2016-2017 Player Profile: Robert Johnson

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’re taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster this month. Today, we continue our look at Indiana’s roster with Robert Johnson.

If Indiana is going to overcome the significant loss of Yogi Ferrell in its backcourt, junior guard Robert Johnson will be a major reason why.

As the Hoosiers are discussed and written about nationally in the preseason, the three names that come up most often are Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr.

In a way, Johnson is the forgotten man. He’s not on any preseason award lists, but he’s an essential piece on the roster because of his ability, experience and leadership.

Last season as a sophomore, the Richmond (Va.) native started 22 of the 30 games he appeared in, but missed five of the team’s final seven games. Johnson injured his ankle in a 77-73 win over Purdue on Feb. 20 and then re-injured himself in Indiana’s NCAA tournament win over Kentucky. He subsequently missed IU’s Sweet Sixteen loss to North Carolina as a result.

While it’s not fair to argue that Johnson would have changed the outcome against the Tar Heels, his absence was a clear blow to a Hoosier backcourt rotation that lacked depth.

Johnson’s sophomore season was one of major growth as he improved in several key metrics. His 3-point shooting percentage improved from 38.8 percent as a freshman to 44.7 percent in his second season. His turnover rate dropped by 1.5 percentage points. His assist rate grew by five percent.

Following offseason surgery on his ankle, Johnson is back to 100 percent health.

As Indiana’s best returning defender on the perimeter, he’ll be tasked with guarding some of the country’s elite guards. And with Ferrell’s departure, he’ll also be expected to handle the ball more often. With that responsibility, his decision making must continue to improve.

Along with newcomer Josh Newkirk and James Blackmon Jr., who are both returning from injuries as well, Johnson will be a part of Indiana’s committee approach to the point guard position. Given how Indiana’s offense is focused on moving the ball and spacing, having a defined point guard isn’t essential.

What is essential, however, is having the right leadership in the backcourt and Johnson appears ready to step forward and fill at least part of what Ferrell vacated with his graduation. As someone who is viewed as a leader in the program, Johnson has a voice that will resonate in the locker room when he speaks.

When you pair the leadership piece with a work ethic that continues to drive improvement, it’s not hard to see why Johnson is one of Indiana’s most important players on the 2016-2017 roster.

Bottom Line: Johnson should return to Indiana’s starting lineup, which is where he’s been for most of his first two seasons in Bloomington. There will be an adjustment period for him playing without Ferrell, who justifiably had the ball in his hands a lot in Johnson’s first two seasons. As a junior, Johnson should have the opportunity to create more for his teammates while also aggressively seeking out more shots within the flow of the offense.

Quotable: “What has to happen now is those guys have got to learn from what they missed. They’ve got to take those next steps of confidence that come from doing it time and time again. They’ve got to not only do it, they’ve got to bring leadership to the younger guys.” – Tom Crean on Johnson and Blackmon Jr. as they return from missing time this offseason into leadership roles as upperclassmen.

Previously: Devonte Green, Grant Gelon, Curtis Jones, De’Ron Davis, Juwan Morgan, OG Anunoby, Thomas Bryant, Josh Newkirk, Freddie McSwain

State of the Hall: October 25

After a glance back at the archives recently, we realized that we haven’t given a “state of the hall” update in more than three years. We’re due.

As we prepare to cover our 10th season of Indiana basketball (and sixth from press row), we want to thank those who have been reading us since June of 2007 as well as the new readers who have joined us over the years. It’s truly an honor to serve you.

Our staff for the season will consist of editors Alex Bozich and Ryan Corazza, photographer Jamie Owens and students Hailey Hernandez and Josh Margolis. We look forward to our best season of coverage yet.

In the early years of the site, the “state of the hall” was typically a call for readers to support us via donations as we attempted to do things like travel to road games, the NCAA tournament and various AAU events. In 2012, that changed with the launch of the premium forum.

The forum continues to flourish and later this year, we’ll be making some updates to make it more modern. It’s the logical next step as most of our focus over the last 12 months has been on design, usability and speed improvements to the main site.

