FORT WAYNE – Indiana coach Tom Crean said he saw his team grow defensively in Sunday’s 56-46 home win over Illinois.
The Hoosiers held the Illini to 33.3 percent shooting, and a lot of the credit for that defensive performance goes to IU’s improved zone defense.
IU (13-7, 3-4 Big Ten) could lean heavily on its zone again tonight when it plays at Nebraska (10-9, 2-5), especially with 6-foot-10 freshman forward Noah Vonleh becoming more comfortable anchoring the zone defense.
Vonleh leads the Big Ten in rebounding with 9.6 per game and is tied for 10th in the league in blocked shots with 25.
I think it’s been certainly ongoing and growing by leaps and bounds since the conference season started, Crean said of Vonleh’s comfort level in the zone. There’s no doubt about that. He’s getting more and more comfortable. He takes up a lot of space. He’s got very good short-space quickness. He not only rebounds the balls that come to him but the balls he needs to go get from somebody else. He covers a lot of ground.
Crean said the team’s zone defense has also become more effective because the Hoosiers are rebounding better out of it. The Illini, who average 12.2 offensive rebounds, had only four against IU and no second-chance points Sunday.
I think the biggest thing with the rebounding, though, is everybody else blocking out because the zone is sometimes even more crucial to the guard block-out than even the man to man, Crean said. Sometimes, Yogi (Ferrell) may not have a guy that goes to the offensive board. (Stanford Robinson) may not have a guy that goes to the offensive board. In the zone, you never know where people are going to be. So you have to do a great job of really finding somebody to hit in your area. That’s an area that we needed to really shore up over the last couple of weeks. I think we’ve gotten better at that.
Crean said IU will have to be ready defensively to deal with Nebraska’s attacking style, while also respecting the Cornhuskers’ 3-point shooting.
The Cornhuskers average 69.2 points and are shooting 35.1 percent on 3-pointers.
They want to get up and down the court. They are very, very much on the attack, Crean said. At the same time, they are very willing 3-point shooters. They rarely put anybody on the court that can’t make 3s.
IU will also need to pay a lot of attention to Nebraska sophomore Terran Petteway. The 6-6 forward is third in the Big Ten in scoring with 18.2 points per game, and he connected on 39.2 percent of his 3-pointers.
His work ethic is through the roof. There is not a guy in the gym more than Terran Petteway, Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. He’s worked to improve himself in all areas, and he has this incredible level of energy. He understands how to play the game, how to play position D. You see him becoming more of a complete player.