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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.

VIDEO: Winthrop’s Keon Johnson goes coast-to-coast for buzzer-beater

Winthrop's Keon Johnson (5) shoots a layup while defended by Coastal Carolina's Warren Gillis during the first half of the Big South Conference Championship college basketball game Sunday, March 8, 2015, in Conway, S.C. Coastal Carolina won 81-70. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
(AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
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Winthop earned a Big South road win at Radford on Saturday afternoon as junior guard Keon Johnson raced coast-to-coast and buried the game-winner at the buzzer.

The 5-foot-7 Johnson erupted for 32 points in the win and he’s been one of the most potent mid-major scorers in the country this season. The win moves Winthrop to 18-7 on the season and their 10-4 mark in the Big South ties them with UNC Asheville atop the conference standings.

(H/T: LiveonASN)

After blowout of South Carolina, is No. 22 Kentucky a Final Four contender?

Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis (3) guards the ball after a rebound during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Auburn, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Auburn, Ala. Auburn won 75-70. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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It only took 2:26 for official Doug Sirmons to plant two technical fouls on Kentucky head coach John Calipari, and that may have been the worst thing that could have happened to South Carolina.

He poked the bear, and the result was that a ticked off No. 22 Wildcat team proceeded to run the Gamecocks out of their own gym, 89-62.

The star of the show was interim head coach Tyler Ulis, who put together as dominating of a performance as you’ll ever see out of a player that stands 5-foot-9. Ulis finished with 27 points and 12 assists, hitting 4-for-8 from three and turning the ball over just once.

Marcus Lee added 11 points and 13 boards, including six on the offensive end, and Jamal Murray had his customary 26 points on 9-for-21 shooting, but the story of this game was Ulis.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seed a player under 6-foot capable of dominating a game the way that Ulis can dominate. Murray can take over with the best of them — we saw it against Florida and Ohio State — but when it comes to the NCAA tournament, this Kentucky team will go as far as Ulis carries them.

And based on the way that he’s played in the last six weeks, that could end up being pretty far. In SEC play, Ulis is averaging 19.4 points and 7.6 assists. He’s scored at least 17 points in 12 of the last 14 games and has notched as least five assists in all 14. He just orchestrated a total mollywhopping of a Frank Martin-coached team that was tied for first place in the SEC while playing without his head coach and on the road.

The issue with Kentucky is the same today as it was a month ago. They’re a two-man team with an inconsistent supporting cast. When their two studs play like this, they can beat anyone in the country. When they don’t, they can struggle against anyone.

But here’s the thing: When Ulis is playing the way that he’s played of late, they don’t really need all that much from their supporting cast. Derek Willis needs to be able to space the floor. Lee and Skal Labissiere need to be able to hold their own against opposing big men.

And when that happens?

Kentucky is clearly the best team in the SEC and good enough to be able to win four straight in the Big Dance and get to a Final Four.