Hoosiers playing well, but the best is yet to come

Through its first nine games, Indiana has lived up to the preseason narrative that placed the Hoosiers at the top of the national polls.

They’ve done it by grinding out a pair of wins at the Barclays Center to win the Legends Classic, burying North Carolina in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and pounding the six other opponents that have entered Assembly Hall.

And it’s not just the human polls who have anointed the Hoosiers the best team in the land. The computers bear it out, too, thus far.

As expected, Indiana’s offense is first in the country in efficiency according to KenPom.com. But that was to be expected given how the Hoosiers performed a season ago.

What was less certain is how this team would fare on the other side of the ball. So far, so good as it pertains to that question. Indiana ranks seventh in defensive efficiency and looks like a group who understands that defense is just as important if the goal is to play deep into the NCAA Tournament.

When combing through the roster, Indiana appears to have the most complete mix of talent and pieces in the land.

“They’ve got versatility, they’ve got shooters, they’ve got size,” CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg told me last month. “They’ve got perhaps the player of the year in Cody Zeller.”

Zeller is the country’s most versatile big man and is coming off his best game statistically of the season after a battle with asthmatic bronchitis. In the back court, Jordan Hulls is third in the country in effective field goal percentage (75.0). His running mate, Yogi Ferrell, boasts an assist rate of 28.4, good for fifth in the Big Ten.

On the wings, Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey have a legitimate case for being called the two most improved players on the roster. Oladipo is shooting close to 76 percent on his 2-point field goal attempts and has arguably been the Big Ten’s best defender. Sheehey, meanwhile, has perfected his old school midrange game and has morphed into an even bigger pest defensively.

And don’t forget Christian Watford, who already has a pair of 20-point games. Remy Abell has also showcased an improved offensive game and is a gritty defender.

But as Indiana rides the momentum of a 9-0 start and a No. 1 national ranking into Bankers Life Fieldhouse to face Butler on Saturday, there’s a sense that these Hoosiers could become much more dangerous in the weeks leading up to Big Ten play. That’s because freshmen Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin have completed their NCAA-mandated nine-game suspensions and are eligible to play beginning this weekend.

It’s a challenging proposition for any team to blend in new pieces, but for a team that’s been steamrolling opponents like Indiana has, it’s an even bigger challenge to integrate Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin while avoiding interruption of what’s been working well.

“It’s not a wholesale, ‘well we’ll do this now because this guy’s back or that guy’s back.’ It doesn’t work that way,” Tom Crean said Monday evening on his radio show. “You’ve gotta blend it in. You don’t want to put your players in situations that they’re not ready for.

“They haven’t had a chance to develop confidence through adversity in games. And they haven’t had a chance to play through mistakes in games. They haven’t had a chance to get that experience in games. Practice is one thing, games are another thing. And we’ll be behind in that.”

As Crean noted, there will surely be hiccups and growing pains along the way, but IU’s frontline should benefit tremendously long term because of both additions.

Mosquera-Perea, who has battled a foot injury this fall, could figure heavily into the rotation if healthy because of his length, ability to rebound and finish on the break.

Jurkin is unlikely to play as many minutes, but from a length and shotblocking perspective, he can carve out spot duty.

Both players will give the Hoosiers a chance to have a legitimate rim protector, which the team hasn’t had through its first nine games.

“It’ll help a lot [having them back],” Zeller said after Saturday’s win over Central Connecticut State. “Both of them bring a lot to the table. They can do a lot of things I can’t. [Have you] seen their arms? I have to practice against that.”

“It’s gonna be fun to have them come back,” Oladipo added. “They’ve been through a lot. They don’t deserve what happened to them, but they’ve done a great job of staying focused and still being with us. I can’t wait to see them get out on that floor. I know they’re just as excited.”

The struggles Indiana may experience in the short term with mixing in both players may not show up in the loss column, but facing adversity will be ultimately be a positive for a team that hopes to be No. 1 in April, not December.

“It’s tough all the way around,” Crean said. “But we’ll work it in. We’ve dealt with all of this to this point. We’re certainly excited to have them back.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnathan.bishop Johnathan Bishop

    So excited to see these guys in action this Saturday finally. And gotta love Cody’s comment “Have you seen there arms? I have to practice against that.” Go Hoosiers!

  • jhutton6

    Oh yeah, going to be exciting to see these guys suit up and play a game. Hanner may be one of the most athletic players behind Oladipo. He is a freak around the rim.

  • Evansville Hoosier

    saw that quote; it was immediately tweeted

  • Evansville Hoosier

    I’ll be happy if the Hoosiers can maintain the efficiency they’ve shown so far even with them in; that will show that they really can be integrated in. By the end of the season, I’d expect Hanner to play 15 a game and Jurkin to play 5 while spelling Cody (if he can learn to defend without fouling). I, like everyone else, am EXTREMELY excited to see them suit up.

  • HanginABannerin’13

    This is definitely the funnest season to watch IU basketball. More dunks than even this year, and Hanner and Peter will only add to it.

