Thanks to tough defense, timely shooting, and taking advantage of opponents mistakes, the Indiana Hoosiers have started off the 2010-2011 season with a 3-0 record.
The season began with an 88-60 blowout victory against Florida Gulf Coast State University (say that name 10 times fast). It was IU's 13th straight opening win, and the Hoosiers were paced by forward Christian Watford's career high 24 points and guard Jordan Hull's 18 points on 6-9 shooting from beyond the arc.
In the second game of the season, Indiana beat Wright State 67-44. Though the Hoosiers had 20 turnovers and committed 24 fouls, guard Verdell Jones III, in his first game back from injury, scored an impressive 27 points on 11-14 shooting, and Indiana forced the Raiders of Wright St. to shoot just 32 percent from the field. The Hoosiers also got a double double from Watford, who scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds.
And in the third game of the season, as well as the third game in five days for the Hoosier squad, IU beat the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils (IU is only playing universities with really long names apparently) 71-54.
In this game, the Hoosiers shot the ball much better, and were led once again by Watford, who scored 18 points and had nine rebounds, both team highs. Also in the game, the two freshman for Indiana, guard/forward Will Sheehey and guard Victor Oladipo, brought scores of energy and some smart shooting into the game, and the two of them each scored nine points, combined for eight rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
Looking back on these three games, a few things stick out.
1. The Hoosiers, despite the lower quality of opponent, have learned to play for 40 minutes, instead of just 20, or 35, or some combination of the two. Unlike the last two seasons, the defensive intensity has stayed on the court, despite some poor possessions at the offensive end.
And even more importantly, when games were close, like early on vs. Wright St. and Mississippi Valley State, the Hoosiers didn't try and force anything. They played their game, played tough defense, and eventually found a way to exploit the lesser opponent and put the ball in the basket.
All this is thanks to the coaching style of Tom Crean, who has battered this into the heads of the IU players, and the are finally beginning to understand what playing for Indiana is all about.
2. Indiana's big men are still developing, albeit at a slower pace than anyone had hoped. Center Tom Pritchard fouled out without scoring a single point in the first two games of the season, and only managed to score two points on 1-3 shooting against MVSU last Tuesday, and that was a put-back. And if you know anything about Pritchard, that means he missed two layups, much to fans chagrin.
At the same time, both forward Derek Elston and forward/center Bobby Capobianco have both struggled on the court, either committing silly fouls at both ends of the floor, or just not making shots.
Elston has had some good looks to shoot, but has either missed his shots, or has hesitated to shoot. And Capobianco has looked just as poor on the offensive end as he did a year ago. If/When Guy-Marc Michel is eligible to play, it will certainly help the Hoosiers, adding more depth, and some more talent to a thin front line.
3. Maurice Creek is a lucky man. With his recovery from the devastating knee injury still ongoing, Christian Watford and Verdell Jones III have stepped up their games from a year ago, and are finding ways to score on the offensive end of the court. Watford so far is averaging nearly 20 points per game, while Jones III is averaging 13.
All of this means that the weight of leading the Hoosiers in the scoring mark this season does not fall on the shoulders and tender left knee of Maurice Creek. For Creek, he can ease his way back into game shape, and build up more strength in his upper body and around his knee, where he lost a lot of quickness after the surgery.
Overall, the Hoosiers have more confidence, and are playing like a team that is not afraid down the stretch of the game, and can find ways to win games when it seems bleak. It is early in the season, but the early positives are something that should not be ignored.