We encourage anyone who covets more in-depth discussion and interaction with the staff to give the forum a try. Not only does it help support the site and its long term future, it’s a passionate community of knowledgable Indiana fans.

In addition to the forum, we wanted to mentioned a couple of other ways to support the site as the season grows closer.

Earlier in the fall, we launched an Inside the Hall branded store over on Underground Printing. All sales in the store help support the site directly.

If you’re in the market for tickets to a game this season, our schedule page has links to the Seatgeek marketplace for nearly every game. Through an affiliate deal with Seatgeek, using those links from the schedule page to purchase tickets will directly help support the site.

For Podcast on the Brink listeners, we ask you to consider leaving a review on our iTunes page.

We also launched a newsletter in September, which you can sign up for free of charge at this link.

And finally, we wanted to share a few brief thoughts on the state of our industry. As independent publishers, one of the biggest challenges we face is ad blocking. It’s not something we’ve discussed much in this space, but it’s something we discuss frequently internally and with our advertising partners.

Everything on the main site is free because of advertising, so it’s important to us that our readers understand the potential impact of ad blocking on our sustainability. While we realize that it is an individual’s choice to block ads, we also ask that you consider adding us to your whitelist if you are using a tool to block ads. Many publishers are moving to strategies like blocking content for those using ad blocking, which is not a course of action we even want to consider.

In closing, thanks for reading Inside the Hall and we look forward to bringing you the best IU basketball coverage possible.

2016-2017 Player Profile: Freddie McSwain

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’re taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster this month. Today, we continue our look at Indiana’s roster with Freddie McSwain.

A surprise late edition to Indiana’s 2016 class, Freddie McSwain is this season’s X-factor.

The junior college signee from Neosho County Community College (Kansas) has plenty of upside with his springy athleticism, good hands and strong instincts around the rim. Couple these skills with a 6-6 muscular, broad frame, one Tom Crean compared to an NFL tight end’s earlier this month and his potential is easy to see.

But for now, McSwain remains a work in progress. Despite his talents, the Georgia native came to campus this summer as a late-blooming basketball talent who will need time in Crean’s proven player development system to get up to Big Ten speed. And his later than expected arrival to Bloomington coupled with knee surgery earlier this fall has taken away valuable on-court learning and development hours.

“It’s hard to tell,” Crean said about McSwain’s recovery timeline from knee surgery earlier this month at Big Ten media day in Washington, D.C. “But being able to be in the full speed mode, it’s going to be some time in November I think.”

With some uncertainty about McSwain’s return to action and Indiana’s first exhibition game just one week from today, it could be a while before his impact as part of the Hoosiers’ lineup is felt.

Defensively, his physical profile is the cherry on top to perhaps the most intimidating frontcourt of the Crean era, and his coach is bullish on his contributions on that side of the ball.

“He comes in and he makes our defense better,” Crean said. ” … came in here and set the squat record. Freddie is really strong. He’s active and athletic, like he’s going to make our defense better.”

Offensively, that activity and athleticism could make McSwain a threat on the break to finish with authority at the rim, a nice counter balance to the ball handlers and trailing 3-point shooters. In the half court, McSwain probably won’t join the chorus of consistent 3-point shooters the Hoosiers have. Video of him at Neosho County shows a shot that needs improvement.

But he could flourish around the rim. He’s shown promise as a paint scorer on both sides of the basket. And his positioning, instincts and leaping ability make him a good offensive and defensive rebounder. It’s possible he could also fill the Troy Williams role in IU’s halfcourt offense: roaming the baseline and short corners, the defense one rotation away from him using the given space and converting at the basket with athleticism.

Bottom Line: By not participating in Indiana’s televised practice or at Hoosier Hysteria, Indiana fans have yet to give McSwain an eye test in the cream and crimson. Collin Hartman’s injury does create more minutes in the rotation, but McSwain faces competition against a frontcourt with depth featuring an emerging Juwan Morgan and freshman De’Ron Davis, who despite a late arrival as well, is getting in daily reps against NBA talent Thomas Bryant. All that said, McSwain could very well become a player Crean trusts and uses regularly once the thick of the Big Ten season hits and he gains more experience in the program. Time will tell.

