The pre-season previews continue here at Sippin' on Purple, as today we'll take a look at Indiana.
As you'd expect from a young, rebuilding team, the 2009-10 Indiana Hoosiers showed occasional flashes of brilliance, but mostly struggled on their way to a 10-21 record and tenth place in the Big Ten. In non-conference play, they pulled off a stunning upset over Pittsburgh and were competitive against Kentucky and Maryland, but also lost at home to Loyola (MD) and finished 8th in an 8 team tournament in Puerto Rico, losing in the consolation bracket to Boston University and George Mason. In Big Ten play, the Hoosiers started 3-3 (highlighted by an upset win over MInnesota), but an ugly 15 point home loss to Iowa sent them on an 11 game conference losing streak (and 9 of the losses were by double digits). They did manage an overtime win over Northwestern to conclude the regular season, and appeared on their way to another win over the 'Cats three days later in the Big Ten tournament, but completely fell apart down the stretch of that game and lost by 15.
The final record wasn't too far off what most people expected, but the way it ended was pretty disappointing. You'd hope that a young team would improve as the season progressed, but the Hoosiers didn't look any better in March than they did in November. In head coach Tom Crean's defense, a season-ending injury to leading scorer Maurice Creek in their final non-conference game certainly didn't help his cause, and he's had to rebuild the program from scratch following the NCAA violations committed by previous coach Kelvin Sampson. Still, if Indiana doesn't show improvement this year, the locals will probably start getting a bit restless.
Players not returning
The only rotation guy who won't be back is shooting guard Devan Dumes, who will always hold a special place in my heart. While he wasn't much of an offensive contributor (6.6 points a game on 33% shooting), Dumes was always fun to watch because he never saw a shot he didn't think he could make. Despite playing just 17 minutes a game, Dumes had to have led the league in number of contested NBA range threes attempted early in the shot clock; I am eager to see who takes over his title as the biggest chucker in the Big Ten.
There is lot of depth in the backcourt for Indiana; expect Tom Crean to go with a 3 guard starting lineup, led by 6'5" junior Verdell Jones III. He was the go-to guy for the Hoosiers throughout Big Ten play, averaging 15 points per game while displaying an effective mid-range jump shot and an ability to get to the foul line (a team leading 190 free throw attempts). He does need to improve his 3-point shooting (27% last year).
Jones will be joined by sophomore and former Indiana Mr. Basketball Jordan Hulls, who is basically a 3-point specialist (40% shooting a season ago, highlighted by a game against Northwestern where he hit 8 threes). He has a long way to go to develop into a complete Big Ten guard, but his 3-point shooting earned him more and more playing time as last season progressed and he figures to start again this year.
Then you have two guys who missed most of last season with injuries: sophomore Maurice Creek and junior Matt Roth. The 6' 5" Creek was outstanding in non-conference play before a gruesome dislocated knee injury ended his season; he was averaging 16 points a game on 53% shooting and was the clear front-runner for Big Ten freshman of the year, especially after he scored 31 in a loss to Kentucky. Unfortunately, Tom Crean says he still hasn't fully recovered from injuries:
His knee is solid, there’s no issues there. He’s had some ankle injuries that he’s dealt with through the summer, but he’s just not strong enough yet. It’s going to take time for that. I’m very, very careful with him and I think our doctors are.
So we'll see what kind of an impact Creek makes this year, hopefully he gets back to full strength soon as he is an excellent player. As for Roth, he suffered a season-ending foot injury just two games into last season but should be fully ready to go this year. He's another excellent shooter who should help out a Hoosier offense that shoot the ball poorly a season ago (270th in the nation in effective field goal percentage).
Rounding out the guard rotation, Indiana has senior Jeremiah Rivers and freshman Victor Oladipo. Rivers, the son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers, is an excellent athlete and perimeter defender, but struggles on offense with jump-shooting and ball-handling. He was forced to start last season due to all the injuries, but is much better suited as a defensive specialist and energy guy off the bench, the role he will likely find himself in this year. Oladipo is a fantastic athlete who won the team's dunk contest and will certainly help out on the defensive end for a Hoosier team that finished near the bottom of the Big Ten in defensive efficiency last year.
Indiana's best forward is certainly sophomore Christian Watford, who led all Big Ten freshman in scoring and rebounding last season (12 and 6 per game). However, Watford has a lot of work to do on his offensive game, as he shot just 37% from the field, a poor percentage for a 6'9" power forward. He has reportedly worked on getting stronger in the off-season, so look for him to attack the basket more and take fewer 15 foot fadeaways. I'd also look for sophomore Derek Elston to make a big leap this season; he got in Crean's doghouse for poor defense and played just 15 minutes a night last year, but he shot 47% from the field in that time and was one of the Big Ten's leading rebounders on a per minute basis, so as long as he can play better defense he will get a lot more playing time.
Junior Tom Pritchard (4 pointts and 3 rebounds per game) and sophomore Bobby Capobianco (2 points and 2 rebounds per game) provide depth, along with newcomers Will Sheehey and Guy-Marc Michel. Sheehey is a freshman wing player from Florida who will provide athleticism, and Michel is a junior college transfer from the Caribbean island of Martinique via Northern Idaho College. In his two JUCO years, the 7 foot, 280 pound Michel averaged just 8 points and 7 rebounds per game while playing in the Scenic West Athletic Conference (no, I am not making that up), so I'm thinking he's the Martiniquian Kyle Rowley and won't be very effective, but you never know.
When Indiana was put on probation before the 2008-09 season, everyone knew it would take some time to rebuild the Hoosiers to past glory, as Tom Crean inherited a program in complete disarray. In Year 1, there were barely any scholarship players on the roster, so last place in the Big Ten was a given. In Year 2, there was some improvement but Indiana was still pretty terrible. Now in Year 3, it's time for a big step forward; namely a step out of the conference basement. There are still going to be growing pains, but the Hoosiers should at the very least make Assembly Hall a tough place to play again and separate themselves from the conference cellar dwellers. Last year's talented freshman class will be a year older and a year better, and if Creek can return to form and the freshmen can contribute immediately, Indiana will sneak up on some people and get themselves back to a postseason tournament. The NCAA tournament is a huge long shot, but it's not unreasonable to think they could improve to make the NIT or at the very least the CBI, which would be a solid step forward. I really want Tom Crean to succeed; he comes across a tremendous leader and so far he's done things the right way, a welcome change from Indiana's history of controversial basketball coaches. Expect this season to be another step in the Hoosiers' return to national prominence.
SoP Prediction: 8th in the Big Ten, NIT or CBI