Yogi’s Back, So Are We … Now Let’s Look Ahead to 2015-16

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Image credit: @IndianaMBB

When Yogi Ferrell announced his intentions to return to Indiana for his senior season this past weekend, it solidified an Indiana roster that many people now think is a top-15, possibly top-10 team.

Combine Yogi’s return with the returns of Troy Williams and James Blackmon Jr., plus the addition of top-20 big man Thomas Bryant, an optimism is rightly running rampant about what the 2015-16 season could bring.

But red flags remain.

  • Will this team defend?
  • Will this team be able to navigate through adversity?
  • Given the roller coaster that the Crean Era has been, is it possible that success this season could actually be a negative for the long-term interests of the program?

We address these red flags, discuss what the starting lineup and rotation is likely to look like, and of course revel in the optimism that has everyone so excited about what next year could bring.

All on the latest episode of The Assembly Call.

Special Edition Episode: Speculation Season Begins

With no official announcement yet as to his future, it's open season for speculation on the future of Tom Crean and Indiana basketball.
With no official announcement yet as to his future, it’s open season for speculation on the future of Tom Crean and Indiana basketball.

Editor’s note: This episode was also published in a slightly modified version at Podcast on the Brink. You are, of course, welcome to listen to both … but 95% of it will be the same. :-)

Tuesday night we fired up a special edition live broadcast of The Assembly Call. No, there was no breaking news or other impetus for the episode; but after a lively half hour discussion on Twitter with some passionate IU fans, I figured I should round up whoever was available, even on short notice, to talk about the topics that IU fans are interested in.

Unfortunately, Andy and Ryan were unavailable, but I was able to reel in two pretty big #iubb fish: Alex Bozich of Inside the Hall and Chronic Hoosier of Jameson Sports and Entertainment. [Read more…]

IU-Wichita State Postgame Show: A Fitting End to a Frustrating Season

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Image credit: @IndianaMBB

This was a microcosm of the entire 2014-15 Indiana season in one 40 minute span.

I could probably write a 3,000-word blog post on how this game packed all of Indiana’s many strengths and its many weaknesses into one single game.

Suffice it to say: we saw a fast pace and explosive offense from Indiana, but it wasn’t enough to overcome defensive deficiencies that just never really seemed to improve as the season went along.

Which is why Friday’s disappointing result was a pretty fitting end to the 2014-15 season. This team was what it was: a little better than everyone thought before the season started, but a little worse than we all hoped in mid-January.

We talked about all of this, and so much more, including a lot of big picture talk, in the latest episode of The Assembly Call. [Read more…]

Special Edition: NCAA Tournament Preview (and Tom Crean Talk)

The Hoosiers spent the day in Omaha today, and will play Wichita State Friday at 2:45 ET. (image credit: @IndianaMBB)
The Hoosiers spent the day in Omaha today, and will play Wichita State Friday at 2:45 ET. (Image credit: @IndianaMBB)

Tonight we convened a special edition episode of The Assembly Call, focused primarily on IU’s first round matchup against Wichita State.

Andy and I spent the first half hour going over Wichita State, what they do well, why this will be a tough matchup for Indiana even with the Shockers’ dearth of height down low.

We also looked at what IU will want to do against the Shockers, and how confident we are in the Hoosiers’ ability to do it — especially against a team as good at dictating pace as Wichita State is.

Then we turned to the bracket as a whole and gave our Final Four and upset picks. As you can imagine, this included a healthy discussion about whether Kentucky will win it all (and whether any self-respecting IU fan should pick them to, whether you think they will or not … ANDY).

Finally, we spent some time discussing Tom Crean. Ryan wrote a great column about Crean for FanSided — Does making the tournament save Tom Crean’s job? — so we dissect that as a way to preface Indiana’s first round game with a look at where things seem to currently stand for the coach.

Listen to this episode here:

Watch a replay of the Hangout here:

A Few Early Thoughts on What Indiana Must Do to Beat Wichita State

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Indiana needs the superstar version of James Blackmon Jr. to show up on Friday night. (Image credit: @IndianaMBB)

So much for sweating.

Within the first region revealed early Sunday evening, we found out that Indiana had exceeded even the most optimistic of the bracketologists’ projections by nabbing the #10 seed in the Midwest region.

It sets up a battle with a Wichita State team that most folks pegged as a #5 or #6 seed. This is an intriguing matchup for so many reasons:

  • “Overrated” big conference bully Indiana (some will say) against an underrated mid-major foe that the Selection Committee hasn’t done many favors for in recent seasons (some will say).
  • Embattled Indiana head coach Tom Crean faces off against Gregg Marshall, one of the guys whose name often gets bandied about as a potential replacement should the IU job ever open up.
  • Two of the best point guards in America will go head-to-head: Yogi Ferrell and Fred Van Vleet.
  • Two explosive 6’4 shooting guards will go up against one another in James Blackmon Jr and Ron Baker. (Their respective 3-point field goal percentages don’t quite match their reputations — 38.7% and 38.5, respectively — but each guy can get red hot if the night is right)

And those are the just ones that streamed right out of my consciousness once I sat down to write this. There are others.

A lot of ink will be spilled over the next few days previewing this game. Here are a few things that jump out to me right off the bat that will go a long way toward determining whether Indiana will win or head home early:

1) They’re small! Like us! Rejoice! (Then rebound.)

The biggest fear for every Indiana fan (after getting snubbed) was getting matched up against that particular type of team that can take advantage of our particular types of weaknesses; notably, our lack of a consistent post defender, especially with Hanner Mosquera-Perea’s status uncertain.

Wichita State has only three players who are 6’7 or taller and also play more than 15.5% of available minutes. All three of them are listed at 6’7.

