ROSEMONT, Ill. – Yogi Ferrell sat at a table at Big Ten Media Day, as he fielded questions from reporters.
One asked him to finish a sentence, intentionally left open-ended: “This year will be a success if ... ”
“This year will be a success if we have .399,” Ferrell answered. “That is us defensively holding opponents to 39.9 percent defensive field goal percentage.”
So, IU needs to hold its opponents to a field goal percentage below 40 percent for this season to be a success?
“Basically, yeah,” Ferrell said. “We got to go out there and impose our will defensively. At the end of the day, we’ve got to have conversations with one another, communicate.”
Last season, opponents shot 45.3 percent against the Hoosiers, putting IU at No. 214 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy.
Pomeroy, a former meteorologist-turned-college basketball statistician, runs kenpom.com — arguably the leading advanced statistics website for the sport.
However, IU’s target defensive field goal percentage doesn’t originate from Pomeroy’s metrics.
“Nah, none of that Ken Pom stuff,” Ferrell said, laughing. “I’ve heard of him but I’ve never really gotten into that.”
The 39.9 percent comes from the Hoosiers’ coaching staff. Defensive field goal percentage is a statistic that has an inverse relationship with winning percentage.
The lower the shooting percentage for an opposing team against IU, the better the chance of victory for the Hoosiers. That’s what they’re planning on, at least.
“You’re not always gonna win because there are obviously different numbers into it but if you get that,” Ferrell said, “you have a higher percentage of winning.”
The difference between IU’s national rank in offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency last season was 205 positions.
The Hoosiers boasted the ninth-most efficient offense and they return their top five scorers. Conventional wisdom suggests IU should have one of the most prolific offenses in the nation this season.
IU’s Achilles’ heel last season was its play on the defensive end of the floor.
The Hoosiers’ opponents made more than half of their two-point attempts a season ago as IU lacked a strong rim protector.
“You’ve got to be able to challenge the rim and keep on the teams from having a real high field goal percentage inside that paint area,” IU Coach Tom Crean said Thursday.
IU will rely on a quartet of frontcourt newcomers, especially 6-foot-10 freshman center Thomas Bryant and graduate transfer Max Bielfeldt, to protect the paint. A pair of 6-foot-8 freshmen, Juwan Morgan and O.G. Anunoby, should also see their roles expand after the dismissals of Devin Davis, Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Emmitt Holt in the offseason.
“We just want to be really good field goal percentage-wise, that’s the biggest thing,” Crean said. “That’s a good number. If we can get our teams down under that, that we face on a consistent basis, we’ll have a good year.”
Fifth-year senior guard Nick Zeisloft said it will take a concentrated, daily awareness to improve the team’s defensive deficiencies.
“Not just effort but execution, and communication’s a huge key,” he said. “We have to all be able to communicate on the fly with each other and execute our schemes and take care of personnel.”
The Hoosiers now face the task of translating their talk into action come November.
The goal is clearly defined: bridge the 5.4-percent gap in defensive field goal percentage between last season’s statistically lackluster defense and the magic number of .399.
It’s simple math, but it might just define the ceiling and floor for IU this season.
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