Wins are there, but so are questions

  • 11/22/2011 6:44 am in

Five games into the season, the 2011-12 Indiana Hoosiers have yet to be challenged.

Four games in Assembly Hall and one at the Ford Center in Evansville have produced five wins by 20 points or more by Indiana. That’s never happened in the history of the program.

Dig into the box scores and you’ll find little to nitpick with the way Tom Crean’s team has dismantled the opposition.

The fouling epidemic, an Achilles’ Heel a season ago, has tempered at least for the time being. The Hoosiers are one of the top shooting teams in the country thanks to unselfish, crisp ball movement and smart shot selection. And there’s an inside scoring threat roaming the paint for IU for the first time since D.J. White’s departure. His name is Cody Zeller and he’s already picked up two Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards.

IU’s 5-0 start feels different than last season, when the Hoosiers didn’t always win convincingly. This year, IU has left little doubt who is the better team. There are high fives, smiles and a cohesiveness present in Assembly Hall that was not visible last winter.

But how much better is this Indiana team?

The answer to that question will begin to take shape in the coming weeks when the competition level increases. Significantly.

For as much credit that was given to teams like Stony Brook and Chattanooga by the preseason prognosticators, the early results don’t bear out those wins to be as impressive as originally believed.

Stony Brook, picked by some to win the America East, followed their loss to Indiana with a win over a Division III team and a road loss to Sacred Heart. And Chattanooga, selected by several publications to win their division in the Southern Conference, followed up a loss at Butler by dropping a home game to Kennesaw State.

The Evansville win is clearly the best of the five and the Purple Aces currently sit at No. 192 in the Sagarin Ratings.

The meat of the non-conference schedule, which will set the early tone for IU’s chances to get back to the NCAA Tournament, tips off Sunday.

And over a span of 20 days, Indiana should learn where it stands in a group of four games.

Butler, the two-time defending national runner-up, is down but capable of defending at a high level. North Carolina State, slated to finish in the bottom third of the ACC, just beat Texas on a neutral court after trailing by 18 in the second half. Kentucky, currently ranked No. 2 in the country, is stocked with talent poised for the NBA. And Notre Dame, led by Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin, will present a neutral-court challenge and an opportunity to get a win over a Big East team.

These contests will help answer questions that still remain and cannot be answered in a blowout of Gardner-Webb.

Will Indiana crash the glass at a more effective rate than they have to this point? Crean has talked up the importance of rebounding on both ends of the floor and the Hoosiers rank outside of the top 150 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage.

How will this group respond when it’s knocked back on its heels and is forced to respond with a punch of its own? To this point, Indiana not been faced with that dilemma.

And if Cody Zeller gets into foul trouble, can this group be effective without him for extended minutes? It’s bound to happen at some point.

These are the games in which a win will impress the selection committee come March. They’re also games that Indiana needs to be competitive in if 2011-12 is truly going to be the Hoosiers’ turnaround season.

The Hoosiers made a statement they’re capable of winning on the road with their performance six days ago in Evansville.

The next step — and chance to make another statement — begins Sunday.

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  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    But it was obvious in the second half that IU made it’s biggest run with Hulls, VO, and Sheehey on the floor together because Jordan was pushing the ball hard up the floor and getting it to those guys where they could score.

    I agree that he’ll pick it up occasionally when he shouldn’t but I disagree that it’s because of the pressure.  I think it’s indecisiveness which I’m not sure is correctable either.  Anyway, he pushes the ball up the floor and will occasionally throw it away but at least he’s trying to speed the tempo.  I just get tired of Verdell and Watford’s slow tempo of play and refusal to push the ball forward via pass rather than dribble. 

    If Jones would start to do that then I agree that he’s been better on defense this year. 

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    But Jerry, Jones is taking many more shots to get his points than Hulls so what’s their effective FG percentages side by side?  Also, since you like to research, maybe you could research the overall +/- when both players are on the floor and figure out which player is playing when IU is outscoring it’s opponents.  I thought it was obvious that Hulls was pushing the ball up to Sheehey and VO during IU’s biggest run the other night.  Hulls was finding Sheehey when he was on his scoring run.  Jones on the other hand turned it over once during that stretch and got bailed out on a foul call during that stretch when trying to force the ball into the middle then made 1-2 FT’s.  My concern is the selfishness and I hope I’m wrong but my old man even texted me and said, “Well, guess Verdell felt he wasn’t shooting enough.” 

