Indiana basketball has played nine games. Depending on how deep IU goes in the NCAA Tournament, that means at least a quarter of the season is now complete.
So a quarter of the way into the season, what are your impressions?
Is Indiana as good, better, about the same or not as good as you thought the Hoosiers would be this season?
It’s kind of difficult to truly judge the Hoosiers because the injury bug has taken its toll. Not having a dynamic player like Jerome Hunter, the second-rated player in your freshman class, is kind of a big deal.
But based on what we know, and who has played to this point, what do you think of Indiana basketball and how do you expect the Hoosiers to fare moving forward?
Let’s start with the record. IU is 7-2 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play.
That’s about where I thought IU would be. I figured the Hoosiers might have beaten Arkansas on the road and maybe split the first two Big Ten games.
Now, if you could only have one or the other, I think the way IU is sitting is a much bigger deal.
There’s nothing easy about playing two Big Ten games the first week of December. Unless you have a veteran group returning, you still might be at the point where you’re trying to figure out rotations and the number of minutes players are playing, and I think that’s difficult when it’s your eighth and ninth games of the season.
I understand everyone is in the same situation, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
For IU to come out of that first week of December 2-0 in conference play I believe is huge moving forward. I understand the naysayers who point to a pair of two-point victories against Northwestern at home and Penn State on the road as not being particularly a big deal.
But it’s not like those are bad wins. Penn State is ranked No. 37 in the KenPom rankings, and Northwestern is No. 45.
And I truly believe right now the only number that really matters to Indiana is 2-0. IU isn’t ranked in the top 25, however, the Hoosiers’ KenPom ranking is No. 24. So you have to figure they’re on the fringe.
But wouldn’t you think a team like Iowa would trade its No. 18 national ranking right now to not be 0-2 in conference play? No matter what your record is going into January, with 18 more conference games, there is still lots of time to get things turned around, but there’s a decided psychological advantage to being 2-0.
As for how Indiana is playing, the turnovers, especially the lazy passes and unforced miscues, need to be reduced significantly. You can get away with that against Penn State when the Nittany Lions miss 15 free throws at home, but that’s not going to play well in most Big Ten arenas.
I like the way the Hoosiers are playing defense, and I think I’m probably even a little bit surprised about how well IU has looked defensively. So I’d say that’s a positive for sure.
As for individual players, right now I think the only one that really stands out as doing more than I expected is true freshman point guard Rob Phinisee. I think Phinisee has been a major surprise, and his impressive 36 assists-to-15 turnovers ratio has been a welcome surprise. I also like how he plays defense. On top of that, I look at him as being a four-year player and one that before he is done could be remembered in the same way you think of Yogi Ferrell.
Most guys are doing about what I thought they would. Obviously, Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan have been as good as advertised. De’Ron Davis is still coming back from an injury, and both Devonte Green and Zach McRoberts could be doing more, but both have been hurt, too.
I’d like to see Justin Smith be stronger with the ball and more consistent. I think he disappears sometimes. I’d like to see Evan Fitzner look more like a fifth-year player and also contribute on defense. And I guess I just thought Damezi Anderson would be more of a contributor at this point.
The next two games are big for IU against Louisville and Butler. Win both and that record could swell to 11-2 going into January. I guess the realist in me, though, expects a split and a 10-3 mark going into the resumption of Big Ten play.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on your early impressions of IU basketball.