Indiana freshman Troy Williams had a double-double in his first exhibition game for the Hoosiers while also blocking three shots.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – Let's get this out of the way from the start. This Southern Indiana team that Indiana beat by 15 points (83-68) in the Hoosiers' first exhibition game Saturday is the same program that Bellarmine beat by 23 points in USI's season-finale last March.
Take that news in any direction that you choose.
Then remember this: The only place you'll see Victor Oladipo in Assembly Hall this season is the video board. Ditto for Cody Zeller. As well as Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and others. There is nobody on Tom Crean's roster who averaged more than 3.5 rebounds last season. Indiana made 257 three-point shots a year ago and 198 of those threes walked out the door.
So it's impossible to predict what you'll see on the last Saturday in February based on what you saw on the last Saturday in October. But I'll try:
A team that will be more dangerous creating offense from its defense than punishing you from the three-point line. A team that actually has legitimate depth that last season's team never developed.
A team that is less skilled at four positions but more athletic at three. A team that will provide several shock-the-world moments and will also lose some games that will create shock in the IU locker room.
A team that I'm not putting in my pre-season Top 25, but others are.
Some treats but also some tricks. But more treats than tricks.
"I loved their attitude," Crean said. "Love the upbeat way that they play. I think the fans are really going to enjoy this team. But I think they're going to be like me – they'll pull their hair out once in awhile. They want it. That's well over half the battle."
"For the overall performance, I felt like we played better than I expected," said Yogi Ferrell, IU's point guard and the only returning starter. "I felt that we were more together."
A few numbers to note: Indiana overwhelmed USI on the glass (54-36), punishing the visitors with 21 offensive rebounds. They knocked loose 10 steals. They played with an understanding of the new rules that emphasize not reaching and bumping on defense, committing only a dozen fouls. Ferrell scored 20, five others had at least nine points.
The Hoosiers averaged 1.07 points per possession, a dip from their 1.18 last season.
A few numbers to worry about: Indiana turned the ball over 17 times – and nine of those errors were made by the two most experienced players (Ferrell and Will Sheehey). They were joined in the starting lineup by Evan Gordon, the senior transfer from Arizona State, and two freshmen (Troy Williams and Noah Vonleh).
IU also missed 13 of 31 free throws. The Hoosiers made 9 of 21 three-pointers, but six were scored by Ferrell. He won the I Spent My Summer In the Gym Award, showing a smooth and confident stroke. That's more threes than he made in the final 13 games last season. Nobody else on Crean's roster made more than one.
Crean has two freshmen who are not as touted or as polished as several of John Calipari's freshmen at Kentucky, but they will have the basketball world talking about them, too.
That would be the two starters – Williams and Vonleh.
Williams can run and jump as relentlessly as Oladipo – and he's two inches taller with longer arms. He was only cleared to use his injured right hand last Monday. He played like a guy who goes to the rim as if his scholarship depends upon it. Credit Williams with 10 points, 10 rebounds, three blocked shots and 25 minutes of remarkable energy.
"He's got such a firecracker in his body, he's on explosion all the time," Crean said. "Like I say to him, we don't want you to be Victor as a freshman, we want you to be Victor defensively end of sophomore year. I think he's good enough to get to that point.
"When you've got a guy like that, you've got to let him run, you've got to let him play. What you've got to do is coach him along the way. He really wants to be coached."
"Since I'm considered the athletic one on the team, I've been working hard on it," Williams said.
Remember that it was Vonleh, not Williams, who played in the McDonald's all-American game. He is billed as a power forward. He started at center. He made a three-point shot, scoring nine points while grabbing a dozen rebounds, half on each end of the floor.
He looked comfortable near the basket or away from it. Everywhere but the free-throw line, where he missed all five attempts.
Vonleh is 6 feet 10 with a 7-4 wingspan, but Crean mentioned another measurement.
Vonleh has hands that swallow the basketball. In the last 12 years, the only player to participate in the NBA pre-draft camp whose hands measured larger than Vonleh's was Kawhi Leonard, the star forward on the San Antonio Spurs.
"Noah, we're moving him around all the time," Crean said. "We're not letting him have any comfort level on getting one position because that's not what he is.
"He's a guy who can do numerous things. When he gets more of an understanding and does less thinking, he'll be fantastic."
Vonleh will have great days and days that make Crean tug at his hair. So will Williams. It will be that kind of year.