The Indiana Hoosiers basketball team heads into conference play with an 10-3 record. The Hoosiers have feasted on weak teams across the country but have struggled against more talented opponents.
First the big news of the day: freshman center Luke Fischer has decided to leave IU and will pursue a transfer. Losing Fischer hurts this teams depth right now, and more importantly next year. He joins a list of recent transfers that included Maurice Creek, Remy Abell, and Ron Patterson. Fischer was averaging 2.8 points and 2.1 rebounds in 10 minutes per game.
Recently, we discussed the issues that have plagued the team. Things like turnovers and coaching philosophy are hurting the team and will be a real problem in the Big Ten.
Before Christmas, IU took it to Nicholls State and Kennesaw State, each game won by double digits. Basically, anything less would have been unacceptable.
Here’s what stands out from the non-conference schedule:
- What’s the Rotation? Coach Tom Crean has yet to nail down a starting five and a consistent rotation with this roster. The only players to consistently be in the starting lineup are Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey, and Noah Vonleh. Outside of that, he’s used a wide array of lineups and only two players (Sheehey and Ferrell) are averaging over 25 minutes per game. Eleven players have appeared in at least 13 games, but most successful teams trim that down to about eight players by conference time. Crean needs to lock up his rotation at Illinois this week.
- Turnovers. This goes hand-in-hand with the rotation. If players don’t get consistent minutes with each other, then they’ll have zero familiarity and it leads to errant passes. Knowing your teammates tendencies is crucial to being successful on the court. If this roster drops to about eight consistent players, then we’ll see a drop in turnovers.
- Will Vonleh Stay? Vonleh is a double-double machine, notching seven in 11 games. He’s averaging 12 points per game to go along with 9.5 rebounds. His production dropped over the past three game largely due to foul trouble, but its still been consistent. He is raw, especially on defense, but that doesn’t mean a team wouldn’t draft him in the first round. The only thing holding him back from being one-and-done would likely be how deep this years draft class is. He could easily drop from the first round and lose a lot of money in the process. Staying at IU would also help him develop a perimeter game as well as put on some muscle.
- Pomeroy. The Hoosiers dropped pretty far in the rankings after being just outside the Top 25 to start the year. The Pomeroy ratings have IU ranked 48th in the country. Their offense has plummeted to 121st but the defense is ranked 23rd in the country. For IU, everything starts on defense.
- Improvement. I have no problem with scoring point guards, but Ferrell should be distributing assists at a higher rate. His shooting percentage has improved quite a bit, and he’s doubled the number of shots he’s taking from his freshman season. But his assists haven’t improved and he’s turning the ball over more often. This team shouldn’t be so dependent on an undersized point guard to win them games, it has to be a team effort across the board.
- Sheehey? Is anyone else thinking that Sheehey should have made a leap? Especially considering that he’s a starter now? His shooting percentage is down, especially from the three point line. He’s getting more minutes per game, but is averaging just one more point since last season. He’s pretty much the exact same player from last season, but gets more time on the court. Crean and his staff do an exceptional job developing talent, so what happened with Sheehey? IU can’t afford to have a four year player take on such a passive role. If he can’t contribute on the stat sheet, then he needs to start being a more vocal leader.
Dec. 31st – Indiana at Illinois, 3:00pm
The Fighting Illini are another team that has feasted on weaker teams to get an 11-2 record. But the difference between them and IU is that they have one quality win this season, having upset then-No. 23 Missouri by one at a neutral site. In terms of rankings, IU and Illinois are nearly clones of each other. The Illini are ranked 50th by Pomeroy, 116th on offense and 25th on defense. IU does a better job rebounding and getting to the foul line.
The edge has to go to Illinois at home, but this game coming in the middle of winter break means the atmosphere won’t be as intense. If IU can dominate the boards, especially on offense, and make Illinois pay from the free throw line, then I like the Hoosiers chances to steal one in Champaign.
Jan. 4th – No. 5 Michigan State at Indiana, 2:00pm
The Spartans are 11-1 but will be at Penn State before coming to Bloomington. MSU took out then-No. 1 Kentucky in the second game of the season, and for that alone IU fans should thank them. Watching Kentucky lose is nearly as good as seeing IU win. The Spartans have had a few underwhelming games and the bad loss at home against North Carolina, which prompted coach Tom Izzo to call out his team.
The Spartans are still stacked. They have the same core as last season, and for a young Hoosier squad that is going to be a problem. MSU ranks 29th on offense and 11th on defense. Points will likely be at a premium for Indiana. MSU is another team that struggles to get to the free throw line. The Hoosiers need to exploit every advantage they have (like rebounding and free throws) if they want to pull off the upset.
Even being at home, there is a big talent and experience gap between the two teams. Michigan State will pull away late and leave with the win.
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