Freshmen Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams Are Already Impact Players For Indiana

Posted by Walker Carey on November 16th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Friday evening’s game in Bloomington between Indiana and Samford.

It is well known that Indiana entered the 2013-14 season in a bit of a precarious position, as it was tasked with replacing four starters from last season’s regular season Big Ten championship squad. While it was assumed that several returnees would step into larger roles, most of the outside focus was centered on the incoming freshman class that Tom Crean was bringing to Bloomington. The two crown jewels of that six member recruiting class were highly decorated forwards Noah Vonleh (Haverhill, Mass./New Hampton School) and Troy Williams (Hampton, Va./Oak Hill Academy).

Noah Vonleh

Noah Vonleh Has Mimicked Julius Randle’s Double-Doubles Without the Hype

Noah Vonleh came to Indiana after an illustrious prep career that was capped off with his selection to the McDonald’s All-American squad. There was so much buzz surrounding Vonleh’s arrival in Bloomington that he was named Big Ten Freshman/Newcomer of the Year by numerous publications. The young forward’s 6’10”, 240 pound frame suggests that a majority of his production would come from the post, and while Vonleh is a dynamic player there, he gained high marks from coaches on the recruiting trail for his ability to use his athleticism and be productive from anywhere on the court.

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Indiana Will Look For Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey to Fill New Roles

Posted by Walker Carey on November 9th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Friday evening’s game in Bloomington between Indiana and Chicago State.

Not very often does a team have to replace four career 1,000-point scorers, but that is the situation Indiana is in to begin the 2013-14 season. Gone from last season’s Big Ten champion Hoosiers are guards Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo and forwards Christian Watford and Cody Zeller. The talent level leaving Bloomington was so great that Oladipo was the second pick and Zeller was the fourth pick in last June’s NBA Draft. With all that talent and production now missing, Indiana enters this campaign as a bit of unknown. Sure, it brought in a highly-ranked recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Noah Vonleh, but as we all know, experience is a necessary attribute for success in a league like the Big Ten. Luckily for Tom Crean, the Hoosiers return two players with solid experience in sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell and senior forward Will Sheehey.

Yogi

Yogi Ferrell Didn’t Shoot Well on Friday Night, But His Floor Game Was Solid

As a freshman last season, Ferrell started every game for the 29-7 Hoosiers. His prowess as a floor general was evident throughout last season as he led the team with 4.1 assists per game – a figure that was also good for third-best in the Big Ten. While Ferrell was not counted on to score too much, he showed he was capable by averaging a respectable 7.6 points per contest. The Indianapolis native’s strong play was noticed by the coaches of the Big Ten as he was named by them to the league’s All-Freshmen squad. Now in his second year in the program, Ferrell is going to be called upon to be much more aggressive in the offense. As the team’s second-leading returning scorer, it is fair to figure that Tom Crean and his staff are going to look for the sophomore to increase his scoring output. Additionally, due to the great experience he gained last year, one would imagine that Ferrell will also take on a leadership role with the squad.

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Big Ten M5: 11.07.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 7th, 2013

