This comparison will probably gall the Indiana fanbase, but it seems valid at the moment: IU's 2013-14 basketball roster is not all that different in composition from Kentucky's.
There are a few returnees who didn't accomplish everything they wanted to last season. The majority of the squad consists of a host of newcomers who face daunting expectations and a need to be strong contributors straight out of the gate.
The largest difference, of course, is that Indiana welcomes only one McDonald's All-American and not most of a whole team. That talent disparity is why Kentucky is generating buzz about an undefeated season and Indiana is projecting as a second-tier Big Ten contender.
Exceeding those predictions will take some impressive work by the six Hoosiers who return from last year's team. Each has notable areas in which he can improve, and these are the biggest.
Improvement: Good Health
Austin Etherington has a harder job ahead of him than any other Hoosier. So much of a player's good health is based around good luck. Planting the wrong way on a cut, stepping on another player's foot or getting run over while taking a charge can all end a season, if not a career.
Etherington took such a charge last season against Central Connecticut State and was never seen on the court again. Currently, he's shooting and hitting the weight room, but actual scrimmage activities are still off-limits.
Coach Tom Crean indicated that Etherington's weight room work has been nothing short of superb. “He ended up testing out as the strongest guy on the team at the end of the spring, even more so than Victor, Cody and Christian [Watford]," Crean said at a Tailgate Tour event in Indianapolis, via Justin Albers of insidethehall.com.
If those muscles can help absorb some hits like the one that ended his season, Etherington may finally be able to find the minutes that have eluded him in his first two seasons. Unlike last season's loaded team of shooters, this year's Hoosiers will be seeking three-point production from anywhere they can find it.
Etherington's shot will look different when he's able to fully get his legs back under him. If it remains "impressive," as Crean tweeted last month, he should get a chance to be IU's resident sniper this fall.
Improvement: Consistent Shooting
Anyone can throw up the "three-goggles" after making a shot, but here we see Yogi Ferrell modeling the "three-monocle."
Whatever eyewear Yogi wants to don is fine with Hoosier fans, as long as he's drilling shots beforehand. With the departures of offensive weapons like Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls, it will become imperative that Ferrell find his openings and take advantage of them.
As a freshman, Ferrell took 10 or more shots in only three regular-season games—vs. Butler, at Minnesota and senior night against Ohio State. Yogi shot 12-of-33 (36.4 percent) in those games, and the Hoosiers went down to defeat in all three.
Without the pressure to defer to the veterans, there will be a lot more games this season in which Yogi will be asked to shoot 10 times. He'll need to convert when those opportunities arise. Nudging last season's 30 percent three-point shooting to somewhere between 35 and 40 will make Ferrell that much more effective on the drive and clear lanes for others.
The man who finished fourth in the league in assists last season could lead the Big Ten and still contribute 12 to 14 points per game himself.
Improvement: Shot Selection
Dipping back into the IU tables on Hoop-Math.com, we see a disturbing note from Jeremy Hollowell's freshman season.
Only Jordan Hulls (70 percent) and Christian Watford (42) took a greater percentage of their shots from behind the three-point arc than Hollowell (39) did last year.
The difference is that Hulls and Watford were good at making those shots. Hollowell (23 percent from deep) was not.
Either Hollowell spends the entire summer tightening up his shot and becoming a reliable shooter from range or he needs to embrace a game played from mid-range in. As a capable rebounder and shot-blocker, Hollowell could be a defensive asset inside, but it's up to him not to cancel those gains by taking foolish shots on the offensive end.
Hollowell harbors NBA dreams, and a perimeter game will be essential if he hopes to succeed as a professional small forward. Tom Crean, however, is not likely to let Hollowell keep demonstrating a faulty jumper if it's getting in the way of defending the Big Ten Championship.
Improvement: Good Health
Similar to Austin Etherington, Peter Jurkin just wants to stay healthy. Unlike Etherington, Jurkin has seen next to no practice time in an Indiana uniform.
The 7' Sudan native came in already recovering from shin splints and a stress fracture that cost him substantial time with both his AAU and high school teams. His feet continued to plague him last season, resulting in his being shut down after three brief appearances.
Foot and leg problems have been instrumental in derailing the careers of big men from Bill Walton to Greg Oden to Yao Ming, along with countless others who never had the chance to reach the heights those players achieved.
Jurkin appears closer to the scrap heap than the draft combine right now, but Indiana has a talented staff who could be capable of salvaging his career.
Improvement: Footwork and Fundamentals
There's no debating the sheer athleticism of sophomore Hanner Mosquera-Perea. Those skills will allow him to be a vicious rebounder and shot-blocker for Indiana, should he see extended playing time.
However, if he keeps turning the ball over on one of every four possessions and converts no scoring opportunities outside of three feet, Tom Crean will have a serious decision on his hands in regard to Perea's minutes.
According to Hoop-Math, Perea's 13 shot attempts last season broke down to 4-of-7 at the rim and 1-of-6 on two-point jumpers. "Air Colombia" needs to demonstrate that he can score outside the paint, even if it's only by a step or two.
Inside the paint, improvement on Perea's footwork will cut down on his turnovers. The ball will find its way into Perea's hands more often, since Crean's not likely to have the luxury of playing him a mere four minutes per game in Big Ten play.
Improvement: On-Ball Defense
Will Sheehey will be the only four-year Hoosier on a roster containing 10 underclassmen next season. He'll draw high-profile defensive assignments on a regular basis, similar to last season's meeting with Butler and the NCAA tournament win over Temple.
Butler sniper Rotnei Clarke drained five three-pointers en route to a game-high 19 points in December. Temple's Khalif Wyatt torched not just Sheehey, but Victor Oladipo and Remy Abell in his valiant 31-point performance in the Owls' loss.
Instead of being the change-of-pace defender from Oladipo or Watford, Sheehey will now be expected to be that lockdown defender at the opening tip. He'll likely be the Hoosier who'll man up on Glenn Robinson III or Gary Harris and be expected to harass them to distraction for 30-plus minutes.
That aforementioned veteran status will entail setting the tone for his younger teammates every night. While verbal encouragement in practice will be a start, the final piece of leadership will be set when the freshmen and sophomores watch Sheehey chase around the Big Ten's most dangerous scorers night after night.
If Sheehey can help force more nights like Brandon Paul's 2-of-13 at the Big Ten tournament and fewer like Wyatt's, he and the kids will be all right.