If there’s one part of its identity that’s been defined, it’s that this Indiana basketball team has depth.
Heading into today’s 7 p.m. Legends Classic game against Sam Houston State in Assembly Hall, just one player — preseason All-American center Cody Zeller — is averaging more than 25 minutes per game. The team’s five starters are all averaging 23 minutes per game or more, but nine players are averaging at least 15 and that number will assuredly go up when injured senior forward Derek Elston Elston and suspended freshmen Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin return.
That means the margin for error for every man on the floor is very small, and everyone who takes the floor has to execute what is expected.
“You have to know your role,” junior swingman Will Sheehey said. “Everyone should know that. You do what you do well, and that’s what you bring to the table. You can’t do things that you don’t do well, because it shows on film. Once everyone realizes exactly what their role is, which I’m pretty sure we do, we’ll be fine.”
So far, they believe they have been. Obviously, they haven’t been tested nearly as well as they will be starting next week in Brooklyn during the championship round of the Legends Classic, but they’ve been able to execute mostly what they’ve wanted to and get contributions from up and down the bench. Six Hoosiers are averaging at least nine points per game, and the other three who are averaging more than 15 minutes per game and not scoring that much are still contributing in other ways. Freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell is averaging 7.0 points per game so far, but also 5.0 assists per game. Junior guard Victor Oladipo is only averaging 6.0 points, but he’s also grabbing 6.0 rebounds per contest. Redshirt junior guard Maurice Creek is averaging just 3.0 points, but he’s also grabbing 3.5 rebounds per game.
“I’ve liked our energy,” Sheehey said. “Really from everyone from starters to the bench, everyone’s brought a level of energy to the game. Some guys get angry about not playing this amount of time, but I think that everyone who came in brought a certain amount of energy. I also think we’re playing smarter as each game goes on knowing what our strengths and weaknesses are. We have to continue to do that.”
Against Sam Houston State, they have to do that against a team with size in the middle and shooters on the outside. The Hoosiers will see one of the biggest post men they’ve played against to date, plus a number of perimeter players on the outside who benefit from his presence.
Sophomore center Michael Holyfield averaged just 4.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game last season, but it’s evident already that he will have a much bigger impact on this year’s
team. So far, the 6-foot-11, 255-pounder has already grabbed 9.0 rebounds per game and made nine of his 10 field goals.
“He poses challenges with his girth and his strength,” IU assistant coach Kenny Johnson said. “He runs the floor a lot better than you might think he would. I know he made strides last season when they had some injuries. I’ve been watching him on film. He’s a great screener. He contests shots. He did a great job rebounding the other night. I think he had 12 rebounds. He’s gonna be a challenge just to make sure we always keep a bonding.”
And yet, the Hoosiers can’t be in a position of overhelping, because they have so many perimeter options. The Bearkats have already knocked down 21 of 50 3-point attempts so far in just two games.
“This team is a tad bit faster paced overall (than other teams we’ve faced,” Johnson said. “The perimeter is gonna be surrounded with shooters. They’re gonna have shooters at all four spots no matter who is in the game opposite (Holyfield.)”