What we learned from the non-conference season

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The Big Ten season tips off tomorrow in Iowa City, but the Hoosiers have already been through a ton since November. Here are five things we learned about the preseason-No. 1 team in the first 13 games of the season.

1. Jordy + Yogi works: One of the top questions leading up to the regular season was whether or not guards Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell could play together in the same backcourt. Some suggested Ferrell would push Hulls aside and steal the majority of his minutes, many believed the two guards were too small to be on the court at the same time.

But so far, Hulls and Ferrell have proven those doubters wrong. They have thrived together during the non-conference schedule because each player has stuck to his own strengths. Ferrell, who has 71 assists and just 27 turnovers, has spent the majority of his minutes finding open teammates and playing tight defense on the other end. Hulls, with much of the ball-handling responsibility now in Ferrell’s hands, has been able to do more of what he’s great at — spot up and shoot. Hulls is shooting 55 percent from beyond the arc this season.

There will be some games during the conference season that test Hulls and Ferrell, but Indiana has plenty of depth off the bench to help with that. And Hulls already has experience defending players much bigger than he is (See: Georgetown).

2. The talent is there: The Hoosiers have the talent to win a national championship. There’s no doubt about that. We knew they would be deep in the preseason, but the scary thing is they haven’t had certain pieces at various times. Hanner Mosquera-Perea is just four games into his college career, Derek Elston missed time with a knee injury, Jeremy Hollowell is currently out due to an NCAA compliance issue, Cody Zeller has dealt with illness, Maurice Creek is out indefinitely with a foot injury, and Austin Etherington is out for the year with a broken patella.

And yet, the Hoosiers have still looked deep. That’s scary for the other teams in the Big Ten and around the country.

3. But…: As talented as the Hoosiers are, they are still very much a work in progress. They can play so much better, and they know it. They’ve been fantastic at Assembly Hall as they usually are, but it may take a few more games for them to figure out how to play away from home.

All three of Indiana’s games away from Assembly Hall this season have been close games, and the Hoosiers lost to Butler at Bankers Life Fieldhouse earlier this month. Even thought they have plenty of experience on the roster, they still play several young players — namely Ferrell, Perea and sophomore Remy Abell — and there are quite a few brutal road environments in the Big Ten.

4. Victor Oladipo is playing at another level: I hate to state the obvious, but Oladipo is the Hoosiers’ most improved player. And I don’t think it’s close. With some of Cody Zeller’s early season struggles, it’s even possible that Oladipo is Indiana’s best player.

Oladipo has become one of the best finishers in the college game, and he has shown the ability to play defense in another gear when he wants to. As if that’s not enough, the junior guard is also improving his outside shot, something he’s shown off on multiple occasions during the first 13 games. Oladipo is 10-of-22 (46 percent) from 3-point range this season.

Oladipo continues to climb NBA draft boards, and for good reason. If the Hoosiers are going to compete for a national title in March and April, they’ll need Oladipo to continue to play at the elite level he has so far.

5. Cody Zeller isn’t perfect: The Big Handsome is human, go figure. Zeller hasn’t always looked like a national player of the year candidate so far this season and he has shown some of the inconsistency he seemed to bypass in his freshman season.

But Zeller should be OK in the long term. He has seen a variety of different defenses this season, he has dealt with illness, and he’s still young. To be fair, he’s leading the Hoosiers in scoring at 16.4 points per game. Expectations for Zeller were impossibly high before the season, so it was inevitable that there would be some disappointment when he struggles.

  • Luke72

    This team needs to hit the boards every game. Cody needs to be calling for the ball more. Would love to see Coach Crean press more. With the speed this team has turning a press on seems to get them going offensively as well! Hanner could be a huge boost during the Big Ten. Still think the Hoosiers can be better than Michigan. Yogi is coming along well but he needs to continue to improve!!

  • NotTheRealSteveEyl

    I am nervous about this team in general, and Monday in particular.

    I’m not sure we learned much in the non-conf, other than we struggle away from home. I bet we’ll know a lot more by Monday at 6:30 or so.

  • azhoosier

    I learned that Yogi got a haircut….!!

