Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean invited some two dozen media members to Assembly Hall on Monday afternoon for a full inside look at the program. We watched film with Crean, then sat in the stands for a full IU practice.
We were asked not to share any specifics from the day, such as strategy and injuries, but we are allowed to share general themes from the day. Here's a look at a few things I learned from watching the Hoosiers practice for more than two hours.
1. "TEAMS WILL HAVE TO GUARD US": Unlike last year, when Indiana had few shooting options on the perimeter, the Hoosiers have numerous new guys that can knock down shots from the perimeter. Crean and his staff believe that will help the Hoosiers in the transition game because a defender will have to guard the guy running to the corner. And if he doesn't, it's a wide open 3 for a guy capable of making it.
But the perimeter shooting will also help Indiana's drivers, namely Yogi Ferrell, Stanford Robinson and Troy Williams. Lanes to the basket will exist this year that rarely did a season ago, so the Hoosiers should be able to break down the defense and get more easy baskets than they did before.
"It doesn't matter how good your spacing is if the defense doesn't have to guard you there," Crean said. "Last year, they didn't guard us in the corners. This year, they will have to."
2. INDIANA WON'T BE ONE OF THE BIGGEST TEAMS: But it will be one of the quickest, according to Williams. The Hoosiers don't seem too concerned with their lack of size because of their strengths in other areas, and maybe they shouldn't be. Teams have had success in the past without being huge, including Michigan and Connecticut last season.
Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Devin Davis both looked much improved in practice on Monday. Mosquera-Perea was able to make passes and finish plays he couldn't a season ago. Will that translate to games? We'll see.
I was especially impressed with Davis, who I continue to believe will be Indiana's long-term starter at center, despite his lack of size. Davis has gotten even stronger and he gives as much effort on the offensive glass as any player I've seen in some time. He can make up for his lack of size with his strength and sneaky athleticism. I like Davis a great deal and I think he will be a huge part of this team.
3. WILLIAMS COULD BE GREAT: Troy Williams is incredibly talented, and I think he will have a big year for the Hoosiers. He's added strength in the offseason, and he's clearly been working on his jump shot. It looked in practice like Crean has succeeded in getting the sophomore forward to slow down just a bit and make smart plays. Crean wants Williams to grow into a leader and more of a ball handler, and I think he will surprise some people around the country with how good of a player he is. He's got rare athleticism, and if he can put it all together, there's no limit on how good he could be.
Here's a crazy note for you: Crean said Williams has added five inches to his vertical since arriving at Indiana last summer. That's pretty remarkable, especially considering he was already an elite athlete in high school.
4. OTHER IMPRESSIONS: James Blackmon Jr. is the McDonalds All-American of the class, and he will have a really good year for Indiana. But I also love what Robert Johnson brings to the table. Johnson can do it all, and he seems to have a calm understanding of the game that is unique for his age. He's always under control, and he plays with a sort of tenacity that Indiana fans will love.
It's also clear that Illinois State transfer Nick Zeisloft has already earned the respect of his teammates. Zeisloft is a natural leader, and he's the kind of hard-nosed player Indiana needs. In some ways, he reminds me of Jordan Hulls in his ability to shoot and his passion for the game. I could see him starting for the Hoosiers.
5. INJURY UPDATES: Sophomore Collin Hartman fully participated in Indiana's practice on Monday and looked to be moving around fine. Freshman center Jeremiah April was dressed and was not wearing a walking boot, but he did not participate.Mosquera-Perea: 'I feel more comfortable'
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