Indiana surprised people, including North Carolina fans, and blitzed the Tar Heels from the opening moment of their 76-67 win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Having the game at home certainly helped Indiana, but even so, they jumped on North Carolina early, and held them off late. In fact, the Tar Heels closed the lead to four, with under five minutes left, but couldn’t overtake Indiana, and actually never led in the game.
Indiana might be really good. (Cut to Hoosier fans nodding enthusiastically.) They beat Kansas and now North Carolina, both top-five teams. The lone blemish is a bad overtime loss to Fort Wayne, but Indiana has passed its two biggest tests in the non-conference so far. (A New Year’s Eve game against 14th-ranked Louisville looms.)
Alright, now let’s turn our attention more specifically to the game and what we learned.
What We Learned:
1. Indiana is really balanced.
Five Hoosiers, all starters, scored in double figures against North Carolina. On the season, four Hoosiers are averaging double-figures (led by James Blackmon Jr. at 19.2 PPG), and Josh Newkirk, also a starter, is just under eight points per.
The balance is a huge advantage. On any given night, the guy on offense could be Thomas Bryant, or Blackmon Jr., OG Anunoby or even the steady Robert Johnson.
Particularly with Blackmon and Bryant, two guys who toyed with the NBA Draft last year, came back to school with particular areas to improve. Those two guys alone could largely carry an offense, but there’s also good talent around them.
Balance will help Indiana weather any unforeseen circumstances, and nights when a guy, or maybe two, aren’t playing well. Particularly, they’re well-suited to handle any injuries. (More on this below.)
2. Indiana will have to survive without OG Anunoby for an indefinite amount of time.
Technically, we didn’t learn the full extent of the injury during the game, but the Hoosiers will be without Anunoby indefinitely, after he sprained his ankle late in the game. (He scored 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting and grabbed five rebounds against North Carolina.)
Obviously, Indiana’s balance is good, and will mean they can distribute Anunoby’s scoring workload more easily. But it’s a big loss. His size and athleticism make valuable anywhere on the floor. He can switch a bunch on the perimeter, and can hold his own in the paint.
From his freshman to sophomore season, he’s improved in nearly every statistical category. His overall shooting percentage is up, even though he’s playing more and taking more shots.
The real bummer is the indefinite timetable, and he’s had a good sophomore season. It’s unclear how bad the injury is, but not knowing how long he’ll be out, that’s tough to swallow.
3. Indiana can rebound and shoot with the best of them.
In a conference with Wisconsin, and other solid rebounding teams, Indiana is right there. North Carolina’s an excellent rebounding team and big inside. The Hoosiers and Tar Heels each finished with 37 rebounds, and North Carolina only held an 8-6 advantage in second chance points.
The Hoosiers have had better shooting nights, but they were 8-for-21 from three, which is only a shade below their season average (39 percent).
Indiana’s balanced attack will serve them well this year. They’ve been about seven deep, so Anunoby’s injury will test the depth. But, really, Tom Crean’s been playing 10 guys, double-digit minutes.
It’s the balance that’ll really serve them well as they move forward without Anunoby. And, among other things, it was the balance on display against North Carolina.