  • HannerTime Hoosier

    CTC must read this blog and you all do not want to upset him … cuz this is lacking a few points. It all sounds fluffy, kinda glossing over the issues that will be the Hoosiers demise:
    1. CWat’s inconsistent play, almost appears Verdell-like (42.3 fg% on 2 pt shots)
    2. No screens to get Jordy more open looks.
    3. No shot evolution for Cody.
    4. Disagree on the success of Yogi/Jordy play together against certain teams on defense.
    5. CTC in-game coaching improvement … being fluid given game situations (ie Jordy on Jones in Butler game, Yogi taking ball out under basket on our offensive end).
    6. Playing solid team defense against the 3 pt shot.

    I look forward to solid improvement in January against higher caliber opponents.

  • NotTheRealSteveEyl

    I agree. Thought the post was too soft. Particularly glaring are the omissions of Watford and CZ’s struggles

  • MillaRed

    I was thinking the same thing about Iowa. I know the “schedule” discussion is getting old but I just don’t see any overall improvement over the last 3 games. I’m not sure that was even possible against opponents like that.

    Cody went for 16 and 6 vs Jacksonville but let’s be honest, he got 10 bunny points in the last few minutes (which at one point featured 4 of our starters up 35 with 4 minutes to play-insert 5 question marks here)

    Feel free to beat me up on Tuesday. But I’m telling ya, I am very nervous about the road game at Iowa if we do not bring our A game. I’m just hoping the entire team takes it up a few notches when a real opponent is on the floor.

  • SCHoosier

    That’s an excellent and fair critique..altho the “homers” on this post won’t agree. Even with your analysis..the Hoosiers are scary good when they play to their potential. I think Yogi-Jordy works on offense…don’t know how you can say it works son D with the schedule IU has played Just look at the match-ups with the top Big 10 teams..finding somebody for Jordy to guard where the opponent doesn’t get a “go to guy” for their offense is tough. That said..IU can not reach it’s potential without Hulls leadership and offense. Hey..we can’t have EVERYTHING. Go Hoosiers.

  • SCHoosier

    Slow starts in conference games on the road can be the kiss of death. Coming back to win from such a start on the road will be the sign of a championship team.

  • HoosierPat

    If this team wants to have any chance at a championship, someone needs to wake up Christian Watford. Last year, he was playing with swagger and no one could stop him. This year, he has been very inconsistent and hasn’t played like a senior at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregory.spera.3 Gregory Spera

    Don’t know how much we learned in the non-conference season. Indiana only played two good teams (Unfortunately, North Carolina has proven to be pretty weak this year) and struggled against both. We will REALLY start to learn something tomorrow.

  • BluegrassHoosier

    Agree with the nervousness about the Iowa game. We will learn what type of team we have then. If we are going to win the Big 10, we have to win these relatively easy January games.

  • Ole Man

    Have to agree with most of the posters below. Iowa scares me. Not because it’s a road game, but because I’m afraid that the Hoosiers will come out firing from outside and fall behind once again.
    The atmosphere there will be crazy; Indiana has seldom played well in Iowa; they would love to be a top five team and make a statement about their team.
    CWat needs to pass more–he’s kind of a “black hole” on offense. He occasionally dishes it off, but most of the time he goes for some kind of shot.
    Heck, I can’t go on–I love the Hoosiers, but they are a scary team this year.

  • IUMIKE1

    Agree, don’t know that it was possible to improve, or at least see the improvement against the last 3 opponents. HMP was probably the most noticeable out of all of it. The sofa coach in me says that while HMP played more than just a minute here and there he should have played considerably more minutes than he did when one considers, the opponents, the score against said opponents, what spot he plays, how much we stand to gain by an much improved HMP and the way that CW is playing right now. While that is a positive thing it also serves to continue to remind me of how bad they / we got screwed over by the ncaa.

    This game also makes me nervous as well, but at the same time I’m kinda glad it is the type of game it is, on the road & against a team that has had our number the last few times we played them. Better to have some things pointed out in a blunt way on the road now then find out after 3 or 4 home games against the middle to lower part of the B1G.

    Milla, remember not too long ago when several people were dogging you and I (as well as some others) and I told you that time and opponents would tell on a certain subject, well that time starts tomorrow evening at 4 o’clock in Iowa City. Hope we are wrong but I truly believe that we will be at least partially right.

