After nearly nine cold, hard months, the wait is over.
First, the hype video of players silently, somewhat awkwardly screaming at the camera. Then, the dulcet tones of Baroque-era masterpiece “Split (Only U)” by Tiësto featuring The Chainsmokers blaring through the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall speakers. Finally, tip-off — Indiana men’s basketball is back.
At least, Indiana is back to obliterating hopelessly outmatched non-conference opponents, defeating Morehead State University 88-53 in its season opener.
With a final point differential of 35, it’s easy to watch this game and wonder whether it tells us any more than Indiana’s exhibition games last week did. After all, Morehead State certainly isn’t Purdue or Michigan.
However, Morehead State is somewhat comparable to — and I’m totally just spit-balling here — Saint Mary’s College, the West Coast Conference team that beat Indiana by 29 points in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
So perhaps these games do tell us something. The question is what.
At first, the answer appeared to be that the Hoosiers were a force of nature, jumping to a 10-3 lead courtesy of impeccable ball movement and relentless defense. Then, for about five minutes, it appeared Indiana was only slightly more talented than a school from the Ohio Valley Conference. With 9:17 remaining in the first half, the Hoosiers and Eagles were tied 21-21.
However, Morehead State’s pluckiness was short-lived thanks to a 13-0 run by an Indiana lineup comprised primarily of bench players. Freshman forward Malik Reneau appeared virtually unstoppable in the paint, junior forward Jordan Geronimo exhibited lock-down defense and freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino was totally in control of the offense.
It feels like every game is another litmus test for just how good Hood-Schifino and Reneau — Indiana’s prized freshmen — can be. Completely dominant against an NAIA school? Sure, but I imagine a handful of Big Ten teams’ equipment managers would be, too. Great against a feisty mid-major? Now we’re talking.
I still fully expect both to have games in which they have all the confidence and poise of a freshman trying to get into Kilroy’s with an ID that bends like an index card, but it appears those won’t come anytime soon.
As we transition into the nitpicking section of this column, let me remind the more defensive Indiana fans that yes, I am aware that any player I criticize would absolutely destroy me in any contest of physicality, and yes, you are very smart and cool for recognizing this.
That said, graduate student guard Xavier Johnson has had a rough start. Fouls and turnovers kept him off the floor in Thursday’s exhibition match against the University of Saint Francis. Against Morehead State he logged four points and three assists with three fouls in 20 minutes, an underwhelming stat line for a veteran point guard.
Meanwhile, the entirety of Indiana struggled at the free-throw line, shooting 57% from the stripe. Again, this is mildly concerning because when you’re playing at home, unranked Morehead State defends free throws just as well as the No. 1 University of North Carolina.
Minor shortcomings aside, this was a dominant win in which the usual stars didn’t even have to shine. Senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds yet felt like an afterthought given the success around him. When your bench scores more than half of your points in a convincing victory, you have to feel good about your depth.
With just over four minutes left in the game and Indiana leading 79-47, a fan in section K shouted something along the lines of, “You all freaking suck,” at Morehead State’s players. I’ll let you guess which word I tweaked in that quote.
That’s probably an unfair description of Morehead State, and honestly rather tame in the broader vocabulary of Assembly Hall attendees. But at least through one game — even if it was totally expected — I think it’s fair to say the Hoosiers looked pretty freaking good.
Support the Indiana Daily Student to beat Purdue’s student newspaper, the Exponent, through making a donation to the IDS Legacy Fund! Whichever publication raises more money before the Purdue v. IU football game Nov. 26 “wins” the challenge, but all donations go to support student journalism at the respective publications. To help IU beat Purdue and support the IDS, follow this link to donate.