College basketball hasn’t been friendly to Indiana Hoosier fans over the last few seasons. When it comes to hoops in Bloomington, there is no room for head coaches to breathe.
So when Tom Crean takes to the bench for the 4th year as the head Hoosier man, Indiana fans might be hoping that the Michigan native is on a short leash.
But with the top recruit of 2011 now on campus, and a very impressive 2012 class on it’s way, it looks like Crean is here to stay– for better or worse.
This afternoon we continue our preparation for the upcoming B1G season by previewing the one of the nations most beloved basketball schools. Ladies and Gentleman, The Indiana Hoosiers.
The record might not show it, but there was a vast improvement on the court last season, when it comes to competing in ballgames. Despite winning just three conference games, 15 of their losses in conference were by nine points or less. Including a tough overtime loss to Michigan State and a one point loss to Iowa at home.
What’s promising is that of their three conference wins two of them came against NCAA tournament teams (Michigan/Illinois). Led by Christian Watford, who scored 16 points per game and 5 rebounds, the Hoosiers had a hard time finding a consistent starting five that could contribute. Eight players averaged more than 15 minutes last season. A lot of that had to do with evaluating future talent by giving them playing time. Most of it had to do with trying to find a defensive identity.
Young talent such as Jordan Hulls, Maruce Creek and Derek Elston all improved as the season progressed. Their 12-20 overall record is the best in the Crean Era, and with some of the talent coming to campus this year and in 2012, there is a lot to like about the future.
With Maurice Creek out for the whole season with a season ending injury to his heel, this year’s Hoosier team has to rely on Jordan Hulls and Verdell Jones III at the guard positions. Hulls started to show that he is a starter in the Big Ten last season, while Jones has had a rough go in Bloomington so far in his career. He struggles at times with his shot, and more importantly is hard to trust with the basketball.
Though Christian Watford is arguably the most productive player on this team, success in 2011 will come down to guard play. This team doesn’t have a true point guard, so Hulls’ true talent as a shooter at points goes unwarranted. The 2011 class doesn’t have a true point guard to fill that void, but there is one big name all college basketball fans already know. When it comes to key players in the 2011 season, much will ride on the talent of incoming forward Cody Zeller.
New Player to keep an Eye on:
Rated as a top 20 prospect of the 2011 class by many scouting services, there is a lot to like about incoming power forward Cody Zeller. He is considered by many as the best incoming post scorer in the Big 10 conference, has shown to be extremely clutch in his young career, and should have the biggest impact this season of any freshman in the conference, if not the country.
The most impressive part of Zeller’s game is his ability and passion to win. Cody is the third Zeller to win Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, and won high school championships in three of his four seasons at Washington High School. For the first time in the Crean era, the Hoosiers have an incoming big man with size, talent and an ability to rebound. Zeller goes after the basketball on the glass and though not intimidating on the defensive side of the ball, he can defend adequately at the college basketball level.
He also brings a great outside shot to Bloomington that makes him an all-around impact player right off the bat. All he has to work on is his defensive presence and getting bigger and more physical.
Many compare Zeller to a Keith Van Horn with more potential. Tom Crean believes he is the best rebounder he has ever recruited. From Peegs.com :
“He is as good of a defensive rebounder as I have ever recruited, not just because of his size but because of his tenaciousness,” said Tom Crean after receiving Zeller’s LOI. “He has improved his range, he has improved his skill set. He is outstanding at the elbow area and is very good around the post. But what he is getting now more than ever is the ability to shoot the ball from range.”
Zeller brings an excitement to the court that Indiana hasn’t seen for quite some time. With a bunch of top tier talent on the way in 2012, Zeller’s development this season is the start of what seems to be a bright Hoosier future.
Big Games on the Schedule:
The Hoosiers have some tough non-conference games on the schedule, including a rivalry battle against Brad Stevens and Butler at the end of November. It would be huge for moral and momentum if Indiana could compete and maybe even pull off an upset that early in the season. After Butler, the Hoosiers have a tough slate ahead of them with Kentucky and Notre Dame back to back in the middle of December.
Conference play opens up with Michigan State, a team that the Hoosiers battled with and nearly beat twice last season. Winnable games follow against Minnesota and Michigan, but a tough stretch with Ohio State twice in two weeks, and Wisconsin to follow at the end of January will be a true test.
The games to win though are against rival Purdue. Both games are set a month apart, and could be just what this team needs to get back to a competitive level of B1G basketball. Pulling off at least one win against their big rival would be a huge boost in moral for Indiana basketball fans.
Outlook for this Year:
Indiana in 2011 isn’t going to be an automatic win game in and game out like they have been the last three seasons. Young talent is starting to come together, led by incoming freshman Cody Zeller. IF the Hoosiers can find some consistency on the court, there is a chance that they finish .500 or better in the conference. Though unlikely, it isn’t impossible to think that Cody Zeller and the improvement of guard play could propel this team to mediocrity.
But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s going to take two more years for this young talent to really turn the tables. Zeller is part of the future, but it’s in the upcoming 2012 class that includes PF Hanner Perea, SF Jeremy Hollowell, PG Kevin Ferrell, and possibly SG Garry Harris. All are considered 5 star type recruits with major upside. The future is very bright for Hoosier fans, but this year won’t be one to write home about.
Where They’ll Finish:
The Hoosiers will be improved in 2011, but that doesn’t mean they will improve much in the Big Ten standings. With a pretty forgiving non-conference schedule, finishing .500 overall isn’t out of question. Their conference schedule is brutal though. It’s hard picturing them getting out of the conference doldrums, but if they can get some surprise wins, middle of the pack is a possibility.