    That’s saying something coming from him because he won’t say anything bad about any IU player.  My point is that like last year, the offense seems to run better once Jordan gets into the flow of the game. 

    I think it’s a more moot issue this year because I actually feel like Neither player is really helping or hurting the team at a higher rate than the other, but I do get annoyed when VJ3 does things like that, especially when it kills a run like WS had last night or kills IU’s momentum. 

    I will absolutely agree that Jones has been the better defensive player and although he still gets beat sometimes because of his quickness, he’s stepping in passing lanes and playing better aggressive, instinctive defense.  That I will not complain about!

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    Exactly!  It’s not that I hate either player or love either player.  There’s really not a huge difference this year so far.  It’s just the nature of the TO’s and the timing that gets me!  It reminds me of the Minnesota (I think it was – might have been Michigan) game on the road last year when IU was making a run and VJ3 and Watford had two straight possessions where they forced horrible shots trying to draw fouls and turned it over.  It killed the run.  That’s my issue, not who’s better.  It’s just make better decisions during runs and don’t be a momentum killer because that’s going to matter big time against good teams.

  • Is it possible that the two votes in the ESPN Poll are Eamonn Brennan putting IU at 24th in his?

  • Rjm19782003

    its hard to buy tickets i want to buy them from the IU box office online but they only ofer 4 Games and none of them are games i can go too, i don’t want to pay more for a ticket of stubhub, so until i can get a ticket from the box offfice i wont be going to any games

  • Anonymous

    Agree, it is amazing how the three words, bailed out and Jones, keep coming up in the same sentence or two.

  • Anonymous

    I would say having sophomores and a freshman who are major contributers to this team, makes them a young team also.

  • Anonymous

    A lot of good points in this discussion on both sides. This team just worries me when they’re in a half-court set. If they run half-court sets, they need to do it through Cody Zeller. I guess my point is it really doesn’t seem like they score as easily in a set offense as opposed to when they’re in transition. I would love to see them improve on that in the Butler game to prepare them for conference play. If they have to get out and run I’m not worried about them turning the ball over – they’ve been running all year without committing a ton of TO’s. We should be confident about that even if it is against weaker teams. What may get them in trouble is if they start forcing things. They have got to try to make other teams play their style in an attempt avoid this. When they run a half-court set, I feel like they’re trying to force things. It just seems like they give Vic or Christian the ball and say, “go to work”. They need to work on their spacing and ball movement in an attempt to hit the open man or create a mismatch. If they can do that, I’ll be confident they can hang with just about anyone this year. I still think if they can get out in transition off the defensive end, they should. That’s just my opinion though. There are certainly good points on each side.

  • IUeconAlum

    C.J. Leslie is going to tear IU a new a-hole. I’m hoping they can contain him while still playing the same way we have been. Should be an eye opening game for everyone.

  • Anonymous

    I hear ya on the old and numbers parts. One of the numbers I will be watching is if our opponent’s 3 pt % goes up when the competition goes and if so how much.

    Agree on your observations that had to do with Jordy.

  • BEAT KENTUCKY

    Yogi will be very welcomed .

  • BEAT KENTUCKY

    In my opinion Hulls , jones , sheehey , roth , etherington are all bellow average defenders . Frustrating

  • Devout Hoosier

    Looking at minutes played in all games, Crean has a top 8.  Six players are getting 20+ in every game, and Crean has said he has a starting six on this team.

    CW
    CZ
    JH
    VO
    VJ
    WS
    ——–
    DE
    DM or MR (depending which game you’re looking at).

    I find it interesting that no one is getting 30+ minutes.  Crean is distributing those extra minutes to the rest of the team not listed here, giving everyone experience.  I expect this to change when we’re not up by 30 in the last 5 minutes of the game.

