All around the country college basketball teams are preparing themselves for conference play. Each team has something to prove not only to themselves, but to everyone else as well.
With the bar set so high at the beginning of the year, and the glimpses of potential they have already shown, no team has as more to prove than the Indiana Hoosiers heading into Big Ten play.
Before the year started, the Hoosiers were pre-season ranked #11, and described as a supremely talented team on the fringe of being a legit title contender. These rumors were proved true when the Hoosiers kicked off their season by defeating #3 Kansas in the Armed Forces Classic. IU jumped up to number #6 in the polls the next week, eventually
moving all the way up to #3 the week after that as the hype for the Hoosiers sky rocketed. All eyes looked forward to their next major test, where they were scheduled to play (at the time) #5 ranked UNC, where Indiana may hit their first bump in the road.
No one expected what would happen next, where the Hoosiers first bump and loss of the year would come before that, at the hands of the IPFW Mastodons.
Beginning then the Hoosiers have had an up and down year, sometimes appearing to be two different teams altogether.
This has Indiana, Big Ten, and college basketball fans all around the country asking the same question; who really are the Indiana Hoosiers?
The Good Hoosiers: Wins vs #3 Kansas & #3 UNC
At some points this year, the Indiana Hoosiers have been incredible. With a range of talent that includes two projected NBA draft picks in Forward OG Anunoby and Center Thomas Bryant, as well as one of the nation’s most prolific scorers in Guard James Blackmon Jr. Their potential was showcased in their wins over Kansas and UNC, both ranked #3 at the time of their losses to the Hoosiers. In those games, several things have held true. James Blackmon Jr. would steadily score in each of those wins, but more importantly, be efficient in doing so. He would score 26 vs Kansas and 14 vs UNC, all while shooting just under 50% from the field and just over 50% from behind the 3-point line. Blackmon’s clutch and efficient scoring has helped propel IU to each respectable victory.
OG Anunoby is regarded as one of, if not the best, defenders in the college basketball. Mixing this with his ability to score (13 & 16 in Kansas and UNC wins, respectively) and you have one of the most dangerous players in the country. He has been IU’s rock in each win. Thomas Bryant’s ability to score in the post and from the perimeter make him one of the best big men in the country. With Indiana’s 3 stars surrounded by normally sound role players in Robert Johnson, Josh Newkirk, and others, the Hoosiers were able to pick up big wins against Top-5 opponents. Each of these wins prove just how dangerous IU can be in Big Ten play, and eventually, in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bad Hoosiers: Losses @ IPFW and vs #18 Butler
I will begin this by making one point clear; I do NOT believe the loss to Butler is a bad loss. With their win vs Indiana, Butler currently has 3 wins vs Top 25 teams, and is obviously a good basketball team. Rather, I believe the Hoosiers played poorly. In the loss to Butler, IU’s biggest problem were it’s “sound” role players, as well as decision making. Guard’s Josh Newkirk and Curtis Jones, who each regularly run point, went a combined 3-16 from the field and 0-4 from behind the arc. Blackmon scored 26 and played well, but took a ill-advised pull up 3 down 2 late in the game. OG Anunoby barely played, as he was returning from injury, which did not help the Hoosiers either. Thomas Bryant had a solid night, but did not dominate Butler’s big men like he should be able to. All in all, it was a tough loss to a good team, but could have had a much different outcome.
The main concern is in IU’s loss to IPFW. Blackmon only scored 13 on 14 attempts, and was erratic the entire game, turning the ball over 3 times. Guard Robert Johnson scored 16, but his 5 turnovers basically negated his scoring. Combine that with Newkirk’s 3 turnovers, and you have a recipe for a loss. While Anunoby only played 13 minutes due to injury, there is no excuse for Indiana’s sloppy play against such a less talented team. Bryant played well offensively, but was taken advantage of in the post on defense. This loss to IPFW highlighted Indiana’s weaknesses that opponent’s in the future will try to take advantage of.
There is a lot to be excited for from Indiana heading into Big Ten play, there is also much to be cautious about. The #16 ranked Hoosiers are 9-2, and have one more game vs Austin Peay before opening Big Ten play Dec. 28 vs Nebraska. The Indiana Hoosiers are one of the most talented teams in the entire country, but they need to prove that they can be consistent. While the road is long and harsh in the Big Ten, it can also be very rewarding for the Hoosier’s if they have success. Either way, I know I can’t wait to find out.