And so it begins, Hoosier faithful.
Forget about the impressive home wins against Pittsburgh and SMU.
Throw out that dismal performance that made Eastern Washington a water cooler topic.
Discount a neutral
court triumph against
Ignore a Louisville meltdown that showed this team can play well and still not compete at the top.
The college basketball nonconference season is just that. For an Indiana team laced with new faces and reeling from suspensions, it was a time to learn, regroup and simply survive.
The Hoosiers did that surprisingly well.
But how will they fare in the real wars of the Big Ten, where a grinding schedule inevitably separates the December contenders from pretenders?
As Big Ten play opens Wednesday with the Hoosiers at Nebraska, few teams have as many question marks.
A rabid fan base loves to shout, “Hoo-Hoo-Hoo-Hoosiers.” The question might be “‘Hoo-hoo-hoo’ are these guys?”
This is an Indiana team capable of a top 20 ranking and an NCAA regional berth (see Butler). It also is a team that could struggle to make the NIT (see Eastern Washington).
One of the byproducts of disparate preseason scheduling that favors home contests against cream puffs is that a true heat check is elusive.
Sure, IU bounced back from the first two losses with home wins over UNC-Greensboro and Grand Canyon.
That is far different from going to Michigan State and then hosting Ohio State, as they must do next week.
We still don’t have a gauge on how this young team will handle that kind of pressure.
Woefully undersized, Indiana relies on quickness and shooting. Yet, they were “out-quicked” in their losses, most recently against Georgetown.
Athletically gifted, the Hoosiers should be defensive demons. Yet, they are 297th in the nation in points allowed and — even more perplexing — 224th in steals.
The Hoosiers have held their own on the boards despite a three-guard lineup and lean forwards Hanner Mosquera-Perea (6-9) and 6-foot-7 sophomore Troy Williams, the team’s sole respectable interior threat.
The fact is that IU is simply one-dimensional. To win, it must consistently create and hit 3-point shots. Anything less produces a loss.
Indiana has the shooters to make this strategy work behind junior guard Yogi Ferrell and freshman James Blackmon Jr., the leading freshman scorer in the nation (17.9 ppg). The problem is that task is difficult to execute for 40 minutes against quality competition.
Saturday’s overtime loss to Georgetown showed the yin and yang of this Hoosier team. IU played its best 20 minutes of the season to take a 10-point halftime lead over the Hoyas at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
In the second half, though, Georgetown chased IU’s shooters off the 3-point line on defense and pounded the ball inside on offense. The Hoosiers fought valiantly, behind inspired play of Ferrell and Williams. The latter gave the team an inside presence, but it wasn’t enough in a 91-87 loss.
That is a preview of the Big Ten season, where every opponent will be as good or better than IU in the paint.
Georgetown imposed its will, and the Hoyas are a likely middle-of-the-pack Big East title contender. That does not bode well.
For the Hoosiers to win, they must dictate the game, playing up-tempo and getting transition 3’s. They are fourth in the nation in scoring at 86.4 a game.
That is not enough for an IU team that has given up an average of 91 in its three losses. They must also find some semblance of an interior game on both ends of the court, at least enough to make defenses fall back from the arc and offenses drive the lane with impunity.
To its credit, IU is better already than some expected. Off-season lapses in maturity by players who should be leaders (Ferrell, Williams, Mosquera-Perea) have largely been forgotten. An ACL tear by sixth man Colin Hartman has been overcome. The loss of forward Devin Davis (another tragic victim of immaturity) has been compensated to an extent.
When they hit their stride, this IU team is incredibly entertaining. A 41.7 percent team 3-point shooting percentage will keep the Hoosiers in games.
But will it be enough through the trench warfare of the Big Ten to earn an upper-division finish and NCAA bid?
That is a big TBD. The Hoosiers have come together to show promise, but their shortcomings are all too obvious as well.
As IU travels to Lincoln to start an 18-game conference stretch that takes us into March, fans still are waiting to see, “Hoo are these guys?”