Bloomington, Ind. – As Indiana continues its ascent in the national polls, two players could hold the key to the team's ultimate success or failure.
Sure, the most obvious picks for the seventh-ranked Hoosiers are Eric Gordon and D.J. White, an inside-outside tandem that might be the nation's best scoring complement. Besides White's Big Ten-best 10.6 rebounds, the pair is averaging 39.3 points/game, the most by a Hoosier tandem since 1994-95 when Alan Henderson (23.5) and Brian Evans (17.4) averaged 40.9 per outing.
But while that duo is commanding the headlines for the 16-1 Hoosiers, two others have proven to be every bit as indispensable – Jamarcus Ellis and Armon Bassett.
Bassett's value has been evident when he's been on the court as well as off of it. The 6'1" sophomore ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.5 points/game), and he's shooting a team-best 50.9 percent from the 3-point arc. He ranks second on the team in assists (3.1/game), and he's averaging less than two turnovers per game despite generally having the ball in his hands as the team's point guard.
His value has also been obvious when he's been sidelined with bone chips in his ankle. While the Hoosiers are 5-0 in the games he's missed all or the majority of, the offense hasn't operated as smoothly with someone else at the point of attack. From ball security to decision-making to his on-the-ball defense, Bassett provides plenty of the essentials that IU Coach Kelvin Sampson is looking for from a point guard.
"Armon, he has been through these wars even though he is just a sophomore," said Sampson. "He's played a lot of minutes and been in a lot of situations for us. There is a comfort level with me with Armon from last year…and Armon is a tremendous 3-point shooter."
Ellis, meanwhile, isn't going to dazzle many with his deftness from the 3-point arc. He's shooting just 23.3 percent from there this season, and a late attempt against Penn State prompted Sampson to quip "when you're shooting five percent from the 3-point line, there's a reason you're open," afterwards. But that might be the only thing Ellis doesn't add to the Hoosiers' arsenal.
The 6'5" junior college transfer leads Sampson's squad in both assists (4.7) and steals (1.5) and ranks second in minutes (31.9) and rebounding (7.4). While he's averaging just 7.9 points/game and his 43.9 percent field shooting ranks seventh among the eight players in IU's rotation, he's proven adept at creating opportunities for himself off penetration or off the offensive glass.
Sampson admits it even when Ellis starred at Chicago's Westinghouse H.S., it was never his ability to score that caught his attention. Instead, it was everything else that he brought to his team.
"He's a kid that just knows how to play," Sampson said. "When I saw him in high school, he's never been a dynamic scorer, but boy, his teams always win. He knows how to help you win a game."
Ellis has helped the most with his ball distribution, rebounding and defense. He has handed out at least five assists in 10 of IU's 17 games, while the rest of the team has done it a combined seven times. He's also secured at least five rebounds in 14 of IU's 17 games, a total that equals D.J. White.
Defensively he's versatile enough to defend someone on the perimeter or in the interior, which gives Sampson the flexibility to make in-game defensive switches .
"Whatever we assign him to do, he usually does it. He's really dependable. When you're on the road, or in a tight game and maybe your team isn't playing so well, the greatest ability some kids can have is dependability. That's what Jamarcus gives us. He's pretty good at a lot of things, maybe great at nothing."
The abilities of Ellis and Bassett, meanwhile, appear to have IU in great position for a run at its first Big Ten title and Final Four berth in six years.
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