If Yogi Bear is smarter than the average bear, Yogi Ferrell is doing more than the average sophomore.
Now, some of the Big Ten's best players this season are sophomores, so to say Ferrell is playing better than his age wouldn't really make much sense, but there are few players out there who have been forced to take on such a big role as a second-year player and taken to it as excellently as the Hoosiers' sophomore point guard.
It wasn't any more apparent than on Sunday, when Ferrell shot the lights out at Assembly Hall in a huge Indiana upset of Michigan. Ferrell lit up the Wolverines for 27 points, connecting on eight of his 10 field-goal attempts, eight of which came from behind the 3-point line.
"You know, once I hit the first couple, they all felt good," Ferrell said after the game. "Once I had an opening, I wasn't really going to force it. Once I had an opening I was just going to let it fly."
It's what Ferrell has been doing all year long, taking on a heavy scoring load for a team that lost two of the school's all-time leading scorers to the top four picks of the NBA Draft. Last year, Ferrell played a small role, letting guys like Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller do much of the scoring for a team that ended up as a one-seed in the NCAA tournament. This year, though, with a truckload of incoming freshmen and not much experience returning, Ferrell has become the go-to-guy. And it's working. He ranks third in the conference in scoring with 17.8 points per game. But he's still doing what he needs to from a point guard stand point, too, ranking fifth in the conference in assists with four a game.
"Yogi Ferrell is playing at an extremely high level," Indiana head coach Tom Crean said Sunday. "The approach that he takes to it, the leadership that he's displaying over the last couple weeks, the improvement has been some of the best I've been around. If he continues to keep that up, sky's the limit for him. There's no doubt that he's playing like a — I wouldn't call it a point guard, I'd call him a lead guard, because when you're capable of doing the things that he can do on both ends of the court and you're leading your team, OK, you're a lead guard."
Sunday, Ferrell outperformed fellow sophomore and fellow breakout player Nik Stauskas, who scored six points in the Michigan loss, just his third single-digit scoring performance of the season. Stauskas has earned the spotlight with tremendous play for the previously undefeated Wolverines, but Ferrell has been just as impressive for an under-the-radar Hoosiers team. Losses to Notre Dame, Illinois and Nebraska haven't been kind to this young Indiana group in the arena of public opinion, but some of the other losses are certainly of the "quality" variety: Connecticut, new No. 1 Syracuse and a pair of defeats to Michigan State. The tournament dreams shouldn't yet be over for Indiana, and if the Hoosiers can reach the Big Dance, it'll be on the back of their leader Ferrell.
"This is a great win because Michigan is such a great team," Ferrell said. "You know, they've definitely I know won all their Big Ten games pretty much on the road. But we got this win with our resilience on defense, and especially the fans definitely cheering us on. I felt like they helped us a lot, too. It just shows how well we've been practicing from the loss to Nebraska. We were very disappointed in the way that we came out the second half, so we didn't want to have that same letdown, so we wanted to have the same energy for all 40 minutes."