John Gasaway of ESPN Insider joins this week’s show to discuss Indiana’s upcoming clash with No. 13 Michigan State and the Big Ten as a whole.
Podcast on the Brink hosts Matt Dollinger and Greg Rosenstein talk to Gasaway about the current climate in the conference and where the Hoosiers rank among the best in the Big Ten. The three also debate whether IU has lived up to preseason expectations and if the Hoosiers can beat the Spartans on Sunday.
Among the other topics discussed in this week’s show:
· Opposing strategies against the Hoosiers · The team MVP debate and Cody Zeller · Most interesting matchups against MSU · Is Indiana the best team in the Big Ten? · Yogi Ferrell as a pass-first, no-shoot PG
2015 five-star big man Elijah Thomas talks Indiana
Indiana’s ascent back to the top of the national rankings has been one of the major storylines in college basketball over the last year and that rise is shining a favorable light on Bloomington as a destination for the nation’s top recruits.
After wrapping up one of the top classes in 2012 and 2013, the Hoosier staff continues to recruit aggressively for 2014 and beyond.
One of the latest names to surface on the radar is 2015 Dallas (Tex.) big man Elijah Thomas.
The 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward is rated the No. 6 player in his class according to ESPN.com and talked to Inside the Hall on Thursday night about his interest in the IU program.
“I’ve got a lot of interest in them,” Thomas said. “I like watching them play. I like the way they develop players. And I like their style of play and how they’re a family.”
Thomas said he’s spoken to assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Kenny Johnson and called that budding relationship “excellent.”
He’s also been watching Indiana games on television this season and said the way IU utilizes national player of the year candidate Cody Zeller is a major plus in his eyes.
“I like the way they let Cody Zeller make his own decisions,” Thomas said. “They trust his basketball IQ so much. That appeals to me a lot. From watching coach Crean on television, he’s just a really good coach. He knows how to push his players and make them successful on and off the court. I like that a lot.”
Thomas spent his freshman season at Rockwall High School, but transferred to Prime Prep, which was founded by former NFL standout Deion Sanders, last month.
The Hoosiers completed a regular season sweep of Penn State with a 72-49 win on Wednesday night in Assembly Hall. Indiana has now won five straight over the Nittany Lions. The win moved Indiana, now 5-1 in the conference, to just a half game back of Michigan State, which visits Bloomington on Sunday.
Here’s a look at five takeaways from IU’s comfortable win:
· Yogi Ferrell built confidence early and sustained it all evening: Tasked with running the nation’s No. 1 team to begin the season, it hasn’t always been easy this season offensively for Ferrell, a McDonald’s All-American. But the freshman point guard continues to improve as the conference slate rolls along and Wednesday night was perhaps the most assertive we’ve seen him in terms of looking to score the ball. “I was just taking what the defense was really giving me,” Ferrell said afterward. “Victor found me and Christian [Watford] in the second half a lot and I was open so I was going to shoot the ball.” He finished with a career-high 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-4 from behind the 3-point arc.
· Will Sheehey’s defense helps resurrect his offense: After totaling just six points over IU’s last three games, Indiana’s junior spark plug scored 12 points in 24 minutes. His impact on both ends of the floor was felt by his teammates. “It’s big for our team,” Victor Oladipo said. “Ever since he came in here with me you know it’s been big that we impact winning and him coming off the bench and having games like that and impacting them on both sides of the floor is big for us going along and hopefully he just continues to keep doing that.” As Indiana enters a brutal stretch of three games in seven days (Michigan State, at Purdue and back home vs. Michigan), it was perfect timing for Sheehey to find his footing as a scorer off the bench.
