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COLUMN

For IU, stop the turnovers -- or else

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Tipoff: Indiana at Illinois, 3 p.m., Dec. 31
Radio: 1250-AM
TV: ESPN2

Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Hoosiers wrap up non-conference play

Monday, December 23, 2013 - 12:01 am

BLOOMINGTON – What do we know about Indiana after its 13-game non-conference adventure?

For starters, the Hoosiers are 10-3 and could have been 12-1 with just a little better play against Connecticut and Notre Dame.

They turn the ball over way too much.

They beat the teams they were supposed to beat, usually decisively. Case in point -- Sunday's 90-66 win over out-gunned Kennesaw State.

They thrive at home, which is no surprise. They are 9-0 at Assembly Hall this season (all against light weights) and have won 38 straight non-conference home games.

They turn the ball over way too much.

They have one of the Big Ten's more formidable inside players in freshman forward Noah Vonleh (12.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 12 blocks). But he must shoot more, like at least 10 times a game. That hasn't happened in eight straight games, in part because he fouls too much and doesn't play enough. On Sunday he fouled out in just 19 minutes, finishing with 14 points (on 5-for-6 shooting) and nine rebounds.

IU's prospects depend on its ability to get inside, shoot free throws and rebound. Three-point shooting -- with the exception of Yogi Ferrell -- needs strict limits.

Ferrell rates with any point guard in the Big Ten. He has dramatically improved his scoring (he had 25 points on Sunday and averages 16.8 for the season, more than double last year's 7.6 average) and averages 4.2 assists, but he turns the ball over too much. He had four turnovers on Sunday -- two were risky length-of-the-court bombs to Will Sheehey. He has 35 turnovers for the season against 54 assists.

Ideally, you want your point guard with at least a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Ferrell basically did that last year, when he had good-shooting veterans to work with. Now, he's got not-so-good shooting freshmen, so good decision making is even more critical.

“I know for myself the past four or five games I've been careless with the ball, turned it over too much,” he said.

And that leads to the No. 1 Achilles heel, the biggest impediment to Big Ten success. Raise your hand if you've heard this before:

The Hoosiers turn the ball over way too much.

They had 20 turnovers in their last two games, against mediocre -- at best -- competition. This can't happen in Big Ten play. It certainly can't happen on New Year's Eve at Illinois (10-2), which showed in its tough-minded win over No. 23 Missouri how formidable it can be.

IU has committed 207 turnovers in 13 games, a 15.9 average. That's by far the worst in the Big Ten.

“It starts with me,” Ferrell said, “and then goes down the line. We have to take care of the ball first, and the rest will follow.”

Coach Tom Crean understands that even as he pushes a furious pace that lends itself to turnovers.

“We've got to take care of the ball because there are so many opportunities for us to do good things with it.”

In the last two games Crean played nearly everybody on the roster, mixing lineup combinations and defenses as he won't in Big Ten action. These last few non-conference games were, in part, a chance to see what worked and what didn't.

“We're trying to get guys through things so they have that experience,” Crean said. “I don't know if I would call it experimenting. I'd call it trying to get as many guys as many experiences as possible as we get ready for the next rung on the schedule.”

Take freshman Troy Williams. He had seven points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals on Sunday.

He also had six turnovers.

“We've got a bunch of guys who want to do it right,” Crean said. “They just don't get it yet. We don't understand yet how valuable that ball has to be every possession.

“A little bit is a Catch-22 because we're also trying to score a lot of points. We scored 90 and gave the ball back 20 times. What do you think we would have scored with some of those being for us?

“We've got a lot of work to do there.”

Work is good, results are better. Because if IU can't cut down the turnovers, it has no Big Ten chance.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.