We have a lot to learn
– Tom Crean, Oct. 31
And so, let the education commence.
Let Crean take his young Indiana Hoosiers, all those sparkling kids, into Champaign today, and introduce them to the ball-peen hammer that is life in the Big Ten away from Assembly Hall.
Turn the Izzone loose on them on a cold winter’s night in the Breslin Center. Take them to Carver-Hawkeye in Middle of Nowhere, Iowa, and Value City Arena in Columbus with all of Ohio arrayed against them, and up to arctic wastes of creaky old Williams Arena in Minneapolis, where even the best teams either lose their way or freeze solid.
We know a little about Indiana, and also Purdue, as the Big Ten season unfurls today. But this is where both their education and ours really begin.
As with every Big Ten team there have been far too many Stony Brooks and Samfords and Central Connecticuts in the pre-conference season to get an accurate read, especially with teams so dependent on young players. What we know about IU and Purdue is what we already knew: They’re young, and what they’ll ultimately be will largely be dependent on how quickly they become un-young.
If you’re Purdue, that means senior Terone Johnson can only do so much, and then it’s up to freshmen Bryson Scott (9.8 ppg), Kendall Stephens (26 3-pointers) and Basil Smotherman, among others, to do the heavy lifting. How quickly they become comfortable with the rigors of Big Ten play – and how much Matt Painter can get from enigmatic big man AJ Hammons – will determine how high the Boilermakers’ stock will rise in the next two months.
Best guess: middle of the pack.
The Boilers are 10-3 coming in, but, as with every Big Ten team, it’s a grain of salt. Double-digit losses to Oklahoma State and Washington State, and a 76-70 loss to Butler in the Crossroads Classic, say a lot more about where Purdue is right now than all those blowouts against Rider – although the win over West Virginia last week might be the beginning of something.
They’ve beaten up on the Samfords and Stony Brooks, and took No. 18 Connecticut to the wire in a 59-58 loss in Madison Square Garden. But the rematch against No. 4 Syracuse was a 69-52 cakewalk for the Orange, and that’s as accurate a measuring stick as any as to just how far the Hoosiers are from the elite.
Six-foot-10 freshman Noah Vonleh had 17 points and six boards in that one, but the more telling number was the three points and zero rebounds for senior leader Will Sheehey. Yogi Ferrell will be Yogi Ferrell – he leads Indiana with a 16.8 scoring average and has 35 3s in 82 attempts, a hefty .427 clip – and Vonleh, Troy Williams, Evan Gordon and the rest of the kids, talented as they are, will have their moments. But that doesn’t mean Sheehey can disappear – especially with the sudden departure of freshman center Luke Fischer.
Best guess for the Hoosiers, if they get steadily better the way young teams should: No better than fifth.
“We’re one of the two youngest teams in this league, experience-wise,” Crean said back in October. “I think the biggest thing we’re trying to get accomplished right now is to get our team to understand … what it takes to practice at a championship level and showing the standards of last year. Not necessarily who it was, but how it was done.”
That starts today.