Better late than never, it's time for the award-winning Big Ten basketball previews! Rather than alphabetical order like last year, these will instead be in order of projected finish in conference play, from worst to first. That way, the entire internet will be on the edge of their seat for weeks waiting for all the dramatic reveals, and I can win another award.
9th place: Indiana Hoosiers
What did they do last year? Underachieved badly. 12-20 overall, and just 3-15 in Big Ten play, good for last place. They beat Illinois and MIchigan at home; other than that it was ugly, especially for a team many thought would improve to at least an NIT team.
Who'd they lose from last year? The only contributor who graduated was defensive specialist Jeremiah Rivers, who was a solid defender but a complete disaster offensively; he not only couldn't score, he couldn't stop turning the ball over either. Easily replaceable.
More significantly, junior Maurice Creek got hurt again and is out for the season. Creek lit it up early in his freshman year before injuring his knee, played sparingly last year before getting hurt again, and now he's torn his Achilles tendon and will have to miss another season. Horrible stuff.
Cody Zeller Cody Zeller Cody Zeller Cody Zeller Cody Zeller Cody Zeller Cody Zeller Cody Zeller Cody Zeller Cody Zeller Cody Zeller Cody Zeller : Yes, the savior of Indiana basketball has finally arrived on campus. Zeller, the younger brother of North Carolina's Tyler Zeller, is a five star center who should make an immediate impact for Indiana. If there's been one constant during the Crean era at Indiana (well, besides losing), it's poor post play, so Zeller should immediately start from day one.
The question here is just how good Zeller will be. Certainly he will be better than the Derek Elston-Tom Pritchard-Bobby Capobianco triumvirate of fail, but will he be able to light up Big Ten defenses as a freshman? I haven't heard much discussion of him as a one and done NBA prospect, so I don't think he'll be anywhere near as good as someone like Jared Sullinger was last season. My guess (and this is nothing more than a guess, I've never seen the kid play) is he'll average something like 13 points and 7 rebounds a game.
So everyone else is back, is that a good thing or a bad thing? That's the big question. There are some talented players returning for Indiana, but most of those talented players were on the team the last two years when they went 7-29 in the Big Ten. Wing Christian Watford is back for his junior year after leading them in scoring and rebounding last season (16 and 5 per game), and he is a big key for this team. He has the potential to be one of the best scorers in the conference but his shot selection is sometimes suspect and his commitment to defense is nearly always suspect, so we'll see if he can become a more complete player.
The back court of Jordan Hulls and Verdell Jones III also returns, and one of the two will continue to have to play out of position at point guard as there still isn't a real point guard on the roster. Hulls is a lights-out three point shooter, and Jones III has an effective mid-range game and is adept at getting to the line, but neither is much of a distributor, and Tom Crean's dribble-drive motion offense requires an effective point guard to function at maximum efficiency, so that's not good.
Indiana also has a couple of spark plugs in sophomores Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, both of whom are nearly identical players: great athletes who are still developing offensively but effective on the defensive end. With a little more polish, both of these guys could become effective Big Ten players. Three star recruits Austin Etherington (a 6'6" gunner) and Remy Abell (a 6'3" guard) will provide depth off the bench.
When does Northwestern play them? Just once, in Bloomington on February 15th. Should be a close game.
Overall record prediction? There is a lot of talent here, but I think it will take at least another year before Indiana breaks through. Zeller will make an impact but probably not enough one to turn around a program that's gone 8-49 against Big Ten opponents the last three years under Crean. I'll give them 9-4 in non-conference play, and 6 wins in the league, for an overall 15-16 (6-12).