The Indiana University men’s basketball team went from preseason No. 11 to the third seed in the National Invitational Tournament. That could be a telling sign for how Tuesday’s matchup with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets goes, in either direction.
The Hoosiers have been all over the map this season, from knocking off Kansas and North Carolina — both NCAA Tournament 1-seeds — to dropping a home game to Nebraska, losing to Fort Wayne and getting thumped by 30 against Michigan.
So the question becomes, which Indiana team shows up Tuesday?
The most intriguing matchup between the Hoosiers and Yellow Jackets comes from beyond the arc. The 3-point shooting could be the deciding factor in the NIT showdown, which, on paper, favors the cream and crimson.
Indiana’s bread and butter has been its long range shooting for years. Heck, it’s almost unsportsmanlike to play basketball in Indiana and not extend the shooting to the next county. It also means the Hoosiers live and die by the three.
In the win over Kansas, Indiana buried the Jayhawks from deep, draining 15 of 31 (48 percent) of their 3-point shots. Three games later, they went 7 of 24 (29 percent) in a shocking loss to Fort Wayne.
Indiana shoots 38 percent from deep on the season and it has five players shooting over 37 percent. While the Hoosiers can chuck them from long distance, the same cannot be said about the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech, in comparison, have shot just 33 percent from three point territory on the season. For a comparison, Indiana has made twice as many threes as the Yellow Jackets this year, with the Hoosiers making 290 in comparison to Georgia Tech’s 144.
That’s what it’s going to take for Indiana to win Tuesday. Filling up the scoring column has been a must for Tom Crean’s guys, especially with their defense not being particularly special this season. Indiana averages 80 points per game, a massive 13 more than Georgia Tech, and they’ll need to find their offense if they want to advance to the second round.
Six Indiana players have made at least 20 3-pointers this season. Those same six — James Blackmon III, Robert Johnson, Thomas Bryant, Josh Newkirk, Devonte Green and Curtis Jones — have attempted more than 50 3-pointers, and OG Anunoby was at 45 attempts before he got hurt all the way back on Jan. 18. Georgia Tech has just three players who have made 20-plus 3s, one of which sits at only 23.
Indiana’s two leading scorers have made 15 more from deep than the entire Yellow Jackets squad. Blackmon leads the Hoosiers with 89 made 3s and shoots it at an impressive 42 percent. Georgia Tech’s Quinton Stephens leads his team with 48 made 3s but shoots at an inefficient 30-percent rate.
Indiana starting center, Bryant, who stands at 6 feet, 10 inches tall, is 23 of 59 (39 percent) from deep this year; Georgia Tech’s starting center, Ben Lammers — also 6-10 — is 1 for 2. Fifty percent is solid, at least.
The point is, Indiana relies heavily on its long-distance shooting. The Hoosiers are pretty good from behind the arc, but what happens when they’re pretty bad? Well, they lose. Just ask the Mastodons of Fort Wayne. Georgia Tech won’t fire it even close to the rate of the Hoosiers, so will they be able to keep up?
Indiana finished 18-15, the Jackets 17-15. Georgia Tech dropped Notre Dame and Florida State this year, but the Irish and Seminoles scored just 60 and 56, respectively, in those games. The Yellow Jackets will need the Hoosiers to finish in that same scoring range to have a shot to advance.
The Hoosiers will chuck it up Tuesday night. That could make it a long night in some way or another. Make them — pack your bags and keep moving forward. Miss — empty the lockers.