BOZICH | Seven reasons Indiana (mostly) looked better than last - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Seven reasons Indiana (mostly) looked better than last season

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Max Bielfeldt (left) and James Blackmon led Indiana past Ottawa in the Hoosiers' opening exhibition. Max Bielfeldt (left) and James Blackmon led Indiana past Ottawa in the Hoosiers' opening exhibition.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – It was an exhibition game. The first step beyond a practice scrimmage. Something football coaches wouldn’t let you watch. Game 1 of 36, 37, 38 or whatever number of games Indiana University will play this season.

There’s your warning. Draw conclusions from Indiana’s 82-54 victory over Ottawa Tuesday night at Assembly Hall at your own risk.

One Indiana assistant said the staff considered Ottawa the equivalent of a solid mid-major Division I team. The Gee Gees have a tradition of being a terrific three-point shooting team.

This was not the same Ottawa team as the NAIA squad that visited Kentucky Monday. The Gee Gees were ranked first in the latest Canadian college basketball poll released Tuesday, winners of eight of their first nine exhibition games. Ottawa beat the Hoosiers during IU’s exhibition tour of Canada in the summer of 2014.

That’s all the context I can provide as the Hoosiers, ranked 15th in the opening Associated Press college basketball poll, won their final tune-up before playing Bellarmine University in their next exhibition Monday.

Seven reasons the Hoosiers (mostly) looked better than the 20-14 club from last season:

1. For at least one night, coach Tom Crean has gone away from the three-guard lineup the Hoosiers featured last season. Robert Johnson started 33 of 34 games last season. Johnson did not start against Ottawa.

Crean went with a more traditional lineup – two guards (Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr.), two forwards (Troy Williams, Michigan transfer Max Bielfeldt) and a center (freshman Thomas Bryant).

The result was predictable. The Hoosiers were less perimeter oriented. They were not as frantic while searching for mismatches in their offensive approach. There’s more reason to feed the ball to Bryant than there was to give it to Hanner Mosquera-Perea. IU’s bulk made the lane more congested on the defensive end.

The final numbers reflected balance that any coach would celebrate – the five starters scored between 8 and 15 points.

But Bielfeldt and Bryant give the Hoosiers more meat on the glass. That was reflected by 18 offensive rebounds and an overall rebounding edge of a dozen.

“I have more confidence pressuring up a guy when Max and Thomas have our backs,” Blackmon said.

Crean was encouraged by the way his team finished the game, averaging 2.5 points per possession over the final 9 ½ minutes while stopping Ottawa without a field goal on 13 of 14 possessions in one stretch.

2. Bryant did not shoot well, but he understands how to score and scramble. Nobody in Crean’s 10-player rotation played with more energy or enthusiasm.

Bryant can run with more agility and speed than most guys who are 6 feet 10 and 245 pounds.. His hands looked dependable. His wingspan will dissuade some dribblers from attacking the rim. His shot mechanics passed the look test. He finished with a double-double – a dozen points and 11 boards while blocking a pair of shots.

He’ll need more strength in his upper body to feast against Big Ten competition. His lack of strength and experience showed in his inability to finish shots. Bryant was 6 for 16. But that will come. At least four of his misses were on tips.

“He always plays with incredible energy and incredible heart,” Bielfeldt said. “He showed why he was so highly regarded last year. I love playing with Thomas. He’s such a physical presence.”

3. I’ll predict that Blackmon not Ferrell will lead this team in scoring, even though Ferrell averaged 16.3 and Blackmon 15.7 last season.

Ferrell seemed more tuned into distributing the basketball. He didn’t hunt shots against the Gee Gees, taking only nine while scoring 11 points.

Blackmon shoots as if he is convinced every ball is going in. It doesn’t matter how deep. It does not matter how tightly a defender is squeezing him. Blackmon is fearless. He made four of his six three-point attempts without forcing the perimeter game. He led the Hoosiers with 15.

4. The defense has a bit more barbed wire in it. Indiana’s length and quickness bothered Ottawa.

The Gee Gees made 41 percent of their three-point field goals last season, averaging more than 12 made threes per game. Ottawa made only five of 26 three-pointers while turning the ball over 23 times. The Hoosiers knocked loose a dozen steals.

“We work on it every day in practice,” Blackmon said. “I’d give us (a grade of) 90 or 85. We want to get it to 100.”

But a reminder: It was one game against an undersized opponent.

5. Too many turnovers. The Hoosiers were careless with the basketball, especially in the first half when they dribbled, passed or kicked it away 13 times.

Troy Williams was the biggest offender, and the least effective Hoosier with the basketball. Williams finished with as many turnovers as field goals (six), which is not the ratio Crean expects. He also did not get to the free throw line. As well as Williams attacks the rim, he should average four free throws per night.

6. Juwan Morgan and O.G. Anunoby, IU’s two other freshmen, have the ability to be 8-to-12 minute guys this season and starters before their careers end. They’re tall. At 6-8, Anunoby is an inch taller than Morgan and more comfortable near the rim.

Morgan was Bryant’s backup. He scored both times he was given the ball near the basket and also blocked a shot.

Anunoby is thicker than Morgan, but not as bouncy. He finished the game with two flashy dunks, the first off a lob pass from Blackmon, the second on a slash from the left wing. Anunoby’s athleticism has some observers predicting he’ll be the next player Crean develops similar to the way he shaped Victor Oladipo and Williams.

7. Indiana did not force the three. The Hoosiers ranked eighth in the nation in three-point field goals made last season, averaging 9.4. They shot the three wisely against the Gee Gees, making 8 of 20.

All of the made threes came from three players – Blackmon, Ferrell (who made two) and Nick Zeisloft (also two).

“This entire team can really shoot,” Bielfeldt said.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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