For much of the early part of the season, Indiana had a problem taking care of the ball. The Hoosiers turned it over 27 times in a win over Louisiana, 17 more against Merrimack and cost themselves a game against Syracuse with 26 giveaways in a 112-110 double-overtime defeat.
“Unforced turnovers, we were just handing them the ball,” Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson said after the road loss to the Orange. “My whole approach coming out on the road, I told these guys, 'You can't turn the ball over on the road, you have to give yourself opportunities to score the ball.'”
Nearly six weeks since that loss, the Hoosiers are still looking for their first road victory; they are 0-3 in true road games this season.
They have their next opportunity tonight, when they travel to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to take on Iowa.
If Woodson is again selling his team on the idea of limiting turnovers as the key to the long-sought road victory, the Hoosiers (12-3, 3-2 Big Ten) are in much better position to take his advice now.
Since struggling to hold on to the ball against Merrimack, IU has played five games and have not committed more than 14 turnovers in any of them. The Hoosiers' overall average for those five games is 9.6, a figure that would rank in the top 10 in the country.
“We're just really thinking about taking care of the ball,” Indiana forward Race Thompson said. “We know on offense we want to get shots up; if you can't get shots up, you can't score.
“Our guards have really keyed in on it, Trayce (Jackson-Davis) and I have been doing a much better job of it and it's one of our main things coming into games: take care of the ball and get shots.”
Thompson was one of Indiana's bigger turnover culprits early in the season, along with Jackson-Davis. The pair combined for 13 miscues against Syracuse, mostly the result of throwing the ball away when passing out of double teams, which come often for Indiana's rugged post scorers.
But Woodson stuck with them, continuing to encourage getting the ball in the post. Thompson and Jackson-Davis have delivered, making better passes to the perimeter for open 3s when double teams arrive. They combined for only one turnover in a 73-60 win over Minnesota on Sunday, a game in which the Hoosiers drilled nine 3-pointers.
“I'm not going to take the ball out of their hands,” Woodson said of his big men after the loss to Syracuse.
Iowa (11-4, 1-3 Big Ten) will test Indiana's ball-protection skills. The Hawkeyes play a variety of zone and full-court pressure defenses and have posted a minus-5.7 turnover margin as a result, the eighth-best mark in the country.
The Hawkeyes' ability to force turnovers meshes well with their other emphasis: pushing the ball up the court. Every time Iowa gets a steal, it gets out in transition. It is one of the fastest-paced teams in the country and is No. 4 in scoring offense at nearly 87 points per game.
“We've got to make sure our transition defense is on par, that we're getting back, getting matched to three-point shooters and not giving anything up over the top,” Woodson said. “It's going to take a total team effort for 40 minutes.”
When: 9 p.m. today
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, Iowa
Records: Indiana (12-3, 3-2 Big Ten), Iowa (11-4, 1-3)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 92.3 FM