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Five Thoughts on Indiana after their 102-84 win over Washington

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — I had questions about Indiana entering the season.

A lot of them, actually.

Losing two of the top four picks in the NBA draft and two other four-year starters is not an easy thing to replace, I don’t care how well the program has been recruiting.

How good was Yogi Ferrell going to be? Can Noah Vonleh play the five-spot? Is Jeremy Hollowell ready to become a more consistent contributor? How good will the likes of Troy Williams, Stan Robinson, Luke Fischer and Hanner Mosquera-Perea be? With all of the pieces on the roster, how will Crean be able to get everyone to fit together?

Five games into the season, it’s tough to answer any of those questions. It’s not because the Hoosiers have struggled — they’re 5-0 on the year with four blowout wins — it’s because they still haven’t played an opponent that’s up to their level. With all due respect to Lorenzo Romar and his Washington team, I would have rather seen UC-Irvine, who beat the Huskies in the 2K Classic “opening rounds”, take on the Hoosiers.

The good news? In their first game away from home, the Hoosiers beat Washington 102-84, and looked quite comfortable doing it.

“I was a little bit surprised how poised they were in this atmosphere,” Will Sheehey said. “It was their first road game in one of the most hectic places in the world today. The guys really brought it today and I’m proud of them.”

Indiana takes on a UConn team tomorrow night that will give them everything they can handle. I got a chance to see the Hoosiers in person on Thursday night, and, frankly, I was impressed. Here are five thoughts on this rendition of Indiana basketball:

  • Noah Vonleh is the real deal. He entered the game averaging 14.8 points and 12.5 boards, and while his streak of consecutive double-doubles came to an end, he made it very obvious that his dominance on the interior was not simply a product of inferior opponents. He finished with 18 points and nine boards (five offensive), teaming up with Troy Williams to dominate the paint. “I think when it’s all said and done, he has a chance to be right up there with [the more heralded freshmen],” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “He’s just a pup, he’s going to get better and better.” I don’t think we need to be worried about Vonleh being able to be the biggest man on the floor for IU.
  • The Hoosiers have a ton of length and athleticism. Williams, Jeremy Hollowell and Will Sheehey are all versatile wings that stand 6-foot-7 and can play different plots on the floor. Vonleh’s wingspan is massive. Yogi Ferrell isn’t all that big, but he does not lack quickness and athleticism. more importantly, they take advantage of that size and athleticism by getting to the offensive glass. “They were like Dobermans on the boards, crashing like crazy,” Romar said.
  • Speaking of Ferrell, he was terrific on Thursday, finishing with 20 points, five assists and just a single turnover. “Yogi continues to get his teammates opportunities, make them better early in the game, get things to open up and then take what the defensive is giving him,” Crean said. He’s now averaging 19.6 points, 5.0 assists, 4.8 boards and just 2.0 turnovers on the season. He’ll get a chance to go up against one of the best back courts in the country on Friday, when he squares off with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. I’ll refrain from official judgement until then, but it looks like I’m really going to regret leaving him off of my top 20 point guards.
  • When Troy Williams is active, he’s awesome. The kid is just so long and so athletic. He’s not overly skilled at this point, although he looked pretty good going for 22 points and eight boards on Thursday, so it’s going to be an effort and energy thing from him. “When you’re active on defenses it translates into offense,” Sheehey said. “He got a lot of baskets just being around the rim. He’s similar to how Victor was last year.”
  • You know what’s scary? This team is only going to get better. Luke Fischer and Stan Robinson are still trying to get back to 100% and fully in-shape. Guys like Williams and Vonleh are still refining their roles. Hollowell is gifted, but he’s got a way to go before he puts it all together. This team probably won’t peak until January or February, once we’re fully into the swing of conference play. It’ll be fun to watch them grow, because as of now, they’re further along than most people expected them to be.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: