The frontcourt is inexperienced. That too, has been ?concluded.
But the Hoosiers haven’t dwelled on it. They’ve, instead, opted to embrace playing a small-ball lineup consisting mostly of four wing players and one relatively undersized big man.
Questions surrounding IU’s post play and depth have been looming. The concerns grew louder after allowing 138 points in the paint over a three-game stretch, highlighted by an 88-86 upset loss to Eastern Washington.
Eventually, the Hoosiers were going to be tested again. Tonight, that test comes from the No. 4 Louisville Cardinals and the frontcourt and the one-two punch of junior forward Montrezl Harrell and 6-foot-10 freshman center Chinanu Onuaku.
The Hoosiers (7-1) and Cardinals (7-0) will tip off at 9 p.m. at Madison Square Garden as part of the Jimmy V Classic.
IU Coach Tom Crean spoke highly of the matchup against Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, mentioning previous battles the two have had during Crean’s time at Marquette. The two were together in October co-chairing the Indiana Derby Horse race and have split their 14 matchups against one another.
“The bottom line, Rick is one of the best that’s ever done it,” Crean said. “There’s no way around that. If he had not gone to the NBA with the Knicks and the Celtics, he could be sitting right there with Mike Krzyzewski getting ready for his thousandth win.”
For IU to hand Pitino’s team its first loss of the season, the Hoosiers will need to limit Harrell and Onuaku. The two combine to present a challenge IU has yet to see this season, but the Hoosiers will need to get used to with a Big Ten schedule featuring post players like Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson.
The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Harrell is averaging 16.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game and enters the Garden having recorded three consecutive double-doubles. The preseason All-American has scored at least 12 points in every game and had as many as 30 against Minnesota.
“Montrezl Harrell is much like their entire team, he is relentless on both ends of the court,” Crean said. “He can run the floor. He can score at the rim and he can shoot the ball. ANd he can really rebound it. He causes tremendous problems because of his length, but their entire team does the same thing.”
Onuaku is lesser known, having only appeared in seven games, but he is averaging 6.1 points and seven rebounds thus far. He made 18-of-23 shot attempts while also adding 2.7 blocks per game.
Junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea and sophomore forward Troy Williams will likely be tabbed with guarding Onuaku and Harrell, respectively, but the Hoosiers might once again rely on a pair of bench forwards who have taken on significant roles early on.
Collin Hartman and Emmitt Holt have both taken minutes when Mosquera-Perea has struggled and have responded well. The two combined for 15 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday’s blowout win against Savannah State.
“We’ve got to keep developing that,” Crean said. “Collin and Emmitt are getting so much done because of the hustle game.”
The question of whether or not IU’s lack of post depth will undoubtedly continue past Tuesday, but the matchup with Louisville may at least partially answer any concerns.
IU’s guards have proven they can score in bunches at home. IU is averaging 88.4 points per game, good enough for fourth in the nation. But if IU plays without a frontcourt presence, there’s only so much the guards can do, especially on a neutral environment in IU’s first game away from Assembly Hall.
The trial by fire rotation of Mosquera-Perea, Williams, Hartman and Holt has mostly worked thus far, and Crean will once again look for the latter two to contribute tonight against the biggest frontcourt test to date.
“I think our team is really excited about playing on such a big stage,” freshman guard James Blackmon Jr. said. “We have a lot of respect for Louisville and a game like this will help us get ready for what we will see in the Big Ten.”