Now that we’re through four games after Indiana’s 85-72 win over Lamar on Saturday night, I thought it would be a good time to post my player evaluations up to this point in the young season. Below are my thoughts on each Indiana player through four regular season and two exhibition games.
1. James Blackmon Jr.: I’m putting Blackmon first because he has been, without a doubt, IU’s best player.
Blackmon is an elite scorer who makes shots most players don’t even think about shooter. He’s excellent in the pull-up game, giving Tom Crean the luxury of running a simple high pick for him and letting him handle the rest. When the offense breaks down, Blackmon has the ability to take things into his own hands and make a play. And he often does.
Blackmon's numbers through four games: 22.8 ppg, 57% FG (27-47), 64% from deep (16-25), 91% FT (21-23), 5.5 rpg, 32 mpg. Blackmon has scored at least 19 points, made at least six field goals, three 3-pointers and had at least four rebounds in each of the four games. Pretty darn impressive.
Will his early season shooting continue? That remains to be seen, but I think it will. Keep this in mind: Blackmon faced double and triple teams nearly every night in high school, and he still put up big numbers. With the number of other options on this roster, Blackmon has not and will not face that same type of coverage at IU.
Many have questioned Blackmon’s ability to defend at this level, but thus far, he has held his own on that end. Blackmon is a smart player that has the physical tools to be an above-average defender. The more time he spends with Crean and his staff, the better he will get on that end.
2. Yogi Ferrell: Ferrell’s offensive numbers are down, but that was to be expected with all the new pieces in Bloomington. The encouraging thing about it is, Ferrell doesn’t seem to mind.
He hasn’t gone out of his way to create his own offense but rather has taken things in the flow of the game while getting his teammates involved. That’s what Indiana needs from its junior point guard.
In the last two games, Ferrell has 10 assists and only one turnover.
"I don't really have a specific number, I just want to cut down on the turnovers," Ferrell said. "I feel like the assists will come with shooters like James, Rob, Nick, Max, guys like that. So if I just cut down on the turnovers, make the simple pass to them, just drive and kick, my assist-to-turnover ratio will be really good."
Ferrell is Indiana’s best on-ball defender, and he has been solid on that end through four games. He sometimes has a tendency to over-dribble, but when he doesn’t, he’s capable of having one of the nation’s best assist-to-turnover ratios. Ferrell’s seven assists to zero turnovers against SMU last Thursday night shows you that.
3. Robert Johnson: Johnson has been a bit up-and-down offensively to this point in the season, but it’s important that he defensive effort remains strong. And so far, it has been. Behind Ferrell, Johnson is likely Indiana’s best defender, and much of stems from his fearless demeanor. Johnson accepts any challenge that comes his way and refuses to stop competing. That’s unusual for a freshman, and it will really come in handy against Pittsburgh, Louisville, Georgetown, Butler and in Big Ten play. Many of those teams possess multiple scoring guards, and Ferrell can only guard one guy. Crean will need another perimeter defender he can rely on to shut a Kellen Dunham down, for example.
Johnson’s offensive game isn’t nearly as polished as Blackmon’s, but he will continue to develop on that end as the season goes on. It will come on a more consistent basis, it may just take awhile.
Still, through four games, Johnson is averaging 13.8 points per game on 57 percent shooting. He's also averaging better than five rebounds per game.
4. Nick Zeisloft: While he may ultimately settle into a role off the bench, Zeisloft’s contributions will be important to this Indiana year all season. He has quickly become one of IU’s primary leaders, and he has a both a thorough understanding of the game and a supreme confidence in his own ability to make plays.
Zeisloft is a very good perimeter shooter, and he’s not afraid to take and make big shots. We saw that late in the game against SMU. While his feet are slow, Zeisloft seems to have a real desire to improve on the defensive end, so he should eventually be at least formidable. There will be some teams Zeisloft plays less minutes against because of the matchups, but don’t underestimate his importance to this young Indiana team.
5. Troy Williams: The sample size is smaller for Williams as he’s played only two games. He has gotten better at finishing around the basketball on non-dunks — he had two nifty floaters against Lamar — but he still leaves something to be desired on the defensive end.
Williams has the physical tools to be a good defender, but he sometimes loses focus and wanders or gambles on a pass he thinks he can get. That should be Williams’ main focus during the non-conference season.
