Fabulous Freshmen Usher in Next Era for IndianaPosted by Todd Keryc (@tkeryc) on November 22nd, 2013
Todd Keryc (@tkeryc) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Washington and Indiana in New York.
Even the elite programs of college basketball will not contend for a national championship every year. There are ebbs and flows within every program, like when the big recruiting class gives you hope and the devastation when your superstar leaves prematurely. If everything goes well, the top programs will always contend but can only make a legitimate run at the title every few years. Last season was supposed to be that year for Indiana. They had Player of the Year candidates in Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. They had experienced seniors in Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. They had depth, shooting, size and they spent several weeks at the top of the polls.
The Hoosiers also went cold at the wrong time, bombing out to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. Now, Oladipo is trying to figure out how to take care of the ball with the Orlando Magic. Zeller is trying to finally break into double figures for the Charlotte Bobcats. Watford and Hulls are only present in the record books, no longer on the court. No one expects Indiana to seriously contend for a national championship this season.
Yet last night against Washington at Madison Square Garden, Indiana showed it may not be too long before the Hoosiers are back near the top, and that was thanks to the presence of two promising freshmen, Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams. Vonleh is a long, skinny post player who can be devastatingly active on the glass when he chooses. Physically, he looks like a younger Chris Bosh but he plays a different game, staying closer to the basket and doing his damage on the boards. Indiana plays a similar style to last season with Yogi Ferrell pushing the tempo and attacking defenses, but unlike that group spearheaded by Zeller, they do not spend a lot of time working the ball into the post. Right now Vonleh is left to find scoring opportunities from offensive rebounds and the occasional pick-and-roll finish.
With all of the early attention paid to the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker, Vonleh has managed to slide under the radar so far. He has played five games and produced double-doubles in four of them, falling a rebound shy last night despite logging only 24 minutes in a routine win. He is averaging a rebound for just about every two minutes of court time as Indiana has been an early beast on the boards. His perimeter game is lacking and a better performance at the free throw line will be required moving forward, but Vonleh has given Hoosier fans great hope as they try to avoid a full rebuild this year.
Even with another stellar performance from Vonleh, it was another freshman who stole the show last night. Troy Williams, for much of his 29 minutes, was the player you could not take your eyes off, as his speed and athleticism overwhelmed a quick and athletic Washington team. One game does not make a player so it remains to be seen whether this represents a breakout performance or just a nice night on the big stage. Indiana does not need him to be a consistent star quite yet, not with Ferrell, Vonleh and Will Sheehey already running the show, but the difference between a nice season and a special one in Bloomington could depend on how good Williams can be.
A national title is probably out of reach for Indiana this season, but if these two freshmen continue to improve and Tom Crean can convince everyone to come back, it will not be long before Indiana has another legitimate shot at college basketball’s ultimate prize.