B1G Basketball Preview: Indiana
A season ago, the Indiana Hoosiers finished with a record of 20-14. Accompany that with a conference record of 9-9, which had them finish seventh in the Big Ten, and you are left with a team that looks to improve on a middle-of-the-pack type season.
Improvement seems like a great possibility for Tom Crean’s team. The preseason rankings have the Hoosiers at No. 15 in the nation—the first time Indiana has had a preseason ranking since the start of the 2012-2013 season, which saw the Hoosiers defeated in the Sweet 16. This year may have similar potential.
Key Returning Players
The Hoosiers will bring back several key pieces from last season’s squad, first and foremost, last year’s point-leader senior guard Kevin Yogi Ferrell (16.3 points per game).
The second piece to Indian’s returning-player puzzle will be junior forward Troy Williams. Williams led the Hoosiers in rebounds (238) and steals (32) a season ago. William’s will also have the pivotal role of leading Indiana’s potentially dominate frontcourt.
Sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. is arguably the Indiana’s most exciting player coming into the 2015-2016 campaign. Though Blackmon Jr. needs to improve in several areas, most notably field goal percentage, his wide range of ability and athleticism make him a player certainly worth watching.
Off-court issues plagued forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea and his dismissal from the program and subsequent transfer will leave the Hoosiers without their 2014-2015 leader in blocked shots (33).
The bottom line for the Hoosiers coming into this season is moving past the several players that were dismissed from the team while developing a new culture with their returning players and new additions.
Indiana’s offense has great potential coming into this season, but they need to improve from last year in several places before it can reach that potential. The Hoosiers finished with a team field goal percentage of 46.6 percent, which was good for fourth overall in the Big Ten. Those numbers are not poor by any stretch, but with the Hoosiers now relying on their frontcourt to generate offense, they need to play on the post and generate more points off of assists.
The key additions of freshman Center Thomas Bryant (who will likely have the biggest impact on this team’s improvement) and forward Max Bielfeldt (via transfer) should boast an already strong rebounding game, which was a pivotal point for Indiana a season ago.
Indiana will not take any of their early games lightly this season as they are trying to develop a frontcourt that has limited experience playing with each other. The Maui Jim Maui Invitational will be the first time the Hoosiers are shown on the national stage, and they hope to enter the tournament clicking.
The toughest early test for the Hoosiers will be when they take on No. 5 Duke on December 2. It’s never easy taking on the defending national champions, especially when the Blue Devil’s big-men match-up with the Hoosiers big-men maybe a little too well for Indiana’s liking.
Indiana’s conference schedule will tipoff when the Hoosiers take on Rutgers on Dec. 30. Indiana will find themselves playing some of their toughest opponents this season within the conference. The Hoosiers will take on No. 17 Wisconsin on Jan 5. While Frank Kaminsky and several of the key players from the Badgers historic 2014-2015 season are gone, the team that remains still has great potential and will certainly battle the Hoosiers for the full 40 minutes.
The Big Ten is shaping up to be a formidable conference this season, and Indiana certainly contributes to that sentiment. That credit goes to No. 3 Maryland. The Hoosiers take on the Terps on March 5 and March 6—their final two games of the season—with those matchups being so distant, it is impossible to understand how they will shape up, but the smart money says those two games will be two of the most important and difficult games of the season.
Coach’s Hot Seat
This is a do or die year for Tom Crean. The embarrassment of the immaturity of some of Crean’s now former players has the alumni worried, and the new faces on the team have fans excited, yet weary. Some feel that Crean overstepped by dismissing three players after only one or two offenses. If the presence of those players is greatly missed this year, and the team underperforms because of their absence, Crean may find himself in their shoes—absent from the Indiana Hoosiers program.
The Hoosiers have a great chance to improve from a season ago, but in order to call this season a success, they will need to do much more than just improve. As previously stated, the last time the Hoosiers carried a preseason ranking they were defeated in the Sweet 16 round of the big dance and that is pretty good prediction of where the Hoosiers will wrap up this season.
Personally, I have a little more confidence in the Hoosiers. If Blackmon Jr. improves on shot selection and assists this season and Ferrell plays akin to a season ago, then this team has a chance to do better than expected. Guard play combined with their potent frontcourt makes Indiana a very fun team to watch.
Suffice it to say; I feel Indiana can look forward to good season. Look for Indiana to finish second in the Big Ten, edging out No. 13 Michigan State and No. 17 Wisconsin, but yielding to No. 3 Maryland for third.
Keith Petersen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org