It is no secret that the Indiana Hoosiers have struggled entering into conference play. They let two games go that should have been wins in Minnesota and Nebraska and then have had to face Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin on the road to equal their five losses. No doubt, asking Indiana to do that is a tall order over a season, let alone over a three week span. In that time, serious questions have come up to whether Indiana is ready to compete with the big boys like everyone was screaming from the mountain top a month ago. The answer to that question is yes, but not without Verdell Jones.
The much maligned senior PG has been eviscerated by the IU faithful across message boards for the better part of the season and many have laid most of the blame of the Hoosiers’ current struggles at Verdell’s feet. However, taking a closer look at the number shows that placing so much blame on his shoulders is hardly fair. The big complaint about Jones seems to be that he just can’t handle the PG duties. The way many talk about him you’d think his assist to turnover ratio was in the dump. It isn’t. Jones’ performance in taking care of the ball and distributing it isn’t anything special to write home about, (his ratio is 1.36 assists to every turnover) but it is far from backbreaking.
In fact, Jones leads all Indiana players by a very large margin in assists. Verdell Jones has 80 assists on the season for the Hoosiers. Jordan Hulls has 71 and then no one else on the team break 40. Yes, you read that right, Verdell Jones’ assists have at least doubled up everyone on the team but Jordan Hulls. But so what you say, that is just a large number of passes to a very successful shooting team. Well then let’s go with something more tempo free. Verdell Jones is 12th in the conference in assist rate through 10 games at 21.8%. Every fifth time Jones touches the ball someone else is going to directly benefit from it. Think about it.
Jones is having what I would consider to be a mediocre conference season but is distributing the ball very well. He has 27 total conference turnovers, but 18 of them have come in the first five games. Since then he has only committed 9 in the final five. Now let’s make the assumption that good Verdell has shown up for good, like he has in the last several games. What does good Verdell provide this team that it has been missing all season and drastically needs? A slashing PG. Jones has found some confidence and has been getting to the basket with authority over the last two games.
Last night, Jones dropped 14 points on Iowa that forced the defense to focus in on stopping his drive. With Iowa having to focus on Jones it opened everyone else up for what Jones has struggled to do until recently, pass out of the drive. The defense collapses, Verdell Jones has his head up and sees the collapse, passes out of the defense, gets nine assists and Cody Zeller has seven dunks. As Zeller said in the press conference after his career night, "I didn’t do anything but stand there and dunk the ball." Cody Zeller owes Verdell a nice dinner for last night’s performance.
The same would have gone for the game in Madison, if Cody Zeller was allowed to take two steps onto the court before being whistled for unnecessary tallness. If Indiana is going to continue the turnaround from their sloppy play over the last two weeks it is going to have to come from the senior leadership of Verdell Jones. He’s found something that he has always been capable of doing and if he continues this pace of Good Verdell then Indiana will be rolling come tourney time. All Jones has to do is to continue his last five game pace of a 2.3 assist to turnover ratio and Indiana will be the unstoppable force they were last night on offense. Jones’ play set up the scores and rebounds for the entire team and if he continues his stellar play for the next month, he’ll cement his legacy on a team that he helped rebuild.