This isn’t a big Shockers team.

If we assume Hanner will not play (which I do, based on nothing more than just watching the injury happen), Indiana has three players in its primary rotation who are 6’6 or taller: 6’6 Collin Hartman; 6’7 Troy Williams; 6’7 Emmitt Holt.

Bottom line: there is no AJ Hammons or Montrezl Harrell or, hell, Venky Jois, to run roughshod all over Indiana’s post defense.

Or is there?

Darius Carter is only 6’7, but he has solid stats, especially on the glass. The Hoosiers will need to keep him and the rest of the Shockers off the glass to win. Wichita State is solid at rebounding their own misses and limiting offensive rebounds for opponents (55th or higher in kenpom rankings for both).

A common theme for Indiana this year has been: rebound well, win; rebound poorly, lose. Wichita State won’t overpower Indiana with size, but they are fundamentally sound on the glass. Troy Williams and Emmitt Holt will need to set the pace on the glass for Indiana to win.

2) You can count on Yogi to score (but … )

Yogi Ferrell is an alpha dog. And when you challenge his point guard supremacy on the court, he typically delivers a strong scoring night.

On Friday, Yogi will be facing another alpha dog point guard in Fred Van Vleet — a preseason All-American who started out slow but picked his play up down the stretch.

In the six games Yogi played this year against guys who would be described as elite point guards and who play similar alpha roles for their teams — D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, D’Angelo Russell, and Melo Trimble — Yogi stepped up to the plate scoring-wise, averaging 21.3 points per game. (His season scoring average was 16.1 points per game.)

But here is the problem: Indiana only went 2-4 in those six games. In the two games Indiana won, Yogi averaged 9 shots per game. In the four games Indiana lost, Yogi averaged 15.75 shots per game.

Overall in those six games, Yogi only averaged 2.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. His season averages are 3.3 and 4.9, respectively.

Was it Yogi’s fault that we lost four of those games? Of course not. Frankly, he carried us on his back for a lot of them.

But it’s fair to wonder if, in the four losses in particular, Yogi tried to do a bit too much at times.

Indiana has been at its best this year when Yogi has struck the delicate balance between scorer and facilitator. He knows, and we know, that he can go get 20 points any night he wants to. But Indiana is not at its best when Yogi is a volume shooter. Its at its best when Yogi is picking his spots and guys like Troy Williams, James Blackmon Jr., and Nick Zeisloft are lighting it up around him.

With another big name point guard on the opposing side Friday night, I know Yogi wants to show he’s the best player on the court.

Well let me end the suspense: he is; he will be.

But for his team to be better on Friday night, Yogi needs his teammates right beside him, not behind him.

Yogi has done a great job of getting his teammates involved (while leaving the hero ball of last season behind) for the vast majority of this season. He needs to play committed to that mindset against Wichita State.

That is how he’ll best Fred Van Vleet and give his team the best chance of moving on.

And now, for the biggest key of all …

3) We need JBJ at his best

If you’ve watched Indiana all season long, then you know that many nights the difference between winning and losing has been this simple: did James Blackmon Jr. show up to be a star, or just to shoot?

  • When it’s been the former, Indiana has been a very good basketball team.
  • When it’s the latter, Indiana has been painfully mediocre.

The numbers tell the story.

In the 12 Indiana losses that Blackmon participated in (he missed the Wisconsin game), his averaged 11.83 points per game, 4.17 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. (I didn’t tally up his shooting numbers in those games because I’m not a masochist.) And, if you think back hard enough, you’ll remember that a handful of those points came in garbage time during road blowouts that became non-competitive.

For comparison’s sake, Blackmon’s season averages are 15.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. You don’t need me to separate out his averages in the wins to see that there is a wide gulf there.

Just the difference between his full-season scoring average and his scoring average in losses is 4.0 points per game. Wichita State is favored by five points. Methinks the potential difference in covering that or not will be JBJ.

If JBJ delivers the 5+ points he usually does in IU wins, IU will probably win. If he doesn’t, then we’re likely to lose.

It’s not quite that simple … but after watching this team for 33 games this year, it kind of is that simple (assuming Indiana at least battles the Shockers to a draw on the glass).

Look: in March, your stars have to play like stars. I know Yogi will. Troy has been consistent enough over the last month for us to expect that he will to. The wild card, as its been all season long, is James Blackmon Jr.

This team is built to rely on its freshmen, and the most talented of them must play up to his billing when the brights shine the brightest.

So will he?

That remains to be seen.

One more interesting number: while James has struggled notoriously on the road this year, he has had some tremendous games on neutral courts. He played terrific against Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament, and he averaged 20.0 points in the losses to Georgetown and Louisville.

Overall, JBJ’s averages in five neutral court games were: 15.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. Those are much better than has numbers in true road games, and much closer to the gap-closing numbers I referenced above.

But even in that small set of games there is a wide variance of performance: games of 25, 22, and 18 points along with games of 6 and 5 points.

This is where we all collectively throw our hands up in the air. ;-)

It’s not necessarily JBJ’s fault that he’s inconsistent as a freshman. That’s what freshmen do. And the upside we’ve seen from him in his best performances is tantalizing, which is why we can’t help but hold him to a higher standard. To do less would do him a disservice. He just happens to have joined a roster that isn’t equipped to compensate for his off nights.

But it’s a do-or-die scenario now. Indiana is one 2-11 JBJ shooting night from its season ending.

We need James Blackmon Jr. at his best in the biggest college game of his young career.

I’ll say it again:

If we get it, we’re probably moving on to the Round of 32.

If we don’t, it’ll probably be a short NCAA Tournament stay for the Hoosiers.

*****

What do you think are the keys to victory for Indiana on Friday night?

The comment section is wide open below.