IU began the 2011-12 season with a blowout win over Stony Brook, and while plenty of questions remain, the Hoosiers showed all signs of being a meaningfully improved team this here. (stats here).
Of course, the most anticipated aspect of last night's game was Cody Zeller's debut as a Hoosier, and he did not disappoint. Zeller appeared tentative on IU's first couple of possessions, but quickly found his stride, and it was obvious that he has a skill set that no one else on the court could match and that IU fans haven't seen since Jared Jeffries. One play literally made me cackle with delight: the play in the second half where Zeller stole the ball at the baseline, dribbled through traffic, and finished with a dunk at the other end. Most guys Zeller's size couldn't do that in an empty gym.
Zeller's numbers were very good, of course--16 points on 5-6 from the field and 6-8 from the line 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 3 steals--but even those numbers don't quite capture the way he changes the game. His shot blocking ability and mere presence affect the other team's offense and take some pressure off IU's perimeter defenders. There was one player where Jordan Hulls got beat by his man and Hulls fouled him. Quinn Buckner pointed out that Hulls and his teammates need to learn that they can rely on Zeller and don't have to grab when they get beat. Again, Zeller got muscled a bit early on by Stony Brook's stocky center, and I'm sure we will see more of that as the level of competition increases, but there are few if many men his size on our schedule with comparable talent. Also, he's going to be a target for opposing players, and that was evident last night. IU was struggling to separate from the Seawolves at around the 6 minute mark when Matt Roth was fouled on a defensive rebound. It's not clear to me if the officials were alerted to the issue, but they went to the video and confirmed that Stony Brook's Danny Carter had punched Zeller in the groin. Carter was ejected, and thanks to free throws by Roth, Zeller, and Verdell Jones III on a subsequent foul, IU had a five point possession and the Seawolves never threatened again. IU led by 17 at the half and the Seawolves never got closer than 13 in the second half.
A 30 point win is always nice. This certainly was an offensive-oriented win. IU scored 1.39 points per possession and allowed .93. IU's effective field goal percentage was 72.1, which would have been the second best of last season. Perhaps more significantly, IU did it against a team that, which certainly overmatched on talent, prides itself on defense. This was Stony Brook's worst game from a points-per-possession perspective since a loss to Villanova four years ago. Stony Brook held its opponents to 39 percent shooting last year, and IU shot 65 percent. Certainly, I don't want to overstate what we saw last night. There were some issues: individual defensive breakdowns, and it took a bit too much prompting for the guards to begin feeding the post. Still, it was an encouraging opening performance.
- Will Sheehey left the game with flu-like symptoms, but showed no signs of it when he was in: he scored 13 points on 5-6 shooting (including an NBA-distance three pointer) and had five rebounds in 10 minutes of play.
- Victor Oladipo looked very good and played within himself. He was, by far, the quickest player on the floor and got most of his points driving to the basket. He tied Zeller for the team lead with 16 points and was 7-9 from the field and 2-2 from the line.
- IU's turnover numbers were a bit disappointing: 14, or 20.2 percent. Jordan Hulls had 3 TOs but 6 assists, and Verdell Jones III played well at the point, with 7 assists and one turnover.
- Derek Elston provided some encouraging play off the bench, and hopefully it was the hernia that led to his so-so sophomore season. Elston scored 11 points on 5-6 shooting in 14 minutes of play.
- Most of Austin Etherington's minutes came in garbage time, but he made the most of it: 8 points on 3-3 shooting in 5 minutes. Remy Abel scored 4 points in 9 minutes in his debut.
- Matt Roth showed signs of rediscovering his shooting form, with 8 points, including 2-3 from deep, in 7 minutes.