play a good amount of zone defense. Tuesday, the Hoosiers suffered in another battle against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense, and after the game, IU Coach Tom Crean said his players lacked communication both on the court and in the locker room.
In his team’s first game back in front of IU students and a packed Assembly Hall in nearly three weeks, Johnson said it will be imperative the young squad learn from their mistakes at the Carrier Dome earlier this week.
“(We’re looking for) just that constant improvement, consistency throughout the game,” Johnson said. “We want to try to put a 40-minute game together. We want to have our communication at a higher level. This is another team that will play zone for long stretches in the game, so just another opportunity to improve our execution.”
Follow men's basketball reporter Nathan Brown on Twitter @nathan_brown10.