  • Anonymous

    When VJ# puts the ball on the floor against a  QUICK guard is when he has TO’s

  • SHEEHEYisApimp

    I see the cream and crimson going 3-1 in the 4 non cupcake games coming up. I can see them playing pUKe tough, but losing their confidence in the final minutes. I can see them heading into the Big10 season with no more than 2 losses. The 2nd loss will be most likely @ NC St. Yes, they played weaker competition, BUT, they dominated those teams! Those were games being lost or won by single digit margins over the past 3 seasons. I’m keeping the faith baby!!!!

  • Devout Hoosier

    I rewound several of his fouls during the game and I think the refs got it right in every call.  I love Tom, but he’s leaving his feet, bumping with the body, and not straight up with his arms (the rules say you own the spot on the floor all the way up to the ceiling).  Two of the fouls I considered light contact but they are fouls.

    Compare Cody’s positioning, feet, and arms in plays against Tom’s, there is a very stark contrast.  Cody has the fundamental’s right and not picking up fouls but Tom has the fundamental’s wrong and getting a whistle blown in his ear as soon as he makes any contact with a ball handler.

  • Anonymous

    hear you.  what i liked during the last game and some others was the way they were able to pass it from the lane to another player near the paint.  seemed like the easiest points in the game were from when players assisted near the basket. Watford, Cody passing to each other from less than 5 ft or a pass to a slashing Oli or Sheehey or VJ can be executed and result in easy baskets.

  • Anonymous

    Jordy is extremely efficient, and VJ3 is not.

    VJ3 played 210 fewer minutes last year than Hulls, but still put up 30
    more shots.  Verdell took 14.5 shots per 40 minutes last year whereas
    Jordy took a pinch over 10 shots per 40 minutes.  VJ3 averaged 12.5 ppg;
    Hulls 11.0 ppg.    Hulls also hit 41.4 percent of his 3s compared to
    29.8 for VJ3, and the disparity at the stripe was more stark than that.

    This proves what many of us already knew instinctively: Hulls is a shooter and VJ3 is a scorer.  A team full of Jordy Hulls wouldn’t win too many games, but neither would a team full of VJ3s. 

    Jones is playing well so far this year, and I hope it continues all season long.  Actually, if there is one thing I would love to see him improve upon it is his FT percentage.  He is at 68 percent, and that is way too low for a guy who averages more than 5 trips to the stripe every night.  I wish we could get Jordy there more often!

  • JerryCT

    The +/- analysis takes a long time and then everytime I do this folks criticize it. I probably will not do again for awhile. They really screamed when I pointed out the Dumes +/- .

    You will notice that most Jones detractors are still based on past seasons ………….this is my point about his makeover.

  • Jerry, save yourself sometime. Just read this on plus/minus. It’s relatively worthless.

    http://kenpom.com/blog/index.php/weblog/a_treatise_on_plus_minus/

  • cooper

    Because Hulls is from Bloomington and the great white hope, he can do no wrong. Jerry you should really know better

  • Anonymous

    Oh yeah. Watford and Cody work together very well in the post, but it just seems like Watford doesn’t want to be down there being that he hangs around the perimeter so much. He is 5-13 on the year from the 3 point line, so he’s not shooting a terrible percentage from there, but we need him closer to the basket for his rebounding skills and so that Cody can have some help down there as it appears Pritchard isn’t going to get much playing time. Speaking of playing time, I hope Derek Elston gets some more playing time in the upcoming games. He is playing very well thus far. I think he’ll get 15-20 min when IU plays Butler.

  • Anonymous

    Elston’s playing time will go up in the next few games, as will several other guys’.  There’s been a pretty liberal substitution pattern going on due to the wide margins in score, but as the competition improves the playing time for the guys towards the end of the bend will decrease significantly.

  • Anonymous

    What the heck is gonig on?  I never thought an auto reply would post on this site.  Sorry.  Never happened before.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe he should open a bank.

  • Anonymous

    A bad three-point shooting night had to be expected the way we’d shot earlier in the season.  That’s the thing about averages, they “average out.”
    That’s why you’re exactly right about having a plan-B when you aren’t hitting.

