BLOOMINGTON – IU will get one last test Saturday night, before the schedule takes a tougher turn beginning next week.
The Hoosiers host Marshall on Saturday night looking for just their third 6-0 start in the past 10 years. Here are three things I’ll be watching as Indiana welcomes the Thundering Herd to town:
Steadily, IU is improving.
After opening the season with a 4-of-24 performance against Eastern Michigan, the Hoosiers have shot 30-of-75 (40%) from behind the arc in their past four games. We’ve already seen good shooting performances from Tamar Bates, Miller Kopp and, crucially, Parker Stewart. The quality of IU’s attempts from 3 have generally been solid, and the Hoosiers have been spreading them around.
Stewart feels particularly important here. Given his experience and past performance, he feels the likeliest player on this team to be a volume 3-point shooter, or at least the player given the greatest volume of shots. Stewart is 10-of-21 from 3 so far this season, and 8-of-13 in his past three games.
If this improvement is built to last, and IU is going to climb out of its five-year 3-point shooting hole, the Hoosiers need to keep feeding Stewart and establishing other long-distance threats. That starts at home, and it starts in games like this.
A taste of their own medicine
Indiana has been among the nation’s best rim-protecting defenses through the early part of this season. In fact, no team in America has an effective field goal percentage defense or 2-point field goal defense number better than the Hoosiers, who allow opponents to convert just 30.2% of 2s.
Those numbers translate on the other end, where IU is No. 37 nationally in 2-point percentage and No. 53 in effective field goal percentage.
The Hoosiers’ last opponent before hitting the road for the first time ought to test both.
Marshall, one of the country’s more experienced teams in terms of production carried over from last season to this season, ranks No. 34 or better in 2-point percentage, opponent 2-point percentage and block rate. Dan D’Antoni’s team is one of very few in the country blocking a greater percentage of opponents’ shots than Indiana.
The Thundering Herd haven’t made much of the 3-point line, an area they’ve struggled badly both to utilize and to defend. But they have been tough inside. As Indiana gears up for the November-December gauntlet that has become Big Ten teams’ proving ground since the move to the 20-game schedule, a battle down low could do the Hoosiers some good.
It’s a vague thing, perfect for empty coachspeak most of the time. But it feels undeniably relevant around Thanksgiving for Big Ten teams anymore.
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge has long left the conference with a slate of difficult games on the week after the holiday. Since expanding its schedule to include two December games — and then reinforcing that with the shift to a 20-game conference season — the league has essentially ensured for all its teams a tricky pre-Christmas schedule to navigate.
For Indiana, that’s always concluded with the Crossroads Classic in mid-December. This season, it starts by closing out a six-game homestand to start the season with a win against a Marshall program that’s finished with a winning record both overall and in Conference USA play across each of the past six years.
This easy start to the season always felt strategically placed to help IU ease into Mike Woodson’s first season in charge. So far, the Hoosiers have done that. They need to finish the job Saturday, before turning their attention to Syracuse.
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana basketball vs. Marshall Thundering Herd preview: What to watch