The Indiana Hoosiers are off to a perfect start. With nearly a quarter of the season in the books and Big Ten season on the horizon, it’s time to examine what’s made up the 2012-2013 No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers.
Best Player: Cody Zeller
Zeller was a near unanimous choice as the media’s pre-season player of the year. While his numbers – 15.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and over 64 percent shooting – don’t scream POY, his style of play and personality transcend the label. Without Cody Zeller these aren’t the No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers.
So if his numbers are just above par, where is Zeller making his mark? It’s all about his patience. Zeller is picking his spots. He is well aware that his mere presence is a problem for opposing teams and is simply waiting them out. At the same time he’s able to make everything easier for his teammates on the floor. As the games get tougher, Zeller will start to leave his mark in a more visible way.
Most Improved: Victor Oladipo
When Victor was a freshman did you envision 1st round draft potential after his junior year? That question is a testament to how hard Victor has worked in each of his two off-seasons in Bloomington to blossom into a truly beautiful player to watch on the court.
Oladipo’s defensive talent, tenacity and instinct have begun to noticeably fracture his assignments ability to efficiently produce. He’s legitimately a top on-the-ball defender in the country, as well as a mightily improved offensive player. His numbers are contained because of Indiana’s depth, but all of his advanced metrics have increased substantially every year. His eFG% – field goal percentage with more weight on 3-pointers – is up from 48.8 to 66.7 and his ORtg – a measure of personal offensive efficiency – is up from 106.5 to 125.2. Let’s not forget he’s become more comfortable in his role as a “point-forward,” which allows the offense to move in many different directions.
Statistical jargon aside, Oladipo was phenomenal against Georgia and North Carolina and should continue to up his draft stock throughout the Big Ten season.
Biggest Surprise: Remy Abell
It’s hard to call Remy’s sterling start to the season a surprise because all of the signs of a productive player were there last year. Remy was said to have been one of the hardest offseason workers and now we know there was some serious merit to that. His statistical revolution can be credited to his hard work, innate talent and the uptick in minutes he’s earned.
Remy isn’t just an energy guy off the bench, he’s a formidable player that is not intimated by the spotlight, the opposition or the talent in his own locker room. This is a guy that everyone thought would be buried on the bench this year.
To put Remy’s play in perspective, his ORtg is 153! That’s the highest on the team and leaps and bounds above where Oladipo, Zeller and Sheehey are at, although they play more minutes. The point is that this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Remy finished last year with an ORtg of 111 (higher than Oladipo’s 106) as a minimally used freshman and is taking full advantage of every minute he’s on the court. Glad to have you on board Remy.
Biggest Disappointment: Christian Watford
This is also not a surprise, and this also isn’t the final chapter of Watford’s storied career as a Hoosier. In fact, his story is getting a little too repetitive with these slow starts to the season. That’s all I’m chalking this up to (is a “Watford Being Watford phrase appropriate?) and I think he will improve as the season moves along when there’s more weight (and spotlight) on the games.
That doesn’t excuse the fact that he’s still played lackadaisical and unenthusiastic for the most part. There’s been times when Watford has played engaged but those times usually followed a temporary benching. What is for certain is that Watford is not a leader on this team, and to somebody who presents himself as “the man,” I think that contributes a tad bit to his head-scratching effort at times.
Best Distributor: Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell
Yogi’s ability to command the transition offense is a coaching staffs dream. He couldn’t have recruited a more perfect fit to quarterback his up-tempo, run-and-gun style of play with a myriad of shooters and cutters ready to put the ball in the hoop.
He has an innate understanding of the geometry of the floor that most seniors don’t posses. He can throw inside-out passes to shooters all over the place, even ones directly behind him or diagonally across the court. And he finds that little drop-off pass to guys making back door cuts and big men lurking on the baseline with his head flipped the other way.
His offensive game is raw, as was Oladipo’s his freshman year, and will improve throughout the season and his career. Just give him an offseason or two and watch what he can do.
Gel Guy: Sheeladipo
When a team has a player that carries the ability and intangibles to fit in anywhere and perform as needed on any given night good things are going to consistently happen. Now if that team has two…
Great things are going to happen consistently, and that’s what the Hoosiers have in Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, who have become the center of the popularized nickname “Sheeladipo.” While they both bring different talents to the table, their stat lines and production are mirror images of each other and allows Crean to always keep a hustle guy on the floor. Together they’ve formed a strong identity that the Hoosiers have rallied around. Watching them attempt to fit in individually as unheralded freshmen to forging a tag-team identity and become leaders of this team has been fascinating to watch.
Most Underrated: Jordan Hulls
In the sense of where he fit into this team in the fans eyes this offseason, Hulls has obliterated expectations. For the record, I’ve always been pro-Jordy and thought it was facetious that anybody believed he should be usurped out of the starting lineup for a freshman (regardless of how great of a passer Yogi is).
The bottom line is that, well, basketball is often more than about basketball. It’s about trust and continuity, gel-guys and chemistry. To take the senior leader, heart and soul and point guard out of this lineup – a core that made it to the Sweet-16 and has been together for the majority of three years – because of his “limited” physical ability and defensive liabilities was ludicrous. Not only has he improved every facet of his game, but he’s also commandeered this team as well as he ever has. Kudos to Crean and the coaching staff for reading this potentially dangerous situation correctly.
Biggest Upcoming Threat: Incorporating the New (and old) Bigs
This is a good problem to have. Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin, two highly touted freshmen, are due back December 15th against Butler. Let’s not forget about Derek Elston either. Elston is due back from injury in late December/January.
This could cause some issues to the ebb and flow of this team during the first few games they play. This is only a threat to those who believe Indiana preserving its perfect season is priority number one. The bottom line is that this team is seriously gelling right now and adding two big freshmen and a player in Elston who thinks he knows how he fits in could throw that off. Could it throw it off enough to cost the Hoosiers a game? Probably not right now. Fortunately for the Hoosiers they have a soft upcoming schedule to acclimate Mosquera-Perea, Jurkin and Elston.