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  1. In the first regular season contest for Nebraska in its brand new arena, the Cornhuskers’ leading returning scorer won’t be playing due to a suspension. Head coach Tim Miles announced yesterday that senior Ray Gallegos has been suspended for two games for a violation of team rules. Miles said he learned of the infraction before Monday’s exhibition game, but that Gallegos did not play in that game because of a hip injury. The suspension length was a coach’s decision and has Gallegos missing the season opener against Florida Gulf Coast tomorrow and Tuesday’s game against Western Illinois. The opening game loss of Gallegos, along with guard Deverell Biggs serving a three-game suspension for a DUI, could provide a problem against “Dunk City” and returning guard Brett Comer. The Eagles have a new coach, but some of the players who helped them get the moniker and upset top teams last season are back. It certainly doesn’t help Nebraska to be without its top returning scorer against a team that likes to score and run.
  2. There seems to be a consensus about the top teams and players in the Big Ten this season. NBCSports came out with its preseason report on the conference yesterday and Michigan State and the Spartans’ Gary Harris were seen as the top team and player. It also sees at least six teams–Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana–joining the Spartans in the NCAA tournament and potentially up to nine with Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota on the bubble. The most interesting question this piece raises, though, is whether Indiana‘s Yogi Ferrell might be the most important player in the conference. Ferrell certainly will play a big role in the Hoosiers’ success or struggles this season, but the team will also need improvement and solid play from guys like Will Sheehey and Jeremy Hollowell. Plus, there are lots of guys coming back to teams that have vastly bigger roles or need to have huge seasons for their team to be successful (see: Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III for Michigan just to start).
  3. Thad Matta has something new this season in his 10th year of being Ohio State’s head coach. Not only will he have to find some different scoring threats, but he’ll also have an experienced squad. Of course, this is something Matta is more than happy to have, as he exclaimed, “Thank god, huh. Two seniors! We’ve got two seniors this year!” With big question marks surrounding exactly who will score for the Buckeyes this season, it certainly helps to have guys around who have been in the program for years to fill that void. Outside of the two seniors in Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Ohio State also has seven juniors on the roster. This is the most experienced squad Matta has ever led, and we will get a good assessment of how far experience can go in helping a team without a surefire NBA lottery picks on its roster.
  4. Illinois has a young and new team, with only five players returning from last season’s squad. With this influx of freshmen and transfers, it appears John Groce is finding leadership and consistency from one of the newcomers. Graduate student Jon Ekey, a 5th year transfer from Illinois State, has proved he can provide the squad with an example on the court and in practice for the freshmen and others to follow. Ekey, a 6′ 7″ forward, is a career 36.5 percent 3-point shooter, so he shows versatility on the court, but his ability to help the freshmen adapt to the college game could be his biggest asset to this team. He wasn’t a star at Illinois State, averaging 6.4 points per game last season, but his ability to play multiple positions and lead will get him time on the court. With a lot of question marks surrounding exactly how much this team will need to grow and improve, it certainly is a good sign they have a player others can model themselves after.
  5. From unknown to hero to footnote, Spike Albrecht had quite a game in the NCAA Tournament Championship for Michigan. Now, following up his 17 point first half barrage, the Wolverines sophomore is trying to follow-up his momentary celebrity status by earning a starting spot in Michigan’s lineup. He’s currently in a battle with top-40 freshman Derrick Walton to see who gets the starting nod as both started one of the exhibition games. It’s tough to see the Spike the sensation maintaining the starting position over a potential All-Big Ten Freshman, but if he can provide leadership, push Walton and give solid minutes of the bench once again, Albrecht will have a chance to make some other memorable moments.
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Big Ten M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 6th, 2013

