With just 11 weeks to complete their 20-game league schedules, there’s precious little time for Big Ten teams to celebrate victories and, more important, solve problems that spring up during defeats.
This helps to explain why, barely 10 hours after suffering a home loss to Northwestern in their Big Ten opener, the Indiana Hoosiers (5-3, 0-1) were back on the practice floor at 9 a.m. Christmas Eve.
Head coach Archie Miller had a laundry list of issues that needed addressing before the Hoosiers hopped on the bus Christmas Day to head for Saturday’s 4 p.m. ET clash at No. 18 Illinois (6-3, 2-1).
Perhaps Indiana’s biggest problem? It ranks dead-last among Big Ten teams with a 1.12 assist-to-turnover ratio. More specifically, the Hoosiers gave away the ball 16 times in just 67 possessions during Wednesday’s 74-67 loss to Northwestern.
“We’re too sloppy right now,” Miller said. “We have too many plays that aren’t going to work for us moving forward in this league. We can’t turn the ball over 16 times at home. We’re not that good. There are five or six a game that have got to get trimmed back.”
Northwestern transformed those 16 turnovers into 20 points — including eight over the final nine minutes as the Wildcats outscored the Hoosiers 24-13 to swipe the win.
“You know what? Maybe we have to slow it down. We’re not playing that many guys anyway,” said Miller, who essentially stuck with a seven-man rotation against Northwestern.
“If we keep turning the ball over in transition with numbers, then maybe we have to slow it down a little bit and make sure we don’t turn it over because I know that turnovers are really hard to defend at the other end.”
Turnovers are particularly devastating against a team like Illinois, which ranks fifth nationally in offensive efficiency with 116.1 points per 100 possessions.
Considering the Hoosiers couldn’t stop Northwestern shooting guard Chase Audige down the stretch — the hungry William & Mary transfer scored all 17 of his points over the final nine minutes Wednesday — how are they going to handle preseason All-American Ayo Dosunmu when he has the ball in his hands? The junior averages 23.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game.
“Ayo’s the best guard in the country,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said.
During Illinois’ 98-81 win Wednesday at Penn State, Dosunmu reeled off 15 of his game-high 30 points during a seven-minute stretch of the second half when Illinois seized control.
And the Illini don’t make it easy for defenses to devote extra resources to slowing Dosunmu. Point guard Andre Curbelo drives to the rim and creates open shots even more than Dosunmu does — he owns 22 assists versus five turnovers in just 65 Big Ten minutes — and no team can afford to leave 7-footer Kofi Cockburn alone when Illinois’ guards go to the hoop.
Cockburn went 11 of 13 from the field and scored 23 points Wednesday to maintain his ridiculous recent stretch. Over the past four games, the Jamaica native has averaged 23.0 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 73.1 percent from the field.
“It’s not always going to be this easy,” Underwood said. “It’s going to get challenging on Saturday.”
–Field Level Media
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