IU ranks No. 227 of 351 teams in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. The team allows opponents to shoot 50.5 percent on 2-point field goals, rarely blocks shots, is vulnerable in the paint and has the 337th-best turnover rate in the country, according to kenpom.com.
The line IU walks is thin, with little margin for error.
When things are falling into place, IU (15-6, 5-3) is beating Maryland by 19 at home. When things are going poorly, IU’s on the other side of the blowout losing back-to-back games to Ohio State and Purdue by a combined 28 points.
Following the most recent loss to Purdue, junior guard Yogi Ferrell offered his diagnosis heading into Saturday’s 3:15 p.m. home game against Rutgers (10-11, 2-6).
“We’ve just got to stop being so soft, man,” Ferrell said. “I feel like when we go out there, we just don’t play with any energy.”
Maryland shot 50.9 percent in Bloomington last week. Ohio State did the Terrapins better, shooting at a 62.3 percent clip. Purdue was only slightly worse, shooting 58.7 percent from the field in arguably the most lop-sided Big Ten loss yet.
The players have taken notice, too. Freshman guard Robert Johnson said it’s the defensive effort that will ultimately dictate how long IU’s season is going to go. He said the team is committed to getting the stops it needs, but they’ve come too few and far between.
But the blame isn’t squarely on the defense when the offense is setting itself up for failure on the defensive end.
The second half against Purdue had too many turnovers leading to transition scores for IU Coach Tom Crean’s liking. In one sequence just before halftime, freshman guard James Blackmon Jr. turned the ball over looking for sophomore guard Troy Williams, which led to a Purdue steal and layup.
Just before the halftime buzzer, Purdue’s Bryson Scott went coast-to-coast in just over four seconds to give the Boilermakers a double-digit lead at the half.
It wasn’t a secret formula or a new defensive scheme. Purdue just never allowed IU to get comfortable and let the flow of its offense take control. It’s not too unlike the same strategy Ohio State deployed just days earlier.
“We wanted to stop them from getting in rhythm and being able to make those shots,” Scott said. “When we took that away from them, I felt they were out of sync.”
After losing to Ohio State on Sunday, Ferrell said the Hoosiers couldn’t continue to lose games like they did against the Buckeyes. They followed that up against Purdue with a similar performance.
Another task lies ahead with Rutgers, although the Scarlet Knights have one of the least-effective offenses in the country, ranked No. 255 in offensive efficiency.
But at this point, those numbers don’t assure anything. Ferrell has experienced that in his three years at IU, riding the highs and lows of the Big Ten ?season.
Now his teammates are learning, too. They’re learning on the fly. And as each game comes and goes, the NCAA Tournament selection show draws nearer.
“We think it’s going to be easier than it is, especially guys who haven’t been here and played in the Big Ten,” Ferrell said. “Now I guess we’re learning the hard way.”