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  1. Illinois head coach John Groce has done it again, as he picked up another recruit from the city of Chicago on Tuesday. D.J. Williams, a 6’7″ junior from Simeon High School, verbally committed to the Illini, making him the third Simeon player to commit there in the last year — Groce already has freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate on board this season. Simeon is the alma mater of Derrick Rose and Nick Anderson, just to name a few. They are a power in the city of Chicago hoops scene on a yearly basis, and with another Windy City prep superstar named Cliff Alexander potentially also getting ready to put on an Illinois hat when he announces his college decision on November 15, Groce is looking at turning the Illini into a future national powerhouse.
  2. Michigan has a lot coming back from what ended up being a phenomenal season last year, but someone is going to have to step in and try to replicate the production that Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. provided on the perimeter. Freshman point guard Derrick Walton has gotten more publicity, but fellow freshman Zak Irvin has contributed some of what Hardaway did last season in Michigan’s two scrimmages. To wit, Irvin has gone 4-of-7 from deep in these two scrimmages. With veterans Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary garnering more attention from other teams’ scouting reports when taking on the Maize and Blue, Irvin will provide a huge lift if he can knock down outside shots at that kind of level as teams pay attention to his more highly publicized teammates.
  3. Mo Walker has spent the better part of three seasons playing behind players like Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams at Minnesota, but after he slimmed down by 60 pounds in the offseason, he’s shown a commitment to stepping in and picking up some of the slack left behind by these graduated starters. Walker led the team in points and rebounds in the Gophers’ 101-67 win over Concordia on Monday night, tallying 17/13 in the victory. Minnesota’s biggest 2013-14 question mark has to be what kind of production Richard Pitino will get down low, and Walker seems to be off to an outstanding start in providing some answers for a team that is predicted to finish in the bottom half of the league.
  4. Yogi Ferrell only averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists per game last year, but he provided a steady hand in leading a team that spent essentially the whole season in the top five nationally. With Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls all now gone, this is now Ferrell’s team and he’s taken this added leadership role to heart, doing things like diagramming game-winning plays in practice scrimmages to show his development. Ferrell is arguably the most important player in the league this season — with expectations ramped up because of the Hoosiers’ two-year renaissance, all momentum will be lost if the team drops off this season. With eight freshman on the roster, it goes without saying that Ferrell and Will Sheehey have to do more than just produce on the court for Indiana to stay near the top of the B1g standings.
  5. With Minnesota losing three starters and its head coach from last year’s team, the Gophers need to plug some new pieces to fit new coach Richard Pitino’s up-tempo system. It’s looking like one of these pieces is going to be JuCo transfer Deandre Mathieu. Mathieu has impressed to the point where the Gophers are considering penciling him into the lineup with two other guards, Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins. Playing with a three-guard lineup will allow Minnesota to play at a much faster tempo, with the 5’9″ Mathieu pushing Andre Hollins to play off the ball and essentially taking on the role of a scorer. In the team’s two scrimmages, Mathieu averaged 10 points, eight assists, and two steals per game, which if duplicated once the games start for real, would put him in the running for Big Ten Newcomer of the Year.
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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten Second Team

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 5th, 2013

In honor of the college season finally tipping off Friday in various locales, we at the Big Ten microsite decided to get together and vote for our preseason all-league teams. We will cover potential Sixth Man of the Year candidates and reveal our preseason Freshman of the Year later this week. We’ll also be revealing how the teams will finish in the league standings four at a time starting Wednesday. Today we introduce our preseason All-Big Ten Second Team; the First Team will be unveiled tomorrow.

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

RTC All-Big Ten Second Team

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Big Ten M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 5th, 2013

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  1. The Cliff Alexander recruitment may now need to be classified as an official circus. Earlier in the day, long-time Illinois-based recruiting analyst Roy Schmidt tweeted that when Alexander announces, the “2 final caps on [the] table will be Illinois & DePaul,” effectively eliminating Kansas and Memphis from contention. After which, Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com tweeted that Alexander had not in fact cut his list to these two schools. Schmidt later clarified that his tweet did not mean Alexander will necessarily cut his list but that these two schools would be there until the end. It seems with this recruitment there is a new rumor each and every day. Alexander is supremely talented, and his recruitment is certainly worth any headache it may cause John Groce and his staff. But the topsy-turvy nature of his recruitment reflects poorly on him and begs the question of whether Alexander will be as big of a distraction on the court as his recruitment has been. It’s probably in the interest of Alexander and those around him to get past this side show and back to basketball.
  2. Mitch McGary was instrumental in Michigan’s run to the National Championship game last March. After a somewhat disappointing freshman year, relative to his standing in the rankings, McGary finally put it together and averaged 14.3 PPG and 10.7 RPG during the NCAA Tournament. Though he had the opportunity to leave for the NBA, McGary decided to come back to lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten championship and another Final Four run. On Monday, McGary was selected by the Associated Press as a Preseason First Team All-American. The departure of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. will give McGary ample opportunity to take on a bigger role and make another leap in his development. Now that his freshman jitters are gone, McGary will need to prove he can consistently be the star that everyone thinks he can be.
  3. Apparently, Yogi Ferrell is still not over Indiana’s loss to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. In case you forgot, Indiana’s high-powered offense was completely neutralized by Syracuse’s zone. Ferrell went scoreless in that game and the bad taste in his mouth has driven him to address one of his biggest weaknesses from last season: shooting. Last year, Ferrell shot a very pedestrian 40.3 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from beyond the arc, but he has taken this offseason to fix his mechanics and hit the gym hard. We may have gotten a taste of what’s to come when he hit six three-pointers in the Hoosiers’ October 26 exhibition game. If Ferrell can be a consistent threat from deep, that will open up the driving lanes for himself and Will Sheehey. It will also give more space down low for freshman Noah Vonleh to be effective scoring on the block.
  4. Drew Crawford is one good teammate. He was on pace to graduate at the end of the spring semester and could have applied for a graduate transfer to another school. He could have easily gone to a school where he would have had the opportunity to do something he’s never done before — play in the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, the coach that had recruited and mentored him during his tenure at Evanston was now gone. He had every reason to go but decided to stay to help his school and teammates transition into the Chris Collins era. The current environment has both coaches and players eager to make moves to the next best situation, so what Crawford did here is refreshing. Northwestern will struggle this season and Crawford will most likely never play in the NCAA Tournament in his collegiate career, but his selflessness is to be commended and admired.
  5. Gary Harris was selected as the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year during media day. An outstanding freshman, he was hampered by a nagging shoulder injury last season and is still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered back in August. If there is any concern with him this season, it’s his ongoing health. His performance during last night’s exhibition game may have alleviated some of those fears.  Harris scored 21 points and went 5-of-7 from deep. While projecting what a player will do in a season based off one exhibition game is unwise, we already know Harris is a special player and he will be in store for a special season as long as he can stay healthy.
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From Sixth Man to Star? Examining Indiana’s Will Sheehey