  • Benhyoung14

    It’s going to be down right scary to have HMP on the floor on defense. I wonder what the Georgetown game would have been like with these 2 in the lineup.

  • Ryan Goods

    If Hanner can do these things well I think this will be what he contributes:

    On offense: staying down low, allowing Watford to stretch out to the 3 point line and do what he does best… shoot 3’s. Then Hanner crashes the offensive glass for put backs. Occasionally getting the dump off from yogi or victor for the jam.

    On defense: moving his feet on help defense to put himself in a position to block shots and grab defensive boards. With Cody always sliding out for the fast break, we need someone like Hanner to stay back and grab the rebounds (especially against the B1G bigs). Then occasionally he will run the fast break for some dunks.

  • Evansville Hoosier

    I agree, on offense stay around the basket and the looks he can take advantage of will come. on defense, I think it’s important to guard without fouling more than anything else. That was one of his problems in high school

  • http://twitter.com/DrewLyon21 Drew Lyon

    Fred Glass better prepare to have a spare hoop ready for the next game in Assembly Hall, because Hanner is ferocious with his dunks.

  • MillaRed

    I remember the 87 championship and how great that was. Especially against that loaded Syracuse team.

    Beating Duke with Moye’s block on Boozer? I thought I was going to have a flippin heart attack. Improbable run to that championship.

    But in terms of what we have now, what we have coming in, and the thought of the next ten year’s has me thinking this is the most excited I have ever been about this program.

    Never saw it coming.

  • http://www.facebook.com/salvatore.b.amadeo Salvatore Amadeo

    “It’ll help a lot [having them back],” Zeller said after Saturday’s win over Central Connecticut State. “Both of them bring a lot to the table. They can do a lot of things I can’t. [Have you] seen their arms? I have to practice against that.”

    This alone is a beautiful statement in and of itelf. Zeller having to battle with such a stong presence day-in and day-out well help him adjust so much faster to the bigger and stronger B1G schedule. Zeller is a load inside, and for him to say that they are able to do things he can’t (being a 7-footer) really says something. I just hope people temper their expectations for HPM and Peter until they are able to get their feet wet.

  • WhatsUpKnight

    i put it this way: this team has ’87’s talent (and then some) and 02’s heart. that’s a tough team to put away and a darn fun team to watch!

  • WhatsUpKnight

    yeah, i have a sneaking suspicion that most of hp’s shot attempts will be from point-blank range.

  • Evansville Hoosier

    yeah, I’m afraid some poeple are thinking Hanner will have like 4 dunks and 6 blokcs first game, Jurkin like 12 rebounds… just not likely to happen at all. I’ll be glad if they are simply playing defense well and not disrupting the offensive flow

  • MillaRed

    Good call

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.maxson.3 David Maxson

    As much as folks are talking about the problems of integrating HMP and Jurkin into the lineup, I feel like having them as an option off the bench is going to cause a LOT more problems for the other team.

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    High flying jams and 5th row swats, oh man I can’t wait. It is also 10 more fouls to give, and when Elston comes back that is another 5 fouls to give. Using them is strategic in the foul aspect and you have to be careful going down that road but think of it like this:

    The 2nd and 3rd unit can play more free and aggressive when contesting shots and start intimidating the drives to the bucket. Too often I feel like our biggest weakness is giving up easy buckets just to stay out of foul trouble. Cutting that back will be huge and worth 12-16 points a game.

    If PJ, DE, or HP are in the game playing the 5 and they use their fouls to contest shots when Cody is resting on the bench then obviously the game stops. That is a huge bonus for us. I am not a big fan of interrupting game pace (especially if we are playing at a high level at a fast pace) but the more rest Cody gets (Watford too) without game time ticking away then the better off we are because he will be more rested when he is on the floor which could allow him to play a few more minutes each game. We know this a huge boost for Indiana, but the country probably does not know how big these additions will be.

    This is scary guys, absolutely scary.

  • HoosierTrav

    Well said. I hope people dont judge too harshly from this weekends game. Its in an NBA arena against a good in state rival. Nerves will be a factor at first but we have a very well veteran led squad. It’s exciting. too bad these kids have to get acclimated in the 9th game. they should already be well oiled by now. damn NCAA!

  • HoosierTrav

    100% kill rate from point blank range

  • HoosierTrav

    I wouldnt mind if this lowered our offensive efficiency a tad and raised our defensive efficiency into Louisville’s area. We’d truly be unbeatable.

  • HanginABannerin’13

    I’d most compare to ’81. Mostly because of my theory that if there are a lot of dunks, the more successful a team will be. (offensive efficiency)

    Once they got rolling in the schedule they put everyone away by large margins. Queue Martha the mop lady and a but-whooping on the court.

  • chip

    random comment: SB Nation has Duke ranked #1 as a result of their “impressive trouncing of Temple…” am i missing something? has Temple even been ranked this year? we “trounced” North Carolina – “impressively” and are considered the #2 team in the country. thoughts?

