For Indiana, this week was more about the Hoosiers themselves than it was about game preparation.
With a full week separating games, No. 1 Indiana (8-0) got a chance to get back to basics before going full tilt into game prep for Saturday’s 6 p.m. game against Central Connecticut State at Assembly Hall.
“It’s been good to get back to some of the things we need to work on,” sophomore center Cody Zeller said. “Get back to some more of the basics, just the simple, passing, catching, doing the fundamentals, some of the things we’ve gotten away from. We started out the season with a lot of time for prep, a lot of time working on that stuff. But as you get into the season, you work more on scouting reports, working on the next team. This week has been good just because we were working on ourselves early in the week and improving on some things we needed to work on.”
Even once they did get into game prep for Central Connecticut State, they spent much less time trying to learn about what the Blue Devils do than who their players are. Central Connecticut State has begun the season 4-3 — with those three losses coming by a combined seven points — by simply allowing their top players to improvise.
“We’ve really focused on personnel with this team,” assistant coach Tim Buckley said. “They’re not necessarily about their plays, they’re about their players, and they go and make plays. That stuff is more impromptu than it is orchestrated. They’ve got guys that will go make a play, and you’ve gotta be ready to defend that.”
Especially when the guys making plays are Kyle Vinales and Matt Hunter.
Vinales, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard, is the leading scorer in Division I so far in this young season with a gaudy 25.9 points per game in the Blue Devils’ seven games. He’s shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from beyond the 3-point arc while also dishing out 3.7 assists per game.
“He’s so quick on film,” Zeller said. “He’s just driving right around guys. He shoots and gets it off quick. He scores in a lot of different ways with floaters, getting by his man. Not many people can say they’re averaging 26 a game. Obviously, nobody. But that’s saying something right there.”
Said Buckley: “I think he can score in a variety of ways. He can beat you off the dribble. He can go right or left. He can shoot the pull-up. He’s got a stepback to his game. He does a terrific job of getting angles, whether it’s beating you off the dribble or coming off the pick-and-roll. When he gets an angle, he’s very difficult to stop. You gotta keep him outside the elbow, you’ve gotta keep your chest in front, and he can get no open looks.”
Matt Hunter, a junior guard who operates as something of a power forward for Central Connecticut State even though he doesn’t post up much. Hunter averages 17.0 points per game.
As talented as the Blue Devils are, they’re also remarkably well-conditioned. Central Connecticut State plays a fast-paced game, averaging 76.9 points per game and surrendering 74.1, but its players have been able to withstand that without having to go deep into the bench at all. All five of their starters average 29.9 minutes per game or more. Three of them average more than 36 and Vinales actually averages 40.7 thanks to two overtime games.
And yet, there seems to be no wearing them down.
“I’ve seen all their games, and I’ve yet to see them get tired,” Buckley said. “They’re a team that is pretty resilient that way.”
Of course, the Hoosiers play even faster with a deeper bench, so they believe they can make fatigue a factor.
“We’ll see how good of shape they’re in (tonight),” Zeller said. “We always think that we’re the best conditioned team. We’re definitely gonna push the tempo and see if we can wear them down.”