First thing's first: Indiana's non-conference schedule was pretty weak. Kenpom rates the Hoosiers' non-conference schedule as the 322nd toughest in the nation. Certainly, some of that can be credited to the Washington Huskies having a weaker team the Indiana and the organizers of the 2k Sports Classic anticipated, but some of it can be credited to failing to schedule a marquee home opponent and scheduling teams like Kennesaw State that no one expected to be any good.
To be fair, it would be tough to throw too many challenges in front of the young Hoosiers, who rank 325th in experience. The schedule did afford the Hoosiers with three significant challenges - losses at Syracuse, against Notre Dame, and against Connecticut tested and ultimately bested the Indiana Hoosiers. Those games helped to clarify what Indiana could do well against good competition, and what their biggest issues may be in conference play. The rest of the schedule yielded Indiana's 10 wins, but the level of competition was such that those results are somewhat muddled.
What We Learned
Yogi Ferrell is this team's best and most confident scorer and three-point shooter. The quick and springy sophomore is averaging nearly 17 points per game and will need to perform each and every night if the Hoosiers are going to beat quality opponents in conference play. Yogi is one of Indiana's few competent three-point shooters and has to make opponents respect Indiana's spacing. His improvement as a three-point shooter, from converting .303% of his attempts as a freshman to .427% as a sophomore, has been remarkable and has been the key to his higher scoring output.
Indiana's offense is pedestrian, but their defense is notable and their rebounding is exceptional. In each of Indiana's three losses, against Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Connecticut, Indiana met or exceeded the number of rebounds its opponent collected. Indiana's rebounding margin may be inflated by its quality of opponent so far, but this team has proven that it can rebound against bigger and more talented teams as well. Noah Vonleh has been instrumental for Indiana on the backboards, averaging an incredible 9.5 rebounds per game so far as a true freshman.
Turnovers will be a trouble spot for the Hoosiers. Though Indiana's struggles with turning the ball over so far may have been exacerbated by a deeper rotation than Tom Crean is likely to utilize in conference play, that those turnovers did not abate against the weakest teams Indiana has faced is alarming. Indiana's youth is certainly a factor, but Indiana does have some more experienced players that those freshmen should be able to look to. Yogi has increased his assist rate and has decreased his turnover rate, but 19.7% is still pretty high. Will Sheehey's turnover rate of 20.2%, a career high, has been even more exasperating. These two need to lead the pack in cutting down on unforced turnovers.
Indiana can't shoot. The Hoosiers shoot .315% beyond the arc as a team, good for 241st nationally. That Yogi Ferrell is completing .427% of his three-point attempts is a minor miracle. Evan Gordon is the only other player earning better than a point per three-point attempt, with a conversion rate of .346%. Indiana's four starters outside of Ferrell each averages worse than .300% from three. It's possible that Jeremy Hollowell and Sheehey shoot it a bit better going forward, but scoring from the perimeter will likely remain a challenge for the Hoosiers in conference play.
What to Watch For
Can Noah Vonleh avoid foul trouble? Indiana needs Vonleh's 12 points and 9 rebounds per game, and badly. The true freshman has exceeded all reasonable expectations so far and his only pitfall has been his penchant to get into foul trouble. If he can avoid foul trouble in conference play he should have a big impact on the Hoosiers. If he can't, he'll still have a major impact - just not the sort he'd like.
Can Will Sheehey turn it around? Right now the Indiana senior is having something of a nightmare season. His turnover rate is his career high. His three-point percentage is his career low. Sheehey has looked uncertain on the floor and has failed to create for himself in his expanded role as a starter. If the senior can find ways to focus on his strengths, he could still be a valuable asset for the Hoosiers even if he can't grow into the large role he could've filled this season.
Which freshmen will earn more minutes? Luke Fischer has looked good since he has gotten healthier. Stanford Robinson has a knack for scoring and could be an ideal scorer off the bench after Gordon. Devin Davis is the best rebounder the Hoosiers have that isn't named Noah Vonleh. These freshmen will all have chances to earn more minutes in conference play, but they may not get many and not everyone will capitalize. Which young players will make the most of their opportunities?
Indiana has a lot of weaknesses this year. They're young, they're turnover-prone, and they can't spread the floor with shooters. But they have a lot of strengths too. They're very athletic. Their defense is stingy and is still improving. They are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. If Indiana can minimize their weaknesses and rely on their strengths every night, there's no reason why this team shouldn't finish ahead of teams like Illinois and the Purdue, who are likely to be on the bubble alongside the Hoosiers. If they continue to turn the ball over at a high rate and shoot too many threes, though, they're just as likely to finish among the Northwestern Wildcats and Nebraska, fighting for an NIT bid. This year's Indiana team will need to make their defense their signature if they hope to compete in conference play; it's their only option if they hope to make the NCAAs.
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