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November 6, 2013

Hoosiers an enigma as opener nears

Indiana must find firepower to replace four 1,000-point scorers

BLOOMINGTON — Even after playing two exhibition games for the first time in three seasons, Indiana’s identity remains unresolved.

A year ago, the Hoosiers were the consensus preseason No. 1 team in college basketball. Today, they’re 24th in the coaches’ poll and on the outside looking in of the Associated Press poll.

Lose four 1,000-point scorers, three seniors, two NBA Draft lottery picks and two key transfers and it’s no surprise that expectations for IU have been tempered.

It’s up to the team’s few veterans — senior Will Sheehey, sophomore Yogi Ferrell — to set the tone for a group of talented but inexperienced players.

“I love what Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell are trying to provide for us in the sense of on the floor and in the sense of the way they’re trying to help make it even more competitive, the way they’re trying to lead,” coach Tom Crean said.

Ferrell, who averaged 7.6 points on 40.3-percent shooting as a freshman, has embraced an increased role as scorer. He was IU’s top scorer in each of the exhibition games.

“That just shows that I have been shooting in the offseason,” Ferrell said. “We’re always shooting after practice, getting shots up. We need to continue to do that.”

But the Hoosiers know defense and rebounding will be key factors.

“Something I think we’ve learned as a team is that it has to start on defense, and then we have to get out and run and always play together,” freshman forward Devin Davis said.

“It has to come from the defensive side,” Crean said. “It can’t be, ‘Let’s just work so hard on our offense,’ it has to be the defense creates it and the rebounding creates it. We have to be a better rebounding team. I don’t think we are pursuing the ball the way we need to.”

That should change as IU’s hyped freshman class gets a better sense of its abilities.

Nowhere is that more evident than with the head of that class, McDonald’s All-American Noah Vonleh. Just two months past his 18th birthday, Vonleh has plenty of room to grow, Crean said.

“When Noah figures out how fast he is, how long he is, how skilled he is and how strong he is, look out,” Crean said. “But he hasn’t figured that out yet.”

In two games as a Hoosier, Vonleh already has as many double-digit rebound games (one) as any returning Hoosier; Hanner Mosquera-Perea had one game with double-digit rebounds last season.

But Vonleh could look to Mosquera-Perea for some help on free throw shooting. Vonleh missed all eight of his free throws in the preseason, while Mosquera-Perea was 7 of 8.

All told, IU shot 46.5 percent from the field, 39.5 percent on 3-pointers and 62.1 percent at the line in the preseason.

“We are going to become a much better shooting team,” Crean said. “We don’t have the absolute knockdown guys that the fans have become accustomed to over the last couple of years, but they weren’t always that way either.

“Christian Watford started out at 32 percent as a sophomore and ended up in the high 40s. Victor Oladipo [was] 24 and 21 percent in his first two years and got to 44 percent.”


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