The Indiana Hoosiers have played 11 games, and I'm still not entirely sure how close we are to discovering the potential of this team. Tom Crean has his team off to a 9-2 start after an early season slip-up to Fort Wayne. As the team approaches Big Ten conference play, let's take a look at the Hoosiers' overall body of work. What they are doing well and where they need improvement in the form of a pre-conference report card.
Grading the offense: A
The Hoosiers own one of the most exciting offenses in college hoops. Sharing is truly caring and it can be really, really fun -- especially when they're running at full-speed.
Indiana loves to push the pace in transition. When they aren't, they do a nice job of distributing the ball and keeping defenses on their toes. It all centers around ball and player movement, as you can see here.
The storyline going into the year was how they would be able to replace the scoring production of Yogi Ferrell. He was Mr. Everything in Bloomington.
If you don't have a name on the tip of your tongue, then James Blackmon Jr. would like a kind word. He is averaging 17.9 points per game to lead the team -- and he's shooting an absurd 43.4 percent from beyond the arc. He has been there to bail the team out every time they have needed a big bucket.
Blackmon Jr. isn't the only one who can shoot at a high level, as Robert Johnson is also shooting a respectable 40.4 percent from 3-point range.
The biggest weapon on the team in my opinion is Thomas Bryant, who is far from your traditional big man. He shoots 42.1 percent from the 3-point line and he has a heck of a shot that makes him pretty lethal outside. His size and versatility makes defenders try to switch smaller forwards on him, and he can make them pay.
Bryant can make a play by taking his man 1-on-1 with his back to the basket, or he could exploit a matchup from the perimeter with his smooth stroke. But hey, then you aren't accounting for him and his athleticism in transition. There aren't many bigs in the country that can run the floor like this:
Indiana is 17th nationally in assists per game. Like I said, they are very good at sharing. It has quickly become the team's calling card. That is why defending the Hoosiers is such a difficult task.
Big-game performances: A+
Kansas? Check. North Carolina? Check?
That's two top-10 wins through 11 games. And the win over North Carolina wasn't as close as the 76-67 score might suggest. When the Hoosiers can feed off the crowd at Assembly Hall, they're extra dangerous. Confidence isn't an official statistic kept by the NCAA, but Indiana at home is unofficially No. 1 according to my own calculations.
Check out the atmosphere here at Assembly Hall after OG Anunoby dunked on the entire world:
The win early in the season against Kansas in a neutral-site game in Hawaii is looking better and better. A full-strength Kansas team is difficult to beat (just ask the entire Big 12 conference). And they took them to overtime to come away with a 103-99 thriller.
Getting experience in tight games against top-tier competition is invaluable. Coming away with wins in those contests? That's just icing on the cake for Tom Crean. Quality experience against quality teams will pay off in March.
Grading the defense: C
The Hoosiers' offense is capable of carrying the weight in most games. We've seen it happen. And a lot of that offense comes from the defense when they can get out in transition.
Check out this play that, as it developed, appeared ready to lead to a transition bucket for UNC. Instead, Robert Johnson pokes it out from behind which leads to this huge swing in momentum from an OG Anunoby hammer dunk.
At times this season the strong offense has been a necessary commodity to help carry a middling defense through games. From an efficiency standpoint, Indiana is the 37th nationally, surrendering 94.6 points per 100 possessions -- and 66.4 points per game.
Specifically the trouble on defense can come when Bryant is dragged out on the perimeter. Bryant has the ability as mentioned above to stretch the floor on offense. But he is not athletic enough to get switched out to defend the perimeter. As you can see from the first play from the second half in the video below, Bryant got switched onto Justin Jackson, UNC's athletic wing. And Jackson toyed with him before pulling up from 25-feet.
Overall grade: B-
The best grade on the report card is big-game performances. But the biggest black mark on this semester grade is the Fort Wayne loss. I give that specific game a D-. It was not a good loss. But given the circumstances (in-state road game), it was somewhat understandable.
My only thought is that if Fort Wayne can beat Indiana in November, how much more confidence will that give a 15-seed (or 14-seed or 13-seed) in the NCAA Tournament?
For now, that's beside the point. When healthy, Indiana has the look of a team primed to make a run in the postseason. The offense is very good, the defense is anchored by a future pro in OG Anunoby, and James Blackmon Jr. has a better shot than Bob Lee Swagger in Shooter.
Last season, I would have chuckled if you told me the Hoosiers would win the Big Ten regular season title over Wisconsin. Now, I'd consider it a disappointment if they didn't.