Offensively, Williams has improved his jump shot, but he sometimes goes out of the rhythm of the offense to take one of those shots. He also has taken better care of the ball than he did a year ago, opting to pull it out in situations where numbers aren’t in his favor rather than forcing a play at the basket.
There’s no doubt Williams does things on the floor that no other Indiana player is capable of doing. His length and athleticism allow him to get into passing lanes and, when under control, he’s tough to stop in the open court. If Williams can improve his man-to-man defense and cut the turnovers down, he can be an elite player.
6. Hanner Mosquera-Perea: Mosquera-Perea looked like a much-improved player through the exhibitions and the first two regular season games, but he really struggled in Indiana’s only true test to this point, against SMU.
Consider this: Mosquera-Perea played three halves of basketball, saw a total of 42 minutes of action, and pulled down a total of one rebound. One! At 6-foot-9. And one half was against Lamar. That’s discouraging.
Indiana doesn’t need Mosquera-Perea to be a big offensive contributor. That’s not the issue. What has been the issue is that Mosquera-Perea has been a defensive liability. He jumps at every shot fake and has been pushed around inside against good competition. Mosquera-Perea often looks lost on that end of the floor.
He’s playing big minutes for the first time in the career, so Mosquera-Perea should be given some time, but his struggles have to be Tom Crean’s biggest concern right now. Without Devin Davis, Mosquera-Perea is going to have to play.
7. Stanford Robinson: Robinson, like Williams, has played only two games because of suspension, and he hasn’t gotten nearly as much tim as Williams. Through two games, Robinson has played 25 minutes.
I thought he affected the game in a positive way against SMU, albeit in only nine minutes. Robinson may be Indiana’s best player at driving to the rim, even though he’s not the quickest. He has the rare ability to slither past defenders and get into the lane. His decision-making from there has been up and down.
Robinson had six points on 1-of-6 shooting, four rebounds, two assists and two steals against Lamar.
The problem for Robinson will be Indiana suddenly has great depth in the backcourt, and his game is similar to that of Johnson. I do think he will be a contributor to Indiana, but he must shake off some rust and make consistently good decisions when he gets into the lane.
8. Collin Hartman: Hartman played only seven minutes on Saturday night, but he has been a regular part of the rotation to this point in the season. And I think he will continue to be.
Hartman has been one of Indiana’s best interior defenders because of his effort and understanding of the game. He’s smart, and he makes plays that help win games. Plus, Hartman has been shooting the ball consistently from the perimeter despite a limited number of attempts. His 3-pointer in the second half against SMU was huge.
I don’t know how close Hartman is to 100 percent in his return from ACL surgery or whether he will keep shooting the ball as well as he has. But for now, Hartman has earned a spot in the rotation.
9. Max Hoetzel: He had 19 points in 19 minutes against Mississippi Valley State, but I haven’t been impressed by Hoetzel. I don’t think he’s a guy that will be in the rotation when Big Ten season rolls around.
Hoetzel is just 1-of-8 from beyond the arc through four games, and he’s supposed to be a sharpshooter. It’s tough to make shots when your minutes are limited, but that’s something Hoetzel is going to have to do or he won’t get any minutes at all.
I think Hoetzel has the potential to be a good college player in a year or two, but he has a long way to go to get there.
10. Emmitt Holt: Holt saw his first action of the season on Saturday night after missing four games due to suspension. Holt had some good moments and showed some promise in his five minutes.
He finished with four points and two rebounds on 2-of-3 shooting, and made a nifty move in transition for a basket. The bar hasn’t been set all that high by Mosquera-Perea so far, giving Holt an opportunity to earn more and more minutes as the season progresses. Keep in mind: Holt signed with Indiana just a few days before fall classes began. He’s behind and trying to catch up. Given time, I think Holt can contribute this season.
11. Jeremiah April: It’s hard to give much of an assessment of April at this point because he’s only appeared in one game during garbage time. He needs to keep adding strength and working on his hands, but given that he’s a legitimate 7-footer, it’s fair to conclude he will get some opportunities to play this season. As far as when those opportunities will come, I’m not sure.
12. Tim Priller: He’s an instant fan favorite and trended nationally against Mississippi Valley State, but Priller won’t be much of a contributor this year. But if IU needs a stretch-big man in a given game, Priller would be the guy. He makes 3-pointers at a pretty good clip.Indiana beats Lamar, 85-72
D. Davis at Assembly Hall for IU-Lamar
Three things I'd like to see from IU-Lamar