My Two Cents: Loss to Arizona Still a great Indiana learning experience

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Sometime this season, I won’t be a bit surprised if North Carolina, Arizona and Kansas — the big highlight opponents on Indiana’s non-conference schedule this season — all spend time at No. 1 in the polls.

That’s how good they are at their best. We’ve seen that in the past and we’re seeing it now. There is a lot of talent in these teams. Final Four quality talent.

For Indiana, the goal this year was to go head-to-head with the best before the Big Ten season kicked into high gear. After several years of soft schedules, this chart is so much better for 2022-23. There are high profile rivals and some great road trips too. That was certainly the case this weekend in Las Vegas when Indiana played Arizona here at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

The result of the game wasn’t what Hoosier Nation was hoping for, an 89-75 loss to Arizona, a talented team that’s ranked #4 in the polls so far. They had dominant size, multiple three-point shooters, and a fast and efficient offense that could score points in bunches.

Indiana wasn’t at her level on Saturday. The Hoosiers were 27-8 down at 19 early on but have fought back magnificently on multiple occasions, taking the lead to five three times and even three once. But some bad breaks and some bad calls never allowed Indiana to get over the hump.

It was the second loss of the season for the Hoosiers, who are now 8-2. There were some similarities in both losses, 17 and 16 offensive rebounds respectively from Rutgers and Arizona.

It’s also no coincidence that freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino didn’t play in either loss. His long 6-foot-6 body differs from the guard position. He has a back problem and has now missed three games in a row, which is becoming a concern.

And the main reason why? Because as good as Indiana is — and I still think they are very good — what we learned from those two losses is that if you have the right pieces, there are ways to attack Indiana.

Arizona had the right pieces. The Wildcats, who went 33-4 last year and are now 8-1, dominated in the paint with 7-foot center Oumar Ballo and 6-foot-11 forward Azuolas Tubelis. There’s a lot of incredible things to do in Las Vegas, but Ballo, who’s listed at £260, ranks right at the top. He’s huge and a handful. There are obvious comparisons to former Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, who weighed 285 pounds. That sounds more real to me.

And Tubelis? Well, the Lithuanian native is an NBA player for sure. This pair was just too much for 6-foot-9 Trayce Jackson-Davis and 6-8 Race Thompson on the defensive end. They had 36 points and 19 rebounds combined, which was basically their season average (39 points, 18 rebounds).

They were just better.

“This Arizona team is a good team. They are,” said Indiana coach Mike Woodson. “We were challenged tonight. I need to get us in better position but I thought the color would win the game. They were the better team in color tonight.

“Your bigs are dominant bigs. you are good There’s a reason they average 19-20 in a game between the two, so we had to fight that. I thought they beat our bigs tonight. I just do it We had no answer for them.”

Woodson chose not to double Ballo and Tubelis on the post and let Jackson-Davis, Thompson and Malik Reneau do the whole fight. It did not work. Jackson-Davis was eventually fouled, and Thompson and Reneau were physically overwhelmed.

If Indiana had overdone it, they might have doubled more, but that’s a double-edged sword against many teams, including Arizona. They also have shooters all over the floor and did 10 three-pointers on Saturday. Woodson is committed in his own way at times, and doubling down on the post is certainly something he doesn’t enjoy doing.

That’s the only concern with Indiana. As good as Jackson-Davis and the others are, they don’t have the physical size of some of these guys. But let’s also be clear. This was a game designed to prepare the Hoosiers for the Big Ten game.

There isn’t a single Big Ten team with two Big Tens like Arizona.

“I don’t want to get to where we have to beg for help or start doubling a lot,” Woodson said. “If I go back and watch the tape, maybe I’ll think differently next time we get a chance to play them. But we haven’t done a lot of duplication since I’ve been here, but we also haven’t played many teams where two such greats were dominant.”

The other issue Indiana is worried about going forward is the dropoff at point guard with Hood-Schifino being unavailable. You’ve heard me talk since the summer, what I love most about the Xavier Johnson/Hood-Schifino pairing is that Indiana is guaranteed to have a top-notch point guard on the floor every 40 minutes, sharing duties.

With Hood-Schifino out, too much is on Johnson’s shoulders. He conceded two early fouls in the first four-plus minutes and I really get a lot of credit for playing through that. Woodson put it in after the second foul but put it right back in a few minutes later. He played 26 minutes – and never picked up a third foul and amassed 11 assists.

Junior Trey Galloway is not a true point guard despite what he adds to the team. He was forced into that role after Hood-Schifino was out, and Rutgers and Arizona have both defensively aggressively chased him. The Hoosiers often fought on the floor without Johnson.

Here’s hoping Hood-Schifino gets better soon because Indiana is a completely different team with him on the floor. Of course he adds a lot himself, but he also gives Woodson the opportunity to shift the characters a little more.

Indiana deserves credit for fighting back one after another. You just dug too big a hole. Still, I think they learned a lot about themselves. They have a good movie about fighting bigs. You have an even better film about such attacking teams. Indiana scored 75 points, which isn’t bad, but against an Arizona team that’s playing with a lot of pace, you just have to score more.

They now have a week between games, which is nice, but Kansas expects Saturday with an early showdown at Phog Allen Fieldhouse with the Jayhawks playing well and likely to be a top-four team when the rankings release Monday becomes.

These big games are all good for the Hoosiers. We can’t expect them all to win. They beat Xavier and North Carolina and they’re both big wins. Sure, that loss hurt, but there was a lot to gain from it.

And we’ll see if they can be a little more elite next week. These big showdowns are fun, and fun to watch whether they win, lose, or tie.


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