Quotable: “What stands out to me about Indiana is the player development. I worked out with them and saw a lot of things that were new to me, that I hadn’t seen before. Coach (Tom) Crean saw a lot of things that I needed to work on in my game and I like that.” — McSwain in April

Previously: Devonte Green, Grant Gelon, Curtis Jones, De’Ron Davis, Juwan Morgan, OG Anunoby, Thomas Bryant, Josh Newkirk

2016-2017 Player Profile: Josh Newkirk

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’re taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster this month. Today, we continue our look at Indiana’s roster with Josh Newkirk.

Redshirt junior Josh Newkirk is the only true point guard on IU’s roster for the 2016-17 season.

Newkirk sat out last season due as a transfer from Pittsburgh. After making a full recovery from microfracture surgery, the 6-foot-1 guard has positioned himself to be an important piece of the IU guard rotation. IU recruited Newkirk during his high school years, but backed off after receiving a commitment from Stanford Robinson. On Saturday at Hoosier Hysteria, Tom Crean said the Hoosiers never should have stopped going after him.

As Crean presented Newkirk with his Big Ten Champions ring, he praised Newkirk’s work ethic and competitive energy in practice. The Raleigh (N.C.) native improved behind the scenes last season, pushing the intensity level as hard as he could against Yogi Ferrell in practice. Crean has said multiple times that Newkirk was a driving factor that forced IU’s guards to be better everyday.

Even though he sat out a year, Newkirk isn’t looking at the time missed as a disadvantage. He spent the time observing Ferrell and the Hoosiers for an entire season. He learned leadership and the IU tradition. He analyzed each player’s role and was able to understand how he can best fit into the IU rotation upon his return.

Newkirk’s decision to come to Indiana was based largely on Crean’s ability to develop players. During his two seasons at Pitt, he averaged 4.5 points and shot just 31.3 percent in 17.7 minutes per game. But he appears to have already made significant improvements at IU, particularly with his shooting.

The first time fans had the chance to see Newkirk on the floor as a Hoosier confirmed these claims. With the assistance of associate head coach Tim Buckley, Newkirk’s shot looked promising on Saturday as he finished second in the 3-point shootout at Hoosier Hysteria. In the scrimmage, he looked comfortable and confident on the floor, showing true signs of becoming an offensive threat in the backcourt for the Hoosiers.

Bottom Line: Newkirk has the most experience playing point guard out of anyone on IU’s roster. Newkirk will be an immediate part in the IU rotation, whether he’s a starter or comes off the bench. He excels in transition and has become accustomed to the Hoosiers style of play. This season he has the potential and talent for a major breakout season after struggling at Pitt, suffering a knee injury. After sitting out last season, he’s more than due.

Quotable: “Here is a lot more uptempo than Pittsburgh. So that’ll help me get into the open floor, create for the other guys and getting into the lane and getting a lot of transition points.” Newkirk last week at preseason availability.

Previously: Devonte Green, Grant Gelon, Curtis Jones, De’Ron Davis, Juwan Morgan, OG Anunoby, Thomas Bryant

Haunted Hall of Hoops set for Friday, October 28

Indiana announced on Monday it will hold its annual Haunted Hall of Hoops this Friday, Oct. 29, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

The event, which will start at 6:30 p.m. with candy and games, is free of charge and will include a scrimmage open to the public beginning at 7:15 p.m.

After the scrimmage concludes, children in costume will be able to participate in a parade on the floor. Group photos with the coaches and players will also be taken. Following the parade, an autograph session for kids only will follow. Free schedule calendars will be available.

“This is something that everyone in our program looks forward to,” Tom Crean said in a release. “We hope Hoosier fans will come out to take in our scrimmage and help us in our preparation with our first exhibition game a few days later.”

2016-2017 Player Profile: Thomas Bryant

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’re taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster this month. Today, we continue our look at Indiana’s roster with Thomas Bryant.

