Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Scary Thought -- Just Wait Until IU Hits Full Strength

Imagine how good Indiana is going to be once it gets to full strength.

Yes, that’s a scary thought. Even with a depleted frontcourt the Hoosiers are crushing all comers.

OK, they needed overtime to whip Georgetown by 10, but that misses the point. These guys are breaking the will of everybody they face. It’s a combination of depth and fitness and pace and just sheer relentlessness.

See the 83-59 win over North Carolina as the latest example.

How many times have you seen a team jump on another, and let that opponent back into it?

IU doesn’t mess with that. It is ruthless. It jumps on you and then buries you. That’s exactly the kind of mindset you have to have when the goal is a national championship.

The Cream ‘n Crimson faithful haven’t seen this kind of dominance since the Bob Knight led IU squad that went 31-1 in 1975 instead of 34-0 only because Scott May broke his arm.

In two weeks freshman forwards Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin get off NCAA-mandated suspension. Forward Derek Elston should be back from his knee surgery around Christmas. It will take coach Tom Crean a little while to get everybody adjusted to the new rotation.

Like maybe 10 minutes.

That inside depth means the Hoosiers can become much more aggressive defensively on the perimeter. They can attack the passing lanes -- imagine what Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey will do -- knowing that there’s plenty of shot-altering size behind them if they get beat.

Playing North Carolina created the kind of Assembly Hall buzz we won’t see again until Big Ten play. The rest of the non-conference home schedule is -- and we’re being diplomatic here -- weak. IU will blow through the likes of Coppin State, Central Connecticut State and Florida Atlantic.

The risk with a schedule like this is you could see some slippage of play, which is NOT what you want with a Big Ten start of Iowa and Penn State on the road.

You have to be a mature, focused, hungry team to stay sharp through this kind of schedule. That usually entails intense coaching.

That’s why you saw Crean give his best Bob Knight kicking impression near the end of the 83-59 wipeout of North Carolina. He saw reserve Austin Etherington fumble away a loose ball rather than get it to a true ballhandler and, well, that can’t happen. Not if you have such lofty goals.

“I love these guys,” Crean said, “but the ball’s got to go to a guard. You don’t dribble a loose ball…

“At the four-minute time out we really wanted to clamp down and play well. That’s a mental game. That’s hard.

“(North Carolina) is trying to come back and it’s important that we don’t make those mistakes. I have no trouble coaching the game until it’s over.”

So Crean will push and push and push some more, especially against the pushover teams coming up. That DOES NOT, by the way, describe Butler and the Dec. 15 Crossroads Classic showdown at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Bulldogs are the only remaining non-conference opponent that can beat IU.

Will they?

Not likely.

Anyway, Crean demands a lot because his players have a lot to give. High talent level means high expectations mean high workloads.

No one works harder than guard Jordan Hulls, and it shows. He has become, if you just consider the numbers, the Big Ten’s best guard behind Michigan's Trey Burke.

Yes, we know. That can’t be right, but  consider Hulls has 31 assists and just five turnovers. He shoots at least 50 percent from all over the court. He's a double-figures scorer. At a listed 6-foot, he even rebounds. His numbers against North Carolina were ridiculous -- 13 points (3-for-5 on three-pointers), eight assists, seven rebounds, two steals and no turnovers in 32 minutes.

Freshman Yogi Ferrell gets a ton of hype, and deservedly so, but make no mistake, this is Hulls’ team.

Anyway, IU staggered North Carolina with big games from forward Cody Zeller (20 points, eight rebounds, four blocks), guard Victor Oladipo (19 points, four rebounds) and swingman Will Sheehey (19 points, five rebounds). Thirteen guys played and nine guys played at least 11 minutes.

Remy Abell’s ridiculously hot shooting (he entered last Tuesday night 13-for-18 from the field and 7-for-8 from three-point range) finally cooled off with his 1-for-6 effort against North Carolina. And the Hoosiers rolled despite getting next to nothing offensively from second-leading scorer Christian Watford (two points, 1-for-9 shooting).

Think about that.

IU is looking so good you wonder -- just for a second -- if an unbeaten national title is in its future.

Take a deep breath.

In truth, the Big Ten is too good for any team to go undefeated. The Hoosiers will go 13-0 in the non-conference. They can go 14-4 in the conference, perhaps 15-3, and win the championship.

After that, if everybody stays healthy and focused, it will get really interesting.

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