How Indiana basketball surpassed expectations to become a contender in the Big Ten
With one of the most dangerous perimeter trios in college basketball, the Indiana Hoosiers could be one of the bigger surprises in college basketball this season as league play tips off.
If you watched Indiana and Georgetown go at each other in Madison Square Garden last week, you were pleasantly surprised at the quality of basketball being played.
Georgetown was scoring! The Hoosiers were scoring! Both teams were converting on consecutive possessions!!! It was entertaining and heartwarming.
The Hoosiers lost (the Hoyas, it should be noted, are also a wildly underrated team), but the game confirmed what some had been whispering over the last few weeks: Indiana has legit talent, boasting one of the most dangerous offenses in college basketball this season.
At 10-3 with wins over SMU, Pittsburgh and Butler, the Hoosiers should not be taken lightly, nor should they be considered an underdog.
With conference play tipping off around the country this week, the Hoosiers have positioned themselves as a team capable of really exceeding expectations. Here’s why.
A great shooting team led by three really productive players
ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan aptly declared the Hoosiers as the nation’s most watchable team, due in large part for their ability to actually make shots. Like, consistently make shots.
The Hoosiers are the 10th most efficient team in the country, and 7th in shooting percentage from behind the arc, making nine or more three balls in eight of their 13 games.
They are led by gunners. But not completely blind, hero-ball gunners. More like uber-confident gunners that aren’t afraid to lead, as Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon and Troy Williams are the third highest scoring trio in the country (48.7 PPG).
As guards that touch the ball every IU possession, Ferrell and Blackmon are able to have an impact each night. While Yogi has been frustrating at times running the point in Bloomington, he’s currently posting career highs in all pertinent shooting statistics, including 47.5 from deep.
Blackmon is living proof that Tom Crean is actually capable of snagging the state’s best players. Committing to IU as a freshman at Marion High School, Blackmon ascended to one of the best players in the country, decommitted, considered Kentucky or one of the Michigan schools, only to stay in state. And thank god. The sharpshooter is posting more impressive numbers than fellow freshman All-Americans Stanley Johnson, Myles Turner and Kelly Oubre, and should end the season as one of the most accurate shooters in the Big Ten.
A cursory read of SB Nation’s Crimson Quarry suggests that Hoosier fans are not fully content with what they’re getting on the offensive end. Perhaps they will soon come to realize the rest of the college hoops world is fairly inept on offense and only a handful of teams are better than Indiana with the basketball.
This is not your older brother’s Big Ten
We all know about the conference’s startling losses early this season; a disgraceful who’s who of low-major programs. While none of them could have been really predicted, they do confirm speculation that the league was headed for a down year. Gone are the half dozen sure-thing NBA players, deep heralded freshman classes, and Aaron Craft.
Now the sentiment on the Big Ten heading into conference play isn’t which four teams could play for a regional final in March, it’s just if there are four teams that can play.
This means for a shifty team like the Hoosiers, there is a real opportunity to seize and settle into the top level of the conference standings. Aside from Wisconsin, no team has earned national respect. Ohio State has no frontcourt, Michigan no confidence, Michigan State no star… and Nebraska just stinks.
You associate the Big Ten with stymie defense, but knowing Incarnate Word, NJIT, North Florida and others earned Ws against this conference makes feel more like a sieve. With an offense that emphasizes crisp ball movement to get shooters open shots, Indiana will surely just outshoot and run past some conference foes.
Tom Crean wants to keep his job
The IU job is the pinnacle of Tom Crean’s coaching career. Unlike brother-in-law Jim Harbaugh, who can cozy up in Ann Arbor after things went sour in San Francisco, Crean can look forward to being the next new head coach in Conference USA if and when he is booted from his current gig.
Naturally, that motivates him, and Crean appears to be letting his kids play more freely in an often handcuffed sport, gaining an extra 3-5 possessions a game compared to previous seasons in his tenure. It is refreshing to see and the modified approach may extend his stay in Bloomington.
So how does this all fall apart?
For starters, it’s Indiana. The program just hasn’t rebounded as steadily as fans would have liked it to since Crean was pegged as its savior, and this felt like the season that would prompt AD Fred Glass to hit the reset button yet again. So far, though, the season is not trending that way.
The Hoosiers do have question marks on defense and down low. They struggle to turn their opponents over (321st in turnover %) and keep them off the glass (251st in defensive rebounding %). At 6-7, Williams isn’t big enough to play down low, and 6-9 Hanner Mosquera-Perea has basically been a bust.
Louisville, one of the most physical teams in the country, walked all over the Hoosiers with a +18 rebounding margin, while Georgetown’s Josh Smith looked like a young Shaq with the space he was able to create.
You also never want to be a team that is wholly reliant on the three-point shot, but because scoring is at a premium in college basketball, the Hoosiers appear to be one of the few teams who will be able to consistently outscore opponents that struggle on offense. Sure they will have a few off nights, but their ability to move the ball and shoot is rare in the sport right now.
It’s as though their best defense is their offense. They’re so old school, but the 2014-2015 Indiana Hoosiers feel trendy.