This preview and more on Indiana and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Indiana Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-7 (14-4 Big Ten)
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Coach: Tom Crean (84-82 at Indiana)
Big Ten projection: Fifth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
The Big Ten is not a forgiving conference. It is a place for veterans and NBA Draft picks. It is a formidable league that sent its fifth-place team to the NCAA title game last season.
Seven veterans have departed Tom Crean’s Indiana basketball team, including four 1,000-point scorers, two taken in the first four picks of the NBA Draft. Nobody will pick the Hoosiers to finish in the top three in the Big Ten, but nobody should expect Indiana to disappear from the league race by early February.
Veterans Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey played their way onto the U.S. World University Games team. Crean’s six-player freshman class is a consensus top-10 group that is lifted by the addition of fifth-year transfer Evan Gordon. Sophomore Jeremy Hollowell intends to become the Big Ten’s most improved player.
“You can look at it (as) the glass is half empty because we lost a lot of people,” Crean says. “The glass half full is we’ve got such a young team, and they’re going to have that much more of a chance for growth.
“I think it will be fun to coach them. I really do. There will be some trying days. We’re in a veteran league. I don’t think that’s changed much. But I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to coach these guys.”
Cody Zeller was the recruit Crean had to sign to make Indiana relevant again. Crean signed him, coached him for two seasons, utilized Zeller to win a Big Ten championship and sent him to the NBA as the fourth overall pick.
Now Zeller is gone, and Crean must create new ways to score inside. Noah Vonleh arrives as Indiana’s next great player. Although he’s only 6-9, Vonleh plays bigger than that because he’s an explosive athlete with a 7-4 wingspan. Vonleh can make a 3-point shot or attack the basket. He should play power forward, but only if another freshman, Luke Fischer, delivers at center. Like Zeller, Fischer won multiple high school state titles. He’s not as athletic as Zeller but is considered a better shooter.
Crean praised Hollowell over the summer for embracing the work ethic that drove Victor Oladipo to greatness when he transformed himself from a top-150 recruit to the second pick in the 2013 draft. Hollowell has a chance to become Indiana’s top scorer because he can make 3-point shots, get to the rim and pass. The fourth frontcourt regular will be Sheehey, a superb defender and instant energy guy who was the Big Ten’s top sixth man. Sophomore Hanner Mosquera-Perea is the team’s best athlete, but must prove he can contribute in the half-court.
Ferrell had a tough job last season, playing point guard as a freshman for a veteran group that had won 27 games the previous season. He handled it well, deferring to teammates and averaging nearly two assists for every turnover. His role must change. Ferrell must make the 15-footer. He failed to score in IU’s final two NCAA Tournament games. In fact, the Hoosiers’ starting guards were outscored 38–0 in the 61–50 Sweet Sixteen loss to Syracuse.
Crean has a critical decision at the other guard spot — go with a veteran (Gordon) or a freshman. Gordon, the younger brother of former IU star Eric, arrives after playing two seasons at Liberty and one at Arizona State. He’s a solid 3-point shooter who showed he was capable of scoring when he dropped 28 against USC. But he’s 6-1, and Crean might prefer a bigger defender.
He has two candidates — Troy Williams, who played in the Jordan Brand Classic, and Stanford Robinson, a top-75 recruit who arrives from the same D.C. area AAU program that produced Oladipo. Both need work on their jumpers, but they’re long, athletic and capable of forcing the tempo.
Evan Gordon is a fifth-year transfer who was Arizona State’s third-leading scorer last season. Noah Vonleh made the McDonald’s All-American game because he can score and rebound. Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson are wings in the Victor Oladipo mold. Luke Fischer is talented, but the Cody Zeller comparisons are unfair. Devin Davis and Collin Hartman are Indianapolis guys who committed to IU as sophomores. Davis is fearless, and Hartman can shoot.
Factoid: 198. Indiana has been one of the nation’s top 3-point teams the last two seasons, but the Hoosiers must replace seven guys who combined to make 198 of IU’s 257 threes last season.
Indiana has been ready to go in November the last two seasons. This team won’t be. The Hoosiers are replacing their top four scorers, top three rebounders and top three 3-point shooters. After winning the Big Ten outright last season, IU fits in the middle of the pack.
This group will play without the expectations that appeared to suffocate last season’s team i19n March. The bench will be deeper, and Crean will have the depth to extend the defense with a taller and more athletic backcourt.
Hollowell and Vonleh must develop as inside scorers and defenders, because that’s what wins in the Big Ten. Several proven 3-point shooters must also emerge.