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.
Create controversy. Profit from controversy.
It’s not an especially new or original strategy, but it’s one that LaVar Ball continues to try to exploit.
The infamous basketball dad is at it again, looking to capitalize on the uproar/kerfuffle/news cycle/debate/ickiness he created when he belittled FS1’s Kristine Leahy, telling her to “stay in your lane” on multiple occasions when claiming the Big Baller Brand didn’t need to market to women.
Well, they are now, with a nod to Ball’s proclamation, selling “STAY IN YO LANE” tees, for both men and women.
Marketing misogyny. Isn’t that nice.
It’s clear that LaVar Ball isn’t going to shy away from the public spotlight anytime soon, especially with eldest son Lonzo looking destined for the Lakers and middle son LiAngelo set to join UCLA, and he’s going to do his best to use that light to push the BBB franchise that scared away the world’s biggest apparel companies.
This plan has no mystery, subtlety or taste. Which might as well be the Big Baller Brand slogan.
Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.
Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.
The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.
Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.
Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.
Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.
Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.
The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.
Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.
The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.
The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.
Wednesday, though, they got some good news.
McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.
Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.
The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.
The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.
The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.
Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.