BLOOMINGTON — Indiana men’s basketball didn’t start Saturday’s exhibition game against UIndy flying high, but the Hoosiers got it together when they needed to.
IU overcame a sloppy first half and pulled away with a 74-52 win at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The team will have one more exhibition game to shore things up before the regular season begins.
Any takeaways from an exhibition game like this come with some obvious caveats. IU was likely keeping things vanilla in a tune-up game like this, and UIndy probably had a much more detailed scouting report on the Hoosiers. And, in general, these games don’t matter. The Greyhounds played hard and proved tougher competition than some may have expected, but numbers and stats aren’t indicative of how things will go in the regular season.
But, with that said, here are a few observations from the game.
Kel’el Ware could be a difference-maker
Sometimes, watching a player in videos doesn’t do them justice. And Ware fits that bill.
His sheer size was so much more noticeable watching him in person. Ware is every bit of the 7-foot tall he’s listed at on the roster. And his wingspan stands out even more. IU head coach Mike Woodson mentioned a few times during the offseason that this year’s squad may have more length than last year’s team, and Ware could be the biggest addition in that regard.
The size makes a big difference, especially on defense. Ware is able to affect so many shots. The sophomore recorded two blocks, but he impacted several more looks, and came close to swatting some extremely difficult shots.
Offensively, Ware — and many of IU’s forwards — didn’t look particularly comfortable inside in the first half. UIndy played very physical defense and made life tough for guys like Ware and Malik Reneau early in the game. But Woodson thought his frontcourt needed to be more assertive.
“You’re that close to the rim, you’ve got a 7-footer and 6-9 kid and a 6-8 kid in Mackenzie (Mgbako). The ball just wasn’t going in,” Woodson said. “I told our guys we were too soft. We’ve got to be tougher. You’ve got to will the ball in. Put it in the bucket. Don’t hope that it goes in; you’ve got to put it in there. I thought the second half, we were better in that regard.”
As Ware settled in and as IU’s offense improved, he looked like a guy that can play a big role for the Hoosiers this season. He flashed his pick-and-pop ability with a 3-pointer near the end of the contest, but that may just be an added bonus to everything he can provide inside.
Gabe Cupps will carve a role for himself through effort
Cupps, for starters, already seems to be benefitting from working with Clif Marshall and Indiana’s strength and conditioning program. He’s added some muscle from his build as a high school player.
The numbers from Cupps’ game against UIndy don’t stick out, but the raw numbers don’t really matter here. The freshman, maybe more than anyone else on the floor, stood out for his effort, on both ends. Cupps got the crowd going with a couple hustle plays on defense, and his teammates took notice.
“His effort and his defensive pressure, it’s contagious to all of us,” said sophomore C.J. Gunn. “Seeing him work and seeing him apply pressure on the ball, it makes us want to get stops and get deflections and get steals. We need that type of energy coming off the bench to lift us up as a team.”
IU’s second unit provided a real spark, especially in the sluggish first half when the starters had trouble establishing themselves in the game. And Cupps was one of the catalysts of that lineup.
He didn’t try to do too much offensively, just taking what came to him. Cupps took good care of the ball, with no turnovers, and ran the point effectively. The game didn’t seem to be too fast for him — and while that doesn’t mean that won’t happen at some point as the games start to matter more, it’s a good early sign.
IU will need Cupps this season, with he and Gunn likely serving as the team’s top reserve options in the backcourt (along with Jakai Newton, when he gets healthy). The effort level here was really promising, and can be a good base for him to build on as he gets more comfortable at the college level.
“Especially coming from a freshman; for him to come out his first game, apply the pressure he did made a statement for the team and other guards and our perimeter players on defense,” said senior Anthony Walker. “It was very important for him to do that.”
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