One of the biggest differences between this year’s Indiana Hoosiers and the teams of the last two seasons is chemistry.
How could it not be?
Last year’s team featured seniors who had been through every up and down imaginable, a two-man junior class renowned for its leadership by example, and a sophomore heralded as a savior who just wanted to play team basketball from Day One.
That core group got to know each other during the 2011-12 season, eventually gelling quicker than anyone expected, and then overcame the burden of tremendous expectations together last season to win Indiana’s first outright Big Ten title since 1993.
It was a special, special group. You could see it. You could feel it watching them. Their chemistry was real, and it was earned.
But this is a new season in Bloomington, as we know. A new era.
New players are in new places. Old players are in new roles.
And at the helm is a coach who sometimes seems to be struggling right along with the rest of us to figure out what the heck to do with this athletic but immature and unfamiliar group of Hoosiers.
It’s a group that lacks chemistry, which is not an indictment of the team or the coach … just a reality of reloading at the highest level of college basketball.
Perhaps that’s why the flash of chemical compatibility we saw between Stan Robinson and Troy Williams on Saturday was so exciting.
Stan and Troy flash their connection
In case you missed it, or in case you’re excited to relive it, here was the single most thrilling play from Indiana’s win over Penn State. It’s a drive and dish by Stan resulting in the highlight dunk that the always-eager crowd-pleaser Williams craves.
It was thrilling for many reasons.
Yes, it extended Indiana’s lead to six … in a game the Hoosiers once trailed by 16.
And yes, it was just a fun and fundamentally sound half-court basketball play … the kind that has been lacking with this year’s Hoosiers.
But it was most thrilling because for perhaps the first time in Big Ten play, we saw two Hoosiers appear to be effortlessly on the same page.
This is something we became used to last year.
Whether it was Will Sheehey breaking backdoor to the bucket and receiving a perfect bounce pass for an emphatic jam … or Christian Watford trailing a play and receiving a near-no look pass from a teammate who knew exactly where he’d be … or Victor Oladipo trusting his his help as he aggressively hounded the basketball … those Hoosiers often seemed to be playing with five bodies and one mind.
For that brief, beautiful moment on Saturday, Stan and Troy did the same thing.
It was just Stan doing Stan things (driving without abandon to the hoop) and Troy doing Troy things (quickly cutting and highlight hunting), with their efforts synced up in perfect harmony to create the easiest two points Indiana will score all year. Troy saw Stan drive and instinctively knew what to do; Stan saw (or felt) Troy cut, and instinctively knew what to do.
Dribble. Drive. Dive. Dish. Dunk.
It was a perfect basketball play.
Off-court chemistry spills onto the floor
Here is what Yogi Ferrell had to say (via Inside The Hall) about his two new teammates and their palpable connection:
“I felt like they played well off of each other,” Yogi Ferrell said of Robinson and Williams. “They’re great friends off the court and even on the court. Stan knows he can attack and kick it and Troy boards and he’s always driving into the lane and he’s very athletic. We’re definitely going to need both of them.”
And it was more than just that one play.
Many people have commented that Troy seems to be more active and engaged and smartly aggressive when Stan is on the court. And when Troy Williams is active and engaged and playing aggressively but within himself (i.e. not shooting threes and turning the ball over carelessly*), he’s a superstar in the making.
* – Granted, Troy did not play much during the game’ final 8-10 minutes, most likely because he had too many careless turnovers … but these are just the growing pains we shall have to go through with these freshman, him especially.
It’s not just Troy. Our entire team seems to be energized by Stan’s bursts of offensive aggression.
Yes … Stan too, needs to learn to be smarter and less careless (and a better jumpshot would make him lethal in the half court), but he has proven to be a spark that this offensively-challenged team needs.
Those two, together, have proven that their chemistry — which clearly starts off the court and naturally bleeds onto it (just follow their Twitter streams) — can be a tremendous asset for this year’s team.
Here is a picture of the two from Sunday, with the caption “The Wright Brothers.” Say what you will about their nutrition choices, but it’s nice to see examples like this of two talented program building blocks forging such a close bond.
And as long as it’s a bond that is inclusive rather than exclusive, it can be a small but meaningful piece of the puzzle for this erratic season — a puzzle that has taken longer to put together than anyone wanted … but for which there is still time to turn into a coherent picture.
This year’s team is a squad full of guys trying to figure out what each other will do in any given moment. To have a pair of players like Stan and Troy, who already seem to have this chemistry without really trying, is one element Tom Crean can use as he tries to mix together the right formula for success moving forward in Big Ten play.