As North Alabama University junior forward James Anderson streaked down a wide-open lane on a backdoor cut, finishing off an easy layup. IU head coach Archie Miller had a blank stare on his face as his eyes stayed glued to the spot.
Even as the favorites, IU’s defense got punched in the face, and it took the team a while to recover from the daze and put together what could be called at best a serviceable performance and at worse a concerning trend.
IU’s defense in each game this season – including the exhibition against Gannon University – has been troubling to say the least.
In a 91-65 victory over the University of North Alabama, the Hoosiers’ defense in the first half would have gotten them blown out by any Big Ten opponent.
“Big picture defensively we’re not there,” Miller said. “I thought we made some strides leading into the game but perimeter defense, guarding the three-point line, being able to execute with great intensity just wasn’t there.”
The Hoosiers entered the locker room at the half with only a seven-point lead after giving up 40 points and allowing the Lions to shoot 53.8% from the field. Even more concerning was IU’s inability to run shooters off the three-point line in the first half.
IU knew that North Alabama’s best player was sophomore guard Jamari Blackmon, yet they allowed him to shoot the ball like he caught fire in NBA Jam. Blackmon looked unguardable as he went 4-4 from behind the arc en route to a 15 point game. Maybe the reason he looked unguardable was because he just wasn’t being guarded at all.
I wouldn’t blame you if you thought IU was playing with only four players with how often North Alabama had wide-open threes. This led to the Lions shooting seven-for-10 from deep in the first half.
Sometimes these types of struggles are expected when looking over a roster, but this is a head scratcher for the Hoosiers.
Coming into the season the narrative was that IU would be able to hang in games due to its defense and had to hope that the offense would produce enough to edge out victories. After three games – and an exhibition game against Gannon – the defense has been the bigger question mark and it doesn’t make sense.
IU’s backcourt is long, athletic and tough, yet they can’t seem to stay in front of drivers or close out on perimeter shooters.
A prime example of the puzzling trend is junior guard Al Durham, a lengthy guard who glides across the court while running but has struggled with on-ball defense. Multiple times against North Alabama, Durham had communication issues failing to switch on screens properly, leading to easy buckets for the Lions.
On the outside, the Hoosiers consistently seem to lose shooters who find themselves alone beyond the arc waiting to drain open threes. It’s almost like IU’s opponents are performing a disappearing act, but if you were paying attention – which the Hoosier guards seem to have trouble doing at times – they just ran off a screen to “disappear."
Up front, the forwards have been no better.
When IU has moved away from its small lineup – which it will have to do to be competitive once conference play starts – the lack of speed and athleticism at the center position has been a major red flag. Both senior De’Ron Davis and junior Joey Brunk have been exposed in pick and rolls this season, not being able to hedge properly and still get back to the paint in time to stop and easy entry pass from finding their assignment.
“Coach Miller, he really wants to focus on defense,” Anderson said. “So we’ve been practicing defense and just trying to get better as a team.”
IU is far from a gifted team offensively, so it was relying on its defense being something special. Well, that has been far from the case in the Hoosiers’ early season showings.
Miller is convinced IU’s defense is going to be good but at some point the doubt starts to creep in.
Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, I wonder if this is a trend. Fool me three times, my hand is going to start hovering over the panic button.
“It’s just that feeling, I think as a coaching staff we’re sitting there right now and waiting for that moment or that series of possessions when you’re just like 'wow,'" Miller said. “Five, six in a row where guys were really, really on it. We haven’t had that yet. We’re going to get it but it’s a concern, I don’t want fools gold for our guys.”
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