BOZICH | Indiana's Ferrell shows Minnesota, Wooden voters his value
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – The voters for the John Wooden Award determined last week that Yogi Ferrell was not one of the 20 best college basketball players in the country.
That one we can debate.
The voters for the Naismith Award made the insult more stinging later in the week. They added 10 names to their list – and excluded Ferrell, Indiana's unflappable junior point guard.
That one deserves no debate. That one is folly. Ferrell made my Top 20. It's time for a Wooden and Naismith recount.
“He didn't make it?” IU coach Tom Crean said Sunday night when he heard the news.
No, sir. Not the Top 20. Not the Top 30.
Indiana made a school record 18 three-point shots while dispatching Minnesota, 90-71, in Assembly Hall. Eight of the 18 followed assists by Ferrell, who has 41 assists and only 13 turnovers in IU's last eight games.
Opposing Big Ten coaches begin their game plans trying to unsettle Ferrell. On a night when Ferrell scored only seven, he punished Minnesota. Ferrell does not get unsettled. Credit him with 11 assists -- a career high.
“That dude is the real deal,” Crean said. “I'm on him, but I don't know how you can play much better than he's played.”
Indiana won seven Big Ten games last season. There were stacks of pre-season magazines that predicted the Hoosiers would wobble to no more than seven league wins again this winter. No size. No seniors. No success last season. You know the list.
Those magazines were wrong.
Official confirmation game Sunday night. The victory bumped IU to 18-8 overall and 8-5 in the Big Ten. They're a game behind second place Maryland with Purdue booked for a visit to Bloomington Thursday night.
The Hoosiers have continued to track toward the NCAA Tournament, another item the pre-season magazines were certain would not happen.
“They flat-out kicked our butts,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.
If the Hoosiers do return to the tournament after a one-season absence (and I say Indiana still needs to win at least two of its last five Big Ten games to make it happen), who deserves the credit?
Crean, of course, but if you've been following the ups and downs at IU over the last 23 months you understand that many are more likely to credit Jimmy the Ball Boy than the coach.
That's silly, but I've shared my thoughts on that several times. Now it's Ferrell who is being snubbed.
Take a closer look at what Ferrell has done for a team that starts two freshmen with him in a three-guard set, along with an undersized frontcourt. It's been significant and persistent. He ranks in the top five in the Big Ten in scoring (about 16 per game), assists (5), free throw percentage (87.4) and three-point percentage (43).
Ferrell did not blow up the box score against the Gophers. In fact, he scored seven, tying his season low. He made just one three. All that did was extend his streak to 57 consecutive games with at least one shot from distance, the longest streak in Division I hoops.
This was a night for Indiana's freshmen guards, James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson. They combined for 11 of the 18 three-pointers the Hoosiers made against Richard Pitino's team. Blackmon (6 for 10 while scoring 24) and Johnson (5 for 8 while scoring 19) overpowered Minnesota from the perimeter.
“Even though (Ferrell) didn't score a lot, we scored a lot,” Blackmon said.
The 18 threes set two records: One for Indiana. Another for Minnesota.
Until Sunday, IU had never made more than 17 threes in a game – not even when Steve Alford, Jay Edwards, Damon Bailey, Calbert Cheaney or Eric Gordon were in town.
It was also four more threes than Minnesota had ever surrendered in a game.
When you shoot the way the Indiana shot against the Gophers (better than 59 percent) the game looks easy. Ferrell is the guy who made it look that way.
“The bottom line is the ball was on a string for us all night,” Crean said.
But remember what I said in the seventh paragraph – eight of the 18 threes followed assists by Ferrell. If you were open, Ferrell found you. Three to Johnson. Two to Blackmon. Two to Troy Williams. One to Nick Zeisloft.
“For me, he was finding me everywhere, any open spot I felt comfortable shooting with,” Blackmon said.
Ferrell is not the best player in the Big Ten. That is an argument that Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky and Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell will decide over the next three weeks.
But never forget this: Ferrell is the guy who has kept Indiana on course to wash away the gravel from last season. And Ferrell is succeeding.
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