WHAT I SAW
The Hoosiers took to Branch McCracken Court in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall for the first time last night and came away with a 96-62 win against the University of Southern Indiana. It was the sole exhibition game on the IU schedule this year, therefore it was the final tuneup for the regular season which begins on Tuesday when Chicago State comes to town. I’m going to focus this article on what my personal thoughts are in regards to the players individually. But first, from a team standpoint, and even with my slightly higher than some people’s expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes it was against an outclassed team, but the Hoosiers didn’t play down to their competition, which we know can be a little bit of a problem sometimes.
Robert Phinisee: There was some speculation early on that he probably wouldn’t help much in his first year, and although I’m not anointing him as the next Isiah Thomas, I think we can all agree that he will help sooner rather than later. Meaning this year. He’s not only very poised and capable of running this team, he almost plays with a chip on his shoulder. His jump shot will become more consistent and coupled with his ability to get into the lane, and the fact he is a capable and willing defender, he has the potential to be a pretty special player.
Romeo Langford: Although he struggled some with his shot last night, his all around game aside from that was very good. We’ve all heard about both his poise and his athleticism, and it’s pretty obvious that those “rumors” are true. But his basketball IQ, his awareness, and his defense were what stood out to me. In my 42yrs. as a Hoosier fan I’ve seen some pretty special players wear the Candy Stripes, and Langford is in that category. There’s nothing he can’t do on a basketball court.
Juwan Morgan: We all know what Juwan brings to the table. He will do whatever is asked of him, and whatever the team needs him to do depending on the opponent. He is all about winning, period. Juwan may not be great at any one thing, but he is pretty damn good at a lot of things. Justin Smith: I honestly don’t know if Justin realizes how good he can be. I’d personally like to see him be a little more aggressive on the offensive end, and maybe a little less so on the defensive end, but he is one of those players that seems to get better from game to game. His potential is unlimited in my opinion.
Zach McRoberts: Zach is the type of player that every good team has. He doesn’t need the limelight and is willing to do the little things. But last night he showed glimpses of the improved shot we heard about in the offseason, but also the willingness to actually shoot it. Zach’s leadership alone will help this team, but he is a very capable contributor when doesn’t hunt shots, but shoots them when he has them.
Evan Fitzner: Anytime you can add experience to a roster with six freshman, even if that experience is a new face to the program himself, it’s a plus. Evan showed off his shooting ability from outside, but I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to handle the ball a little, and maybe more importantly going forward, his ability to score and defend in the paint.
Damezi Anderson: I think Damezi will have games where he will struggle due to certain matchups, but he plays hard and it’s obvious that he can put the ball in the basket. Not all scorers are shooters and not all shooters are scorers. I think Damezi can be the rare player that is both.
De’Ron Davis: It was nice to see De’Ron on the floor last night. It was not so nice to see him limping off of it. I think two things are obvious when it comes to De’Ron. 1) If he’s healthy he can help this team on the offensive end of the floor. 2) He is along way from being in game shape. If those two things happen around the time the calendar turns to 2019, it will be a nice midseason boost for the Hoosiers.
Jake Forrester: He was (is) probably the least known of the newcomers, but in his limited minutes last night he showed me that he can not only play, but I also believe he can help this team this year. He didn’t appear to be at all overwhelmed and his awareness was good. Jake won’t be the B10 freshman of the year, but Jake will be a nice minutes and hustle guy off of the bench.
Al Durham: Al played well prior to his injury I thought. Hit a mid range jump shot, which I think is where his focus should be when there’s not an open lane to the basket And as expected, he defended. I don’t think he will ever be a knockdown shooter from deep, which is why I feel as though his midrange game is where he helps us the most. His shot from 12 to 15 feet seems so much different than his shot from 20 feet.
Johnny Jager. Vijay Blackmon. Clifton Moore: I thought all three played well in their limited minutes. Jager plays within himself. He knows what he’s capable of and doesn’t try and do too much. Blackmon wasn’t on the floor long enough to get a real good read, but he didn’t appear lost, nor did Clifton Moore. Moore, more times than not last year looked just that, lost. But last night he didn’t. He grabbed a couple of rebounds in traffic in his brief stint on the floor.
Race Thompson. Devonte Green. Jerome Hunter. None of the three played as they are all nursing injuries. But all three are expected to play meaningful minutes in the regular rotation, at least early on, which brings me to the thing that stood out the most about the whole night…depth. Indiana can put a lot of capable players on the floor over the course of a game. Sometimes matchups dictate the rotation, sometimes someone just having an off night does. But when you have as many players sitting over there on the bench that are as capable as the guys on the floor, it’s a nice luxury to have. Last the night did nothing to lessen my excitement or my expectations. With as many new faces as they have on the roster there will undoubtedly be a few bumps along the way. But this team shows a willingness and an ability to defend, and when you can do that, you can overcome a bumpy road. So let’s all settle in and enjoy the ride.