O.G. Anunoby led five players in double-figures with 16 points and James Blackmon Jr. added 14 points, nine boards and three assists coming off of a knee injury as No. 13 Indiana landed another impressive win as they picked off No. 3 North Carolina, 76-67.
This is the second elite win for the Hoosiers in the first three weeks of the season. On opening night, they beat No. 4 Kansas in overtime in the Armed Forces Classic out in Hawai’i. Both of those teams look destined to finish the season in or around the top five, meaning that regardless of what transpires throughout the rest of the season, the Hoosiers are going to end up with, potentially, the best pair of wins on their résumé of anyone in the country.
If they can string together enough wins to take home the Big Ten regular season title – something that looks quite doable with Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State looking very beatable early on this season – the Hoosiers have already put themselves into contention to be a No. 1 seed.
Even with that pesky loss to Fort Wayne.
Which begs the question that ESPN announcer Dick Vitale asked late in Wednesday night’s broadcast:
“Which is the real Indiana? The team that beat North Carolina and Kansas, or the team that lost to Fort Wayne?”
And, frankly, the answer is both.
Look, with the way this Indiana team plays, they are going to be inconsistent. They’re going to be streaky. They’re very much reliant on the three-ball and their transition game simply because they don’t have enough creators on the floor to get consistently get them good looks in the half-court. Their offense gets bogged down when defenses tighten up and they don’t have a guy that can make a play out of nothing. They don’t have a guy they can give the rock to and know that they’ll somehow get a good look at the rim or fouled in the process.
Anunoby is a terrific basketball player, but what makes him so good is his versatility. He can guard all five positions at the college level, he can make spot-up threes, he can rebound, he can attack a close-out. But he’s a complimentary piece, not your go-to guy. Thomas Bryant is similar, and while he’s a more well-rounded offensive weapon this season, he’s still a guy whose most valuable skill is his effort level. He makes things happen in transition and on the glass, not when he’s iso’d on the block or the perimeter.
Blackmon is the x-factor. He was the guy against Kansas and hit a critical, late three on Wednesday night, but he struggled against Fort Wayne. How much of that was due to his knee issue, which caused him to miss IU’s next game? Who knows, but if Blackmon is the missing piece, it’s still worrisome to rely that heavily on a guy who’s had three knee surgeries and had to sit out a game two weeks into the season.
That’s where Indiana struggles.
But when they get going?
They remind me of a pressing team in the way their runs just keep building and building. As the saying goes, shooting is contagious, and once that team sees one or two go down, once their confidence starts to grow and their energy level reaches its peak – particularly when they’re playing at home in front of 17,000 screaming Hoosier fans – they start hunting threes and getting loose in transition. It builds and it builds and, suddenly, the No. 3 team in the country is down 26-9 before they have a chance to really grow into the game.
That’s what Indiana can do.
But if you can run them off the three-point line, run good enough offense to work clock, avoid letting them get out in transition, do the kind of things that good team do?
Then you can slow the system down.
So to answer your question, Dickie, Indiana is all of the above.
They’re going to be thrilling at times.
But as dangerous as anyone in the country when they get that thing rolling.