  • Ryan Goods

    honestly the whole duke vs. iu for consideration in rankings is getting old to me. They would both technically be 1s in the tourney which is all that really matters. And we will truly see how good these teams can be once conference play starts up, but for now….. it’s still December

  • Evansville Hoosier

    Oh, I’d be fine with that. I just think initially if we don’t drop too much I’ll be happy

  • http://www.facebook.com/poppa.ron.1 Poppa Ron

    In another story, that quote was from Jordy

  • Luke72

    Hanner Time!!!!!

  • IU76’s

    My wife and I have tickets for Butler, WI @ IU and @ Purdue. Life doesn’t get much better than that…especially living in Red/Black//Blue country (Louisville)! Can’t wait to see these guys play!

  • marcusgresham

    I think the ’81 team was more talented than ’87, too. I can’t think of too many people who ever looked less like someone you’d want to get in front of than Ray Tolbert when he went up for a one-handed dunk. He brought that knee up high, and if you were going to draw a charge it was going to be from that knee with your face.

  • marcusgresham

    Way early to think about it, but where are the four regional sites this year?

  • marcusgresham

    Off the subject, but I’m watching the Wisconsin/UWGB game. That fatboy Brennan Cougill is a Phoenix. How has that dude not graduated yet? I’m pretty sure he played with Acie Earl at Iowa.

  • Kenneth234

    I certainly agree with you on this point. Now, we will have two more guys that are capable of blocking out on the defensive glass, and also be in great position to crash the offensive glass with put back slams. Not to mention be able to find open space near the baseline when someone penetrates for more highlight slams. Perea could feel a Blake Griffin sort of role for this team coming off the bench. Certainly that is not a fair comparison as Blake perhaps had a little more ability to put the ball on the floor, but athletically he is not far off if he is less athletic.

  • Kenneth234

    I am with you on the utilization of fouls if needed through aggressively contesting shots, but I do not think it is to Indiana’s advantage to have a lot of breaks in the action for the purpose of that Indiana is playing at a pace that makes every game a battle of stamina. In that respect, Indiana being as deep as they are is why I am somewhat irritated when scanning through comments of ESPN’s article’s with Hoosier fans talking about expecting to drop 2 to 5 road games because of the depth of the conference. I do not think that it is really likely that they will have as much trouble playing on the road as they did at times last year, for a tremendous amount of reasons. But most of all, that should have been a lesson that they learned last year, that they must show up and compete day in and day out. But this team is just so much more talented than last year’s club, because of how hungry each and every player is to win, see more floor time, and to keep their edge.

  • Kenneth234

    I actually feel a little sorry for many of the Big Ten’s big men this season. It will be extremely difficult for them to handle the pace that we play at, and match our interior players motoring down the floor on every change of possession.

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    I agree on the game pace. When we start to step on the throats of an opponent it is in large part because we are deeper and they are starting to fatigue. Game pace is a major weapon for us and I don’t necessarily like slowing it down. I am merely just trying to find a positive out of it if it becomes the case.

    When the pace is high it is not outlandish to think that we can sustain a pace where we score 1.75 to 2.5 points a minute on average as long as we are knocking down shots.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/W76ZEHEUSYXFPFKI3LKWDIS5EU Pizzmachine

    With PJ & HMP IU will be able to play straight up man to man post D with schools such as Michigan State and Minnesota.Both have the kind of length that coaches such as Crean who mix in some zone defense covet . HMP is the type of player with enough athleticism to be an immediate factor ..It may take him getting back to full health to get anywhere near his potential but it speaks volume when a player has an almost limitless ceiling ..In terms of sheer ability Perea is comparable to players like Emanuel Negedu ,Josh Smith ,Chris Wilcox although not as polished all around going into the first freshman year game ..Dunks ,rebounds and blocked shots (the kind that make you say wow ) sound pretty darned good to me . Jurkin is known as being more raw and also having suspect hands… He is extremely long and as is the case with Perea runs the floor well enough to thrive at a fast tempo. Crean may have to coach Jurkin for a couple years to get him more complete but you can’t teach long(limbs) so that will pay off immediately in ways that should not be hard to notice once thet get some substantial minutes..Keep wishing for blowouts because the more routs the more they get to play and prepare for the Big Ten season .

  • http://www.facebook.com/ken.bergmann2 Ken Bergmann

    As much as I love the ’81 team (they’re my favorite past IU team), I don’t think they’re as good as this team can be. Think of the match ups:
    Isiah vs Yogi – Isiah, but not by as much as you think
    Randy vs Jordan – Randy, but again closer than you think
    Victor vs Ted – not even close, sorry Ted
    Landon vs Watford – very, very small edge for Landon, the most interesting match up
    Ray vs Cody – Cody
    ’81 bench vs this teams bench – this team’s, game over.
    Truly, this is the deepest team I’ve ever seen IU have. Maybe the deepest college team ever.

  • SCHoosier

    When u run up all those offensive computer numbers that give you that ranking.. against the kind of competition IU has faced…does it really mean anything? And that’s a question not a “slam.”

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