AllHoosiers.com staff writer Nathan Brown joined us recently. Here is a column he wrote following the Nicholls State game which serves as good analysis heading into the Indiana game Sunday with Kennesaw State, too.
By Nathan Brown
Friday night, the Hoosiers had a chance, while playing against one of the worst teams in the country, to experiment with different styles and lineups before the Big Ten season begins in less than two weeks.
But while rotating players in early and often, Tom Crean's crew amassed a season-high 20 turnovers and was out-scored by Nicholls State in the second half 44-42, en route to a meager 79-66 victory at Assembly Hall.
These games in late December against some of the NCAA's worst make very little sense for a team desperately needing to be tested by worthy opponents. Sure, it's another win and may help boost morale against a rough loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to Notre Dame last weekend, but what did we really see?
Your answer: an athletic team who has the ability to press on defense and slice to the hoop with ease, yet who can suffer silly turnovers against lineups that may struggle against some of IU's rec basketball teams.
Troy Williams set the tone for the game at the outset, committing a turnover on IU's first possession, followed by getting a shot blocked on the next time down the court. The Hoosiers committed three turnovers in the game's first 2:23 and began the game 1-for-5 from the field.
The Colonels, ranked No. 325 in the latest KenPom rankings actually led at the first media timeout 7-6.
Crean lamented after the game that some of his team's inefficiencies, including the turnover problem, was due to the young players getting adjusted to a week full of tests during IU's final exams week this past week.
Although, you wouldn't think a team full of highly-touted freshmen 11 games into their college careers would struggle too much against one of the worst teams in the country – exams or not.
The Hoosiers managed to take advantage of Nicholls State's struggles keeping up with the taller, faster IU squad, drawing 15 fouls and sinking 18 of their 24 shots from the free throw line.
IU led by 15 points at halftime, but 14 points of that advantage came from free throws. One of the highest-scoring offenses in the country managed just 37 points in the game's first 20 minutes.
The second half was only slightly better, scoring 42 points while giving up 44 to one of the nation's most inefficient offenses.
Yogi Ferrell, IU's floor general, struggled with four turnovers. As a team, IU amassed just three assists. Crean was able to get 14 of his players into the game in the first half, and although Will Sheehey said he didn't feel like the substitutions messed with the flow of the game, the stats seemed to say otherwise.
Sheehey said after the game that all his teammates have to be ready to play at any given moment. Playing all 18 guys wasn't the plan going into Friday, but it's not something the Hoosiers should struggle with, he said.
"Those guys need to come in and play as hard as they can and give certain guys breaks and whatnot," he said. ". I think that the 18 guys on the team just have to be ready to come out any time because obviously they have a chance to play."
Playing that many guys clearly isn't realistic once Big Ten play begins, so Hoosier fans don't need to worry about IU's offense getting quite so out of whack, but Friday night's game didn't seem to show me much that I didn't already know about this year's group.
Sure, they can push the ball up the court as fast as any team I've seen. They can knock down free throws in bunches and use the new foul rules to their advantage. Yogi Ferrell can string together possessions where he looks nearly unstoppable, dishing out highlight reel passes and driving through the lane like a layup drill.
But the Hoosiers are going to be prone to silly turnovers as freshmen and sophomores fly through the lane out of control or make a silly pass while standing underneath the basket to a guarded teammate. Beating a team like Nicholls State by just 13 points doesn't give us a whole lot to go off of come conference play.
The Colonels are far worse than any team the Hoosiers will face the rest of the season – except for an arguably worse Kennesaw St. team they will play at noon on Sunday.
Crean and his coaching staff could have learned just as much playing five-on-five in practice for 40 minutes. I understand not wanting to have young players getting too discouraged going into conference play, games where the entire roster sees time and defensive and offensive schemes are switched up are for early November. Now is the time the Hoosiers should be playing games against teams IU can hang with and possibly steal a win from night in and night out to help boost their strength-of-schedule come March.
Sloppy experimental wins do nothing but add another victory and raise doubt the Hoosiers can hang with the top of the Big Ten over the upcoming months.