Tom Crean has Hoosiers fans ready for another title. (Yahoo.com)
By Mariel Yohe
Monday, October 22, 2012
Indiana Hoosiers Preview
Last Season: 27-9
Key Losses: Verdell Jones III, Matt Roth, Tom Pritchard
Head Coach: Tom Crean
Projected Starting Lineup:
G: Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell 6-0 Fr.
G: Jordan Hulls 6-0 Sr.
F: Victor Oladipo 6-5 Jr.
F: Christian Watford 6-9 Sr.
F: Cody Zeller 7-0 So.
Key Reserves: Will Sheehey 6-7 Jr., Derek Elston 6-9 Sr., Remy Abell 6-4 So., Hanner Perea-Mosque 6-8 Fr., Peter Jurkin 7-0 Fr., Maurice Creek 6-5 Jr.
Indiana basketball’s turbulent climb back in to relevancy is officially over. It has taken Indiana five years to get into the preseason top-ten rankings again (they were ranked ninth in 2007), and 19 years to be awarded the preseason number one spot.
The preseason accolades seem to go on and on. ESPN, USA Today’s Coaches Poll, Athlon Sports, and Sporting News have ranked Indiana the preseason number one team. Those who disagree that Indiana deserves to be ranked first (Lindy’s and CBSSports.com) have ranked Indiana second in their preseason polls. Coach Tom Crean was also award the preseason Big Ten Coach of the Year by CollegeSportsMadness.com. Sophomore Cody Zeller has received First Team All-American preseason votes and is a strong favorite to win this season’s NCAA Player of the Year award.
But Zeller isn’t the only Hoosier receiving preseason top honors. Junior Victor Oladipo, Senior Christian Watford, and Freshman Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell have also received some preseason buzz. Ferrell has been named to Sporting News’ preseason First Team Freshman All-American list, CollegeSportsMadness.com named Watford to the preseason First Team All-Big Ten list, and Oladipo was named fourth team All-Big Ten by CollegeSportsMadness.com.
Everyone from Indiana’s Sweet Sixteen squad is returning this season. The biggest threat Indiana has, which is why they conferred preseason awards, is its deep bench. For many schools, one injury to a key player and the team is significantly weaker. However, there will be a fight for minutes among the roster since as many as eight players could start for the Hoosiers. Indiana has an abundance of strong options if one or more of its top players aren’t performing up to par. The Hoosiers are aware that if they cannot perform up to a high standard, there will be someone else on the bench who can step up and replace them.
Indiana has also made great strides this summer to improve as a team. Zeller, Oladipo, Ferrell, and Junior Will Sheehey have committed a lot of time to the weight room and have gained significant weight and muscle, which is necessary for the Big Ten play (which tends to be more physical with all the big post players in the conference).
Zeller has also committed a lot of time to broadening his offensive options. Zeller’s opponents will work harder to challenge him in the post, so he has spent time perfecting mid-range and outside shots.
Sheehey and Oladipo have also put in a lot of time this summer to improve their game. In an interview with ESPN during the televised Midnight Madness Indiana practice, Crean said his former player, NBA star Dwayne Wade, commented that Sheehey and Oladipo’s ball-handling skills were not close to being NBA ready. Sheehey and Oladipo took it to heart and have spent a substantial amount of time in the gym working on their skills to get to that level.
Indiana did lose two contributing players on the 2011-12 team: Verdell Jones III and Matt Roth. Roth was one of Indiana’s best sharpshooters last season, shooting a .545 three-point field goal percentage. Jones finished his senior season with 1,347 all-career points, which ranked him 23rd on Indiana’s all-time scoring list. While Indiana has lost two scoring leaders for the squad, Indiana’s strongest players are all returning this season, with the addition of a highly touted freshman class.
Joining the already stacked Hoosier squad this season are freshmen Jeremy Hollowell, Peter Jurkin, Ferrell, and Hanner Mosquera-Perea. CBSSports.com ranked the incoming players the sixth-best freshman class in the league.
Ferrell, a McDonald’s All-American, finally gives the Hoosiers the strength at point guard they have been missing for many years. Ferrell is a pass-first point guard and has exceptional vision of the floor. His addition gives Indiana the chance to expand its offensive sets and a more comfortable feel passing inside to Zeller (which Indiana struggled with last season). Zeller and Ferrell played AAU together and mesh very well. Zeller and Ferrell could potentially be the best duo in the country this season.
In order for Indiana to live up to expectations and win a national title, it will need to play consistently with a high caliber mindset. Last season Indiana thrived in its biggest matchups by being strategic “huntsmen” against ranked opponents. This state of mind should be easier to ascertain this season, as Indiana will constantly be tested to play high-level basketball. Not only will the internal struggle amongst the team for game time push players to always excel, but externally Indiana will have to hunt top-ranked opponents every week, as Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin have all been ranked in multiple preseason top 25 polls. If Indiana can finish the regular season with an outstanding record and the Big Ten championship, the NCAA tournament should prove a manageable hill to climb.