Next up in our series of Big Ten previews featuring bloggers and writers from around in the conference: the Indiana Hoosiers. For this one we called on our friend Alex Bozich from the best Indiana basketball website on the internet, Inside the Hall.
The last two years have to have been tough for Hoosier fans with just 16 wins in two years. Obviously those are not the expectations in Bloomington but what do you expect from this year’s team? Is this the year they make the leap back into the upper echelon of the conference?
The expectation in Bloomington continues to be progress year-over-year. IU won 10 games last season, but didn’t have its best player, Maurice Creek, for the entire conference slate. Had Creek remained healthy (sharpshooter Matt Roth also missed all but two early games), I think it’s safe to say the Hoosiers would have won a couple more.
With the strength of the conference as a whole, I don’t expect IU to jump back into the upper echelon just yet, but it is realistic to expect a jump into 7th or 8th in the league. A postseason berth of some kind is not out of the question, either.
One of the main reason’s for IU’s struggles last year was Maurice Creek’s injury. Creek only played 12 games but he looked the part of a big time player. What can we expect from him this season?
Creek’s return to 100 percent health is coming along slowly, but he did get the start in IU’s exhibition opener. Tom Crean has stressed that Indiana will continue to take baby steps with Creek and I would expect that his minutes will be somewhat limited until the IU medical staff gives Crean and Creek assurance that it’s time to go full tilt. Assuming he’s able to return to form by the start of conference play, he’ll likely be the guy IU turns to for a key bucket in crunch time.
Turnovers have been a huge problem for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers throughout his first two seasons. How can Indiana improve in this regard? Is there an answer for all the ball handling woes?
The turnovers have been a function of the up-tempo style Crean wants to employ and the inexperience of his backcourt over the first two seasons of his tenure. Many believed Jeremiah Rivers would become the solid point guard IU desperately needed, but his play was underwhelming and he’s being moved off the ball for his senior season. That means Jordan Hulls, Creek and Verdell Jones will become IU’s primary ball handlers. I think experience should help shore up some of the turnover woes, but at this point, there’s no real answer to the problem beyond a more conscious effort by the players to place more value on each possession.
Who do you expect to breakout alongside Mo Creek this year? Verdell Jones, Christian Watford, and others have shown flashes but they have a ways to go as far as consistency. Do you see one of these kids making a big jump in production?
Jones has missed time early with an ankle injury, so it’s tough to gauge just how much progress he’s made over the summer. Just from looking at him, he’s definitely stronger in his upper body and his pull-up game is awfully hard to stop at times. Right now, I think he’s the closest to a "sure thing" on the roster and if he could just become respectable from beyond the arc (only 27 percent last season), the potential is there to become an all-conference player.
Watford played out of position in the post last season and will make a shift to the wing for his sophomore campaign. Like Jones, his body is more chiseled and in scrimmages and the first exhibition, he’s looked like IU’s best player. Watford only shot a touch above 37 percent as a freshman, so he should make improvements there and become a more efficient player.
Breakdown the incoming class, any young guys that are expected to contribute early on?
Crean has made it clear that he expects all three incoming players — JUCO center Guy-Marc Michel and freshmen Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey — to contend for significant minutes. The 7-1 Michel looked like a starter at the "Night of the Living Red" scrimmage, but we’ve since learned that his amateur status is under review by the NCAA and it’s unknown when that situation will be resolved. Oladipo, a solid defender and ridiculous finisher, will likely see plenty of the floor and is arguably the team’s best athlete from day one. Sheehey, who is a surprisingly good athlete that has a knack for making smart plays, will also get his fair share of looks in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
What are the big tests early on for IU? Any early season tournaments or big time non conference games?
The non-conference slate is underwhelming, but there are a few tests: At Boston College, At Kentucky and a tournament in Las Vegas that includes Northern Iowa and either Colorado or New Mexico. It’s not out of the question that IU wins all nine of its non-conference home games and enters the conference season having already tied or even surpassed last year’s win total.
Record prediction? Conference and overall. Conference: 7-11, Overall: 17-14
Most feared player in the conference? Michigan State’s Draymond Green
Projected most improved player in the conference? Ohio State’s William Buford
Projected conference champs? Michigan State
Toughest place to play in the Big Ten? Kohl Center
Do you think you win your Big Ten challenge game [at Boston College]? No