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Sunday, November 20, 2011
Indiana's Savannah State foul-fest

By Eamonn Brennan

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In 2011, Indiana was one of the hackingest defensive teams in the country: The Hoosiers' opponents averaged a 50.2 percent free throw rate, ranking No. 333 (!) in the country. That stat absolutely crippled Tom Crean's otherwise improved defense -- and cost the Hoosiers plenty of close games in the final minutes.

But for all of Indiana's fouls last season, they never produced, or witnessed, a festival of fouls the likes of which they saw at Assembly Hall Saturday night.

An otherwise nondescript guarantee game against Savannah State -- the tiny visitors show up, get bludgeoned, serve as a glorified practice squad, hear the jeers, and go home with some high-major money in their program's pocket -- was absolutely defined by fouls. There were 53 in total -- 28 on Savannah State, 25 on Indiana. In a vacuum, Savannah State's free throw rate of 48 percent would seem to be bad news for the Hoosiers. But the Tigers' free throw rate paled in comparison to Indiana's.

This number feels like it needs an introduction, a grand entrance, some "Book of Mormon-esque" opening number (or maybe I spent too much time listening to the Broadway satellite radio station in the car yesterday). I can't do it justice, so I'm just going to come out and give it to you:  95.9 percent.

That's a real thing. The Hoosiers attempted 49 field goals Saturday. They attempted 47 free throws. It was incredible; it felt like Indiana was getting fouled nearly every time down the court. To their credit, the Hoosiers sank those attempts. Cody Zeller was 11-of-13. Verdell Jones was 7-for-10. Will Sheehey was 9-for-12. Christian Watford was 5-for-5. Naturally, that charity stripe work led the Hoosiers to a very efficient offensive night: Indiana scored 1.42 points per possession.

The question is ... why so many fouls? A few answers probably apply. Indiana was better, for one. They were also taller and more active, and Savannah State was frequently a step behind on putbacks around the rim. Savannah State was obviously, perhaps intentionally (though never maliciously) physical; it appears to part of their style. And the referees weren't much of a help, either: The last six minutes of the game were interminable, with the officials whistling for one foul after the other as the fans in attendance filed out and the newspaper writers with tight deadlines loudly groaned.

There wasn't a ton to learn about the Hoosiers Saturday night; there are only so many conclusions is willing to draw from a home win over Savannah State. But if Crean's team struggles to cut down their own foul woes this season -- that should be a crucial predictor of this team's improvement -- Indiana may have found an antidote anyway. It's easy. They just have to draw more fouls of their own. Like, a lot more.