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‘Indiana has the best front line in the Big Ten’: Indiana basketball set to face off with Auburn in résumé-building non-conference matchup



Indiana basketball takes a break from Big Ten play as it heads into another physical and résumé-building non-conference matchup with Auburn.

After two straight Big Ten games, Indiana basketball takes a break from conference play and heads on the road for a notable non-conference matchup with Auburn in Atlanta this weekend.

‘Toughness’ has been the theme around Indiana for most of the season. Following a few disappointing performances to get the season underway, IU has found its identity over the last week; toughness.

“My theme coming into tonight’s game was, you gotta come and set the tone like you did in the Maryland game and give yourself a chance to win,” Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson said following IU’s win over Michigan on Tuesday. ” … We’re a competitive team man. We are playing hard. I think after that UConn game man, that taught us that we have to play harder. They smacked us in the face and we paid for it. Since then, we’ve played a lot harder.”

Its toughness and grit will be put to the test once again on Saturday for a full 40 minutes. Auburn is a team that takes on the identity of its head coach, Bruce Pearl. Pearl is best known for a physical style of defense and one that will press up and force contact — as well as asserting their will early in games.

From its backcourt to its front court, both coaches know this will be yet another physical matchup.

“They’re (Auburn) no different than some teams that we play that apply pressure. We’ve just got to handle the basketball, not turn it over, and get shots,” Woodson said on Thursday. “What they do to you, you’ve got to reverse it and do the same thing to them. That’s kind of how I look at it.”

“This is going to be a very physical game on Saturday,” Pearl said. “Indiana is coming out of the Big Ten and has two dominating post players. Kel’el Ware is on the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Watch List… (Malik) Reneau is a very similar player to Johni Broome, just a little quicker, faster, not quite as big but also left handed. Those two guys — Indiana has the best front line in the Big Ten.”

Auburn ranks 15th in defensive efficiency this season with a rating of 93.1. It ranks 7th in defensive effective field goal rate at 41.8 percent. The Tigers also rank 16th in the country in blocks per game (5.7).

That starts with its physical guard play putting pressure on opposing guards making it difficult to get into the paint by dribble or pass. For Indiana, that’s exactly what it does — play through its big men.

Ware and Reneau combine to average 31.9 points per game while shooting 62.2 percent from the floor. They combine to make 46.3 percent of the made field goals for Indiana basketball per game.

“Those guys, a lot of our defensive schemes will be how to defend the post and how to get it out of there when they get it in there,” Pearl said of Indiana. ” … that will challenge from our on ball stuff to off ball stuff and being able to make those adjustments when playing a dominating front line, dominating post team. We may not play another team like this all year long.”

Auburn counters with a front line of 6-foot-10 forward Johni Broome and 6-foot-8 forward Jaylin Williams. Broome is averaging 18.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Williams adds 7.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.0 block per game. Dylan Cardwell rotates in at 6-foot-11 and adds 4.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 14.7 minutes a game.

“They got 10 fouls to use,” Pearl said of his front court. “… they (Indiana) dump it in there (the post). Reneau in particular. He just forces you to foul. Big, strong, physical, athletic, bouncy. He’s a tear in there. It’s going to be a challenging game for officials to referee the post. But they gotta guard Johni, guard Dylan guard our guys too … they go to the line a lot and draw a lot of fouls.”

Auburn gives up the sixth most points in free throws in the country by percentage. Indiana forces 21.8 fouls a game, top 15 in the country while shooting 25.6 free throws per game, top 25.

There’s no question the game will be won in the paint. Indiana is averaging 41.0 points per game in the paint and has outscored its last two opponents 92-54. Additional, in the last two games Indiana has scored 58 points off of layups, outscoring opponents by 20 in that category.

“I’m concerned about every team we play, not just Auburn. They’re a good basketball team. They do a lot of good things. But any team in college basketball is beatable,” Woodson said. “We’ve just got to stick to our game plan, put a good game plan together, and see where we go.”

SEE ALSO: What We’ve Learned: Indiana basketball opens Big Ten play with two tough wins

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.