At the beginning of the season, defense was a point of pride for IU men’s basketball. The Hoosiers held all but one nonconference opponent to under 40% shooting from the field, and in those seven games averaged 4.6 steals per game.
While IU tried to find its touch on offense throughout the early part of the season, the team’s defense kept them in games and often led them with a victory.
In IU’s 81-69 loss to Purdue, the Boilermakers shot 53.2% from the field and converted on 11-of-17 3-point attempts (64.7%). Now, the Hoosiers have to go on the road to Iowa City, Iowa, to take on a dangerous Hawkeyes offense led by senior forward Luka Garza, the projected national Player of the Year.
Since the beginning of Big Ten play, head coach Archie Miller said he’s seen a gradual decline in the team’s basic defensive principles, leading to some of IU’s struggles guarding its opponents. In conference play, the Hoosiers have allowed their opponents to shoot 46.5% from the field while also allowing them to make over 40% of their 3-pointers.
“If you just look at our 3-point field goal percentage defense in conference alone, you’re not going to be able to be successful,” Miller said Wednesday. “It’s not for lack of trying, it’s for lack of fundamentals. It’s for lack of — and lack of a better word — doing your job, and at the end of the day we’ve had a lot of breakdowns.”
No. 4 Iowa will come into the game with the 24th-ranked shooting offense, hitting on nearly half of its shot attempts while also making 39.5% of its 3-pointers.
“Their transition offense and ability to shoot the ball is really staggering,” Miller said. “You add the element that they probably have the best player in college basketball inside and out as well, they’re their own unique problem.”
Garza had just two games all season in which he failed to score at least 20 points. The reigning Naismith College Player of the Year, he averages 26.9 points per game while shooting 62.5% and grabbing 8.7 rebounds.
Miller said Garza is one of the most challenging players in the country because he can be dominant at all three levels on offense without much drop off in production as he strays farther from the rim.
“He’s got great size, he’s got great physicality and he doesn’t jump that high or run that fast, but you will never find a guy that you watch play on film that moves and works like he does,” Miller said. “He does not take a break. He does not give you an inch in terms of being able to catch your breath when you’re defending him.”
While Garza creates problems for IU’s defense on his own, Iowa has plenty of talent surrounding him. Junior guard Joe Wieskamp and senior guard Jordan Bohannon are both top-tier scorers in their own right, averaging 14.4 and 10.5 points per game, respectively.
Similarly to how teams collapse defensively on sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, IU must do the same in an attempt to slow down Garza. However, the Hawkeyes have playmakers with the ability to consistently knock down open shots — something the Hoosiers have missed all season.
“When it comes to Iowa, they present probably the greatest challenge you can for a team that’s trying to strive to get its defense back in order,” Miller said.