Indiana Basketball: 5 Reasons Fans Should Expect a B1G Title in 2014
Indiana basketball's roster is in a state of significant flux, forced to replace five of its top seven contributors from the Big Ten championship team of 2012-13.
A whopping 73.6 percent of IU's points and 66.7 percent of the team's rebounds walked out the door via graduation, NBA draft defections or transfer. With the need to make up for so much production, it's always difficult to gauge what to expect from a team in the Hoosiers' situation.
And since we're talking about expectations, what about another Big Ten title?
A ludicrous idea, right? A team that will almost certainly have only one upperclassman in the regular rotation can't contend in the toughest basketball league in America, can it?
Or can it? Let's examine some reasons why.
Yogi Ferrell: All-Big Ten First Team?
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Now that national player of the year Trey Burke is taking his talents to an NBA lottery team near you, the Big Ten will need a new top point guard. IU's Yogi Ferrell could be a prime candidate.
Aaron Craft never quite figured out how to handle a larger scoring load. If guys like LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson or one of Ohio State's touted freshmen can't replace Deshaun Thomas' production, Craft will wear himself out trying to be the leader on both ends.
Penn State's Tim Frazier will be fighting his way back from injury and still leading a team near the bottom of the standings.
Michigan State's Keith Appling had a lengthy stretch of ugly basketball during mid-February and early March. Any similar struggles next season could torpedo Sparty's conference title hopes for a second straight season.
Similar to Craft last season, Ferrell may need to expand his scoring role, especially early. The Hoosiers' first NCAA tournament game against James Madison—in which Ferrell scored 14 of IU's first 16 points—showed that he could do it when needed. A string of similar games in Indiana's nonconference schedule would put Ferrell firmly in the spotlight when Big Ten play begins.
If Indiana's freshmen can make plays against Big Ten opposition, Ferrell could easily lead the league in assists. Adding improved shooting and defense similar to last season's would certainly have Yogi in the all-conference discussion.
Will Sheehey: Staying Thirsty, My Friends
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Indiana's going to win some games it might not be expected to next season.
That is, if the underclassmen know what's good for them. After all, resident Hoosier hard-ass Will Sheehey will accept little less.
The perpetually woofing Sheehey will be the lone senior in next season's rotation, and he's certainly not interested in seeing his team take a step back under his watch.
Sheehey's outside shot lacked the consistency it had when he was a sophomore, and he'll need to push that percentage back closer to 40 percent for IU to threaten.
To do that, Sheehey will need to keep his composure under the fire of every team's best perimeter defender, at least until others like Jeremy Hollowell or Troy Williams establish themselves. The last thing coach Tom Crean needs is to see his most experienced scoring threat rack up technical fouls and/or ejections.
Jeremy Hollowell: Breakout Candidate?
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Rising sophomore Jeremy Hollowell is not an elite-level athlete, but he possesses tremendous length and flashed the ability to alter shots. He swatted nine in only 146 Big Ten minutes.
Hollowell got hung up on his three-point stroke, with almost 40 percent of his attempts coming from deep. Unfortunately, he made only 23 percent of those shots.
A player who entered Indiana being compared to Christian Watford would be expected to shoot fairly well, but remember that Watford himself only hit 31 percent from long range as a freshman.
Last season, Hollowell was more efficient than Watford in the mid-range and at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com. If he can expand his range to 22 feet, Hollowell could be a respected scoring threat from anywhere on the court. If not, Crean will need to convince him to have more faith in his game from 15 feet and in.
Early in his freshman season, Hollowell showed signs of lethargy, perhaps not being adequately prepared for the level of play in the collegiate game. A season in the Big Ten furnace seemed to harden him, and if he brings the level of energy to 25-30 minutes per night that he brought to eight, he'll certainly be a productive starter.
If not, Crean's won't hesitate to give the likes of Troy Williams or Devin Davis a chunk of that playing time.
Freshmen Fit the System
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There may or may not be a real center on the entire IU roster, depending on your feelings about Peter Jurkin's potential. There's certainly not one in the touted freshman class, which has ridden in the top five of ESPN's rankings ever since it began coming together last year.
What the class does have is a tremendous group of athletes who will seek to run opponents into the ground. There's also plenty of length to harass opponents in the halfcourt.
Noah Vonleh (pictured) is a 220-pounder more than capable of growing into his already lengthy frame. Until then, he's got the kind of ball-handling skill and face-up game to give opposing power forwards nightmares.
Both Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson have the athletic ability to conjure memories of the departed Victor Oladipo. The two also have the versatility to play multiple positions and give Crean a lot of leeway in his substitution patterns.
Wisconsin native Luke Fischer could be a scale model of Cody Zeller, with similar speed and skill, if not quite as much height.
All told, the 2013 class can form a lineup tailor-made for the sort of transition game that made Indiana dangerous the past two seasons. It may take time for the newcomers to adapt to college ball, but that's why nonconference games come first.
Big Ten's Overall Instability
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When Adreian Payne (pictured) decided to return to Michigan State, the Spartans may have ascended the conference's catbird seat as pertains to returning experience and production. With everyone except Derrick Nix back, MSU will be discussed as a national title contender, much like Indiana was last preseason.
Other than Sparty, though, who else in the Big Ten returns so much of last season's production?
Iowa is the only other team in the league that is not struggling with roster upheaval.
Wisconsin lost its entire starting frontcourt of Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans.
Michigan lost only two key contributors, but when both Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. were All-Big Ten first-teamers, "only" is a very loose term. Likewise with Ohio State "only" losing the league's leading scorer in Deshaun Thomas. Both of those teams, like Indiana, will need contributions from unproven players to challenge for the championship.
The point of all this is that Indiana's far from alone in losing talent, even if no one lost quite as much. The Big Ten's fluctuations make it a fairly difficult league to handicap next season, never mind that most predictions will tilt toward the rivals in the Wolverine State.
Most experts are better-the-devil-you-know types, leaning toward the proven producers. Indiana will begin the season with very few of those, but the potential on hand is tantalizing.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.