  • Dagwoods

    Either way, we will learn something from Iowa and continue to build this team up. The important thing is to peak at the end of the season. Every contender in the B!G this year will have a slip up, an elite team shouldn’t (take back our slip ups last year w/ Minnesota & Nebraska & we have a share of the B!G title). I’m betting we’ve improved a notch or two above that.

  • BCharles9295

    I share your anxiety. IU hasn’t played well on the road since well before CTC’s tenure so it’s hard to believe that will have changed much. It’s been difficult for me to get the bad taste of the Butler loss out of my mouth (which was a road game). Because they have played no one of consequence since then, it’s hard to be convinced they have learned that much since then. I really hope my doubt is proven to be wrong.
    On the other hand, a road win in a tough environment like Iowa would really help show IU is still the real deal. I know the team can do it, but it’s imperative they go in understanding this is not one of the creampuffs they have been playing. Go IU!
    Tomorrow is going to be a fun day of Big 10 basketball. Before IU is the MSU/Minn game. I live in MI and get tired of hearing how great MSU is– even when they aren’t, so go Gophers!

  • NotTheRealSteveEyl

    No, playing at Hinkle would have been a road game. By all accounts there were more IU fans than any of the other schools. Maybe you’re including the other three.

  • Kevin Tolliver

    I’m not sure if its a waking up he needs. It may be more that he is playing out of position. He shouldn’t be playing with his back to the basket. This isn’t his game nor has it ever been. He needs to keep his offense outside, and look for inside points on cuts. Dribbling inside with the ball or trying to back someone down results in a turnover almost every time. He has a good game, but Christian/Coach need to recognize what his game is.

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    1) I personally think we have two great point guards who can thrive in two different situations. Against Butler, which slowed the game down and refused to let IU run, Yogi had 6 TO’s and most came in the half court. Jordy on the other hand was very solid running the offense in the half court. Yogi runs the break very well and is much more dangerous when IU gets out and runs. If they play together some I don’t think that’s a bad thing, as long as it’s in situation where it’s not a defensive liability. However, I do think it’s a better idea to play Will and Vic together more often and even Remy and let Hulls play more minutes against teams like WISC because they slow it down and let Yogi run the show more against teams that let IU get out and run!

    2) I completely agree on CWat. He’s always been inconsistent and seems to be the one player on IU’s team that “takes plays off”.
    3) I’ve been really disappointed in CZ early this year and his development. CTC isn’t a stud in game coach and never will be, but he’s a good recruiter and is supposed to be a good motivator and player developer. Seeing CZ drop on draft boards and really struggle in what was supposed to be his POY season can’t help CTC’s recruiting pitch when it comes to developing big guys. He’s developed Vic and Will well but everyone already knew he could develop guards and wings!
    4) I think the defense has been so much improved so far you can’t really complain but we’ll see if it’s really improved now that the conference season is here.
    5) For the love of God, can we please schedule some decent freaking games next preseason and a couple non-conference road games? We aren’t Syracuse for Pete’s sake! This schedule didn’t do jack to prepare this team for the rigors of conference or tournament play!

  • HoosierPat

    I disagree. When he is at his best, he is working inside-out. He becomes a match up problem for the opposing team. He actually has a pretty good post game, he just forces things sometimes. It does result in a turnover “every time” as you seem to think. When he only plays on the perimeter, he becomes one-dimensional and much easier to guard.

  • Kevin Tolliver

    He has probably been at the receiving end of more blocks than any other player on the team. So playing him inside doesn’t make sense unless a smaller player is guarding him. Christian doesn’t have much leaping ability to get over a taller player.

  • HoosierPat

    He forces things sometimes. That is when he gets blocked. He can’t just stand on the perimeter like you seem think. He has to play inside as well as outside. He is one of the few players that can play in the paint and still be a good three point shooter. What you are saying is that he should only utilize one of his strengths, thus being a one-dimensional offensive player.

  • Kevin Tolliver

    Read my 1st post. Never said he needs to stand on the perimeter. AND if you read my 1st post I think he does better inside when he makes cuts to the basket without the ball. Im just saying he isn’t a post up kind of player.

