The Indianapolis Star reported today that Indiana Hoosiers senior forward Derek Elston suffered a meniscus tear in his knee during practice yesterday. He's expected to have surgery today and be out six to eight weeks.
It's certainly a setback as the Hoosiers have one of the deepest teams in the country and were going to use that as an advantage. The loss of Elston is big in that he was going to provide senior leadership as the first forward off the bench. That's a huge advantage to have a senior player with a big skill set coming off the bench.
Elston averaged 4.2 points per game in 12.3 minutes per contest last season. He was going to be leaned upon for the same role this year. Now, the Hoosiers are going to lean on freshmen Peter Jurkin, Hanner Perea and Jeremy Hollowell to fill the void.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, though.
Perea has a foot injury of his own, but he should be good for the first regular season game on November 9. Perea is a big-time talent and could honestly be starting if it wasn't for senior Christian Watford returning to Bloomington. Perea actually has more talent than Elston, so the level of play isn't going to drop there.
Throw in Jurkin as he's a big seven-footer, who will be backing up Cody Zeller. Again, not necessarily a bad thing. As long as Zeller doesn't get in foul trouble, they will be OK.
Perea can play power forward or center, so he can help fill the void at that spot too. Hollowell is a small forward, but he certainly can play power forward. He actually is built like Watford as the exact same size, so they're not going to be at any disadvantage.
This actually could turn into a blessing for the Hoosiers. I'm not saying Elston getting hurt is a good thing as I feel bad for him. But he will return after eight weeks at the latest and still play his normal role when he does. This actually is going to build even more depth and give these freshmen even more minutes to grow up and mature.
Elston was going to get a ton of playing time off the bench. Tom Crean wants to give seniors the minutes in favor of a freshman. In garbage time, it's going to be those guys playing.
Outside of North Carolina, the Hoosiers don't have much competition where they're going to need Elston. Six weeks from now is going to put him back around December 1.
It's not going to hurt to allow the freshmen to play against Georgia and the winner of the UCLA vs. Georgetown game. It's also not going to hurt them to play in a raucous atmosphere against the Tar Heels early too. Outside of that, it's all blowout wins for Indiana. Elston won't be needed then.
The latest he's scheduled to come back is the December 15 game in Bankers Life Fieldhouse against Butler. If he's still not healthy, the Hoosiers can afford to shut him down until the Big Ten opener at Iowa. Luckily, they have some smaller schools to beat up on during winter break to allow Elston to transition back in.
This could actually help Indiana's odds to win the title more if you think about it. Pray for a speedy recovery for Elston, and hope the freshmen can step up in reserve roles earlier than expected.