The love affair really took off Jan. 2 against Nebraska.
It skyrocketed three days later against Wisconsin. A month later, it hasn’t ended.
If anything, the love affair IU fans have with freshman forward OG Anunoby has stagnated.
It’s stagnated because a dominant defensive performance or a startling dunk is no longer an anomaly.
It’s stagnated because Anunoby simply is good, and it isn’t a surprise anymore.
So when IU Coach Tom Crean chose to start Anunoby in the second half Saturday at Penn State, and when he decided to play him for much of crunch time, it became clearer and clearer Anunoby is the type of player who deserves that kind of role.
These decisions also made it clear Anunoby should be on the floor in the moments that matter.
This is not some attack on junior forward Troy Williams.
Many teams would beg for a Troy Williams. He is one of the most talented basketball players in the country. But is he one of the best players in the country?
That’s a different debate entirely.
Crean has often said the lineups that end games are more important than the ones that start it.
Saturday, when it came down to the crucial moments of a close game, Williams was hardly out there.
He came off the floor with over 11 minutes remaining and didn’t return until the four minute mark. The first possession back, he attempted a 3-pointer and was removed two possessions later.
During a game in which Penn State’s Brandon Taylor was going off for 24 points, Anunoby was the guy Crean said he could trust.
“Probably should have played him more,” Crean said. “He was the one guy that was really competing and trying to keep him from getting the ball.”
He said it’s hard for anybody to guard a player of that size and strength one-on-one, but Anunoby battled through the challenge.
It’s also important to note this isn’t some isolated incident, just maybe the first time action was explicitly taken.
Look back to Jan. 26 at Wisconsin. There was a stretch of six straight possessions where Williams took the ball, hardly looked at any teammates and drove to the basket to make his own play. The tragedy of this scenario was that he scored eight points in this span, and people saw it as impressive. It wasn’t good basketball.
A few days later, Crean remembered the stretch. He said it was a result of Williams reading situations.
Then there’s Feb. 2 in a big win at Michigan, when Williams had four of the team’s 12 turnovers.
Williams is absurdly talented. There are moments where it seems to all come together, like Jan. 19 against Illinois. But those moments are few and far between. His offensive rating, according to kenpom.com, is eighth among IU’s primary nine rotation members.
Anunoby, on the other hand, hardly makes mistakes. He plays an efficient offensive game that doesn’t need the ball, yet he still has the shooting ability to knock down 3-pointers and keep a defense honest.
Most importantly, he can lock down opponents’ best offensive player at nearly any position.
It’s funny how the things that wow people about Anunoby are often the same that impress them with Williams. The riveting fast breaks and putback dunks that ignite Assembly Hall are common traits.
Maybe if Anunoby is out there for Williams-like minutes his flaws would come out more. Maybe this is all completely wrong. He is a freshman and it’s February.
Who knows if he could even handle the greater physical toll so early in his career.
But when it comes down to who I trust more in a crucial moment, like Saturday at Penn State, I choose OG Anunoby.
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