After eight months of waiting, college basketball is back, as Indiana cruised to a season opening 104-55 win over Chicago State.
It might not seem like a significant win against a team north of 300 in the KenPom rankings. But in order to fully appreciate the victory, you have to look back to last year’s season opener against Indiana State, which the Hoosiers lost on their home floor by a score of 90-69. While the Sycamores were a much better team than the Cougars, it is undeniable that the IU basketball program is in a much better place this time around.
More than just the first game of the 2018-19 season, the game featured another all-time first (to this writer’s knowledge) with the Hoosiers wearing crimson uniforms on their home floor. It probably happened in a different era, but it was striking to see IU in something other than the home whites. Reports indicated that Chicago State’s road uniforms were not ready for the the trip, and they requested that Indiana make the switch.
It is hard to glean much against an opponent of this caliber. Chicago State scrapped, but the talent gap was very noticeable. Indiana won by nearly fifty points, but it was far from a flawless performance. The Hoosiers simply took care of business just like they should.
The offensive balance on this team is the first thing that jumps out at you on the plus side. Four players scored in double figures, and that didn’t include Juwan Morgan who had nine. IU moved the ball nicely and was able to create a lot of wide open looks, leading to a 57% shooting performance overall from the field. Once the Hoosiers got the ball in the paint, it was over. IU scored 54 points in the paint on the night.
On the other hand, the Hoosiers appear to be challenged by the same things that ultimately turned the 2017-18 season sideways — perimeter shooting and free throw shooting. IU shot just 33% from long range and 58% from the line. The schedule gets much more difficult next week — and IU will lose close games against good teams if it doesn’t shoot the ball better.
Bugaboos from last year also resurfaced on defense. Chicago State tried to beat IU up the floor with the ball — and it worked on several occasions as the Hoosiers struggled to get back and pick up the ball.
IU head coach Archie Miller wasn’t thrilled with the half court defense either, noting this —
“Our on-ball defense, our pressure on the ball, wasn’t where it has to get to. And just in general defending off the ball with a lot of screening actions. You saw a lot of just communication breakdowns and you saw some guys, really to be honest with you, just fade into the screens and die.”
If you watched Duke surgically destroy Kentucky last night, you know how far the Hoosiers have to go to be ready for high end opponents.
All was not lost, as the Hoosiers picked up 12 steals and held the Cougars to 32% from the field.
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Juwan Morgan* (B) As you would expect in a game like this, Morgan played limited minutes. He was active, with a team leading 8 rebounds and 2 blocks, but also had 2 turnovers and 3 fouls. Not a bad start, but of course IU will need more going forward.
- Zach McRoberts* (A-) It was great to see McRoberts not hesitate to take the open shots when the defense left him alone. He knocked down both of his three point attempts to retain his leading role as the team’s best shooter from distance. He added 7 rebounds, 3 assists and no turnovers in just 18 minutes.
- Justin Smith* (B+) This is just what Smith does. 13 points in only 17 minutes? He is going to have a 30 point game the way he scores in such high volumes. We still don’t love his tenacity attacking the rim in the half court, but it is clear that overall Smith is making strides on both ends.
- Romeo Langford* (A-) A lot of positives in the first game for IU’s prized 5-star recruit. Of course there was the team leading 19 points, but we really liked his 3 assists and just 1 turnover (after committing 5 in the exhibition). He was clearly more composed in this one. On the down side, Langford is going to shoot a lot of free throws this year, and 5-11 won’t cut it.
- Rob Phinisee* (A) Let this line sink in for a freshman point guard’s first game — 6 points, 5 assists, and 5 steals in just 20 minutes. The kid is impressive, and IU has a bright future with him leading the charge. The limited minutes were in part due to two early fouls, but Phinisee accounted for himself nicely in the second segment.
- Evan Fitzner (A) For as good as Justin Smith is scoring at a high rate, Fitzner was better on this night, pouring in 14 points in just 16 minutes, adding 6 rebounds. Of course he was the beneficiary of some good passing, but Fitzner seems to work well within the offense and knows how to find openings and finish. A good start for the graduate transfer.
- Devonte Green (B) As can be the case with Green, there were highs and lows. The best news is that he looked healthy, showing no ill-effects from a thigh injury. Green looked confident shooting the ball and was at his best off the dribble. On the down side, the junior guard had 4 turnovers on 3 assists. There was a moment at the end of the first half where Green needed to be much more authoritative with the ball dribbling out the clock.
- De’Ron Davis (B) Davis was noticeably more nimble on the floor than even a week ago in the exhibition. He is clearly progressing in his recovery. As expected, he played limited minutes (12). It is clear that he can be an asset on this team in certain matchups. Davis’ 0-3 performance at the foul line is cause for concern.
- Damezi Anderson (B+) A respectable first showing for the freshman from South Bend. Anderson got a valuable 20 minutes of action and brought energy with 4 rebounds. To see the floor in tighter games with a healthier team, he’ll have to be better than 33% from deep.
- Clifton Moore (B+) Moore still has a ways to go to become a regular, but there is clear progress. He is carrying himself with more confidence. He scored on a jump hook that could be a valuable addition to his shot-blocking prowess and allow him to see the floor when it matters.
- Jake Forrester (B+) With the game out of hand, we were surprised to not see him sooner, which may be a first insight on where he’s at in his progression. He was very active when given the chance, with 4 rebounds and 4 points in just 6 minutes. We like the long term potential here.
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