IOWA CITY — Indiana won 27 games, beat the eventual national champion and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. But as effective as the Hoosiers were at virtually every position, there was room for improvement, especially at point guard.
No. 5 Indiana (12-1) picked up top-flight Indianapolis point guard Yogi Ferrell, and the veteran-laden Hoosiers have taken off. Ferrell’s arrival allowed Jordan Hulls to slide to shooting guard, and the statistics speak for themselves.
Indiana leads the country in scoring at 89.4 points a game and ranks third in field-goal percentage. Since moving over, Hulls has hit 54.5 percent of his 3-point attempts, ranking ninth nationally. Indiana returning starters Cody Zeller, Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo — and key reserve Will Sheehey — all average at least 11.8 points a game. Ferrell has played a true point role, finding his teammates along the perimeter, under the basket or in a position to drive.
“He gets them the ball when they are open,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “He loads them up, and he’s constantly breaking his man down and creating opportunities for those guys to get open shots, whether it be in transition or out of their half court.
“He pushes it. He’s made their break better. He gets the ball inside. He finds 3-point shooters, and he makes plays.”
In the Hoosiers’ final non-conference game Friday, Ferrell dished 10 assists with no turnovers in 30 minutes. He took only five shots and made two in the Hoosiers’ 93-59 win against Jacksonville.
The game showed Ferrell’s unselfishness along with his improvement. Indiana Coach Tom Crean touted Ferrell’s work ethic in practice and how it has translates to games.
“He just keeps getting better,” Crean said. “To play this kind of game (Friday), have 10 assists no turnovers in 30 minutes against a team that pressed for almost 40 minutes, that’s very strong. His rate of improvement is high. His coachability and learnability are all right there. It’s only going to get better.”
Ferrell has started all 13 games for Indiana and averages 26.3 minutes. He leads the Hoosiers with 71 assists and only 27 turnovers.
Iowa freshman guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons are aware of their task defending Ferrell after competing against him in AAU basketball. Indianapolis native Pat Ingram played against Ferrell in both high school and AAU basketball.
“He’s pretty much one of the fastest people I’ve ever played against,” said Ingram, who attended North Central High School, located near Ferrell’s Park Tudor. “You can see it while he plays. He’s a smart player, he can find anybody. He can shoot. He can pretty much do it all.”
Clemmons, who has started Iowa’s last six games at point guard, will take the first crack at slowing down Ferrell. If Clemmons loses the battle off the dribble, the whole defense is vulnerable against Indiana’s explosive offense.
“My job is to contain him, that’s my job for every game to contain the guard,” Clemmons said. “It starts with me. I apply the pressure, and I feel like my team feeds off my energy on the defensive end. That’s my job, to slow Yogi down and that’s what I’m going to try to do.
“On the board we write every time, guard your guard. I’m going to do whatever it takes so I don’t need help defense.”
Gesell also will have his opportunity to guard Ferrell.
“He’s very quick,” Gesell said. “He’s tremendous at getting in the lane and creating for teammates. That’s something we’ve got to do is we’ve got to contain him and keep him in front of us.”
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