- No. 16 IU at No. 6 Kansas, noon, Saturday; TV: ESPN2
BLOOMINGTON – Jalen Hood-Schifino will practice Thursday.
How long depends on his sore lower back. Whether he plays at Kansas on Saturday depends on how he feels Friday. Mike Woodson was in no mood for guarantees Thursday morning when explaining the plan Indiana hopes will get Hood-Schifino to tipoff Saturday.
But Hood-Schifino, out since the Hoosiers’ win over North Carolina more than two weeks ago, will practice. That by itself is welcome news for IU fans.
“Today,” Woodson said, “we’re going to start him out on the floor and see if he can practice. Last few days, he’s kind of shot around and done some things. He’s moving around. So today we’re going to let him bang a little bit, and see where he is tomorrow.”
More:How 1-to-1 Adidas NIL deals may reshape college athletics’ lucrative apparel landscape
Insiders:It didn’t take long for IU to realize how much it needs Jalen Hood-Schifino
There has been an unmistakable Hood-Schifino-sized hole in Indiana’s lineup with him stuck in sweats the past three games. That two of them have been double-digit losses, coupled to Hood-Schifino’s plus-109 plus-minus — second-best on the team — have left those fans wondering whether some outcomes might have been different had the Hoosiers’ No. 1 was able to suit up.
There are no absolutes in these situations, but is there some truth in that argument? To what extent has IU missed Hood-Schifino? Would the Hoosiers have enjoyed better results across their past three games with him on the floor?
Respectively, the answers to those questions are probably, substantially and perhaps. Because some of the things Hood-Schifino does best have been some of Indiana’s biggest weaknesses without him.
“He’s one of the best freshmen in the country,” Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters Thursday. “He can score, he can handle. He’s strong, confident, plays with a swagger. They’ll be fine without him, but they’ll obviously be better with him.”
Hood-Schifino’s initial impact this season has been substantial.
A starter when healthy, he’s averaging 8.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. He owns Indiana’s second-best assist rate behind Xavier Johnson, and Hood-Schifino’s 3-point shooting has improved, albeit in a limited sample size, having hit five of his past 13 attempts from deep after starting the season 1-of-6. He’s also shooting 41.4% on 2-point jumpers, adding a midrange threat to an offense that’s growing more diverse and varied than could be said at any point last season.
Alongside Johnson, Hood-Schifino has become a sort of swing player. Sharing the point guard load with Johnson, Hood-Schifino helps bind Woodson’s starting and bench rotations productively.
The basketball analytics website EvanMiya.com tracks a statistic it calls adjusted team efficiency margin for individual players across college basketball. Adjusting for the relative strength of a team’s opponents, it tracks the difference on a per-player basis between a team’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies (per 100 possessions) when individual players are on the floor. In other words, it seeks to identify which players most impact their teams’ efficiency numbers in the collective when they’re in the game.
Hood-Schifino is fourth among Hoosiers, with an adjusted efficiency margin of 28.1. But that’s the highest number among starters, narrowly edging out Johnson, and performing substantially better than leading scorer Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Some numbers can be deceiving, or at least dependent upon circumstances. That plus-minus total, for example, would suggest Hood-Schifino is a crucial piece of his team’s success. Being a bit of a blunt instrument, though, it might also be inflated somewhat by Hood-Schifino having not played in either of his team’s two losses to date.
But below the surface, there are some specific strengths Hood-Schifino brings to the floor that have become weaknesses in his absence, whether by causation or circumstance.
For example, at 6-6, and well over 200 pounds, Hood-Schifino has proven to be an outstanding defensive rebounder. His overall rebounding average is third among Hoosiers behind only Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, and his individual defensive rebounding rate (15.9%) is best among regular backcourt players. It’s better, even, than Jordan Geronimo’s performance in the same statistic.
A point guard who can rebound is a significant offensive asset, because he can launch transition offense more quickly if he clears the board than if a bigger teammate has to do it, then pass him the ball. But in Indiana’s two losses this month, the absence of one of their best defensive rebounders has been glaring.
Rutgers and Arizona, respectively, posted offensive rebounding rates (ie what percentage of misses were pulled down for offensive rebounds) of 41.5% and 43.2%. Before the Dec. 3 losses in New Jersey, the Hoosiers hadn’t allowed a team to even hit 35% in a single game in that number.
According to the website Hoop Lens, Indiana’s offensive rebounding rate allowed is never lower than when Hood-Schifino is on the floor, opponents pulling in just 24.4% of their misses in those stretches.
Even more fundamentally, per the same site no regular starter has a lower points per possession-allowed number when on the floor than Hood-Schifino (0.84). The only two Hoosiers with at least 150 defensive possessions played and a lower PPP-allowed average are only narrowly better, Geronimo and Malik Reneau each logging in at 0.83.
These two things go hand in hand, of course. A good defensive team cannot be so without being good at rebounding the ball defensively. If you can’t secure the miss — as the Hoosiers found too often at Rutgers and against Arizona — then you can’t defend the possession to a satisfactory conclusion.
Offensively, Hood-Schifino provides that aforementioned stability as Woodson cycles between his starting and bench lineups. Hood-Schifino and Johnson sew the two together.
Just as he does defensively, Hood-Schifino enjoys the best per-player team PPP average among starters, 1.15 according to Hoop Lens. While his individual turnover rate exceeds 22%, Indiana’s team rate when Hood-Schifino on the floor is a team-best 13.4%.
And he takes some of the burden off Johnson, who has undeniably struggled with Hood-Schifino on the sideline. Across IU’s past three games, Johnson has 23 points, four rebounds, 19 assists, 15 turnovers and five steals. He’s shot just 7-of-32 from the floor in that stretch, Woodson suggesting more than once Johnson is forcing things too often, trying to do too much. Given Hood-Schifino’s physical profile and ability to get to the rim, it’s probably equally true to say Johnson misses the freedom provided by Hood-Schifino pulling away the attention of bigger defenders.
All of which made Thursday’s news that Hood-Schifino will test his back in advance of possibly playing Saturday most welcome for Indiana fans. The freshman from Montverde Academy tried the same in the pregame shootaround last weekend in Las Vegas but could not go. Woodson will hope the outcome is different this time.
“The player himself will lead you in the direction he wants to go,” Woodson said. “From a medical standpoint, I think he’s fine, but again, when you can’t do the things you’re used to doing on the floor, moving around like you normally do, that’s a problem. That’s what he was experiencing.”
Indiana — coaches, teammates and fans collectively — will hope Hood-Schifino finds normal again soon. The Hoosiers need him in Lawrence this weekend.
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.