  • Anonymous

    I think, despite his limited time and recovery from injury, Pritchard has made a couple of plays that have shown more confidence than I’ve seen from him since his freshman year.  The 17-footer was one, the move he made to split defenders following the bounce pass in the lane the other night was another.
    Still has that hitch in his free throw, though, although it’s not as pronounced.

  • Anonymous

    I think ND is down this year as well.  However, I don’t think that we can overlook them.  I am curious as to see who will be guarding Abromaitis.  I think if we can stop him and Grant we should be alright.

    I am a little worried about the NC State game though.  I don’t think we have anyone who can guard C.J. Leslie.  He might have a huge game against us.  However, I think if we can slow him down we should be alright in that game too. 

    I think if we play our game we can beat both of these teams, winning 4 of the next 5 games only losing to pUKe. 

    GO HOOSIERS!!!!

  • John

    I agree Elston needs PT, also I think Roth deserves some, he can really stretch defenses esp when paired with Hulls

  • John

    Yes I’ve noticed that too and keep wondering why TC doesn’t seem to notice that Hulls really becomes a liability on defense against longer, more athletic teams (like Kentucky).  As much as I like Hulls’ shooting and leadership, I feel that against some of the top teams, giving Sheehey a bunch of Hulls’ normal minutes would be needed to match up best.  Opposing guards (like Teague) just find it too easy to shoot over Hulls.  Again no knock on Jordy, but you know Knight never would have recruited him for the very reason of his inability to defend the perimeter well given his size and athletic level.

  • John

    Glad to see mention of Roth, I too feel he is really valuable and when his shot is falling (which is most of the time) it could open up things even more for CZ.   I think they should give him more minutes!

  • John

    I find myself wondering if Elston shouldn’t be starting ahead of Watford,  I know, Watford is much more accomplished, but I see Elston rebounding much better per minute, scoring more per minute on a much better percentage, etc.  With his head on straight, seems to me Elston is every bit as talented as Watford.  Just has to keep that head on straight and that confidence up.

  • IUfan101

    The strength of schedule really has been pathetic..im not getting my hopes up yet even I could get a double double against some of these teams.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a bit late to this thread.  Sunday is only a day away.  But I think we should expect to win all of these tests, except for Kentucky.  2-2 would not please me, as much as just satisfy me.

    Butler is not overly good this year.  They’re defense is their strength.  Also Smith will be a good matchup for Zeller at 6-11.  He probably has more weight and is stronger too.  However, Butler is not significantly bigger than us (what I see as our main weakness matching up defensively).  They are also not the greatest offensive team or bunch of outside shooters.  I think we have more talent and should pull this game out.  I like are ability to run the court against them and am not as concerned about our half court game as some of the commentors here are.  Like someone else said, it all flows through Zeller and we have been fairly exceptional with our interior passing and unselfishness.  Not to mention, we’ve got guys that can knock down the outside shot.

    NC State has a decent record so far and a nice win over Texas, but also dropped their only game against a top-25 talent in Vandy.  They are not a big team, at least in terms of height.  They are lead in scoring by two 6-8 guys.  They are however, overall, a much more physical team in the interior than we are.  What bothers me the most is that the game is on the road and we haven’t traveled well.  We will really need to get Crean’s message about hitting the glass on both ends (especially defensively) and take that lesson with us on the road in this one.  Finally, one of our real defensive shortcomings, Hulls and to a lesser extent Jones not following their guys and giving open, easy looks outside will not really be tested here.  NC State lacks any great deap threat and only shoots 31% beyond the arc.  Overall, I think we matchup pretty favorably.

    Kentucky has a lot of talent.  No suprise here.  They are young and implicitly stupid for going with Calipari.  At least we get them on our own court.

    Notre Dame has a little more size than Butler or NC State, which could be troubling.  But they aren’t overly athletic, great at shooting, and have shown that anytime they have run up against some talent.  I like us here.

    It’s crazy to think we should win 3 out of 4 after the seasons we’ve had, against these types of opponents.  Maybe I’m drinking the kool-aid.  But I hope I’m right.