Hoosiers ‘ready to play’ as season opener awaits

  • 11/14/2014 9:09 am in

It has been 246 days since Indiana last played an in-season basketball game. 246 days mixed with plenty off-court drama and new, on-court looks. The wait ends tonight.

With a roster that was overhauled over the offseason — nine of the Hoosiers’ 15 players this season are new to the squad — the team will take Branch McCracken Court tonight at 7 p.m. for their season opener against Mississippi Valley State.

“I’ve been so excited to play here,” freshman guard James Blackmon Jr. said on Thursday. “So I don’t think it came too quick. I’ve been ready to play these games, so I’m just glad it’s here.”

In the more than eight months since Indiana played a regular season game at Assembly Hall, plenty has changed. Several players transferred. Newcomers arrived. Others faced legal troubles and suspensions. New opportunities arose.

After two exhibitions against Northwood (Mich.) and Indianapolis, the Hoosiers will have their first chance to make a result count since last March 13, a 64-54 season-ending loss to Illinois in the Big Ten tournament.

Now, the 2014-2015 Hoosiers can make a statement of their own.

“It’s just going out there and doing what we did in the exhibition games and picking up from our mistakes,” Blackmon said. “In practice, we’ve been getting a lot better at what we need to do to improve every game, so just go out there and doing that.”

“I think the same thing, just focusing on the things that hurt us in the exhibition games and now that it’s really the real thing,” freshman guard Robert Johnson added. “We have to make sure we get better from those mistakes and not keep making the same ones.”

For some, Monday’s performance against Indianapolis was a painful reminder of last season’s struggles. Against the Greyhounds, the young Hoosiers turned it over on 26.5 of their possessions. In comparison, the Hoosiers’ turned the ball over on 25.8 percent of their possessions in their season-ending loss to the Fighting Illini.

As Indiana coach Tom Crean has admitted on several occasions, if the Hoosiers want to play fast, there will be turnovers. It’s simply a side effect of the system. But to Crean, there’s a tipping point. “You don’t want them to be risk adverse,” Crean says. Rather, “you want them to make basketball plays.”

Last year’s squad struggled with that reality — ranking 330th in the nation in turnover percentage. Thus far, Crean is trying to get the message across to this season’s group.

“I think this team has adapted real well to knowing that we can’t turn the ball over and knowing we have to get up and down the court because we’re kind of small,” Blackmon said. “I think as we keep getting up and down the court faster, we’re a quick team and that’s going to help us.”

“I think the key is going to be just making the easy play,” Johnson added. “I think sometimes as younger players, you sometimes try to make the home run play or the spectacular play. I think the key for us is just making the easy, insider plays.”

The Hoosiers will get a quick first test of that patience. Though undersized, Mississippi Valley State showed several defensive wrinkles in their exhibition win against Stillman College, forcing more than 20 turnovers, according to Crean. It also was Crean’s first look at first-year Delta Devils coach Andre Payne.

“He mixes up his defenses,” Crean said. “A lot of full-court pressure, some three-quarter court, loves to trap at the top of the key, loves to trap in the corners, plays a 2-3 zone with a trap on it and mixes up his coverages on the ball screens.”

Tonight’s game, though, is just the tip of the iceberg in what is going to be a quick succession of games to start the season — five in the first 11 days. And despite a depleted, still-young Hoosiers squad, there will be a lot to learn over the next several days as they begin the season and move past the prior several months.

“Maybe (there’s) a little bit with pressure, but not much,” Crean said. “You know, I’ve tried to get that across to them. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing six or if we’re playing 10. It really doesn’t matter right now. We’re going to play the win the game, whatever it takes.”

