The math tells you otherwise about the college basketball season, but there’s a pretty easy line of demarcation to make between the non-conference and conference seasons.
Well, you can do a breakout of these first four games for the Hoosiers over the first 10 days of the season as well. Consider this the end of the extended preseason, as business is picks up when the Hoosiers head to Madison Square Garden to battle Washington followed by either UConn or Boston College.
This opening group of games ended with a 90-74 victory over Stony Brook on Sunday evening at Assembly Hall. There were more empty seats than normal, courtesy of a scary afternoon of weather throughout the area.
Stony Brook, much like LIU-Brooklyn earlier in the week, is a quality program that has played and succeeded on bigger stages in previous years. The Seawolves beat UMass in the NIT a season ago and won 25 games for the year. Their 13 wins in true road games was more than any other program in Division I. For example, Indiana will play 10 true road games all season.
The Hoosiers had the standard fits and starts that you would expect to see from a young basketball team in the Sunday matinee. Indiana did a great job of establishing an early path to the basket, leading to 19 field goals out of 27 coming from the paint. The Hoosiers would go 6-17 from three-point range, which will likely be about the norm for this bunch.
Indiana was maddening at the line, missing 19 of 49 attempts. That’s the worst of the season for the Hoosiers, who entered the contest having made 74 percent from the line in the season’s first three games.
Of course, with the new stricter enforcement of fouls being called, the ability for a team to make free throws will be more important than ever before. The Hoosiers are shooting an average of over 40 free throws PER GAME at this point.
Entering the season, the duo that was expected to lead the Hoosiers was that of Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey. Ferrell without doubt is the engine that runs this attack, as evidenced by 24 points and six assists in Sunday’s win. But Yogi’s running mate after the first week of the season appears to be Noah Vonleh, not necessarily Sheehey.
Vonleh has picked up double-double in every game to this point. Certainly, as he faces more talented levels of competition like this week, that streak should come to an end. But it’s also easy to see the talent that surrounded this freshman before setting foot on campus in Bloomington.
Don’t get me wrong, Sheehey still has be a major factor for this team to succeed. He wasn’t much of a factor on Sunday, simply because of foul issues. Sheehey scored nine points, but in only 12 minutes of play before fouling out.
His absence did place more of an emphasis on the bench, with Evan Gordon delivering 12 points, a new high for his first and only season on campus. And that bench has been an early concern. Yes, you’ve seen numerous players in each game, but in the two games where the Hoosiers were in close games late, the bench has been outscored. In the one-point win on Tuesday, the bench contributed just five points. Yesterday, Stony Brook’s bench won the scoring battle 29-21.
And to again circle back to the new (or better enforcement of the old) rules, a team’s bench will be key this season. There will be less time with the starting five on the floor, and more time with reserves playing key minutes. For example, each Stony Brook starter had at least three fouls, and no starer for the Seawolves played more than 31 minutes.
Up next for the Hoosiers is Washington, who enters the game at 2-1 on the year. They lost to UC-Irvine in one of the two preliminary games in their portion of the 2K Sports Classic. The Huskies needed to rally to beat Eastern Washington yesterday. They’ve shot just 41 percent from the floor, and made 12 out of 49 threes attempted on the season. Opposing teams are making nearly 50 percent of shots against the Husky defense. Washington lost in the opening round of the NIT a season ago.
This begins the next “chunk” of the season for Indiana, with games against Pac-12 and perhaps as many as three games against ACC competition, and whatever league UConn is in at this point. Included during that stretch are games against quality mid-majors in Evansville and Oakland. After that, just two more games against “lesser” competition remain before Big Ten play begins on New Year’s Eve.
There have been things to like, and things to be concerned about to this point for Tom Crean’s team. But we’ll know a lot more about them over the next 3-4 weeks, and that starts on Thursday and Friday at Madison Square Garden.