When Indiana’s 2015-2016 season ended in Philadelphia with a 101-86 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA tournament Sweet Sixteen, Thomas Bryant and Tom Crean shared a moment in the locker room that was viewed thousands of times on social media.

As the locker room was about to close to the media, the 6-foot-10 Bryant sat with his head on Crean’s shoulder as his coach embraced him. It was a totally unscripted moment that revealed a behind the scenes look at the relationship between Crean and Bryant.

That relationship, Bryant’s hunger to improve and his love for the IU program led him to return for a second season in Bloomington. Even with a new NCAA rule that would have allowed him to test the NBA draft waters with no risk, there was no drama with Bryant.

No press conference. No social media announcement. No waiting until the last minute to make his intentions known to the coaching staff or fans. Bryant was all in on returning to school.

In an era where plenty of five-star recruits are looking for the fastest path to professional stardom, Bryant instead wants to be a guy who can not just make it to the next level, but stay there.

“Just seeing myself as a long term prospect in the game of basketball, I knew I needed to return for my sophomore year before I even finished the season,” Bryant told Inside the Hall at Big Ten media day in Washington D.C. “I thought it would be better for me for the long term.”

Now at 255 pounds and as a centerpiece on Indiana’s 2016-2017 roster, Bryant appears ready to completely break out.

As a freshman, he finished a ridiculous 71 percent of his 2-point attempts, which ranked fourth in the nation. He ran the floor hard and finished plays demonstratively at the rim. He’s not a great shot blocker, but by the end of the season, Bryant was comfortable guarding ball screens after being able to do so in Maui.

In his second season as a Hoosier, look for Bryant to show off an even more well rounded game.

He’s worked tirelessly in the offseason on footwork and explosiveness. He won the 3-point shooting contest at Hoosier Hysteria, a potential new wrinkle to his game that could help this Indiana team have even better floor spacing.

And he’s continued to develop as a leader, which is something Indiana will need with the injury to Collin Hartman and departures of Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, Max Bielfeldt, Nick Zeisloft and Ryan Burton.

Bottom Line: It’s rare for a player to pass up the opportunity to enter the draft with a good shot at guaranteed money, but that’s exactly what Bryant did by returning to Indiana. He’ll be one of the faces of not only the Hoosiers this season, but Big Ten and college basketball. Having just turned 19 in August, Bryant should continue to take major steps forward this season as one of the game’s elite big men.

Quotable: “I feel like I’m growing into more of a leader. Vocally on the court and off of it. Just trying to help my teammates each and every day.” – Bryant last Wednesday at Indiana’s preseason media availability.

Previously: Devonte Green, Grant Gelon, Curtis Jones, De’Ron Davis, Juwan Morgan, OG Anunoby

Five takeaways from Hoosier Hysteria

Indiana’s season opening event, Hoosier Hysteria, took place Saturday night in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall and included player introductions, a 3-point shootout, dunk contest and a 12-minute scrimmage.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from Hysteria:

· Devonte Green steals the show in the scrimmage: If there was a question as to whether freshman Devonte Green would challenge for a spot in this season’s rotation, we may have received our answer on Saturday night.

While it’s just a scrimmage with very little defense being played at times, the freshman guard from Long Island put on a show. Green hit five 3s in the scrimmage and led the Cream team to a 41-29 win. Some of the shots (as you can see here in the highlights) were very difficult, but Green showed that he can make shots off both the catch and the dribble.

Sophomore Thomas Bryant, who has known Green since their days as teammates on the Nike EYBL circuit with the PSA Cardinals, wasn’t surprised.

“He’s gotten better at everything,” Bryant said. “Shooting, ball handling, passing, defense. He’s improved each and every day.”

· Ring ceremony a great way to honor returning players: It was a moment that wasn’t on the script for Hoosier Hysteria, but handing out the Big Ten championship rings to the returning players was one of the highlights of the night.

