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.
Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic joined Rob Dauster for an epic, two-hour podcast on the first weekend of the tournament. It was so good that we had to split the podcast into two parts. On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the South and West Regions, from Sister Jean to UMBC to Nevada’s comebacks to Kentucky’s chances at a Final Four.
On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the East and Midwest Regions, from Villanova and Duke steamrolling to Michigan State collapsing to Syracuse and Clemson and Texas Tech and Purdue. It’s all in there.
One of my favorite parts of the NCAA tournament is seeing who comes out of nowhere to turn into a viral celebrity during this month of madness.
By my estimation, we had eight true candidates for the award of March Madness Viral Celebrity of the Year. Here they are:
8. ROB GRAY’S LITTLE BROTHER
He was more fired up for Houston’s success in the tournament than any Houston fan in the history of basketball in the city of Houston.
7. JORDAN PEELE
Jordan Poole is spelled a lot like Jordan Peele, which inevitably led to people tweeting at Peele instead of Poole. Peele’s thank you tweet was a highlight of the first weekend.
6. TY JEROME DOESN’T HAVE TIME FOR YOUR DUMB QUESTIONS
Having to answer questions from a bunch of reporters after suffering the most humiliating moment of your life is not an easy thing to do. Having to answer ridiculous and stupid questions could be intolerable, which is why I loved Ty Jerome’s response to a stupid question he was asked:
5. ROBERT WILLIAMS TEAMMATE
I loved seeing Robert Williams’ teammate do a panotmine windmill in the background while Williams was throwing down a windmill in real time on Providence:
4. MARIAH MUSSELMAN
Nevada head coach Eric Musselman has led his team to the Sweet 16, cussed on live television and gone shirtless to celebrate with his team, but the star of the Musselman family is his daughter Mariah:
3. MATT HAARMS’ HAIR
He really does have great hair:
This dude lived the dream of every twitter user out there. When your shot is there, you have to take it.
1. SISTER JEAN
Nevada head coach Eric Musselman went shirtless to celebrate his team’s come-from-behind win over No. 2 seed Cincinnati on Sunday.
I guess this is better than dropping F-bombs live on national TV. Maybe that’s why they had Steve Lappas talking over him …
The worst-kept secret in college basketball no longer appears to be a secret: Penny Hardaway is going to be the next coaching at the University of Memphis.
ESPN is reporting that a deal has been agreed upon. The Memphis Commercial-Appeal is reporting that Penny was waiting for his season to end with East High School before he made anything official. NBC Sports can confirm that an announcement is expected to be made early this week, likely as soon as Tuesday, to introduce the former Memphis and NBA star as Tubby Smith’s replacement.
The truth, however, is that we all knew this was what would be happening the second that Memphis formally fired Tubby Smith. Hell, we knew it a month before that decision was made final. This was always how it was going to play out.
What’s interesting to me is now the discussion of whether or not Penny will be able to handle being a Division I head coach, because it’s been hit or miss with basketball programs hiring legends of their past. Chris Mullin and St. John’s hasn’t exactly gone to plan but Fred Hoiberg was quite successful at Iowa State. Kevin Ollie won a title with UConn then fell off a cliff. Patrick Ewing’s start wasn’t great, but he was better than expected.
Where does Penny fall on this scale?
Well, let me just drop this section of a column from Geoff Calkins in here:
Hardaway isn’t a guy who woke up one morning and decided he’d like to be a Division I head coach. He’s not a former player who got bored with retirement and decided he’d like to do something other than play golf.
Hardaway started coaching at middle school. Middle school! Because an old friend needed some help.
Then he built one of the best AAU programs in the country. Then he spent years coaching a high school team.
Does that sound like someone who doesn’t want to roll up his sleeves and do the work? Does that sound like someone who is just in it for the glory and the glitz?
The truth is, if it weren’t for Hardaway’s iconic stature, he might be characterized as a grinder, as a guy who worked his way up from the lowest levels of basketball on the strength of his relationship with the kids.
I think that this is going to work out for both Penny and Memphis, especially if Penny hires a staff that can help him with the intricacies of running a college basketball program.
PLAYER OF THE WEEKEND: Jevon Carter, West Virginia
So Carter’s numbers themselves were ridiculous this weekend. He had 21 points, eight assists, six steals and five boards in a first round win over Murray State. He followed that up with 28 points, five assists, five steals and four boards in a win over in-state rival Marshall to advance to the Sweet 16. For the weekend, he shot 54 percent from the floor and 63 percent from three.
But perhaps the more telling state in regards to what Carter did this weekend are the numbers that the Murray State and Marshall stars put up this weekend. Jon Elmore — whose averages of 23 points, seven assists and six boards matched what Markelle Fultz averaged a season ago — was 4-for-12 from the floor with eight turnovers in Marshall’s second round loss. Jonathan Stark, who entered the tournament averaging 22 points, had nine points on 1-for-12 shooting in Murray State’s first round loss.
On Friday night, we get Jalen Brunson squaring off with Carter.
THE ALL-FIRST WEEKEND TEAM
- ROB GRAY, Houston: Gray is the only guy on this list that didn’t reach the Sweet 16 — blame Jordan Poole for that — but he did put together one of the most memorable and impressive first round NCAA tournament performances I can ever remember when he dropped 39 points and a game-winner on San Diego State.
- KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: Evans averaged 22.5 points in this weekend’s two games, but what got him on this list was that he averaged 16.5 points in the second half of those two games, closing out a come-from-behind win against Stephen F. Austin with drive after drive and hitting the go-ahead three in the win over Florida.
- ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga: Not only did the Zags freshman averaged 21.5 points in two games — including a career-high 28 points, a career-high 12 boards, a career-high six threes and his first career double-double against Ohio State — but he hit the dagger in both of those games; a game-winner in the final minutes against UNCG and a three to put the Zags up six in the final two minutes against Ohio State.
- SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER, Kentucky: We spent the entire season talking about how Kentucky didn’t have a star this year. That may not be true anymore. SGA averaged 23 points, 7.0 boards, 6.5 assists and 3.5 steals as the Wildcats reached the Sweet 16 as the highest remaining seed in the South Region.
- THE MARTIN TWINS, Nevada: Caleb was the hero in the come-from-behind win over Texas, doing bonkers in overtime, while Cody had 25 points, seven assists and six boards in the come-from-behind win over Cincinnati. But mostly they were both awesome all weekend.