Indiana is getting defensive in its effort, execution

Rutgers forward Candido Sa (1) passes while being defended by Indiana forward Juwan Morgan and guard Zach McRoberts (15) during the first half of a recent game in Piscataway, N.J. (By The Associated Press)

There has not been a player in the Big Ten Conference that has made the jump in offensive productivity from last year to this season like Indiana forward Juwan Morgan.

The 6-foot-8 junior has increased his scoring over nine points per game to 16.9 this year, while improving nearly 12 points per game in Big Ten play to his current 18.9 average.

However, as good as Morgan has been at THAT end of the court, his new coach has liked what he has seen from Morgan at the other end just as much.

The Hoosiers (14-12, 7-7 Big Ten) will host Illinois (12-14, 2-11) tonight at 8:30 p.m. (BTN).

Morgan not only has grown offensively this season, but he has made an impact at the defensive end of the floor, all the while often playing completely out of position.

“I have three guys on this team that are really good defenders,” first-year Indiana coach Archie Miller said recently. “They’ve become better defenders. Juwan is playing out of position, but he’s being asked to do a lot. He’s blocking shots. He’s defensive rebounding. He’s covering ground. And (Zach McRoberts and Robert Johnson), those two guys have stacked up against every guy in this league, and they’re playing really hard.”

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Morgan is a natural forward, but due to starting center De’Ron Davis being out for the season with an Achilles injury, Morgan often has to defend the opponents’ center.

The Hoosiers haven’t been tremendous defensively since day one, in fact, at times, they’ve been pathetic. But just as they have gradually improved in every other aspect of play this season, Miller’s team has also grown defensively.

The Hoosiers currently are seventh in the league in the standings, but they are the fourth best defensive team, which is a marked improvement from last year when Indiana was the 11th best (or fourth worst, depending on your perspective) team defensively in the Big Ten.

“Really it is just having one another’s back, especially in rotations,” Morgan said of the recent defensive success that Indiana has managed to have. “I know because, after Purdue, that was a huge emphasis for us. Just helping each other in the rotations, and I think those last two games, we’ve done that.

“We are just staying within the pack line, not trying to over extend, and deny our man and things like that.”

“Those last two games” have been telling for this program.

Yes, Indiana has annihilated two miserable teams in Rutgers and Minnesota, but the numbers don’t lie, the Hoosiers deserve some degree of credit for beating the tar out of those two teams by an average margin of 23 points per game.

Indiana held Rutgers, which was coming off a near upset of then-No. 3-ranked Purdue, to a horrendous 24.1 percent shooting performance overall. It was the best defensive effort of the entire season for Miller’s team. And they executed that AT Rutgers.

The Hoosiers then came right back with a great game against the Gophers, as they limited Minnesota to just 33 percent shooting.

And the undersized Hoosiers outrebounded both of those teams, as well.

“It’s a team thing with us,” Miller said. “I think these last two games have been team approach. Our frontcourt players are doing a really good job making things hard for the guards to get open looks or clean looks, and I think our guys are playing with great energy.

“Like I told them, you can lose things just like you can get them, so we’ve earned our way to where we’re at now, and we’re going to try and earn our way until we play (today against Illinois) another round.”

As Miller noted, a number of players are contributing to the defensive execution, one of which is senior center Freddie McSwain Jr., who is battling hard in the paint, despite being just 6-foot-6.

“Freddie’s brought a rebounding mentality,” Miller said. “He’s brought another blue collar guy that’s playing hard right now. I think you’re starting to see him be a little bit more confident offensively.

“He’s an athlete on the glass. That’s been big.”

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