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The Journal Gazette

Friday, October 13, 2017 2:30 am

Fewer fouls in IU's plans

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON — Call it a case of foul play.

Indiana had one of college basketball's better offenses in the 2016-17 season, but the Hoosiers' defense let them down. More specifically, their defense couldn't cope with a pesky rule that permits a player to shoot free throws if the opponent fouls him.

The Hoosiers played 34 games and gave up 60 more free throw attempts than they earned, a difference of nearly two free throw attempts per game. IU's opponents averaged .368 free throw attempts per field goal attempt, ranking the Hoosiers' defense 209th among Division I's 351 teams.

Overall, Indiana committed 20.1 fouls per game, more than any other Big Ten team, and finished tied for 299th in the nation with 682 fouls.

Purdue led the Big Ten in opponent free throw attempts per field goal attempt with .229. The Hoosiers gave up 198 more points on free throws than they would have by fouling at Purdue's rate, or nearly six points a game.

Enter new IU coach Archie Miller.

Miller noted last month that Indiana spent about 75 percent of its time on defense rather than offense in offseason workouts. The coach has been open about building a defensive identity, so that has been a focus of training camp leading into the Oct. 28 exhibition opener against Marian.

"We're having the base stuff put in," Miller said. "We're building. We're not as sophisticated as we're going to be, but our team is learning what we're about, especially in the half-court (setting). It's an adjustment. It's repetition after repetition."

Miller's teams at Dayton had a propensity for fouling in his first three seasons there, but the Flyers played more soundly in his final three. They fouled at the national average rate in 2016-17 and finished 84th in opponent free throw frequency in 2015-16 and 44th in 2014-15.

Miller wants the Hoosiers to play physically, but a lower foul rate could be made possible by reducing the number of instances in which they are caught out of position.

"We're going to be in the right position, the right gaps, the right everything," IU point guard Josh Newkirk said. "That's the main thing."

Hacking opponents also carried a personnel cost. In Tom Crean's final season as IU coach, three of his starters (Newkirk, center Thomas Bryant and power forward Juwan Morgan) had among the highest foul rates in the Big Ten at their positions.

With the departure of Bryant, De'Ron Davis takes over in the middle. One of Miller's priorities for Davis is to avoid foul trouble. While Davis provided a capable backup to Bryant, this year's team lacks a proven second-string center.

"When you look at our frontcourt depth, that's something you have to keep in mind in terms of how deep we really are when it comes to fouls," Miller said. "We'll be really on top of De'Ron in terms of the technique and the effort level because, when you don't have those two things, you foul, and we can't afford that."