  • MillaRed

    No doubt that tomorrow will tell us a lot about where the team is right now. I agree when many ITH say there never is a “good loss.” But there is still a lot of baskeball to play if things go sour in IOWA.

    Go Hoosiers!

  • MillaRed

    Im not sure what Watfords FG% is inside 10 feet, but it ain’t good.

  • http://twitter.com/21Dylann Dylan Drybread ?

    I agree with you here. I just have a good feeling about him tearing it up in Big Ten play this year. But I might be wrong.

  • http://twitter.com/21Dylann Dylan Drybread ?

    I agree with you here. I just have a good feeling about him tearing it up in Big Ten play this year. But I might be wrong.

  • http://twitter.com/21Dylann Dylan Drybread ?

    I agree with you here. I just have a good feeling about him tearing it up in Big Ten play this year. But I might be wrong.

  • sams212

    Two things:
    1. Vic is the best player on this team right now.
    2. Watford should be prepared to play over in Europe.

  • http://twitter.com/srhise srhise

    I wonder if any Iowa fans will be there tomorrow.

  • http://twitter.com/srhise srhise

    I wonder if any Iowa fans will be there tomorrow.

  • Kenneth234

    Thank you! Just because we beat them so easily, and then proceeded to drop the Butler game, a team that also handled UNC, everyone wants to pretend that UNC is not loaded with McDonald’s All American players. Butler is not a bad loss, we did not play a great game against them, did not deserve to win, but still almost found a way to beat a formidable opponent despite it all. Sure this team is still in the process of figuring out who can excel on the floor together, but there are not many teams that are not, and with far less talent and far less depth. Sometimes, depth can trick a coach into not getting the chemistry worked out as much as it can be a benefit.

  • IUMIKE1

    Totally agree.

  • HannerTime Hoosier

    You know wat (no pun intended) ITHers, besides Vic & Will, they need to get hungry/aggressive as a team on a regular basis. I watched the UL pUKe game today and across the board they played their arses off like it was for the NCAA Title. Have fun & play like there is NO tomorrow! Get it! Lol. We are playing in a silo & it shows.

  • HannerTime Hoosier

    You know wat (no pun intended) ITHers, besides Vic & Will, they need to get hungry/aggressive as a team on a regular basis. I watched the UL pUKe game today and across the board they played their arses off like it was for the NCAA Title. Have fun & play like there is NO tomorrow! Get it! Lol. We are playing in a silo & it shows.

  • mike

    Yogi + Jordy is working? Then how in the world did a then-unranked Gtown team get all those open 3 looks to very nearly beat us? How did Roosevelt Jones get to do a Magic Johnson impersonation to lead Butler to a win? How have other teams shot so well from the perimeter? Good grief, I thought Hoosier fans understood the meaning of DEFENSE. It’s not just staying in front of people, it’s also making them miss shots. Our midget guard tandem has not been able to do that, and they won’t. And for crying out loud, to evaluate them at all after this pathetic schedule is very misleading. Look at Ferrell’s turnovers: how many did he have against the two aforementioned teams? Right, he had a lot. The level of competition does matter.
    About the only thing I can agree with in this article is the part of Oladipo. He is indeed IU’s best player and playing at a higher level this year, making me think he just could go pro after this year. He has to keep it up, Watford has to return to his late-last-season form, Crean has to bump up Sheehey’s minutes and reduce either Yogi’s or Jordy’s (and stop playing them together), Zeller has to touch the ball more often, and then maybe, just maybe, we’ll win that title.
    Look, last year we played Kentucky neck to neck in the Sweet 16, with Hulls, Oladipo, Sheehey, Watford and Zeller being our main lineup. Now we’ve changed that to a smaller lineup and we struggled against 2 lesser teams. The solution is obvious.