Other notes

  • Freshman center Jeremiah April (ankle) is still limited in practice but is now participating in some contact drills, Crean said on Thursday. Freshman forward Max Hoetzel (shoulder), meanwhile, still could potentially be on a minute-limit tonight despite playing in Monday’s win over Indianapolis.
  • Sophomore Devin Davis was able to attend his sister’s basketball game at Warren Central on Thursday night as he continues his recovery and rehabilitation in Indianapolis. Crean mentioned that Davis is working “extremely hard” and that “he’s anxious to be back with this team, as this team is anxious to have him back,” though Crean did not give any exact timetable on when that might be.

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  • Kyl470

    Finally we will be able to talk about basketball games and hopefully put the distractions of the off season behind us. The march back to the NCAA Tournament starts tonight.

  • FinEndNow

    Talking about the schedule.. I think these are the teams that I’d like to see on it yearly….
    Ball State
    Butler
    Evansville
    Indiana State
    IPFW
    IUPUI
    Notre Dame
    Valpo

    Some Power 5 schools I’d like to see us schedule…
    UNC
    UCLA
    Mizzou
    Kansas
    Virginia
    Florida
    Auburn
    Stanford
    Arizona
    Kentucky
    Louisville

    Mid Majors…
    Gonzaga
    Memphis
    Cincinnati
    UConn
    Wichita State

  • ForeverIU

    Apology accepted, Stan! Can’t wait to see you back in the game.

  • SilentBob

    I don’t really consider UConn, Cincy, and Memphis to be mid majors, but I’ve always been confused as to where the line is drawn for that. We already flip between Butler and Notre Dame every year. I’d like to see another Indiana school or two on the schedule. I must be behind everyone else, but I was pleasantly surprised to see we were playing Kansas two years from now on Veteran’s day.

  • Ole Man

    Two years– in 2016.

  • INUnivHoosier

    That was a much better apology than 95% of the “star” apologies I’ve seen.

  • SilentBob

    yea I just fixed it

  • SilentBob

    Where is this apology you speak of?

  • Kyl470

    The AAC isn’t considered a mid major conference therefore Memphis, Cincinnati, and UConn are not mid major teams. Anyways I think we get to worked up over the schedule. We play who we play. Trust me the Big Ten will always be good enough to make sure we have a good strength of schedule.

  • ForeverIU

    In the photo under my text. Don’t you see it?

  • INUnivHoosier

    I think you could rotate those Indiana schools to every other year.

  • SilentBob

    Yupp do now, for some reason it wasn’t popping up at first. Thanks

  • FinEndNow

    I count the AAC as a mid major conference. It is the old C-USA really. But I’d like to see us schedule tough. That’ll give us the most attention and coverage. SMU is ok but not good enough IMO. We need 3-4 big time games a year.

  • FinEndNow

    Being in the B1G shouldn’t stop us from scheduling big time OOC games.

  • SilentBob

    SMU was looking good enough before they lost Kennedy for the semester and Mudiay decided to go overseas. Either way still a great challenge for this years team

  • INUnivHoosier

    And it’s hard to predict that stuff will happen so far in advance.

  • FinEndNow

    It is a good challenge. And I am fine with having a home and homevwith a good mid major.

  • Ole Man

    Until IU is consistently in the top 15-20 starting every season, there’s no reason to go with a schedule such as that. When we get there, then maybe….

  • Ole Man

    Amen, Bob. That could be a big L if this team isn’t careful.

  • FinEndNow

    I’d say it is along with the Mountain West.

  • SilentBob

    Yea that’d be awesome from a fan perspective, but close to overkill considering we play in the best conference top to bottom. At least at this point. We need to play these small schools to get the kinds worked out before we play the likes of Ohio State and Illinois every night. I mean I’ll always want to get UK back on the schedule, but that doesn’t look like it’ll happen anytime soon. If we can get something established with Kansas or Louisville I’d be a fan. Considering we also do the Big Ten/ACC challenge which usually matches the best Big 10 schools vs the best ACC schools I’m pretty satisfied at this point. Then do a Maui invitation and things of that nature and I’m happy.

  • SilentBob

    It’s Friday and it’s opening day for college hoops. Easily one of the best days of the year! I’m stoked!

