BLOOMINGTON — It has been suggested, perhaps not unfairly, that Indiana’s early-season schedule will eventually weaken it, perhaps critically. A November filled with nameless opponents, it was feared, wouldn’t provide Indiana enough tests to get the Hoosiers ready for the tough meat in the schedule.
The naysayers point to Boston College as proof, but we really can’t know yet one way or another.
What we do know is that we’re not going to get much more substantive information about Indiana from the likes of Savannah State.
Games like these — that is to say, home games against far lesser opponents in November and December — absolutely have their place. It’s difficult to get good non-conference teams to want to come to Assembly Hall, the extra revenue from concessions, parking, etc. helps the bottom line and, mostly, this is how you’re supposed to behave before Christmas. Big Ten play is rough enough; there’s no compelling reason to kill your team before they’re even there.
And Indiana will play at least enough tough opponents to make its pre-Big Ten schedule worthwhile. Another game against say, Notre Dame or Cincinnati might not have hurt, but the Hoosiers have nothing to apologize for.
But we really have come to the end of the line with meaningful candor, or valuable takeaway, from games against Savannah State, Florida Gulf Coast or North Carolina Central.
I know you can all remember a time when that wasn’t the case, when the Northeasterns and Lipscombs and Loyolas (Do I put the Maryland here if I’m trying to be plural? I really don’t know. I’m perturbed now. OK, moment passed.) on Indiana’s schedule turned into embarrassing traps into which the Hoosiers would fall. Those have to be some of the coldest days in Indiana basketball history.
Early on, we learned that Tom Crean’s Indiana, as constituted now, is through losing to those teams. Indiana is 7-0 against opponents not from a big-six conference this season, winning by an average margin of more than 20 points. All seven games have been played at Assembly Hall, and all of them were comfortably put away with strong second-half efforts.
Along the way, we managed to learn some things about Indiana …
- The turnovers are still a problem.
- Maurice Creek’s recovery process is slow, but showing tangible, positive signs.
- Indiana is building an identity as a strong team defensively and out of halftime. Even against Boston College, the way the Hoosiers kick-started themselves after the break was impressive, and almost enough.
- Jordan Hulls is evolving into a solid option in multiple facets offensively. Verdell Jones is struggling, but still scoring a ton of points.
- Christian Watford has settled nicely into his new offensive role. He still needs to do some work defensively, but he’s probably Indiana’s best player right now.
- There’s a lot to like about Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey. A whole lot to like.
See, we learned some rather important stuff. Mostly, we learned Indiana has reached a critical point in its rebuilding process, one in which it is no longer a punchline.
Now, though, the only tests that matter will be the hard ones. The learning curve will steepen, as it should. As it has to. The next steps Indiana takes, forward or backward, will almost exclusively hold major importance from here on out.