Insider: Against overmatched Jackson State, IU basketball shows patience, savvy
BLOOMINGTON -- Mike Woodson isn't used to zone defense.
This season is, you'll remember, the first time he's been involved in college basketball since 1979-80. He's been in the NBA since, and even though zone has been legal since the 2001-02 season, not a lot of teams play it — at least not as its primary scheme — because there is still defensive three seconds, a technical foul at the professional level.
So when Jackson State brought out at 1-2-2 zone in the first half Tuesday as a means of walling off the paint, slowing the game down and forcing Indiana to try to beat it in the half court, it struck the first-year Indiana basketball coach as entirely foreign.
"I asked my coaches coming in at halftime, 'Is that kind of how Syracuse extends their zone?'" Woodson said after the Hoosiers waltzed to a 70-35 win over an overmatched Jackson State squad. "... I don't see a lot of the zones in the NBA, so this is new for me and I'm just kind of navigating my way through."
But even though he hasn't seen it much — and no, Jackson State's zone doesn't bear all that much resemblance to Syracuse's — he and his staff still figured out an effective way to attack it and the Hoosiers responded to his instructions and executed.
That's much easier to do now than it will be later, especially a week from now when Indiana has to deal with Jim Boeheim's famed 2-3 match-up at the Carrier Dome in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Jackson State doesn't have any where near the size, length or athleticism the Orange do even on a year when they look quite mortal with a loss to Colgate already on their ledger.
But it's still a good sign for the Hoosiers on offense when they're able to adjust on the fly. As Woodson said since the beginning, he put far more of his offseason effort into creating a defensive foundation than an offensive one. The Hoosiers were once again smothering on that end on Tuesday, holding the Tigers to 20.7% shooting and .556 points per possession. On offense, their numbers were modest — 47.1% shooting and 1.077 points per possession — but there were moments of patience and savvy that showed evidence they're learning.
"I knew that our defense would be ahead of our offense because I spent so much time putting in and demanding things that I needed to have done on the floor," Woodson said. "And now we got to get our offense up to speed. We're not, (but when) you're averaging 70-some points a game, that's not all bad."
The Hoosiers hit their sloppiest point of the game Tuesday with about 3 minutes to go before halftime. Indiana failed to score on five straight possessions and missed three straight shots, including a pair of 3-pointers by transfer wing Miller Kopp. The Hoosiers went four minutes without scoring, allowing Jackson State to go on a 6-0 run. Without an easy way to get the ball inside to All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis, who finished with 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting, the Hoosiers didn't have many answers.
But Woodson called timeout and made an adjustment to running "overload" sets, moving three, four and some times five players to one side of the floor to force the zone to adjust. On the first play, it created a wide open look for transfer guard Parker Stewart at the top of the key, which he knocked down for 3.
The Hoosiers opened the second half on a 13-0 run and Jackson State mostly abandoned the zone at that point.
"We were stagnant early until I made the called to time out and made the change," Woodson said. "Then we kind of went over at halftime and they didn't come back to it after we made a few buckets."
That schematic adjustment wasn't the only one the Hoosiers made on offense. Pittsburgh transfer point guard Xavier Johnson made a personal adjustment to his style of play after committing four turnovers against Louisiana and 12 personal fouls in the season's first four games. Tuesday he was much more under control on both ends, running the offense smoothly and defending without fouling. He finished with 14 points on 5 of 6 shooting, seven rebounds and three assists against one turnover, committing two fouls in 25 minutes.
"I just got to be composed," Johnson said, "and be available for my coaches and my teammates to be on the floor to help them out so we can win."
Collectively, the Hoosiers made adjustments as well. After committing 27 turnovers against Louisiana, they cut that number down to 11, staying below the figure of 12 that requires the whole team including coaches to run at practice as punishment. They had 15 assists as a team, and didn't force 3-point shots against the zone. Stewart and Kopp, the Hoosiers' two leading 3-point shooters, took 12 of their 15 and made a combined five. Sophomore Anthony Leal, also recruited because of his shooting, took two of the other three and made one.
The Hoosiers' second unit struggled on offense in the first half, scoring a combined two points in a combined 24 minutes of action and looking particularly disjointed, so much so that Woodson pulled most of them after center Michael Durr and point guard Khristian Lander had played just four minutes together. But Woodson went back to them in the second half and the bench scored 18 points after the break.
"I thought when they came in in the first half they were kind of somewhat going through the motions a little bit and it didn't work for them, so I went back with the starters," Woodson said. "... Then I thought when they came back in the second half they settled down and was playing the way I know they're capable of playing."
There are much stronger tests to come for Indiana. The Hoosiers might not see another opponent it can take advantage of as easily as it did Jackson State, and there will certainly be games when it takes more than one timeout for them to make an adjustment against a defense they're struggling against.
But at this early stage, they are showing a willingness and an ability to adjust in games, and that's an important step for a team that still has a lot of navigating to do.