Alright, after a weekend off to take in the Badgers loss to Ohio State we move forward with our preview of the other 11 Big Ten Basketball programs. We're on our 3rd team as Indiana steps in to the spotlight today. It's been a busy off season for the Hoosiers as players transferred and a star player that was supposed to be back won't see the court due to injury. How does the roster shape up and can the Hoosiers finally make the jump back to the top of the Big Ten in Tom Crean's 4th campaign as Head Coach?
Conference Record/Finish: 3-15 (12th place)
Head Coach: Tom Crean - 4th year at Indiana (28-66); 218-162 in 12 seasons overall
Returning Starters: 4
- Christian Watford (Junior, Forward): 16ppg, 5.4rpg, 84%FT shooting
- Verdell Jones III (Senior, Guard): 12.5ppg, 3.3rpg
- Jordan Hulls (Junior, Guard): 11ppg, 41% 3pt shooting, 91%FT shooting, 94 assists
- Tom Pritchard (Senior, Forward): 2.5ppg, 3.8rpg, 59%FG shooting, 23 blocks
Newcomers: Remy Abell, 6'3" 195lbs. (Fr., Guard); Austin Etherington, 6'6" 198lbs. (Fr., Forward); Cody Zeller, 6'11" 230lbs (Fr., Forward)
Last season marked the most wins for Crean at Indiana, but the pressure is beginning to mount for him to produce a winning team for one of the most storied programs in College Basketball. One major factor hurting this team as been injuries, as last year only one player started every game for the Hoosiers, that being PG Jordan Hulls. Christian Watford missed a few games with a broken hand but played in 29, starting 28 and was clearly the best player this team had. He was 10th in the Big Ten last year in scoring, and is going to be a major focus of this team on the wing. You may be asking, why no Maurice Creek on the returning starters list? Well, you probably guessed it, but he's got another injury, this one even more serious than the two knee injuries as he ruptured his Achilles in his right foot and will once again miss the season.
With that, what does 2011-12 have in store for this once proud program?
Non-Conference Schedule Highlights: 11/13 vs. Chattanooga, 11/16 @ Evansville, 11/27 vs. Butler (Hoosier Invitational), 11/30 @ NC State (B1G/ACC Challenge), 12/10 vs. Kentucky, 12/17 vs. Notre Dame (Close the Gap Challenge in Indianapolis)
The 2011-12 team is really going to need reigning Indiana Mr. Basketball Cody Zeller, brother of former Tar Heel Tyler Zeller, to be a major force inside right away as this is one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the Big Ten. He may need to put a bit more weight on to be a dominate inside post player in the most physical conference in the country but the good news is he can shoot the ball from just about anywhere, so that may allow Crean to stretch his offense and put more pressure on opposing Defenses. Look for the 2011 McDonald's All-American to be a sponge from guys like Tom Pritchard to improve his inside game, not that it's bad. Another of the newcomers I'll be interested to see is 6'6" sharp shooting Austin Etherington. Having Zeller and him in the front court will be really interesting and will be the building blocks of success or failure for the future of this program under Crean. With the challenges in the non-conference slate those two could be in a good postion come the end of December and the start of Big Ten play.
Conference: It's a damn good thing the non-conference schedule is tough because the Hoosiers will be thrown to the wolves right away in B1G play. They open @ Michigan State, vs. Ohio State, and vs. Michigan. Just about the only way it could be worse is if that vs. Michigan game was @ Wisconsin. The place for IU to focus on in conference has to be the middle of February, with games vs. Illinois, vs. Northwestern, and @ Iowa. If they have any hopes of making a postseason run they have to win those games and hope for an upset or two along the way.
One thing that's been clear is that Indiana fans are loosing patience with the bad seasons, having missed the NCAA tournament every season since the 2007-08 year. What they seemingly have failed to admit is that this program was in deep, deep trouble when Crean took it over, having to basically build it from scratch and that takes time, yes even at Indiana. I see this team being much much more competitive on the whole and could reach over the .500 mark for the season if Zeller and Etherington live up to the hype. The good news is they shouldn't be at the bottom of the conference for a change, but you'll just have to wait for a bit longer to find out what I think the full record and conference position will be as I unviel that just before the season begins.