Tom Crean spoke a bit about each player who received a ring and even got choked up a few times. Indiana also put together a video titled “This is how you’re a champion,” that featured Crean’s speech from the postgame in Iowa City last season:

“It meant a lot because we worked really hard and the coaching staff worked really hard,” OG Anunoby said following Hysteria. “We were stunned because we didn’t know we were going to get the rings, but we’re glad we did.”

· Bryant looks fine physically: There was a bit of a boot scare last week with Bryant that prompted him to issue a few tweets regarding the status of his foot, but Indiana’s star big man looked ready to go in terms of his health.

Bryant won the men’s portion of the 3-point shootout and was running the floor perfectly fine throughout the 12-minute scrimmage. Bryant has added significant mass to his upper body in the offseason and is up to 255 pounds according to the official roster.

After not even testing the NBA waters following his freshman year despite having the option, Bryant appears to be all-in on having a monster sophomore year in Bloomington.

· Newkirk, Blackmon Jr. and Johnson all appear to be healthy: Josh Newkirk, James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson are all coming off of injuries, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at them.

Newkirk has been cleared the longest of the three guys and he had an impressive sequence when he stole the ball and went the other way and finished it with a dunk. Newkirk is only about 6-foot-1, but he’s quick and very strong in the upper body.

Johnson appears to have tweaked his jump shot a little bit, but had it working and knocked down several attempts from beyond the 3-point line. The Richmond (Va.) native has also bulked up even more in the upper body.

And Blackmon Jr. also knocked in several 3s and appeared to be moving very well both laterally and downhill.

· Recruits take in Hysteria: Hysteria is always a major recruiting weekend and the headliner was five-star class of 2017 Oak Hill Academy (Va.) forward Billy Preston.

The 6-foot-10 forward sat behind the Indiana bench for most of the night and appeared to be enjoying himself throughout the evening.

In addition to Preston, Indiana had some notable underclassmen in attendance including 2018 McCutcheon guard Robert Phinisee and 2018 Bloomington North wing Musa Jallow. There were also many younger prospects from the 2019 and 2020 classes in attendance.

Indiana ranked No. 16 in initial KenPom.com ratings

The new KenPom.com ratings are out for the 2016-2017 season and Indiana will begin the season in the top 20.

IU will begin the season at No. 16 in Pomeroy’s ratings, which is just the fifth highest ranking for a Big Ten team. Last season, Indiana was No. 13 to start the season in KenPom and finished the season at No. 11.

The rest of the Big Ten is ranked as follows: Wisconsin (8), Ohio State (13), Michigan State (14), Purdue (15), Michigan (31), Maryland (48), Iowa (55), Northwestern (61), Illinois (70), Minnesota (71), Nebraska (87), Penn State (98) and Rutgers (191).

The Hoosiers sit at No. 7 nationally in offensive efficiency in the preseason, according to Pomeroy and at No. 50 in defensive efficiency. Indiana finished last season ranked 59th nationally in defensive efficiency.

Pomeroy projects IU to finish 11-7 in the Big Ten alongside Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue. The overall record projected for the Hoosiers by Pomeroy is 22-9. Last season, Pomeroy projected Indiana to finish 12-6 in the Big Ten and the Hoosiers went 15-3.

The highest rated non-conference opponents on IU’s schedule according to Pomeroy’s ratings are Kansas (3), North Carolina (5), Louisville (9), Butler (19) and Fort Wayne (126).

Indiana also plays four opponents ranked 300 or worse in Pomeroy’s ratings: SIU Edwardsville (300), Southeast Missouri State (313), Delaware State (335) and Mississippi Valley State (336).

Photo Gallery: 2016 Hoosier Hysteria

Check out 93 photos by Jamie Owens from Saturday’s Hoosier Hysteria at Assembly Hall in the embedded photo gallery below. Purchase prints from J. Scott Photography.

Video: Hoosier Hysteria scrimmage highlights

Saturday night’s Hoosier Hysteria ended with a 12-minute scrimmage won by the Cream team, 41-29, over the Crimson.

We’ve compiled two minutes of highlights from the scrimmage below and after the jump, you can find unofficial stats from the night cap of Hysteria: