Indiana had its first poor three point shooting performance of the season, but still made relatively easy work of Gardner-Webb at Assembly Hall Monday night. IU shot only 3-18 from deep, including a combined 0-9 from starters Jordan Hulls, Verdell Jones III, Christian Watford, and Victor Oladipo, but still managed to put the game away early in the second half and rolled to a comfortable win. The Hoosiers led by only 11 at halftime, but outscored G-W 25-6 in the first 11 minutes of the second half. Box score here.
While IU's poor outside shooting performance will put a dent in IU's offensive numbers, there was little else worthy of complaint. The Hoosiers shot 63 percent from two point range, grabbed 37 percent of offensive rebound opportunities while allowing G-W only 20 percent (that's my fuzzy math--Pomeroy isn't updated yet), and turned the ball over 13 times in a 69 possession game, which would be about 18 percent, while Gardner-Webb turned the ball over 19 times (27 percent). This continues a generally good turnover trend. We still aren't as careful with the ball as I would prefer, but we have been comfortably in the black in all of our games. IU's free throw shooting numbers were not good (12-23), but that is skewed a little bit by the fact that Remy Abell and Jeff Howard were a combined 0-5 in garbage time. Of the players who see meaningful playing time, only Jones (3-6) missed more than one. Once again, IU showed good ball movement and assisted 19 of 29 field goals.
Individual lines of note:
Cody Zeller had another ho-hum, uber-efficient game: 6-8 from the field, 13 points, nine boards. I would have liked to have seen him get to the line a bit more, but that's stretching for a complaint. Five games into his college career, and Cody is shooting 80 percent from the field. Competition will dial up soon, however.
- Christian Watford had another rough shooting game (3-9, 7 points) but has looked much better on defense and on the boards (7 last night). He also had three assists.
- I can't claim to have done a survey of the entire college basketball world, but there can't be many players more improved than Victor Oladipo. He was everywhere last night: 13 points, 5-11 shooting, 5 assists, one turnover, 2 steals, 5 rebounds.
- Derek Elston continues to play well: 3-5 from the field, 3-4 from the line, 10 points, 9 rebounds, 15 minutes. Very solid.
Here are IU's individual stats to date:
|Verdell Jones III||5||25.4||2.8||5.8||48.3||0.8||1.4||57.1||4.4||6.4||68.8||1.0||2.2||3.2||4.6||2.6||1.0||0.6||2.2||10.8|
IU is through the warmup phase of the schedule. The Hoosiers have exceeded my expectations. They have won every game comfortably, and, if memory serves, have exceeded the Pomeroy predicted margin of victory in every game. The trip to Evansville would have concerned me even if IU had a bunch of tournament-tested players, yet the
Hoosiers treated the Ford Center as if it were their practice gym. None of this guarantees anything, of course. Perimeter defense will be a concern, as will ball-handling. Derek Elston is doing a nice job providing perimeter depth, but Tom Pritchard looks about like he looked last year, and Elston is a bit undersized. At some point, Zeller is going to get two fouls in the first five minutes of a game and we're going to have to play without him for a while.
While blowout wins are nothing new, the consistency of the effort is a marked improvement over the last three seasons, and nearly every individual player has improved: Oladipo, Sheehey, and Elston are obvious; Hulls looks more comfortable creating his own shots; Verdell's turnovers still are ugly, but there are fewer of them; Watford hasn't found his groove offensively but is much more aggressive on defense and the boards.
All that said, whether this season is a big step forward depends on how we translate our improvement to teams that play at a higher level. The first test is Sunday night against Butler. The Bulldogs are two-time NCAA runners-up but seem to be undergoing the same early season growing pains as last year. This simply has to be a win. Next Wednesday, IU travels to NC State for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. NC State upset Texas in New Jersey last night, and Pomeroy rates that game as a 50/50 proposition. It's not a must-win, but it would be a big win. After a game against Stetson next Sunday, IU will have a week of prep time each for successive Saturday games against Kentucky and Notre Dame. What do we expect from this stretch? I think a 2-2 mark in those games would leave me feeling pretty good about IU's ability to compete in the Big Ten. Regardless, it's nice to be thinking in those terms.