Indiana beat Division II power Bellarmine 73-62 in its final exhibition game on Monday night at Assembly Hall. Here are five things you need to know about Indiana basketball following that game.
1. INDIANA STARTS BIG AGAIN: The Hoosiers went with the same starting five as last week's exhibition against Ottawa, using Max Bielfeldt and Thomas Bryant together with Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr. and Troy Williams. That worked quite well early on as Indiana used a 18-0 spurt over more than seven minutes and led Bellarmine 35-13 late in the first half.
Bryant had eight points during that stretch, Bielfeldt had five rebounds, and Williams' activity on the offensive glass kept Indiana comfortably ahead despite relatively poor perimeter shooting.
2. BUT GOES SMALL: Indiana let off the gas a little bit late in the first half, and the well-coached Knights took full advantage.
Bellarmine outscored the Hoosiers 7-0 over the final 73 seconds of the first half to trim Indiana's halftime lead to 35-20. The Knights had found something that worked, and they carried that momentum to the second half.
Bellarmine scored the first six points of the second half to get within single digits, and at one point had Indiana's lead down to seven. The Knights did it by running plays to get their big man, George Suggs, open looks on the perimeter. Suggs made three 3s on the first three possessions of the second half.
Tom Crean had seen enough. He replaced freshman Thomas Bryant with Robert Johnson and went small. Crean turned back the clock to last season when the Hoosiers had little choice but to play that way. The lineup: Ferrell, Blackmon, Johnson, Williams and Collin Hartman.
Indiana quickly made a couple 3-pointers and pushed the lead back to double figures, and Bellarmine never truly challenged again.
Now, here's the analysis on that. The Hoosiers looked far more comfortable with the small lineup, as you would expected at this point in the year. They played far faster and cleaner offensively, but the trade off is on the other end. Indiana is a better defensive team with Bryant on the floor, but when the opposition has a big that can play on the perimeter, can Bryant stay on the floor?
That's often something big men have to learn at this level. There's no such thing as a traditional big man anymore. Bigs at every level have to be versatile in this era of basketball, and that's something Bryant will have to continue to learn how to do. Cody Zeller did. Noah Vonleh did. Bryant probably will. But he hasn't quite yet, and Crean had no choice but to go small. When you do that, though, you take a shot blocker and rim protector off the floor.
Some numbers to better show you the difference:
- Indiana allowed only 20 points in the first half and outrebounded Bellarmine 25-10.
- Bellarmine scored 42 points in the second half and rebounded even at 16-16.
- Thomas Bryant had 8 points and 4 rebounds in the first half. He had 0 points and one rebound in the second half.
Last year, we constantly asked the question: Can a team really play as small as Indiana is, and win at a high level? Now, they can play both ways, a luxury they didn't have a season ago. The ongoing debate then becomes: How often should the Hoosiers play each way, and can they learn to play as fast and efficiently offensively when they use a bigger lineup?
"The second half, we had to make a lot of adjustments," Crean said. "They used their spacing, they used their screening, and they used the fact that they have very good long-range shooters at the forward position. It made us adjust. I thought that was very good for us because we had to do some things on the fly that we hadn't covered as much, conceptually, yet. And guys had to figure it out. We figured it out with some matchups.
"If we had a bigger list of postives than we would concerns, then we'd be lying to ourselves, as most teams would this time of year. Our best teams decided, 'we're just gonna switch everything and we'll figure it out as we go.' We're not there yet. And that's what last year's team could do because there wasn't as much of a size difference in our lineups. But now there is. So we've just got to continue to develop that."
3. YOGI FERRELL'S BIG NIGHT: Yogi Ferrell had a team-high 21 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in Monday night's win. He was 8-of-16 from the field and 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. The most surprising number, though, was 33 minutes, including 19 in the second half. Stars like Ferrell rarely see that much time in an exhibition game, but Ferrell had it going, and Crean said afterward that other guys were on minutes limits. He did not elaborate on specific players.
"You can tell he's a senior All-American. He's a great basketball player," Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport said. "He knows when to push the gas, knows when to back off. The ball is good when it's in his hands, that showed down the stretch. He knows. It's good in his hands."
4. TROY WILLIAMS DOES IT ALL: Not all that much has changed for Troy Williams. He's still a highlight waiting to happen, and he's still as versatile as any player in the Big Ten. But the question about Williams remains: Can he bring the same energy and activity every night?
When he brought it last season, Indiana rarely lost. When he didn't, the Hoosiers almost always lost. He's that important to the end result.
As a junior, one would think Williams would be more consistent than he was last year. And he certainly put his stamp on Monday's game.
Williams was active from the tip, attacking the offensive glass at full speed nearly every time a shot went up. Williams finished with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals. He also played 33 minutes and 19 in the second half. Williams (14) and Ferrell (16) attempted 30 combined shots. No other player attempted more than six, and the rest of the team attempted only 28 shots.
On one play, Williams raced down to block a Bellarmine shot off the backboard, chased it to the sideline, jumped in the air as he grabbed it, and threw it to the other end of the floor to a wide open Blackmon. Blackmon finished the play with a dunk for his only two points of the night.
"I didn't expect to get the rebound off the block. I didn't expect to see James down there," Williams said. "But ever since being a freshman, I've always made athletic plays like that to get the team going. If we need it, I got it."
5. REGULAR SEASON OPENS ON FRIDAY: That's it for the tune-up games. Indiana opens its regular season on Friday night against Eastern Illinois at Assembly Hall. It's hard to believe the college basketball season is here, but we're only 10 days away from a home game against Big East-foe Creighton, and two weeks away from the Maui Invitational. Friday's tip time is 7 p.m.