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 4th, 2013

It’s easy to see why Hoosier fans loved Will Sheehey last season. He came off the bench and brought a tenacity and scoring touch that helped Indiana maintain or push a lead when its stars took a breather. The then-junior’s stats were solid, which ultimately earned him the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year award and an invitation to play at the World University Games (where he averaged more than 10 PPG in 17 minutes of play a game). All of this got him enough notoriety to be listed No. 76 on CBSSports.com’s top 100 players list, ahead of teammate and Big Ten all-freshman Yogi Ferrell. But that’s all last season because Sheehey is about to step into a completely new and bigger role, as is the rest of Indiana’s team with the departures of Christian Watford, Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls. Sheehey is no longer a third or fourth option when he will hit the court, but likely the first or second along with Ferrell and Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh.

Will Sheehey has a much larger role for Indiana this season, and his play is crucial to the Hoosiers success (Andy Lyons/Getty Images).

Will Sheehey has a much larger role for Indiana this season, and his play is crucial to the Hoosiers success (Andy Lyons/Getty Images).

How Sheehey responds to this change in roles will have a huge impact on the Hoosiers this season. Sheehey is the team’s elder statesman now, so his leadership will be important, but he is also Indiana’s top returning scorer and rebounder. This puts pressure on him to continue to produce on the offensive end as teams focus on stopping him. Can he adjust to defenses no longer sagging off him to handle 1,000-point scorers and high NBA Draft picks? Last season he was mediocre from the three-point line at 34.6 percent from the field. He’ll likely need to bring that percentage up, but he’ll still need to use his underrated athleticism to attack the basket and find those easier mid-range jumpers. Last season he took 35 percent of his shots inside the paint and made them at a 70 percent clip. He also has an ability to run the floor that most people don’t realize, as you can see here with what he did against Minnesota. Even without another known outside threat for the Hoosiers (although Ferrell did make six three-pointers in the team’s first exhibition), Sheehey should use his driving ability and not settle for trying to fill a void with four or five threes a game. When he does get hot, though, Indiana needs to give him the ball. Last season, he set an Indiana single game record by going 9-of-9 from deep against Purdue, so when he’s feeling it he can take over a game.

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Expectations on Sophomore Big Ten Stars Should Be Tempered

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 29th, 2013

This year’s sophomore class in the Big Ten includes a number of players who will have huge roles on their respective teams. Some are stepping into roles involving greater expectations, such as Yogi Ferrell at Indiana and Glenn Robinson III at Michigan, due to players leaving for graduation or the NBA. Others have a good bit of talent returning around them, like in the cases of Gary Harris at Michigan State and AJ Hammons at Purdue, and they will try to meld their skills into the team concept as they help their teams compete. There’s a common assumption that freshman college basketball players will make a “jump” in their learning curves between their first and second years in a program, but there’s a lot of dispute over just what that jump actually entails.

