It is well documented that the Indiana University men's basketball team, one of the most storied programs in all of college sports, is enduring its worst season ever. There are a variety of reasons for this, dating back to the firing of Bob Knight and culminating with the Kelvin Sampson cell phone scandal.
Now, I could sit here all day and discuss the lack of morals, inattention to academics, and "win at all costs" philosophy displayed by Sampson, but rather than dwelling on the past, I'm choosing to look to the future.
Tom Crean was handed the reins of a broken program and asked to put it back together piece by piece. He salvaged a respectable recruiting class entering his first year as coach, but out of necessity, he also handed out eight scholarships in the process.
The staff currently has another large class signed for next year. Combine the scholarship players from this year's team that will be back next year and the incoming signees for next year, and the numbers don't add up.
By NCAA rule, teams can oversign by one scholarship to protect themselves in the event of a transfer or a player leaving early for the NBA.
The Hoosiers have taken advantage of this clause and have 14 players signed for 13 spots. In other words, a player that is currently on scholarship will not be around next year. But who?
Definitely Back: DUMES, PRITCHARD, RIVERS
Devan Dumes, Tom Pritchard, and Jeremiah Rivers will not only still be around next year, they'll also be starters.
A glaring weakness of this year's team is its lack of experience. Of the nine players getting the most minutes, only one was on the team last year, Kyle Taber. Dumes, Pritchard, and Rivers will bring the leadership and experience needed to win in the Big Ten.
Safe for Now: ROTH, STORY
Matt Roth and Malik Story are the two most interesting players on this year's squad. While they have both proved to be offensive assets, their inconsistency keeps them on the chopping block.
Early in the year, Matt Roth looked to be the prime candidate while assessing which player does not fit into Crean's system. However, in recent games, Roth has displayed his lethal long-range shot. Most recently, Roth went 9-11 from behind the arc against Ohio State.
Can't help but compare Roth to Steve Novak, who played under Crean at Marquette. Lacking an all-around game, Novak specialized in the three-ball, much like Roth. Now all the Hoosiers need to do is find their Dwyane Wade.
Malik Story, like Roth, has been inconsistent. He has looked like the best player on the floor at times, and other times he has looked lost. The thing about Malik that has caught the attention of the coaching staff is his tremendous upside.
Story has demonstrated exceptional athleticism and offensive ability, which is something that the Hoosier team is lacking. Hoosier fans may have to endure the head-scratching, questionable decisions at times, but Story is going to be a regular contributor for the next four years.
On the Bubble: JONES III, JOBE, WILLIAMS
While these three players each play different positions, they have a number of similarities that make them prime for departure. The rest of the season still needs to be played out and more evaluation needs to be done, but as it sits now, I would advise these three players to consider a change of location.
JONES III: Verdell Jones was a coveted recruit of Crean's coming out of high school. The Champaign, Illinois product chose IU over the likes of Kentucky and Illinois. Jones exemplifies the kind of point guard that Crean is looking for—tall and long.
The problem for Jones is that Jeremiah Rivers, the transfer from Georgetown, and Jordan Hulls, an incoming recruit from Bloomington, will probably be the main floor generals.
In order for Jones to stay on the roster, he will need to broaden his skill set. He needs to develop his jump shot and scoring ability to a point where he can become more of a combo guard. Being able to play more than one position is vital to Jones extending his stay in Bloomington.
Prediction: Verdell Jones III will be back in uniform for IU next year. His improvement over the course of the season has been very apparent, and Crean's favoritism towards guards over bigs gives Jones some job security.
JOBE: Tijan Jobe is different from the other two on this list in two ways: He is already a junior, and he is from Ghana. Now, the latter may seem irrelevant, but don't let the significance of this go unnoticed.
Coaches are constantly looking for inroads within a certain high school, state, or even, in this case, a country. Keeping Tijan happy means that Indiana will have a huge recruiting advantage over other universities when it comes to recruiting other players from Africa.
Next year, the Hoosiers will welcome Bawa Muniru, another seven-footer from Africa, to the squad. The difference with these two players, however, is that Bawa can play. Other players, too, will emerge from other countries, and having an early connection can only bode well for the Hoosier staff.
Prediction: Because of his ties to Africa, and the fact he will only has one year of eligibility left, Tijan Jobe will yet again be anchoring the top of the 1-3-1 zone for two minutes a game next year. While his play on the court is subpar at best, his value to the coaching staff off the court is enough to keep Tijan locked in for another year.
WILLIAMS: Nick Williams is an interesting case. He verbally committed to attend Marquette and play for Coach Crean, and then de-committed and followed Crean to Indiana. This display of loyalty alone may be enough for Crean to keep him around.
However, other than his desire to play for Crean, Williams doesn't have much going for him. He is a small forward that doesn't have the shot or ball handling skills to play guard and isn't big enough to play power forward. Much like Verdell Jones, Williams' lack of versatility could hurt him when it's time for a cut.
Aside from the fact that Williams is a one-position player, he will also suffer from the wealth of forwards that are currently signed. Derek Elston, Christian Watford, Maurice Creek, and Malik Story will all see significant time at the small forward position next year. If the coaches perceive Williams as the fifth-best small forward on the roster next year, consider him gone.
Nick has shown significant improvements throughout this season, but much more will need to be accomplished if he wants to wear candy stripes next year.
Prediction: Nick Williams is the scapegoat. While it won't be easy for the Hoosier coaching staff to let Williams go, it is the most logical answer. In a time of rebuilding and reshaping, needs are more important than wants, and Nick Williams is no longer a need for the Indiana basketball program.
One final thought...there is one way that the Hoosiers will not have to get rid of any players going into next year. Rumors have been swirling that Coach Crean may ask Jeremiah Rivers to pay his way through school, thus opening up his scholarship.
Rivers is the son of Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, and there is no doubt that his family has sufficient funds to do this. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out, but if Rivers does not accept Crean's proposal, then one thing is for sure—someone has to go.
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