  • mike

    Yogi + Jordy is working? Then how in the world did a then-unranked Gtown team get all those open 3 looks to very nearly beat us? How did Roosevelt Jones get to do a Magic Johnson impersonation to lead Butler to a win? How have other teams shot so well from the perimeter? Good grief, I thought Hoosier fans understood the meaning of DEFENSE. It’s not just staying in front of people, it’s also making them miss shots. Our midget guard tandem has not been able to do that, and they won’t. And for crying out loud, to evaluate them at all after this pathetic schedule is very misleading. Look at Ferrell’s turnovers: how many did he have against the two aforementioned teams? Right, he had a lot. The level of competition does matter.
    About the only thing I can agree with in this article is the part of Oladipo. He is indeed IU’s best player and playing at a higher level this year, making me think he just could go pro after this year. He has to keep it up, Watford has to return to his late-last-season form, Crean has to bump up Sheehey’s minutes and reduce either Yogi’s or Jordy’s (and stop playing them together), Zeller has to touch the ball more often, and then maybe, just maybe, we’ll win that title.
    Look, last year we played Kentucky neck to neck in the Sweet 16, with Hulls, Oladipo, Sheehey, Watford and Zeller being our main lineup. Now we’ve changed that to a smaller lineup and we struggled against 2 lesser teams. The solution is obvious.

  • mike

    This really hits the nail on the head, and someone should send it to CTC, because he seems to be in total denial of any of these obvious issues. However, one point: Watford has always shot it poorly on 2s. The more serious liability is Ferrell, who, despite a few clutch shots, has not even shot over 40% from the floor. Plus all those turnovers against the quality teams. We didn’t have player with those liabilities during last year’s NCAA tourney … could that be why we’re not playing as well? To me, the answer is obvious … plus the much smaller lineup. But will CTC ever see?

  • mike

    Cody just needs a jump hook shot. Learn to drop the shoulder and shoot OVER people. For crying out loud, the guy is 7′ tall! He plays like he’s up against his oler brothers when he was 15 years old. Up to his coaches to help him develop truly bug man skills.
    Disagree about the defense … teams are getting and making far too many uncontested shots. A lot has to do with 2 small guards, some with bad communication … but Oladipo is a beast on D. Need to have the Sheeladipo effect on the court together more.

  • mike

    UNC was missing their 2nd or 3rd best player and had a really bad night, t Assembly Hall. I don’t think it ws a particularly impressive win.

  • mike

    UNC was missing their 2nd or 3rd best player and had a really bad night, t Assembly Hall. I don’t think it ws a particularly impressive win.

  • mike

    Start Sheehey for Ferrell, and no slow start …. instead, back to last year’s Sweet 16 team.

  • mike

    Luke72, you gotta see Michigan play. Burke is playing at yet another level. The Stauskas kid is an incredible shooter, even better than any of ours. Hardaway is still really good and Robinson III is also really good. That team is playing at a higher level than IU right now. Hope that changes, but I don’t see how out current starting lineup, with the two small guards, could come close to containing Michigan, whose smallest starter after Burke is 6’6″, and all athletic.

  • Kevin Tolliver

    It’s their 1st sell out of year. So yes unfortunately.

  • Kevin Tolliver

    People love to cheer against us, especially when were good.

  • Kenneth234

    The 15th or 18th ranked (depending on the poll) Georgetown got all them open three looks because we were playing zone because they play upwards of 4 guys 6-8″ tall throughout games, and they were shooting many of them steps behind the three point line. Please explain to me how an Indiana team missing their inside depth without Perea, Elston, and Jurkin can match up with a team that plays that sort of size. and a ill Zeller.

    As for Butler, the defense was not the main factor, rebounding was the biggest factor. An aspect that Butler does very well, but also led to the game being close enough to steal and the open shots from deep beyond the three point line. Not to take anything away from Butler’s effort, but they were fortunate on many of their second chance baskets to rebound a difficult shot that could have just as easily wound up to be a defensive stop for IU, and get many of the loose balls that found their ways into Butler players hands against a scrambling defense.

  • baldylox

    I’d hate to take away the credit Butler is due in controlling the tempo of that game and taking Hulls all but out of it defensively. They held to to 8 points on 4-11 shooting. IU has the talent to destroy Butler. CTC was simply out-coached by a kid young enough to be his son (okay maybe little kid brother. They are only 10 years apart) When the OT started, and most of Butler’s starters were DQ’d or in serious foul trouble I thought it was over for Butler. They hit key shots while IU missed theirs and most of that was due to some seriously tough D. I hate the loss, but I love the entertainment value.

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