Indiana finds themselves sitting at 1-3 in conference play and now unranked. Following a one point defeat at the hands of Northwestern at home, the Hoosiers are desperately looking for a win over Jalen Pickett and the Nittany Lions. Even if a win over Penn State isn’t considered a great win, it is absolutely necessary to position themselves for great wins down the line with a win here over the Nittany Lions. Jalen Pickett is an NBA talent with enough game to win Penn State some games single handedly. If the Hoosiers are to get the win and begin building up the win totals, it begins by limiting Jalen Pickett’s impact on this game. Which will be no easy task.
Jalen Pickett enters this game leading the Nittany Lions in pretty much every statistic. 17.9 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.2 steals. Jalen Pickett is a certified NBA talent who can take over games. If Indiana brings the same defensive intensity to Penn State that they had present for the Wildcat backcourt, the Hoosiers could potentially be in for a long day. If Indiana allowed the Northwestern back court to attack the rim and take floaters in the lane, they could be devastated by Jalen’s ability to take advantage of those looks. It will take a team effort to limit Jalen Pickett, a team effort that was absent in the Hoosiers defensive performance prior. If Northwestern was able to damage us with uncontested backcourt play, Jalen Pickett alone could potentially devastate us.
Indiana will need someone to step up and look to sure up the Indiana backcourt defense. Xavier Johnson came out to start this season playing some of the most stifling defensive point play I have seen. With him down, it must be next man up, and one of these guys, be it Jalen Hood-Schifino or Trey Galloway, needs to step up and take pride in the Hoosier defense. It is the backcourt pressure that translates into the easiest points in basketball. Points off turnovers in quick transition can leave teams shuffling, just as we saw the Wildcats do to the Hoosiers on Sunday. This Indiana team is built to run in transition, in order to properly capitalize on that build, the Hoosiers have to start to create the turnovers that tee up the transition game on the offensive end.
On top of that, if the Hoosiers DO turn the ball over, they definitely can’t afford to give uncontested layups. It seems like each time the Indiana Hoosiers lost the ball in this matchup, they all but sat on the offensive end as the Wildcats waltzed half the court for an easy layup. This lack of effort, it is so cliche to say, points to an accountability issue. I am not a coach, don’t claim to be, but I can’t imagine the game plan drawn up by Mike Woodson is to just give away PoTs after we lose the ball. This isn’t the NBA, in the Big Ten we need defense. When you give the ball up, use that frustration as fuel to make up for it on the defensive end. It’s easy to say, easy to think, harder to instill. Here’s hoping the Hoosiers figure it out.
I do like this matchup at this point in our season, all things considered. I believe that this game could potentially go a long way for Malik Reneau in building some confidence. Penn State is going to live and die by Jalen Pickett, without a highlighted front court presence I believe Malik may be able to find some footing in this one. Footing that he desperately needs because for better or worse, fair or unfair, he will be tasked with a lot of responsibility if this Indiana team hopes to be competing with real stakes in March. He has been thrust into an opportunity, and whether he was ready for it or not, he’s got to adjust and get ready for it now. Big Ten play doesn’t get softer, it doesn’t get easier, it doesn’t get kinder. Here’s hoping Malik can utilize his inherit mastery of the fundamentals and find the poise and control necessary to compete in the paint within this brutal conference.
Jalen Hood-Schifino is coming off of a 33 point performance. While that is to be applauded, if the Hoosiers are going to win this game Jalen’s got to limit the turnovers allowed by this Indiana offense. Along with those 33 points, Jalen amassed 6 turnovers. I expect him to have the most turnovers each game moving forward, as he will be tasked with pretty much 95% of ball handling responsibilities, but 6 is far too much. Sure Northwestern’s defense has gotten them into the current 2nd place position they find themselves in, but 6 is far too many any way you cut it. I have to imagine he can limit these turnovers. I have faith in Jalen’s ability to address that, as he’s been adding to his game week by week it seems, getting more comfortable each game.
Trayce Jackson Davis played hard on Sunday. While you would have liked to see him shoot his norm percentage-wise (his norm being incredible), he gave the effort necessary on the boards to haul in a monstrous 24 rebounds. I know a rebound can bounce right to someone uncontested, but that doesn’t happen 24 times. Trayce Jackson-Davis wants to turn this team’s trajectory around as much as all of us fans want him to. In this game, Trayce will be the focus of everyone other than Jalen Pickett, who I imagine will be tasked with shadowing Jalen Hood-Schifino. If he is able to distribute from the key in a characteristically reliable manner, the Indiana Hoosiers should be able to have a third player step up to produce enough to secure the win.
We didn’t see it in the Northwestern game, but a third head needs to pop up on this monster. Jalen Hood-Schifino and Trayce Jackson-Davis are two very nice pieces, undoubtedly. Indiana desperately needs a third key piece to make itself known. With Tamar Bates and Miller Kopp being uncharacteristically quiet on the wings against Northwestern, the Hoosiers absolutely need one of these two guys to step up to the occasion and become the third threat the opposition must game plan for.
With back to back losses, Indiana slipped out of the national rankings. While I would usually think to pay those no mind, I want it to sting for the Hoosiers. How does that not leave a bad taste in any competitor’s mouth? Hopefully the number falling off the name does something to give the Hoosiers the chip they need to get back to competing like a squad with intentions in March. I thought either the Arizona or Kansas games could have sparked that, but hey third times the charm.
This Hoosier team is 3 bounces and a few calls away from a drastically different record to start this season. That minute difference comes down to execution. And execution is instilled from the top down. Mike Woodson needs to find a way for these guys to give that sense of intention in their game to play as well as we all hope they can. The Indiana Hoosiers can avoid a further tailspin by cutting down the senseless mistakes.
I have faith that this Hoosier squad can turn things around on Wednesday. It’s now or never for this squad to begin to put it together. With a lot of ball left to play, the Hoosiers’ still can’t afford to continue digging this hole they find themselves in. I will continue to believe this team is a “come to Jesus” speech away from competing so long as Trayce is still on the court. Don’t turn your backs on them just yet. With a win over Penn State the Hoosiers can get things back on track, having finally cauterized the wound, and get to building our tournament resume and beating up on the Big Ten.
Thank you for reading these short pregame thoughts of an Indiana fan. I am by no means an insider, just write and talk about the team I love following. If you are interested in giving me a listen, you can download the OFTEN DAUNTED podcast. Each episode drops the morning after a game. Have a great day Hoosier fans. Down with Penn State!
LUX ET VERITAS!