It's here, the real basketball season is finally here. After playing two exhibition games where the only substantive takeaways were, Hanner Perea doesn't look completely lost and it looks like Yogi can shoot now, we're finally into the meat of the season when games count. It feels like ages since the season ended in the Sweet Sixteen last March and it is finally nice to be at a point where we get actual results instead of debating over and over whether Jeremy Hollowell can make that leap or if Austin Etherington is healthy enough to contribute in the rotation. Now we'll finally get to know if Will Sheehey is capable of being the man instead of the first guy off the bench.
This year's campaign begins with Indiana taking on Chicago State University at 7 pm on BTN Digital. The Hoosiers come into the game with a lot of youth and a lot to prove. Meanwhile Chicago State is coming in with the exact opposite. The Cougars come into the game with 9 seniors on the roster and 3 juniors. This team is old and it is seasoned. A majority of the guys on the roster are transfers from junior college or other Division I programs. So despite their age, not many of them have played together for multiple years.
Their bevy of experience however, could cause some problems early on for the youthful Hoosiers. It likely won't last much beyond the opening couple of minutes though. Chicago St. is currently projected to be the 309th best team in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy. They are also projected their first year in the Western Athletic Conference to finish 6th. So finishing outside the top half of a bottom 5-6 conference in the nation should tell you a great deal about Chicago St.'s chances throughout the season. Not good.
Of course, in early season games you always have to be cautious of a crazy upset occurring. Especially given the amount of younguns on this Indiana team. The Hoosiers need to especially watch out for 6-1 G Jamere Dismukes. Though he didn't play the most of anyone on the squad last year, he definitely got the most use. He was on the court for nearly 60% of the minutes last year and a quarter of the time the play ended with him. 25% usage rate is pretty high when you consider only 9 guys in the entire Big Ten got that much mileage out of their minutes. Despite that high usage his efficiency wasn't the greatest. At only .91 points per possession, Dismukes' production is comparable to what Ronnie Johnson did last year. Not bad, but certainly not terrifying.
Where Indiana needs to keep most of their attention is the focus on their offensive end. Chicago State was 21st in the nation last year in forcing turnovers and 9th in steals. Much of that had to do with Dismukes, Nate Duhon and Scottie Pippen's nephew Quinton Pippen defending the perimeter. All three have good lenght and came in the top 120 in individual steal% last season. If you wanted to test a young and inexperienced offense, this is the game to do it. We would know pretty quickly against this perimeter defense whether Jeremy Hollowell is capable of handling back up guard duties.
This is a trend you're going to see through most of the non-conference. We're going to play a bevy of teams that do one thing very well, but not much else. This game, is a simulated VCU game. High ball pressure, lots of physical perimeter defense, but low efficiency offense. This should be the main focus for anyone watching tonight. Can Indiana keep their composure and take care of the ball? If they can, they will skate to a big victory in this one, while adding some confidence against high pressure defenses.
Look for the Hoosiers to eventually run away with this one, though it may be ugly through the first 10-15 minutes. Yogi and Will are going to need to be vocal leaders out there to settle down the team when they inevitably get frustrated with a high pressure defense. I'm looking for Indiana to respond positively. Final score: Indiana 91 - Chicago State 55.