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

How big of a jump can a team expect from players who already produced plenty as freshmen? The best way to analyze this would be to look at all Big Ten freshmen’s changes in their statistical profiles from their first to second years, but without going overboard with too much analysis on this, it makes just as much sense to review the all-Big Ten Freshman teams. As you can see below on the attached Excel sheet (click through to open the entire document), the devil is in the details. For freshmen who already substantially produced in their first collegiate year, the “jump” that we were expecting doesn’t really show up during their sophomore seasons.

All-B1G Freshman to Sophomore Stats

Increases in production are minimal from these players: an addition of less than one point per game, less than half an assist and less than a third of a rebound. In terms of shooting percentages, there is a notable decrease both overall and from the three-point line. For teams like Indiana and Michigan that are expecting big bumps from their returnees playing larger roles, these trends could be a sign of worry. In terms of points production, no single player had a greater than four-point per game increase and only four out of the 21 who stayed for their sophomore seasons saw an increase of more than two points per game.

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Big Ten M5: 10.28.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 28th, 2013

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  1. Tom Crean doesn’t have Cody Zeller to carry the offensive burden in the paint this season. He doesn’t have Victor Oladipo’s quickness anymore either. Without Zeller and Oladipo, the spotlight will now turn to Yogi Ferrell, who will be the primary scoring option for the Hoosiers. Ferrell averaged 7.6 PPG and shot just 31% from beyond the arc last season, but in IU’s exhibition game against Southern Indiana over the weekend, he showed off his improved shooting by knocking down 6-of-10 from beyond the arc. After the game, he said, “It shows what I’ve done in the offseason shooting with Jeremy (Hollowell), Stan (Robinson), Evan (Gordon) and even Noah (Vonleh). We’re always shooting after practice. I will continue to do that.”
  2. John Groce already made headlines over the summer by locking in two top 40 recruits for the 2014-15 season: Quentin Snyder and Leron Black. But he still has one big recruiting target left for next season, the #3 ranked player in the country, Cliff Alexander. Alexander visited Champaign over the weekend and is scheduled to announce his decision over the next few weeks. If he goes to Illinois, Groce will have a top-five recruiting class and the Illini should be poised for several years of postseason success. Even if Alexander chooses another program, though, the Illini are poised to compete for a Big Ten title as soon as next season. This season, however, could be tough unless Tracy Abrams makes the leap into a 15 PPG scorer and limits his turnovers.
  3. One of the main rule changes in college hoops this year is the prohibition on hand-checking, which allows offensive players more freedom to move around the court. John Beilein is satisfied with the rule change and thinks it will foster more “freedom of movement” in the game. He added, “It’s exactly what we’ve taught for years.” Beilein, however, is less clear about a rule change regarding drawing offensive fouls. He said the new charge/block interpretation “will be difficult for both sides to interpret” — both sides being the players and the officials. The hand-checking modification will certainly help a Wolverines’ offense that is built on consistent motion and averaged a robust 1.12 points per possession during conference play last year.
  4. Senior guard Aaron Craft is expected to step up his offensive production this season after averaging a pedestrian 10 PPG last year. It is unclear if Craft can eventually play in the NBA because he hasn’t consistently produced on the offensive end. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ all-star point guard Kyrie Irving believes that Craft will definitely play in the NBA next year. “Oh yeah. I believe so,” Irving said when asked if Craft could cut it in the NBA. He also added, “He’s a leader, he’s a tough defender, he’s been working on his offensive game.” Regardless of the future, Craft will be ready to lead the Buckeyes toward a Big Ten title and potentially a Final Four appearance if his teammates can figure out a way to replace Deshaun Thomas’ offensive production from last year.
  5. Chris Collins has his work cut out for him in Evanston, as he will attempt to turn around a Northwestern basketball program that has never been to the NCAA Tournament. He is trying to change the Wildcats’ image on the recruiting trail, especially in the fertile local grounds of Chicago. He spoke at the Chicago hoops luncheon on Friday, along with DePaul’s head coach Oliver Purnell. Collins said, “Everyone played here in high school. Everybody loves our city. Everybody has great relationships in this city. I think we all have a great affinity for players in this area also because that’s where we came from and it makes it fun.” It’ll be a while before he starts to consistently recruit four-star players, but he certainly has the energy and the pedigree (from Duke) to become a change agent in Evanston.
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Evaluating Big Ten’s Sophomore Class of 2013-14: Yogi Ferrell

