Devin Davis was part of the Indiana defense that blocked 13 shots as the Hoosiers defeated Chicago State, 100-72, Friday.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – Opening night has never been an issue for Tom Crean's basketball teams at Indiana, even during the first three seasons when Crean was picking up the pieces of a broken program.
The six-win team during Crean's first season? That group won its opener by 18, easily the Hoosiers' largest victory that season. Indiana won its other four openers for Crean by at least 23.
So there was no reason to expect the Hoosiers would struggle with Chicago State in Assembly Hall Friday night, even with Victor Oladipo in Orlando, Cody Zeller in Charlotte and three other guys playing overseas.
They did not.
Indiana 100, Chicago State 72 – on a night when the Hoosiers blocked 13 shots, scored 52 points in the paint and set a school record by making 45 free throws.
"It could be the most athletic team I've seen at Indiana," said Don Fischer, the radio voice of IU athletics. Fischer, for the record, was the play-by-play man during the glory days of Bob Knight.
Fischer was talking about what many people will be talking about after this game – Indiana's ability to hover around the rim like a traffic copter in Los Angeles. Crean has always tried to play fast. This team will try to play faster.
Last season's team was supposed to be deep. It wasn't. This team is supposed to be deep. It will be. Six guys scored in double figures – three of them freshmen. In fact, Crean's six freshmen contributed 42 points, 29 rebounds and six blocks. Noah Vonleh celebrated a double-double (11 points, 14 boards) in his first game and Devin Davis (10 and 9) almost joined him.
"We've got a lot of slashers, a lot of guys who like to crash and play above the rim," said Jeremy Hollowell, who led IU with 16 points and 4 blocks, both career highs.
Defense will be the calling card. They will knock away steals. They will block shots. They will make shooters uncomfortable. But they will attack the rim as well as defend it. They will also play out of control at times and make their frenetic coach pace more than normal. It's unavoidable. It's a young and frisky team.
Think about these numbers: Last season, with a team that produced two of the first four picks in the NBA Draft, Indiana averaged 3.6 blocks but never had more than seven in a game.
And this: Indiana scored 55 points on field goals – and 52 were scored in the paint. The Hoosiers made only one three-pointer, attempting eight.
"Both Royce Waltman (another member of the IU radio crew) and (trainer) Tim Garl made the same point about us only making one three," Crean said.
"Here's what I think – and this is a plus to me, especially in the second half: They didn't hunt shots. As a young team, they didn't take the first three they saw. I think that's really, really important because … you don't want to get into a settling mode. You don't want to get into, ‘I'm going to take the first jumper I see.'
"That's not our strength. We'll get a lot better shooting the ball. I have no doubt about that. We'll improve that and we'll continue to recruit to it and all those type of things. The key is you've got to take what the game is giving you. If you start inventing in your mind that this is the best play, for me to take this first side jumper or let me get this three, that's not always what's good."
Here is the flashing light: This is basketball, not the decathlon, volleyball or the 400-meter dash. Chicago State let Indiana do what Indiana wanted to do. That might also happen when the Hoosiers play LIU-Brooklyn or Samford, Indiana's next two opponents.
That won't be the situation when Syracuse, Wisconsin or Michigan State is the opponent.
Fischer is right. Indiana is more athletic than last season. But the Hoosiers are not nearly as skilled. Where to improve? Ball-handling. Ball-handling. Passing. Ball-handling. Shooting. Ball-handling. Even without watching the video, Crean said this group had a long list of things to work on. He was not exaggerating.
IU treated the basketball as if it was stolen merchandise. The Hoosiers had more than twice as many turnovers (19) as assists (8). The turnover total tied the season high from last season. It was also six more than IU averaged in 2013.
Indiana averaged making better than 7 three-pointers per game last season, shooting better than 40 percent. This team made one of eight. Last season's team made at least two in every game.
"The biggest thing coming from this game is we've got to get back on defense," Hollowell said. "And taking care of the ball."
It's the second weekend in November, the first dribbles of the season. There is supposed to be work to do. But, as Don Fischer said, there are guys here who can do it.