BLOOMINGTON-Indiana has yet to play a regular season basketball game, but the Hoosiers are already convinced they're a whole lot better than last year.
That's good news to Mike Davis, whose team was just 15-14 a year ago and missed out on the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season. "If we can't beat last year's team, we're in serious trouble," said Davis.
But Davis doesn't think his team is in that sort of trouble. Despite injuries to D.J. White and A.J. Ratliff, Davis concures that this year's team is superior to the one that finished fourth in the Big Ten a season ago and lost to Vanderbilt in the first round of the NIT.
In fact, the Hoosiers' sixth-year coach thinks he's got two teams that might be better than the one that took the court a year ago.
"The Red Team (IU's second unit) could beat last year's team because of how they play – they play together," said Davis.
Whether that's more of a credit to this year's team or an indictment of last year's squad, the fact remains that as 21st-ranked Hoosiers prepare for Friday night's season opener against Nicholls State, they have the sort of talent and depth that's been lacking in recent years.
That's been evident during the two lopsided exhibition wins, when Indiana was able to overcome the absence of Ratliff and the loss of White to produce a 28-point win over St. Joseph's (Ind.) and a 47-point drubbing of Indianapolis. With Marco Killingsworth averaging 19.5 points and the team still capable of going nine or ten deep, Indiana still appears more than capable of living up to its preseason national ranking despite being without two players many expected to start this season.
Another thing that has been evident in the two exhibition wins is the Hoosiers are still able to play the style Davis envisioned using when all of his weapons were at his disposal. Davis said that since individual workouts began Sept. 1, he's been working on implementing an up-tempo pace that can take advantage of IU's depth and athleticism.
"I think a true test of a team is how they second unit plays compared to the first unit," said Davis. "You want the first unit to go out and execute, but you want the second unit to be able to play the same style."
Indiana has been able to do that. It was evident in the 96-49 win over Indianapolis, when Indiana piled up 30 fastbreak points, a total that the team never came close to approaching a year ago.
"We started back on Sept. 1 trying to change the style of play, and the guys have done a great job of catching on to what we're trying to do," said Davis.
In addition to pushing the pace, Davis has also been pleased with the team's improved ball movement. Instead of players trying to create one-on-one opportunities, they've been working the ball around and looking for open looks. One of the Big Ten's worst shooting teams a year ago, Indiana shot 53 percent from the floor against St. Joseph's and 56 percent from the field against Indianapolis.
"We've been playing team ball," said Davis. "We're moving the ball and trying to get it to the open teammate and I'm happy about that.
"That's the key – not taking contested shots. You don't want to hold the ball for an extended period of time. Either shoot it, drive it or pass it. If we can play that style, and play fast up and down the court, we can be okay."
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