Over the weekend, Indiana faced off against Southern Indiana in its exhibition opener. The Hoosiers won by a score of 83-68 over the Screaming Eagles. Exhibition games always give fans mixed feelings about the season. Should certain things be valued or undervalued? Did the coaches really display starting lineups or just rotate randomly? At what intensity level did the players take to the court? These are all questions that, frankly, are impossible to answer. However, there are a few quick things I would like to comment on about Indiana's game.
One of the clearest things that emerged from watching the game was the youth. It was clear that the team was still getting used to playing with each other and that many of the players are still very raw to the college game. This is undeniably still a work in progress and even though there will be mistakes, the hope for Hoosier fans has to be that these will be learning mistakes and not those that will hurt the team too deeply. Some of the young players really shined such as Troy Williams and Noah Vonleh. Williams has incredible athleticism and speed which should almost demand him to get on the court. Vonleh has incredible versatility that is going to allow him to do some nice things for the Hoosiers. He even looked solid shooting from long distance.
One of the things that many hoped over the offseason was that Indiana would be ok in this department. After all, they returned a proven starter in Yogi Ferrell. Unfortunately, the entire team looked loose with the ball and committed some absolutely awful turnovers. This is not guaranteed to carry over to the season, but Indiana has to be better at taking care of the ball. Having players that are more comfortable playing with each other and better at reading the actions of defenders will help, but turning the ball over out of transition or on a simple pass to the wing is not something that's sustainable for a winning team.
There are going to be a lot of mixed reactions to the defensive effort and performance. Everything needs to get an asterisk in an exhibition game, but the defense looked very unimpressive. Sure, they got tipped passes and turnovers, but the communication, switches, and pressure were all weak. If they Hoosiers are going to attempt to crowd the paint like they did so often against the Screaming Eagles, they have to defend the lane better. You can't sacrifice guys out on the wing and hedging against guards in order to defend the paint and the lane, then allow opponents to get inside anyways on easy pick and rolls. I have no doubt this will improve with a more solidified lineup and experience, but it's safe to say the defense will take a step back.
4. Low Post Game
In general, this has become a disputed topic in college basketball. In the old days, the low post game was vital to a team's performance, but with the role of guards in today's game, many view this as a minor part. Regardless of that, Indiana is going to need to improve if they're hoping to have a solid low post game. Vonleh had a few opportunities, but struggled to get good position inside. Along with this, he also could have done better to get his hands up on defense to avoid easy baskets down low. Like I said, this is not a glaring red flag considering how few teams actually have a legitimate low post game anymore, but this part of the game will probably look much different than it did last year with Cody Zeller and Christian Watford.
This is an area where the Hoosiers excelled over the weekend. They've been known in recent years for having a high-flying offense that can get out and run and there should be no difference this year. Indiana has incredible speed and athleticism on their roster and they know how to use it. Whether it's Ferrell, Williams, or Hollowell, they are going to do a ton of damage here. Plus, the bigs have the ability to run as well. If they can continue to do this, it should make up for many of the low post issues.
Even though there has to be some concerns about this team, the exciting thing about this year's Hoosier team is that there is plenty of room for improvement. It's not like this roster is unathletic or can't shoot. Almost every deficiency is something that traditionally improves with time and experience. As Indiana gets more playing time and settles more firmly on a starting lineup, they should only get better.