Hoosiers enter season with new faces, high hopes

Tom Crean and the Indiana Hoosiers return to action tonight in their last exhibition contest before one of the team’s most anticipated season openers in recent memory. The 11th-ranked Hoosiers are set to face No. 3 Kansas on Nov. 11 in the State Farm Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii.

A 98-65 win against Hope College on Nov. 1 gave Hoosier fans a glimpse of the post-Yogi Ferrell era in Bloomington, but how will Indiana fare the rest of the way? Entering this evening’s home game with Bellarmine University, the Hoosiers are the second-highest rated preseason team coached by Crean.

Gone but not forgotten: Indiana said farewell to program legends Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams, as well as transfer students Max Bielfeldt and Nick Zeisloft. Ferrell and Williams both finished in the top 40 in points scored at Indiana.

Newcomers: Junior guard Josh Newkirk (transfer from Pittsburgh), freshman forward De’Ron Davis, freshman guard Devonte Green (brother of NBA guard Danny Green), freshman guard Grant Gelon (Crown Point), freshman guard Curtis Jones, freshman forward Freddie McSwain Jr., sophomore guard Zach McRoberts (Carmel).

First exhibition: Guard Devonte Green showed little nerve for a freshman and led the team with 17 points, while sophomore forward OG Anunoby showed off his improved jump shot for 16 points. Junior guards James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson finished with 15 and 13 points, respectively.

Top games: Nov. 11 against No. 3 Kansas in Armed Forces Classic; Nov. 30 vs. No. 6 North Carolina in ACC/Big Ten Challenge; Dec. 17 vs. Butler in Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse; Dec. 31 vs. No. 13 Louisville at Bankers Life Fieldhouse; Jan. 10 at No. 25 Maryland; Jan. 21 vs. No. 12 Michigan State; Feb. 5 at No. 9 Wisconsin; Feb. 9 vs. No. 15 Purdue.

Strengths: Depth at nearly every position will serve Indiana well in a bruising Big Ten schedule, not to mention an improved nonconference slate including the likes of No. 6 North Carolina, Butler and No. 13 Louisville. Crean has shooters, slashers, dunkers — you name it.

If outside shots aren’t falling — Indiana fans know better than most it happens now and then — players can feed 6-foot-10 forwards Thomas Bryant and De’Ron Davis. The Hoosiers have athleticism on the wings, too, including sophomore forwards OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan.

Freshman Freddie McSwain Jr. adds to that mix, as does sophomore guard Zach McRoberts, who went from not playing last season to starting in the team’s first exhibition game. McRoberts played at Carmel High School before attending Vermont as a freshman. Indiana also plays a favorable home Big Ten schedule.

Weaknesses: To be picky, Indiana lacks a proven leader at the point guard position. Before the ever-popular Ferrell, the Hoosiers had Bloomington native Jordan Hulls, another fan favorite. This season, however, one, maybe even two or three, players will see time handling the offense. In the first game against an undermanned Hope team, 6-foot-8 forward Juwan Morgan handled the point, as did several guards. Josh Newkirk (seven assists) looked the most ready to take over for Ferrell and created several opportunities for teammates without forcing passes or turning over the ball. He came off the bench.

Junior guards Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr. also shared minutes leading the offense. This so-called weakness could prove to be a strength depending on the match up. Also, the team will be without glue guy, senior forward Colin Hartman, for some time. He suffered another knee injury over the summer.

Quotable: “I wouldn’t read anything into any of the lineups,” Crean told iuhoosiers.com in his postgame press conference following the team’s win over Hope. “It could change again Saturday. To me, it’s about having as many multi-dimensional, versatile guys that can play numerous positions.”

Season prediction: 26-6, second in Big Ten behind Wisconsin.

Vegas odds: The experts are giving Indiana a 32/1 chance to win a national title. Duke is the favorite at 7/2, according to vegasinsider.com.

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or kmills@greenfieldreporter.com.