by Josh Weinfuss
IU Super Bowl Student News Bureau
INDIANAPOLIS – By time Indiana got back to its hotel after beating Penn State on Thursday afternoon, the news was waiting for the Hoosiers.
It was worse than initially announced but in line with the worst-case scenarios some Hoosiers predicted.
Verdell Jones III suffered a torn right ACL, ending his injury-plagued career just four days from Selection Sunday and a week from what would’ve been his first NCAA tournament game.
But life went on for the Hoosiers.
Indiana reworked its rotation for Friday’s quarterfinal in the Big Ten Tournament, a 79-71 loss to Wisconsin, giving more minutes to sophomore Victor Oladipo and freshman Remy Abell to back up starting point guard Jordan Hulls.
The half-court offense Tom Crean installed this season isn’t built around one player, instead allowing the point guard to be interchangeable.
Whoever has the ball can start the offense.
“Coach does a pretty good job of designing it to everybody and being able to have different players come in and out,” said senior Kory Barnett, Jones’ roommate who has played under Crean for four years. “So to have Remy come in at that spot, he’s going to be fine.
“Obviously, we’re going to miss Verdell, that’s not what I’m trying to say. He’s going to be missed a lot but hopefully we have the next man step up. We don’t really put it around a whole guy, it’s around a whole offense.”
By late Thursday afternoon, Crean was giving Abell a refresher course on the Indiana offense. Heading into the Big Ten Tournament, Abell was averaging just 7.4 minutes per game – he played 15 on Friday – and had played more than 10 minutes just five times this season. The last was more than a month ago when he logged 19 minutes against Purdue on Feb. 4.
By comparison, Oladipo averaged 26.3 minutes per game this season but the majority weren’t spent at point guard.
Both run the point in practice, which eased the transition from Jones to both guards during Friday’s game, but Oladipo and Abell spent Friday afternoon learning on the fly.
“You got to really learn that position because there’s certain things you always have to know and always have to do, so I’m still learning the key points but I go to keep learning,” said Oladipo, identifying ball screens, how to read them and how to come off them as his primary focus. “Just leading the team period and having people know where they’re supposed to be on offense and defense and figuring out when to go and when not to go – things I’m still learning and will continue to learn.”
After playing his most significant minutes at point this season, Abell is still learning how to be a manager on court. The toughest part of running an offense, he said, is getting his teammates in the right position.
“It’s different, you can’t worry about one thing,” Abell said. “You’re the point guard, so you’re like the head of the team.”
After months of practicing at the point, Abell and Oladipo know their teammates’ tendencies. It’s getting used to each other at game speed that could pose a problem.
“You know what everybody does and things like that, you just got to have a feel for it,” Oladipo said. “And that’s where learning comes in.”
Oladipo is finding out that early March isn’t the most ideal time to do that.
“It’s not but I have no choice,” Oladipo said. “We’re a man short who plays a significant role on our team, so I got to learn fast.”