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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, December 22, 2016 8:57 pm

Wing defense shaping up as a Hoosier strength

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON — One area in which Indiana should prove stout the remainder of the season is defending against quality wing players.

This may seem odd at first, since James Blackmon Jr. is the Hoosiers' most prominent wing player and he's not exactly renowned for his tough defense. But every other player they trot out at shooting guard and small forward is a capable stopper, and coach Tom Crean's concepts have helped several players (Zach McRoberts, for example) punch above their weight defensively.

Moreover, there's OG Anunoby. He's an All-Defense caliber performer at either small forward or power forward, and with his length, quickness and tenacity he can guard pretty much any position on the floor. He's probably one of the best defenders in the nation.

In Thursday's 97-62 rout of Austin Peay at Assembly Hall, Crean "cross-matched" by having Anunoby guard Josh Robinson for much of the game so that the Hoosiers could bother Austin Peay's floor general with length.

Robert Johnson has proven his toughness the past two seasons playing as Indiana's defensive stopper against most quality 2-guards, and he's probably still atop the pecking order in that arena. But power forward Juwan Morgan is also a very good defensive player who can handle 2s and 3s, rebounds well and is the Hoosiers' top defender off the bench.

"We definitely want to be the first team ready on defense," IU point guard Josh Newkirk said. "So just locking in, knowing personnel, knowing what our man is going to do and knowing how we're going to guard, I think that's been a focus for us, and being alert."

So far, No. 16 Indiana (10-2) has excelled at cutting off the 3-point line, perhaps the most important aspect of wing defense. The Hoosiers have surrendered just 27 percent accuracy, which makes them fourth in the nation in opponent 3-point percentage. They are 97th out of 351 Division I teams in opponent 3-point frequency.

"I think we've been focusing on taking that away from teams," Johnson said, "and not letting guys get in certain areas where they can get open shots."