  • CreamandCrimson

    Connecticut has won 4 national titles since 1999, the B1G (as a whole conference) has won one (2000 – MSU). That’s more titles in that time frame than any other school. If they’re a mid-major, I’d say 99% of the other basketball programs are mid-majors or lower.

    The schedule for this season is set and it starts tonight. I won’t speak for others but I would love to just have some discussion about the season at hand and worry about which “big time” games we are playing in the future once this year wraps up. Just my opinion though and I’m sure others don’t feel the same (as is clear by the recent lengthy arguments about Tom Crean complimenting a fellow coach). Anybody want to discuss the rotation they are hoping for tonight or what they’ll be looking for?

  • SilentBob

    I wanna know if Hartman is on a minute limit tonight. Cause if he keeps playing like he did against Indianapolis forget role player, I want him to be a starter or at the very least 6th man

  • CreamandCrimson

    Hartman’s play will be interesting. I know CTC said he didn’t know whether or not Hoetzel will be on a minutes limit but he didn’t mention Hartman. That will be something to look for tonight, can he follow up his best performance as a Hoosier with another solid outing?

  • FinEndNow

    UConn was also in the Big East at one point. The AAC was seeded and treated like a mid major last year. From top to bottom they are a mid major. UConn can’t help that it is in a mid major conference.

  • SilentBob

    Yea I imagine Hartman would be the more likely candidate for the minute limit. Shame because I honestly had more fun watching his alertness, hustle, and constant movement than I did the rest of the team. Not the next lottery pick by any means but does all the little things. Seems to be a great leader for a sophomore who played small minutes as a freshmen. I remember Priller got schooled on the block against Indianapolis, a time out was called and Hartman went right over to him and talked to him about it. That’s what I like to see.

  • GaHoosier

    I’m pretty sure this day should be a national holiday!

  • IUfanPurduePhD

    But there’s also something to be said for avoiding teams ranked above 250. You can still play cupcakes that are in the high 100s or low 200s; teams above 300 are insanely bad and offer next to nothing for our growth (or theirs).

  • ForeverIU

    I think another thing to look for is Nick’s role tonight. Is anyone concerned that CTC seems to be envisioning a more “complete” role for him, as opposed to being a “specialist”. I know these two labels are simplifications, but I think meddling with Nick’s game at this point might affect his confidence, confuse his role, and deprive the team of his best contributions. Granted, mine is only a layman’s opinion, but I’m worried we might be seeing a Hollowellization of Zeisloft, lol, in the sense that we might be taking Nick “out of his game”.

  • CreamandCrimson

    I’m no expert either but I think it would be great if Nick could be a complete player.

  • ForeverIU

    You obviously don’t get my point. Very few players even very good ones are complete players.

  • Great news about Devin being able to attend his sister’s basketball game. Hopefully, we’ll see him on the sideline at an upcoming IU game!

  • CreamandCrimson

    I guess I don’t. I’m not the brightest bulb and your point has gone over my head. Sorry for not getting it.

    I just hope Tom Crean puts him a good position and Nick Zeisloft takes advantage of his opportunities and helps the team by shooting well, not turning the ball over and chipping in on defense and on the glass.

  • IU diehard from CT

    fella, i like where you are going with this but as others have eluded, UCONN is not a mid major, and never will be. they have had more success in the last 15 years than RMK ever had in his entire IU tenure. fact, pure and simple. because memphis and Cincinnati are in lousy conferences means nothing. that was simply conference realignment issues.

  • Jon

    Terrific news about Devin and great news about April! Anyone know of a time table for him?

  • Snookafly

    Memphis and Cincinnati are basically mid-major quality programs. I don’t care how people try to sell the AAC– it’s not up to the level of the power conferences. UConn is elite and so is Louisville, but the rest are a bunch of bums.

  • mdtreat

    Yea you never know, Kansas Bball could have a terrible scandal this year and end up like Penn St football, and then fans would still find a way to complain about preBig10 schedule