That didn’t take long.
The Hoosiers notched the biggest win of the early season when they went to Hawaii and recorded a 103-99 overtime win over No. 3 Kansas.
The win jumped Indiana from 11th to sixth in the Associated Press poll, as the Hoosiers surpassed No. 9 Wisconsin as the highest-ranked Big Ten team and established themselves as a major threat in the conference race.
However, in a long college basketball season, Indiana can’t be the same team in March that they were in game one. What did Indiana’s opener show? And where do they have room to grow if they want to end the season a top of the Big Ten.
After a difficult 2015-16 season, Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. came out and announced his presence immediately this year. The junior guard had a team-high 26 points against the Jayhawks. Blackmon, who missed the majority of last season with a knee injury, showed everything that allowed him to average 15.7 points per game as a freshman. Blackmon beat people off the dribble, while also shooting 4-for-8 from the 3-point line and 8-for-17 overall. Blackmon’s performance earned him co-Big Ten Player of the Week honors, sharing the award with Illinois’ Malcolm Hill.
The return of Blackmon will be huge for the Hoosiers, who lost the majority of their ball handling and shot creation with the graduation of Ferrell. While Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby are expected to have breakout sophomore seasons, the ball will be in Blackmon’s hands with the game on the line.
Anunoby opened his sophomore season with a 13-point, seven-rebound effort against Kansas. The 6’8” forward averaged just 4.9 points per game last season, but showed the length, athleticism and tenacity that has analysts expecting him to be one of the better plays in the Big Ten and a potential first-round draft pick.
Like last year, Anunoby didn’t get much offensive usage against Kansas, shooting just 3-for-7 from the field. The surprising part was that all of those shots came from behind the 3-point line. That’s likely to change as the season progresses and Anunoby gets more comfortable with his new role.
Bryant comes back better
Thomas Bryant passed on the NBA Draft to return to Indiana for his sophomore year. The 6’10” center showed against Kansas that he added to his game in the offseason and is looking to showcase more versatility this year.
Bryant collected 19 points, 10 rebounds and two steals against Kansas despite fouling out and playing just 28 minutes. He shot 6-for-14 from the floor, even stepping behind the arc to shoot 2-for-5 from the 3-point line.
For a relatively undersized team, Bryant will be essential for the Hoosiers in certain games this season.
Freshmen steps up
While Blackmon, Anunoby and Bryant were the trio expected to lead Indiana this season, the Hoosiers got a welcome performance from a newcomer.
6’4” guard Curtis Jones was named the conference’s co-Freshman of the Week after opening his collegiate career with a 15-point performance against Kansas. Jones shot 5-for-10 from the field, including 3-for-5 from the 3-point line, and showed that won’t shrink from the moment, scoring 7 of his points during overtime.
Jones, who played his high school ball with Bryant at Huntington Prep, will likely split some of the point guard duties with Blackmon this season. The Hoosiers could use another steady ball hander and will look for Jones to become that guy as the season progresses.
Indiana, who shot 15-for-31 from behind the arc on Saturday, came into the season clicking on the offensive end and appears to have the offensive options and versatility to compete with the best in the Big Ten.
However, the Hoosiers won the conference title last season because of their defense. Indiana couldn’t stop anyone early in the 2015-16 season, but found their groove in the middle of the year and eventually allowed 69.9 points per game for the season.
With Bryant in the middle and Anunoby hounding opponents all over the floor, Indiana has a couple parts that can make for a solid defense. The Hoosiers will need to develop their team defense as the season moves into Big Ten play.
Indiana’s next four games, beginning with UMass Lowell on Wednesday, shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, allowing the Hoosiers to try some things and further establish their roles now that Yogi Ferrell is gone. They’ll likely be 5-0 when they host No. 5 North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Nov. 30.