BLOOMINGTON -- So here comes Indiana sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell. He is lean in frame, big in potential. He is a forward. No. He's a guard. He is, well what?
“He's got to do both,” coach Tom Crean said. “He has to play in the backcourt for us. Is that natural for him? Probably not, but that's what we have to do.”
For the record, sophomore Yogi Ferrell is the guard who runs the Hoosier basketball show. He has a year of starting experience for a No. 1 team, plus a summer of international competition. He will lead Indiana in this transitional season, starting with tonight's season opener against Chicago State.
Joining Hollowell in the backcourt are veteran swingman Will Sheehey, fifth-year senior transfer Evan Gordon and freshman Stanford Robinson.
Last year Hollowell saw limited action at forward, averaging 2.8 points and 2.1 rebounds. He had 11 assists and 29 turnovers, which isn't what you want from a guy who might see point guard duty.
And yet, Hollowell's 6-foot-8 size, athleticism and potential fits Crean's versatile blueprint. Hollowell has always had a big upside in rebounding and defense. He's worked hard to improve his ballhandling and shooting, and it's not so he can be a seldom-used inside reserve.
“He has to swing from one position to the other,” Crean said. “He has to go from a guy getting the ball in to a guy getting the ball. He has to have great movement and energy and be a catalyst on defense.
“There's no question he wants to be a great player. We have to push him hard. He has a big role for us.”
Tonight's role could include passing over Chicago State's fierce defensive pressure. The Cougars, who were 11-22 last year, attack with full-court defense. Last year, opponents averaged 16.8 turnovers, 9.4 of those coming from Chicago State steals.
Crean is aware of that.
“They are a tremendous trapping, trap of the ball-screen, trap in the backcourt, full-court pressure, half-court trapping, switching team,” he said. “They're going to create some havoc for us. It's a great opener for us because it gives our guys a chance to go up against certainly one of the more experienced and older teams that we're going to see and a team that's going to put tremendous pressure on them defensively.”
IU did not face this kind of pressure in exhibition wins over the University of Southern Indiana and Hillsdale College.
“This team will force the tempo defensively,” Crean said. “It will be very good for us to deal with that. Will we trust the dribble splits? Will we make the next pass? Will we talk on the trapper? Will we slip screens? Will we panic when the pressure comes?”
Ferrell will be the Hoosier most responsible for avoiding panic.
“They feed off their energy and their press,” he said. “Once they get a couple of steals in the press, and a couple of good buckets, they're going to get fired up. It will be a good test for us to see how well guys handle the ball and how well we make passes.
“We have to be patient and not try to speed up. They're going to try to speed us up.”
Speed isn't what heralded freshman forward Noah Vonleh wants from the free-throw line. His instant-impact potential has a possibly major free-throw obstacle. In two exhibition games he is 0 for 8 from the line. If it doesn't improve, Crean won't be able to play him at the end of tight games.
Vonleh is confident this shall pass.
“I'm not concerned about it too much,” he said. “In practice I'm shooting pretty well from the free-throw line. I just have to zone everything out, focus and shoot with confidence.”
Crean's expectations for the 6-foot-10 Vonleh go way beyond free-throw shooting.
“He can play multiple positions. When he figures out how fast he is, how long he is, how strong he is, look out. ... We have a ways to go. We try to put him in a lot of situations where we really stretch him.”