IU-NC Central Gameday Preview

On Wednesday at 7:00 ET, the 24th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers (20-7, 8-7) return home to host the North Carolina Central Eagles (14-12) on the BTN.com.

As always, Jerod, Ryan, and Andy will be here with another episode of The Assembly Call as soon as the game ends with instant analysis and fan reaction.

IU-NC Central Gameday Info

IU-NC Central Preview

North Carolina Central

The Eagles come in winners of five of their last six games and are currently in fifth place in the MEAC. Their top two scorers are both players who started their careers in the Big 12. Dominique Sutton (16.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.2 spg, 59.5 FG%) played previously at Kansas State, while Ray Willis (15.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.5 spg) transferred from Oklahoma. Three other players scored at least eight points per game, but Sutton and Willis are the clear focal points of the offense.

In terms of efficiency, NC Central ranks 236th in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom. They do rank 22nd nationally in free throw rate with a superb 44.2 mark, so the Hoosiers will need to keep them off the stripe, where they hit nearly 72 percent. They score better than 24 percent of their points on free throws, which is also in the Top 25 nationally.

The Eagles are also in the Top 100 in two-point shooting, but they don’t shoot well from long range, hitting under 33 percent from deep. They struggle on the offensive glass and rank 304th in turnover rate, an area the Hoosiers were able to exploit against many of their weaker non-conference foes early in the season.

On defense, NC Central ranks just inside the Top 200 in adjusted efficiency. They rank 33rd in turnover rate, which is a concern for IU based on how careless they were with the ball in Sunday’s loss at Iowa. The Eagles also do a decent job of defending the three, but since they don’t have anyone over 6-foot-7 as part of their core rotation, interior defense and defensive rebounding have been issues. They have also routinely allowed high free throw rates, an area where IU has excelled at home.

Indiana

The Hoosiers are coming off of one of their worst performances of the season, so maybe this seemingly out-of-place game comes at a good time. They lacked focus and insensity throughout, which resulted in 14 turnovers (many of which were unforced) and 16 offensive rebounds for Iowa. Indiana didn’t defend the three-point line well, which Matt Gatens exploited for 30 points, and the Hoosiers shot poorly themselves. In the end, the 12-point margin of victory didn’t indicate how thoroughly they were outplayed.

Heading into this came, Indiana has a number of clear statistical advantages, which should allow them to win comfortably. However, it will be important to see some improvement on a number of fronts heading into the final three games of the regular season.

First and foremost, IU needs Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford to get back on track. Two early fouls seemed to throw Hulls out of rhythm against the Hawkeyes, but ne now has just two points on 1-of-8 shooting over the last two games. Knocking down some open looks from three-point land would definitely boost his confidence at this point.

Watford continues to be an enigma for Indiana. He was agressive at times against Northwestern and finished with 12 points, but he went 0-of-5 from the field against Iowa and scored just one point. The team is clearly at its best when Watford is engaged on both ends of the floor, but the on again-off again nature of his intensity has some fans calling for him to be bench, which he was for long stretches against the Hawkeyes. Consequently, it will be interesting to see what Tom Crean does with his lineup.

Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller led the team with 15 points each against Iowa, which continued their solid production. Still, each had stretches where it felt as if they could have done more. Oladipo had excelled with the ball in his hands over the last few games, but at times he was passive when playing off the ball against Iowa, particularly when Verdell Jones was in the game. The Hoosiers have to get the backcourt roles sorted out, because Oladipo’s aggressiveness really spurred the team during a three-game winning streak.

As for Zeller, he should have plenty of scoring chances in this game given NC Central’s lack of height. He needs to be aggressive at establishing position and both ends of the floor and going up strong around the rim after going just 5-of-12 against Iowa with most of his shots coming from within five feet.

Final Thought

This has all the makings of a blowout victory for Indiana. Unless they continue making careless turnovers, the Hoosiers should have no trouble putting points on the board. They have a significant size advantage inside, and if they stay aggressive, they should be able to take advantage of NC Central’s propensity for putting opponents on the line. Defensively, they need to rachet up the pressure to force turnovers of their own and find ways to limit Sutton and Williams.

Perhaps most importantly, the Hoosiers need to use this game as a springboard into the stretch run, not only from a confidence standpoint but also in terms of understanding the consistent energy and focus needed to win basketball games.

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Listen to Andy Wednesday on The Assembly Call. Follow him on Twitter at @AndyBottoms.

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