After IU men’s basketball defeated No. 3 North Carolina on Nov. 30 the only concern for Hoosier fans when they left Assembly Hall that night was the ankle of sophomore forward OG Anunoby.
The 6-foot-8 forward threw down a dunk to seal the victory with under-two minutes to go against the Tar Heels, but landed awkwardly on his ankle in the process. From that moment Anunoby could be spotted on the sidelines over the next two games wearing sweatpants and a medical boot as the IU faithful eagerly waited his return.
Last Saturday against Houston Baptist, Anunoby was back to his normal self as the first Hoosier out on the court in warm-ups. Although he was ready to play, IU Coach Tom Crean opted to sit out his sophomore star one more game. After another full week of rest Crean said Anunoby will play Saturday at 5 p.m. against No. 18 Butler in Indianapolis at the Crossroads Classic.
“Athletically, all the intangibles, he’s got all of that, and there’s really no defensive plan that you could put in that he wouldn’t be apart of,” Crean said about Anunoby. “You can game plan with him, you have to game plan against him, if you’re on the other team, and you can move him all over the court and that’s what I think makes him unique.”
Anunoby has quickly become one of the highest rated players in the sophomore class across Division 1 in preparation for the 2017 NBA Draft. He’s averaging 12.5 points and six rebounds in six games played this year while shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc, but on the defensive side is where Anunoby really makes his name.
His nine blocks and five steals over the course of his first six games of the year have a lot to do with his lengthy seven-foot-six wingspan and Butler Coach Chris Hotlmann said Anunoby is another level athlete.
“His size, strength and physicality present some real challenges and he’ll be one of the best athletes, if not the best athlete we’ll play against all year,” Holtmann said. “He plays exceptionally hard and obviously shown his ability to make open shots and attack offensively.
On the other side of the ball, Anunoby will most likely be tabbed to stop Butler’s standout junior forward Kelan Martin.
Martin and his nearly 18 points per game is one of the main reasons for Butler’s 9-1 start to the season. He’s a natural scorer who’s already shot the ball 63 more times than any of his other teammates this season and Crean said Martin is a bonafide big time player and he’s playing like it right now.
Martin is just the next man on the list for Jefferson City, Missouri native to stop as he’s already shut down top freshman recruit Josh Jackson out of Kansas and helped keep UNC big men Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks to 17 points combined.
Outside of Martin, the Bulldogs are a very balanced team with the teams next leading scorer, Andrew Charbascz, averaging 11 points per game and four other Bulldogs putting up eight points per contest.
“They’ve got an experienced team,” Crean said. “Chris is an excellent coach, he was an excellent coach at Gardner Webb and now the world knows it. They’ve got excellent continuity, they always do, and they’ve continued to have that. There’s so many different guys that can play and it’s not just five or six guys, they’re going eight or nine deep and they’re a really good team.”
Butler is a very sound team defensively that doesn’t gamble or turn the ball over. Holding its opponents to 62 points per game this season, they’ll have a much tougher task against the Hoosiers who are 12th in adjusted offensive efficiency in the nation according to KenPom.
However, the one place where the Bulldogs could bite the Hoosiers is in the turnover battle. The Hoosiers enter the matchup committing nearly 17 turnovers per game and have lost the turnover battle in every time out this season with exception to the last contest against Houston Baptist.
With Anunoby back in the lineup for IU, that will only add to more to the strong suit of this Hoosier team; rebounding. IU has the second best rebounding margin in the nation and won that battle every game, except against UNC when they tied.
Crean said they’ll see how the day goes in regards to how much Anunoby will be able to contribute Saturday, but fellow teammate sophomore forward Thomas Bryant knows Anunoby will be there to deliver in the big moments against Butler.
“Oh he’s ready,” Bryant said. “I can tell.”