An up-and-down opening month will come to a close Friday, and IU is still determining what kind of team it will be.
What’s obvious is that IU (4-1) has strength in potential to score in bunches through 3-point shooting, dynamic guards and a plethora of able scorers. What’s equally obvious is the team’s weaknesses of which include lacking size, experience and ability to create defensive stops.
As IU concludes the month of November Friday night against UNC-Greensboro, the question that lies ahead is whether IU can build on its strengths and mollify its weaknesses.
Following his first-ever home loss in November Monday—an 88-86 upset loss to Eastern Washington—IU Coach Tom Crean seemed to have been able to pinpoint IU’s problem.
“Our margin for error of guys not being at their best is not high right now,” Crean said following the loss. “But we’re asking an awful lot of a young group.”
IU will get a chance to rebound from its earliest loss at home since 1984 tonight at 9 p.m. at Assembly Hall against an ailing UNC-Greensboro.
The injury-depleted Spartans are 1-4 with their lone win coming against Chowan, a Division II school.
They’re down to just eight scholarship players available and will likely dress only 10 players after losing five guards due to various injuries.
In three consecutive losses at the EMU Showcase last weekend, the Spartans’ starting five averaged 61.6 points per game, but its entire bench accounted for just 23 total points in the three games combined.
Sophomore center R.J. White has been getting it done on both ends for the Spartans with the absence of a full rotation of guards. He leads the team in scoring at 16.2 points and rebounds with 7.8 per game.
He was just named to the EMU Showcase All-Tournament team after averaging 15 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last weekend, which captured IU's attention in film.
“We’ve got to do a really good job in the interior of defending before he gets the ball. Not after he gets it. Before,” IU assistant coach Tim Buckley said. “We’ve got to try to battle him for spots.”
Likely to be charged with keeping White in check is junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who only played 14 minutes in IU’s loss to Eastern Washington after struggling early.
The 6-foot-9 big man has just five rebounds in his last 67 minutes of playing time, but he’s one of the few post options IU has. Crean said he didn’t feel freshman center Emmitt Holt was ready to be thrown into the mix yet, but that may change.
He elected to mostly play 6-foot-7 sophomore Troy Williams as IU’s tallest player rather than try out freshman center Jeremiah April, who is coming off a leg injury.
IU will likely need quality minutes out of Mosquera-Perea to add some sort of post presence considering its inability to defend near the rim. Opponents have averaged 46 points in the paint against IU in the Hoosiers’ last three games.
“Sometimes, (Mosquera-Perea) forgets that he’s got a 7-foot-6 wingspan and sometimes he forgets to get down in that stance the way he needs to,” Crean said. “He’s hard to deal with when he gets down low in that stance and he’s playing with that length, but we’ve got to get him more and more consistent.”
Just as Eastern Michigan did to upset IU, Buckley said he expects UNC-Greensboro to try to establish an inside-out game mixing post play with 3-point shooting.
The Spartans have averaged 22 3-point attempts per game this season, making 35.5 percent as a team. That type of offensive attack will once again test the Hoosiers who’s NCAA Tournament hopes would take another blow with a nonconference loss at home.
“They have an ability to go inside and score down there, but they also have the ability to shoot the ball,” Buckley said. “I think it will be another good challenge for us in that regard…It kind of falls into what we’ve got to continue to improve on.”