What We Learned: Basketball season opener

Indiana opened its regular season with a 116-65 win over Mississippi Valley State on Friday night. Here are five things we learned from the Hoosiers' first win.

Indiana dominated Mississippi Valley State 116-65 in its regular-season opener Friday night at Assembly Hall. The game way over early in the second half. Mississippi Valley State is one of the nation’s worst teams, ranked 346th out of 351 Division 1 teams on KenPom.com to start the season. UIndy would beat the Delta Devils by 30 points.

That’s not to take anything away from the Hoosiers. They played very well, especially offensively. Here are five things we learned from Friday’s season opener.

1. RAINING 3s: It wasn’t unexpected, but Indiana was absolutely on fire from beyond the arc on Friday. The Hoosiers added tons of shooting in the offseason, and it was on full display against MVSU.

Indiana broke last season’s high for 3-pointers with more than 14 minutes remaining when Yogi Ferrell buried the Hoosiers’ 11th 3 of the night. At that point, IU was 11-of-14 from beyond the arc, including a perfect 5-of-5 to open the second half. The Hoosiers finished 11-of-23.

James Blackmon Jr. and Nick Zeisloft each hit three 3-pointers and Yogi Ferrell had two. Six different Indiana players made a shot from beyond the arc.

Sure, it was against MVSU, but it was fun to watch the Hoosiers shoot the ball on Friday night. The perimeter shooting was missing from the team last year, and it will likely be Indiana’s calling card this season.

Who knows, the Hoosiers might even challenge the school record of 17 3s in a game.

2. MOSQUERA-PEREA KEEPS GETTING BETTER: Hanner Mosquera-Perea looked good in both of Indiana’s exhibition games, but I talked after each win about consistency and wondered if he could do it again.

Well, now three games in — albeit against two NAIA teams and a bad Division 1 team — Mosquera-Perea has looked much improved. And I mean MUCH improved.

I’ve been one of Mosquera-Perea’s biggest critics over the years, but I’ve been really impressed so far this year. He played under control on Friday night, dominated the boards when he was on the floor, and finished around the rim. He made only 3-of-7 free throws after going 8-of-10 the other night against UIndy, but he also knocked down a 15-foot jumper on the baseline.

Mosquera-Perea finished with nine points and 12 rebounds in only 21 minutes. He turned the ball over just once.

"The biggest thing about Hanner is just his consistent work ethic in practice," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "There's times that he looks better than others, but there's really not been times that he's not been up to par. He's definitely improving, and I think you can see it in his footwork. We just truly want to keep it day-by-day with him because that's what it's been and that's what it wasn't before. That's where the difference is. He wasn't a day-by-day player, he was a day-to-day player. That's what we want to continue to build on and then extend his game as we go."

To me, Mosquera-Perea is the biggest key to Indiana’s season. If he can continue to play like he has — rebound, defend and finish around the rim — the Hoosiers can be a top 25 team. If he can’t, they will struggle. It’s that simple.

3. BLACKMON TERRIFIC, AGAIN: I believe James Blackmon could score every time he touches the ball. He’s that good. The freshman phenom finished with 25 points on 7-of-10 shooting in his collegiate debut. Blackmon made 3-of-4 shots from beyond the arc, 8-of-9 free throws and pulled down four rebounds in 28 minutes.

One negative? He had four turnovers.

Before the season, I predicted Blackmon would be Indiana’s leading scorer this season, and I have seen nothing to lead me to change that prediction.

During one stretch in Friday’s first half, Blackmon hit a 3-pointer, stole the ball on the other end, and cruised in for an emphatic dunk. All in the span of 27 seconds. The crowd was on its feet, and the game was over.

That’s how quickly and directly Blackmon can impact a game. Not many players have that ability.

4. OTHER FRESHMEN ALSO GOOD: Indiana’s freshmen combined for 63 points on Friday, just two fewer points than MVSU scored. Blackmon was obviously the ring leader, but IU’s other freshmen were also impressive in their debuts.

Max Hoetzel had 19 points in 19 minutes, hitting 6-of-12 shots from the field. He also had nine rebounds, a good sign for Tom Crean and Co. Hoetzel is 6-foot-7, and Crean and his staff have worked tirelessly to get Hoetzel to go to the glass more regularly. He has the ability to rebound, and the Hoosiers need to get it from anywhere they can.

Indiana outrebounded MVSU, an undersized team, 53-26.

"We felt he could be a good rebounder and we felt he could move without the ball when we recruited him," Crean said of Hoetzel. "His shooting gets your attention, but he's got some athleticism. If you could see the play he got hurt on in practice when he went to rear it back and try to dunk on Hanner, you see his athleticism. He's just going to get better and better.

"He knows to play on this team ... because they're looking around, they know there's some guys that aren't playing right now that will be out there when they get back. Rebounding is going to be a key component to who is going to play extended minutes on this team."

Robert Johnson, IU’s other freshman standout, had 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, seven rebounds and five assists in 29 minutes. Johnson is terrific at getting to the rim, and he got there at will on Friday. Johnson is similar to guard Stanford Robinson in that way, but Johnson is a better shooter, so the defense must respect him out there.

Freshman forward Tim Priller — who is already a fan favorite at Assembly Hall — had two points, two rebonds, a blocked shot and a steal in nine minutes. The student section chanted his name at one point, and his name was trending nationally on Twitter during the second half. That’s incredible.

APRIL SIGHTING: Indiana fans — and the media — got their first look at freshman center Jeremiah April on Friday night. April, a legitimate 7-footer, entered the game with seven minutes remaining and played until the final buzzer. He had two points, two rebounds, two fouls and a turnover.

April missed most of the summer and has been hampered this fall by a foot injury. I thought we were still a week or two away from seeing him in a game, but Crean put him in against MVSU and he looked OK.

April is still very raw and doesn’t have great hands, but he has potential. He nailed a 12-foot fadeaway jumper from the baseline, something I didn’t expect him to be able to do. Once he gets fully healthy and adds some more weight, he could be a contributor for this team. Time will tell on that, but it was good to see him out there for the first time.

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