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on August 16th, 2013

Deepak is a columnist for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

With less than three months left until the college season tips off, we at the RTC Big Ten Microsite are here to get you excited about the stars who are returning next season and ready to take on the responsibility of leading their teams to conference glory. Over the next few weeks, we plan to evaluate a number of key Big Ten sophomores who will have an impact on their team’s performance throughout the entire season. Today, we focus on Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell.

A point guard who is rated among the top 30 players in his class by various recruiting services should expect to play a significant role in his team’s offense as a freshman. But Yogi Ferrell had a different set of rules for his first season in Bloomington because Tom Crean’s team already had All-Americans such as Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo as well as other talented upperclassmen like Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls on board to carry the load. Nonetheless, Ferrell made the most of his rookie campaign by cracking the starting rotation and averaging 7.6 PPG while playing a strong 28.1 MPG. Deferring to his teammates to score in a high-powered offense may not have been easy for the freshman point guard, but his patience will pay off next season when he will be responsible for running Crean’s offense and will by necessity become one of the primary scoring options for the Hoosiers. He will have the opportunity to shine as a sophomore but let’s evaluate the parts of his game that will need to improve in order for him to make the leap next season.

Yogi Ferrell will drive the Hoosiers' offense next season.

Yogi Ferrell will drive the Hoosiers’ offense next season.

What did we learn from him last year?

Last season proved that Ferrell is a great fit for an offensive scheme designed to push the ball up the court and create opportunities for the wings to either drive to the basket or pull up for shots from beyond the arc. He displayed tremendous speed in transition, leading to plentiful open looks for sharpshooters such as Hulls and Watford. Without such a speedy point guard pushing the ball upcourt, Crean’s offense wouldn’t have led the Big Ten in tempo at 65.7 possessions per game. The freshman averaged 4.6 APG with an assist to turnover ratio of 2:1, not at all shabby for a player navigating a conference that boasts numerous elite defenses. After 30+ games in his career, we now know that he is great in transition, but we haven’t seen as much from him in the half-court. Considering the talent on last year’s roster, there were no plays called for him but in key spots his jumper looked decent even though it wasn’t very consistent (30% from beyond the arc). Despite his middling shooting percentage, he showed a quick release and was not hesitant to pull the trigger if there was an open look from outside. In summary, Ferrell has proven that he has the fundamental skills to succeed in Crean’s offense, but he will need to be more judicious with his shot selection going forward.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Indiana 83, #16 James Madison 62

Posted by IRenko on March 22nd, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #1 Indiana and #16 James Madison. You can follow him on Twitter at @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. In Case You Were Wondering, Indiana Can Score — The best offense in the country unleashed its full arsenal this afternoon, bombarding James Madison with drives, post feeds, threes, and pull-up jumpers. Getting to play their first non-Big Ten defense in 20 games seemed to release a pressure valve for the Hoosiers, and the scoring came pouring forth. The rub is that their defense remains a step behind their offense, and teams that are physical, slow the game down, and pound the glass pose a threat. Temple may not be able to pull off the upset, but looking down the line, a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Syracuse is a real concern for the Hoosiers.

