The Hoosiers could easily contend for another national title in 2013-14—if Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller return.
Plenty of evaluation and deliberation will transpire in the coming months for Indiana Hoosiers stars Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller concerning their NBA aspirations.
However, the team's dynamic duo should return for one more season following a disappointing 61-50 loss to the Syracuse Orange in Thursday's Sweet 16 clash.
A 12-point halftime deficit was too much to overcome, and ESPN Stats & Info contextualized just how bad things got for Indiana in the first 20 minutes:
Indiana has 22 points in the 1st half against Syracuse. That is the fewest points the Hoosiers have scored in any half this season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 29, 2013
Playing in the prolific program's biggest game in years, Tom Crean's squad was smothered by Syracuse's stingy 2-3 zone defense. Oladipo was his typically efficient self, sinking five out of six shots from the floor. On the other hand, the Orange's physicality on the inside bothered Zeller, who made just three of his 11 field-goal attempts.
Zeller did snag five offensive rebounds en route to a double-double, but the Indiana supporting cast simply couldn't capitalize on the second-chance opportunities due to a combination of missed perimeter shots and an unusual amount of turnovers.
The Hoosiers coughed it up 18 times, which was especially devastating considering they shot 33.3 percent as a team.
Whose potential return is more critical to the Hoosiers' success in 2013-14?
What was most surprising was how uptight Indiana was in such a huge showdown as the East region's top seed.
Whether it was the weight of the massive expectations is unclear, but this wasn't the Hoosiers that won the regular-season title in the Big Ten conference—unquestionably the best league in college basketball.
The only players set to graduate from the Hoosiers' starting five are versatile forward Christian Watford and senior sharpshooter Jordan Hulls, who inexplicably didn't score a point against Syracuse.
There is little doubt that Zeller and Oladipo would be selected in the first round of the impending NBA draft. But after the crushing defeat, neither was even pondering the possibility.
Oladipo indicated that he was still hungry for a national title, and Zeller shared his immediate thoughts about going pro, as documented by Terry Hutchens of IndyStar.com:
I had put everything into this and I’m not worried about anything else. You only get to play in the Sweet 16 so many times. Sorry I can’t give you something to write about. I haven’t thought about it.
Promising freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell will undoubtedly benefit from a second season under Crean, and the Hoosiers have raked in several promising 2013 recruits that will be ready to immediately contribute.
The departure of Watford can be absorbed by 5-star prospect Noah Vonleh, who is the No. 2 power forward coming out of high school, according to 247Sports.com's composite rankings.
Vonleh is the clear-cut favorite to immediately star in Bloomington due to the void left by Watford. He has similar tantalizing talents as Watford, with the ability to create his own offense and the range to give opponents matchup nightmares, as highlighted by ESPN's scouting report (subscription required).
Incoming 4-star freshman Troy Williams will also provide the Hoosiers with another long-range three-point shooter, per ESPN. His length and defensive ability on the wing at 6'6" should enhance the team's defense while maintaining a similar lineup to this year's successful squad.
Of course, a prospective deep March run completely depends on Oladipo and Zeller.
Combining the promise of Vonleh and Williams with the experience of Oladipo and Zeller would make the Hoosiers national championship contenders once again in 2013-14.
Given how bitter the end was to this wonderful season, the incoming talent and winning foundation that Oladipo and Zeller helped establish, there is a strong argument to be made for the Hoosiers' top two players to return.
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