IU Insider Blog: Better than you expected?

If you had told me an hour before tip that Noah Vonleh would be held scoreless with two rebounds and that Troy Williams would be limited to two points, I would have guessed that Indiana would have lost to the No. 18 team in the nation on a neutral floor by 15-20 points. The fact that IU nearly won tells me all I need to know about this Indiana basketball team.

I ran into some Indiana fans prior to the IU-Connecticut game at a restaurant inside of Penn Station Friday afternoon. They wanted to know what I thought about how the game would turn out?

I told them I thought it could go either way. But the bigger thing, I said, was that I thought after the way IU had played against Washington Thursday that IU's New York trip was going to be a win.

IU's first experience on the big stage Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, at the very least, had shown Indiana fans that it had a team that could compete. And bottom line, that is what you want. A team that can compete game in and game out.

I think Hoosier fans have that with this particular IU basketball team.

Now, after losing 59-58 Friday night to Connecticut, how do you feel about this team?

Again, I think Friday night's performance against UConn simply rubber-stamped in my mind the notion that this is going to be a fun team to watch and compete as they grow up. Is it also going to have its share of frustrating moments? Absolutely. This is far from a finished product. But it's a lot better than having a team that relies so much on just a few players and if those players are off you have no chance to win.

Noah Vonleh, a man against boys in his first five games of his college career, was limited to zero points and two rebounds in 10 foul-plagued minutes Friday night against Connecticut. He attempted one field goal and one free throw and missed both. Three of the four fouls that limited his participation were made on the offensive end.

Troy Williams, who electrified the Madison Square Garden crowd Thursday with a career-high 22 points and eight rebounds came back and scored two points on 1-of-4 shooting. His bucket was a dunk. That's all the production you got there.

Two players who had scored 40 points on Thursday night combined to score two on Friday.

And Indiana lost by one point to the No. 18 ranked team in the nation. Think about that. Let that sink in. Most teams couldn't survive a night like that. If you tell me at 6 p.m. Friday night, an hour before tip off, that Vonleh and Williams will combine for two points and then ask me what the final outcome may be, I probably predict a 15-20 point Indiana loss. I mean that's two major pieces out of your arsenal. That's two of your top three scorers through the first five games.

Perhaps this is the glass half full way to look at this basketball team, but myself this is why I think a great number of Indiana fans are excited about this team. It has depth. Basically, Indiana basketball has everything that Indiana football does not.

In his postgame press conference, Tom Crean was asked what he learned about his team in two days in New York City. Here is what he said.

"I (learned) we can play a lot of different ways,'' Crean said. "I think we're learning the commitment level to defense. We're also learning that if you play great teams the margin for error, and the quicker you learn this and the Big Ten is full of games like this, the margin for error is so small and you can't give up easy baskets. Napier earned some shots. There were also some shots that guys made during the course of the game that they didn't have to earn as much. But nobody has to earn it when you're turning over the ball. We got some points off of turnovers, too, but when you're not shooting the ball great you cannot give up easy baskets. Especially with the way we rebound. You can't not have a chance to have a a really good offensive possession and get a second chance shot. If you turn it over you eliminate that.''

Crean said he thinks his team is learning how important it is to take care of the basketball. In the first six games, IU has had 19, 14, 13, 17, 13 and again Friday night, 19 turnovers. That's roughly 16 turnovers per game. That number is too high to be consistently good when conference play rolls around. And it's basically five weeks and a few days until the Big Ten opener against Illinois on New Years Eve.

"We learned that we've got to be better with the ball, stronger with the ball,'' Crean went on. " I think the bottom line is, and I told them this before the game. We'll get physically tougher and stronger. We just will because we'll get older and stronger with the weight room. But we've got to grow mentally as fast as we can.''

My take coming out of New York is that Indiana is on the right path. I think most IU fans are looking forward to watching how this team grows and jells together over the next several weeks before conference play begins.

Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch

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