· Cody Zeller doesn’t score a field goal, Indiana doesn’t miss a beat: If you needed any further proof that Indiana’s offense is one of the nation’s best, you got it Wednesday night when the Hoosiers didn’t get a field goal from Zeller and still won by 23. With the perimeter game operating at near peak efficiency, including eight straight 3-pointers at one point, IU’s star sophomore didn’t get many field goal attempts, but still impacted the game with eight rebounds. Penn State coach Pat Chambers said that the Nittany Lions playing zone may have limited Zeller, but it also opened up the perimeter. “I don’t think Zeller played a ton of minutes; usually he gets in a lot more than he did tonight,” Chambers said. “I saw him tweak his leg and I asked him if he was OK. He told me that he was. But the big thing was that we played zone. Sometimes that means giving up certain things, and they found our weaknesses by making the extra pass.”
For the last three games, many of the stories written about Indiana basketball have focused on the Hoosiers’ lack of bench production. For a team expected to be so deep in the preseason, the Hoosiers have struggled to get much offense out of players other than their starters during the Big Ten season.
And while the bench as a whole still had some problems in No. 7 Indiana’s 72-49 win over Penn State on Wednesday night at Assembly Hall, the bench’s most key member broke out of his mini-offensive slump.
Will Sheehey, who didn’t score in games against Minnesota and Wisconsin and had only six points Sunday against Northwestern, scored 12 points and made two huge 3-pointers in the first half to break Penn State’s spirit. Sheehey made 4-of-6 shots in all, including all three of his 3-pointers in 24 minutes of action.
“It was Sheehey hitting 3s,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said of the game getting away from his team late in the first half. “Usually he is a good mid-range jump shooter. That team has a lot of talent and you can’t take everything away. Sheehey made two 3s and it opened everything up.”
Sheehey’s back-to-back long balls softened the Penn State zone and opened things up for other people. It was 23-14 before he made his first one. Four minutes and 30 seconds later, it was 41-19 and the rout was on.
“That’s who Will is, that’s what Will brings,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “He’s one of our best players, he really is.”
The majority of Hoosier Nation is likely talking about Sheehey’s return today. But if you ask Sheehey, he’d say he never went anywhere.
“I never think about that kind of stuff,” Sheehey said of not scoring for two straight games. “If you see me not playing hard on the defensive end, that’s when something’s wrong. It’s never gonna happen.”
Yogi Ferrell (15 points), Victor Oladipo (19 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Will Sheehey (12 points) met with the media following Indiana’s 72-49 win over Penn State on Wednesday night at Assembly Hall.
Watch and listen to the press conference in the embedded media player below:
I. When Indiana is making 3-pointers like it did on Wednesday night, few teams in the country, if any, are beating the Hoosiers. Especially at Assembly Hall. After connecting on 5-of-12 attempts from distance in the first half, Indiana came out firing on all cylinders in the second half. The Hoosiers hit their first six 3-point attempts and hit eight in a row in total if you go back to the first half.
The perimeter barrage came from a variety of sources. Will Sheehey was back in mid-season form. The junior from Stuart, Fla., led IU with eight first-half points. And after his first few looks went in, Sheehey looked like the guy capable of carrying this team in stretches with his scoring and energy off the bench.
Yogi Ferrell knocked in a few in what was perhaps his best shooting display this season. He finished with a career-high 15 points. Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls were on target, too. Oladipo’s improved perimeter game continues to blossom and he’s now shooting 55.1 percent on threes this season. He finished with a game-high 19 points, six rebounds and five assists.
II. The defense was another storyline worth noting. Penn State, fresh off of totals of 71 in a loss to Michigan State and 64 in a loss to Nebraska, could only muster up 49 points against a defense that was ranked in the top 20 nationally in terms of efficiency entering the game. As the Big Ten schedule moves along and the Hoosiers enter a brutal stretch of games in February, defense is going to have to be the calling card, particularly on the road.
In total, the Nittany Lions shot 17-of-50 from the field and Indiana never really allowed them to establish any flow or momentum. After an 8-of-27 first-half shooting performance by Penn State, the Hoosiers kept the intensity dialed up for the second half and finished the game strong, which hasn’t always been the case in recent games. With a major battle looming Sunday at Assembly Hall with the Spartans, it was important for Indiana to put together a solid 40 minutes. For the most part, that happened.