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IU Dominates In Season Debut

11.09.2012 at 11:28pm - Basketball Times

BY LEW FREEDMAN

Basketball Times

BLOOMINGTON, IND.—Assembly Hall was at airplane takeoff noise level as the hype met reality Friday night for the No. 1 ranked Indiana University Hoosiers and the opening game of the 2012-13 season showed off many of the reasons why people love IU this year.

Cody Zeller, the 7-foot sophomore center who has added about 15 pounds of muscle—you should see his biceps compared to last year—is being touted as the finest big man in the NCAA and his 18 points and 10 rebounds offered some clues why everybody loves him.

Many of the 17,472 fans at this lovefest stood throughout the night so they couldn't provide an extra standing ovation when the announcement of coach Tom Crean's contract being extended through 2020 was made. It's possible that none of them paused in yelling for any of the 40 minutes, offering their own full-throated press on visiting Bryant University as the Hoosiers pounded the Bulldogs 97-54.

Before everyone gets too giddy about being 1-0, it should be remembered that this was five people playing for Bryant, not five Kobe Bryants.

And as much as the nationwide spotlight has alighted on Zeller, the key to IU's season may really be on the shoulders of freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell. Not many coaches with such an experienced team of which such big things are expected would give the keys to the car to a guy who last year was running the offense for Park Tudor High School.

The most significant aspect of the night was not that the Hoosiers were able to use 13 players, dominated Bryant on the boards (46-29), out-shot the Bulldogs 55.6 percent to 32.3 percent, but that Ferrell played not like a teenager, but like a grownup.

Ferrell, who is only 6 feet tall, but has the speed of a Corvette, and corners just about as smoothly, not only started the first game of his college career, but he scored 10 points and handed off 7 assists in 24 minutes of play.

"It felt great to go out there and distribute the ball to those guys and watch them score,” Ferrell said. "I didn't really have any nerves.”

One thing even the best players in high school absorb when they make the transition to college player is the difference in the speed of the game. Ferrell said he thought play was a lot more up-tempo than it was in high school, "but I feel like I handled it well.”

No kidding.

Crean, who has rebuilt Indiana after a handful of years of problems and poor results, has relied on the school's lengthy tradition and by being offered a contract extension that will carry him until his brown hair turns gray, IU has shown its appreciation.

The pre-season prominence for IU after winning 27 games last year, was pretty satisfying for players who lived through a couple of very sub-.500 years, but not everything is going seamlessly. Only Thursday the NCAA announced that freshmen Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin must sit out nine games as punishment for accepting a total of $15,000 worth of illegal benefits. This sounds like one of those typical NCAA cases where players had their hands out for payoffs. But that's not the situation at all. The benefits were provided by their legal guardian.

This would be like getting penalized because your Uncle Joe bought you a plane ticket and dinner. The benefactor was Mark Adams and the crux of the case was that he wrote checks to Indiana University (he said they were for bumper stickers) totaling $185 between 1986 and 1992. By doing so, that made him a booster. Which means that any fan who bought an IU basketball sweatshirt in the gift shop is as much an agent of the university as Adams.

That's nuts. But the players are benched until mid-December. Apparently the NCAA, fresh fining Penn State $60 million because of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case,wants to show that nothing is too small to escape its eagle eye to be penalized.

None of this interfered with IU's on-court behavior Friday night. Forward Christian Watford scored 15 points and collected a career-high 15 rebounds. Backup forward Will Sheehy scored 10 points. Freshman Jeremy Hollowell (who apparently has a different legal guardian), scored 12, and so did sophomore Remy Abell.

"I tried to get to the glass and be aggressive,” Watford said. "I felt like we shared the ball well.”

There was not much that IU didn't do well. When you win the first half by 20 points and the second half by 23 points and everyone who has ever played intramurals seemed to get playing time, you have to hunt for flaws.

Zeller, who is widely expected to go directly from this season to the NBA, shot just two-for-six on free throws. Crean said that's an anomaly since he figures Zeller will make 80-something percent of his foul shots this year and might lead the country in going to the free-throw line.

Afterwards, someone asked Zeller what was up with the erratic free-throw shooting.

"You're telling me, man,” he said. "I've got to figure something out.”

Crean has obviously figured something out at the point guard spot by putting his confidence in Ferrell.

"Yogi is ahead of his years defensively,” Crean said. "That's been a joy.” Ferrell displayed poise and had already dismissed the notion of nerves. "That's who he is. This kid has played a lot of high-level basketball. He's won year-round. He's carrying that right into the collegiate level.”

And right to those happily-biased, very raucous IU fans.