Big Ten Summer Check-In: Indiana HoosiersPosted by jnowak on July 10th, 2012
Miss basketball yet, Big Ten fans? We know you do. And we do, too. Summer is great and all, but we’ve got to get our Big Ten hoops fix somehow. So we’re bringing you a 12-part series catching up with each conference squad, looking back and looking ahead to the season that will be here before we know it. We start today with Indiana and will wrap it up in a few weeks with Ohio State. So whether you’re reading this at the beach, on the back porch by the grill, or in your cool air conditioning, don’t forget — just because the season’s over (or hasn’t started yet) doesn’t mean we aren’t still talking about it.
Now, on to the Hoosiers …
- Evaluating Last Year: It was already no secret that the Indiana program has been on the upswing since Tom Crean took over and rescued it from the pits of despair. The recruits were starting to come in — none bigger than Cody Zeller — and fans could start to feel the excitement returning to Assembly Hall. The NCAA Tournament drought was certain to end soon, but it was unsure if last season was going to be the year. Well, the Hoosiers erased any doubts early on by tearing through their (albeit, pretty easy) non-conference schedule before putting up a good fight in the Big Ten. The season was headlined by a dramatic upset of Kentucky, as well as an NCAA Tournament run that ended in a Sweet Sixteen rematch at the hands of those same Wildcats (who eventually went on to win it all). There’s no doubt that Indiana was headed for big things, but it was hard to foresee the Hoosiers getting back to national prominence this quickly. Certainly an overachievement.
- State of the Program: Again, basketball fans everywhere knew that Crean was going to have Bloomington excited about hoops again, and after last season, that is certainly the case. Indiana was probably an NCAA Tournament bubble team entering the season, but was a lock by Selection Sunday. Now after a Sweet Sixteen berth and with most significant contributors returning along with another touted recruiting class, expectations are back to typically high. The Hoosiers are considered by many as a preseason No. 1 team and likely to rise above a Big Ten conference that will have quite a few question marks entering next season. They’ve got a Player of the Year and potential overall No. 1 draft pick in Zeller, with a tremendous supporting cast around him. Basketball is definitely back in Bloomington.
- Players Not Returning: The Hoosiers lost five players from their 27-9 squad of last season: Verdell Jones III, Tom Pritchard, Matt Roth, Daniel Moore, and Kory Barnett. Jones contributed the most of the quintet, averaging 7.9 PPG and just under 3.0 RPG in his final year, which was cut short due to a torn ACL suffered in early March. But what stands out about this group is what they endured in their time with the Hoosiers. This group of players suffered through the entire spectrum — from awful to awesome in their time at Indiana — grinding away through some terrible seasons to help bring the program back to the forefront. They weren’t huge contributors like some of the underclassmen on last year’s team, but it was a pleasure to see the Indiana community appreciate these five men for their efforts over the last four years in helping to rebuild the program.
- Immediate Needs: The Hoosiers were a formidable group last year, and that doesn’t figure to change next season. They’ll have a nice inside-out game with Zeller in the post and shooters like Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford on the wings. Victor Oladipo showed that he can be one of the most exciting players in the conference with his ability to slash and get into the lane, and they’ll be bringing in one of the best freshman guards in the country with Yogi Ferrell to man the point. Ferrell could be key in allowing Hulls to shift over to the two-guard position and shoot more often, but the team’s most immediate need can’t be filled with a recruit or a transfer. The Hoosiers could score with anybody last season, but they were also one of the worst defensive teams in the conference (10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense). To improve in this area, it’ll have to be a matter of better accountability and awareness from players like Oladipo and Zeller, who showed last year they were capable of breakout performances but must take the next step to rounding out their games.
- Key Player(s) that Need to Step Up: Crean and the Hoosiers are counting on Oladipo to take the next step in becoming a more complete, consistent player but one thing to consider is the help that Zeller will receive inside. Whether he’s in foul trouble or facing double-teams, Zeller will need another big man to help him shoulder the load in the paint. Upperclassmen like Will Sheehey (who is more of a combo guard-forward) and Derek Elston can contribute down low to try to balance the Hoosiers’ frontcourt.
- Conclusion: It’s a great time to be an Indiana basketball fan. Crean has his team ahead of the curve and in the running for the school’s first Final Four since 2002 and possibly the program’s first national title since 1987. But first things first, it’s most important for Indiana to prove that its program had matured and moved forward by winning big in-conference games on the road and showing that it can do more than beat up on weak non-conference teams. There’s no Kentucky on the schedule this season, so Indiana will have to grab the glory by consistently beating its other solid opponents. With the group Crean has at his disposal, it’s highly likely.