Cody Zeller as a foul machine?
Could that be right?
Let’s take a deep breath.
Indiana’s talented freshman forward had five fouls in just 22 minutes of the Haunted Hall of Hoops scrimmage, four in what seemed like the first four minutes. Does this mean he tapped into the spirit of the departed Bobby Capobianco, who fouled at a legendary rate the two previous seasons?
No. It does mean, assistant coach Tim Buckley said, that Zeller has to play defense with his feet and not his hands.
“It’s a teaching point,” Buckley said.
Zeller will have other such points, probably in today’s double secret scrimmage against Indiana State that no one is allowed to see except players, coaches and the spy we have embedded in Conseco Fieldhouse.
But we digress.
Here’s what we know after Saturday’s Assembly Hall scrimmage:
1) Zeller will be an inside-outside force. He had 12 points, four rebounds and ran the floor really, really well.
2) Will Sheehey continues to show huge improvement. He totaled a scrimmage-high 14 points, plus five rebounds and three assists.
3) Derek Elston is finally healthy and playing like a major contributor. He had 12 points and 10 rebounds, plus a team-high three steals. Oh, he, too, needs to work on his defensive footwork. He had six fouls.
4) Austin Etherington showed off his three-point shooting with a pair of three-pointers en route to 10 points.
5) Jordan Hulls runs the push-the-pace show well with totals of 10 points, three assists and one turnover.
6) Victor Oladipo remains a human highlight. He had 10 points and three rebounds.
7) Finally, if you’ve forgotten about Matt Roth, get a clue. He nailed three three-pointers to show what happens when defenses forget about him.
What does all this mean? There’s a lot to look forward to in basketball, and heaven knows Cream ‘n Crimson fans could use it after the debacle that is IU football.
At least Indiana has a football offense. It has guys who offer hope, play that suggests maybe, just maybe, Hoosier football might one day be something you’d want your children to see.
It’s a horror show.
Consider that quarterback Tre Roberson ran for 121 yards and a touchdown, threw for 169 yards and a touchdown. Tailback Stephen Houston rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns. IU totaled 319 rushing yards.
All that and it wasn’t nearly enough in Saturday’s 59-38 Homecoming loss to previously reeling Northwestern. IU is 1-8, 0-5 in the Big Ten, and now it has to play at Ohio State and at Michigan State in the next two weeks.
Historically bad defense is no way to turn around a program. Granted, Northwestern has a good offense. There was Heisman contention talk floating around Wildcats quarterback Dan Persa that was squashed because Achilles tendon and turf toe issues sidelined him for much of the season.
Still, this is not an offense for the ages -- until it met the Hoosiers. The Wildcats did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. When they wanted to rip down the field via the pass, they did. When they wanted to run it down the Hoosiers’ throats to run out the clock, they did. They scored their first 52 points in just 59 plays. They totaled 616 yards and it could have been 200 more if they had pushed it.
This was not an aberration. IU has allowed at least 40 points four straight weeks. It has given up at least 450 total yards five straight weeks.
IU defense is a myth.
Here’s how bad it was. Northwestern faced a third-and-5 situation at their own 9-yard line. Cornerback Greg Heban gave the Wildcat receiver an eight-yard cushion, then moved back another eight yards. The result -- a 23-yard completion and a first down.
Heban said it was a busted coverage, that he and the linebacker played one call, the safety and the nickelback played another.
“It just comes down to communication,” Heban said. “We all have to be on the same page.”
Maybe it’s the consequence of starting seven true freshmen on defense, something no other program in the country has done this season. Maybe these guys go into games and experience the fog of war. Maybe the coaches aren’t teaching it well enough.
It’s not like Northwestern was using some exotic, never-seen-in-history formation or trick plays. A lot of it was basic stuff Hoosier defenders treated like quantum physics.
“I don’t have excuses,” coach Kevin Wilson said. “We’re playing some young guys, but (it was nothing unusual. I understand that you’re a young guy and you don’t hear (the defensive call), and you have some (busted coverages) to some degree, but that’s an excuse. It’s your job to know your job. To know your assignment. To get the call and be on top of it.”
Some day, you’d like to think, it will get better. But then, it’s always like that at Indiana. Man, is that getting old.