    Yogi Ferrell celebrates after making a three point basket against the James Madison Dukes. (Getty)

    Yogi Ferrell celebrates after making a three-point basket against the James Madison Dukes. (Getty)

  2. IU’s Size Advantage Paid Off — The Dukes have big strong guards, but in part due to injuries, they are sorely lacking in size inside. They paid for it against IU, getting outscored 36-20 in the paint and 16-2 at the free throw line. The Hoosiers had lots of offensive tools that they deployed in this game, but a feed to Zeller in the post almost always resulted in a bucket or free throws. And at the other end, the Dukes, who normally make 65 percent of their shots at the rim, managed to shoot just 33 percent in the first half on layups. Struggling to gain traction inside, they turned into a pure jump-shooting team, taking only three shots at the rim in the second half. The Dukes’ leading scorer, 6’6″ power forward Rayshawn Goins, was particularly ineffective, scoring only two points on 1-of-6 shooting.
  3. Will Sheehey Was On His Game — Will Sheehey, the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year, is a key X-factor for Indiana. The Hoosiers’ offense is that much more complete when Sheehey is on his game. He’s been prone to disappearing lately, scoring just two points in three of IU’s last seven games, and seeing his scoring average dip into single digits. But today, he came off the bench to score 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting. If he can repeat this kind of performance against tougher opponents, IU could be Dancing all the way to Atlanta.

Star of the Game: Freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell is the oft-forgotten man in IU’s formidable starting five, but he made a grand debut on the NCAA Tournament stage, scoring 14 of IU’s first 18 points and assisting on the other four by feeding Zeller for dunks. Ferrell’s one-man onslaught gave the Hoosiers an early, impregnable lead. He finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. With all four of his starting mates likely to leave IU, the former McDonald’s All-American and top 25 recruit will be Indiana’s focal point and leader in the coming years.

Quotable: Indiana coach Tom Crean on the worry that bruising Big Ten season would wear Indiana down too much:  “That goes through your head. I’d be lying to say it didn’t.”

Sights & Sounds: The NCAA allows teams a very specific number of bench seats, so Indiana was forced to put a half dozen of its players — including two scholarship athletes — in the stands behind the scorers’ table. The biggest victim of this unusual situation was the petite IU fan, decked out in a Hoosiers jersey, who got stuck sitting behind seven-foot freshman center Peter Jurkin and spent the game trying to crane her neck around him.

Wildcard: Although the Hoosiers have been the second-best three-point shooting team in the nation over the course of the season, they’ve hit just 33 percent of their attempts over the last six games, during which they’ve gone 3-3. This afternoon, they shot 9-of-22 from behind the arc.

What’s Next? Indiana will return to Dayton Arena on Sunday to face Temple, looking for the 22nd Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Indiana 80, Illinois 64

Posted by WCarey on March 15th, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center following Friday’s matchup between Indiana and Illinois. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Cody Zeller was dominant. The All-American big man picked up where he left off after a sensational performance in Sunday’s victory over Michigan. Once again, Zeller was the go-to guy for the Indiana offense against Illinois, as he finished the afternoon with 24 points and nine rebounds. With the ball in his hands on the low block, the talented sophomore was able to do pretty much whatever he wanted against the Illini interior for the duration of the game. Zeller’s presence on the defensive end of the court was also quite notable as he anchored a Hoosiers’defense that did not let anything come easy for the Illinois offensive attack. There have been instances this season where Zeller’s production has not matched his level of talent, but if he can continue to put forth performances like he has in his last two games, there will be no ceiling on Indiana’s postseason hopes.
  2. Indiana’s defensive effort in the first half was phenomenal. ESPN analyst Dan Dakich tweeted at halftime that he and legendary Indiana radio announcer Don Fischer believed that the first half against Illinois was the best defensive half that the Hoosiers had played all year. The two men had a point as the Hoosiers were just suffocating on that end of the court for the first 20 minutes. The Illini were held to just 25.9% shooting in the first half and had to settle for many difficult looks due to the intense defensive pressure. The Hoosiers also forced Illinois into eight first half turnovers – many of which resulted in great transition opportunities. Illinois guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson were a combined 3-of-13 from the field and by containing the Illini’s two best scorers, Indiana was able to open up a 14-point halftime lead. Victor Oladipo rightfully gets most of the credit for Indiana’s strong defensive performances, but the Hoosiers have really made strides as a team in-terms of their defensive effort.
    Cody Zeller was all over the court Friday afternoon. (AP)

    Cody Zeller was all over the court Friday afternoon. (AP)

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