Despite coming off a disappointing 17-16 campaign the previous year, 14,000 people turned out to view the latest iteration of the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday night.
They didn't disappoint.
Yes, it was a glorified practice. Yes, it's an event designed to make you feel good about the season. No, none of it counts when the season starts. Have I covered all the caveats? Many see this as a put-up or shut-up year for the program, and precious few think Indiana has the horses to improve on last season's debacle due to a lack of size and depth in the post. Questions of regarding the teams overall ability to compete can't really be answered until the conference season gets underway, but here's what I saw last night.
Holy hell, it wasn't the most difficult diagnosis, but Crean certainly realized that the shooting woes on last season's squad needed to be addressed, and he went out and addressed it. A couple of drills showcased during the event were basically created to showcase the new shooters, but it was the live scrimmage that really made the shooting stand out. Several guys knocked them in from long and midrange. Blackmon and Robert Johnson, in particular, knocked down a couple despite being well-contested.
Zeisloft continues to impress as well, with a lightning quick trigger and smooth, smooth mechanics. He may not be the kind of guy that can create his own shot in the Big Ten, but if you leave him to help on a drive, you're surrendering three points.
And that's the other big thing about the scrimmage, particularly on the veteran laden red squad with Yogi, Stan, Zeisloft, Davis, and Perea: shooters constantly being left open as purposeful drives to the rack forced perimeter defenders to help, and allowed shooters to stay put (as opposed to vacating the area as the pass comes out a la last season) and get wide-open looks.
Robinson's new right-handed jumper looks better mechanically, not sure he's getting big results yet, but they should come. I think the three-pointer is about another year away from being a real weapon for him.
Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. sharing a backcourt is going to be a nightmare for every team in the country. Period. I knew JBJ would be good from day one, but he was sensational as a scorer last night. Good drives and a few excellent passes that won't show up in the box score due to the recipient being unable to knock down the shot. At one point he unleashed an absolutely devastating step-back on an unsuspecting Stanford Robinson and canned the ensuing three-point attempt.
Not to be outdone, Yogi did it all on his end, getting the added benefit of playing with teammates who were all more familiar with each other. At one point it seemed like the Red team successfully executed fifty alley-oops in a row, but it might've just been two. Yogi got his fair share of points as well, continuing the trend he established last year as an excellent jumpshooter.
I saw a lot of confidence out of Robinson, who I think can break into the starting 5 if he can play defense consistently. He has shown flashes, now it's time to put it all together. Zeisloft may be the "opening day" starter, but I'd expect these guys to be fairly even, minutes-wise, by the end of the year. Zeisloft certainly has the jumpshot and the leadership (I could hear him on the court from way up where I was sitting) to warrant a spot in the starting lineup.
Robert "RoJo" Johnson looked a little less polished than his fellow freshman combo guard, but it's easy to see why he was so highly ranked out of school. He also shoots his jumper almost identically to the way Yogi does and made a couple nice passes as well.
A lot of people are anticipating a big year out of Williams, and I will say he looked more polished than last year's version. That said: he did make a couple of gaffes as a result of looking for the "Top Ten" play over the more conservative decision. That said, we know Crean likes to push the pace and you can live with those mistakes every now and then as long as they don't become a trend like last season. I'd still like to see Troy hit that pull-up jumper with more regularity, but his first step is tops on the team. With the newly restocked shooting cabinet, hopefully Troy can enjoy a little bit more space to operate this season.
Nothing about Perea stood out to me, and that's good and bad. Yes, he wasn't making eye-popping plays on either end all day, but he wasn't make eye-popping errors either. He did a good job cleaning things up on both ends and did the little things a whole lot more naturally than I've ever seen him do them before. Things like catching the ball, putting it on the floor, catching rebounds at their apex, the laundry list of things a good post player does efficiently that HMP struggled with as a raw basketball player.
On a couple of occasions, he reeled in the entry pass, made a move and then swung it back out to a wide-open shooter. If he can pass out of the post like that with consistency? Hoo boy.
Many have echoed the concerns of how well this team will be able to play defense, and they're totally valid. Yogi is the only guy who's proven he can do it night in and night out, and while everyone else on the roster is dripping with defensive potential, they have yet to show it with the same consistency. Troy Williams, in particular, has the makeup to be a defensive monster, but can he execute?
Devin Davis, in particular, I thought played with great defensive technique and energy. It probably won't show if he's asked to defend larger B1G centers night-in and night-out, but in guys closer to his size, I like his chances.
Thankfully, should this renewed scoring ability carry over into games, that will help increase the margin for error on the defensive side. Last year, we had a top-50 unit defensively but our inability to SCORE THE BASKETBALL made it very difficult for that defense to matter.