With four of the team’s five starters from a year ago graduating or bolting for the NBA, the Indiana Hoosiers will be a completely different basketball team in 2013-2014.
Returning players must develop. Newcomers will be required to step in and contribute immediately, and in some cases, become leaders.
The program has taken a step forward on Tom Crean’s watch during the past two seasons. It would be unfortunate for Indiana’s momentum, which currently signals the return of a national powerhouse, to take a step back this season due to lack of experience.
There’s no denying that this team will lack experience, it’s the step backward that they’re hoping to avoid.
But being younger and less seasoned doesn't necessarily equate to a diminished product. Just ask the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats, who won 38 games and the national championship despite starting three freshmen and two sophomores.
Indiana won’t be short on talent, but uncertainty will be in abundance. Who emerges as leaders for these Hoosiers? Who makes the starting five? Who leads the team in scoring? Just a few of the many questions that must be answered this season.
Let’s attempt to answer some of those questions, albeit entirely prematurely, by ranking every player on the Hoosiers’ roster from 17 to one.
17. Taylor Wayer
In three seasons with the Hoosiers, walk-on guard Taylor Wayer has only played 32 minutes and has scored a mere three points. The Indianapolis native doesn't have the size or athletic ability to ever become a significant contributor, but he’s a great kid to have in the locker room. Wayer has been named Academic All-Big Ten the past two seasons.
16. Raphael Smith
Walk-on Raphael Smith (pictured) managed six points in 18 minutes of action as a sophomore. He possesses good height at 6’3”, but has a small build that likely wouldn't hold up in extended playing time against rigorous Big Ten competition. The former South Bend high school standout should be relegated to mostly meaningless minutes for the third consecutive season.
15. Jeff Howard
Senior forward Jeff Howard has held a slight edge over the other returning walk-ons in playing time. He’s accumulated 77 minutes in three years and hopes to surpass his career-high of 38 minutes he recorded in 2013. Like Taylor Wayer, Howard is a model student, earning Academic All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore and as a junior.
14. Jonny Marlin
After starting as a freshman at IPFW, Marlin transferred to Indiana where he was forced to sit out the 2013 season. Marlin has more collegiate playing experience than the entire cast of Hoosier walk-ons combined. And as a true point guard, it’s not unfathomable to think that Marlin could see the floor for more than just garbage time at a position where Indiana lacks depth. But his freshman numbers playing in the Summit League were underwhelming (4.3 points, 3.5 assists per game).
Head coach Tom Crean has loaded Indiana with back-to-back recruiting classes that feature a plethora of size and athleticism. But where will the three-point shooting come from?
Graduated sharpshooters Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls finished No. 1 and No. 2 in the Big Ten in three-point field goal percentage last season at 48 and 44 percent respectively.
It’s hard to imagine an Indiana team without at least a couple of perimeter shooting threats, especially following a season that saw the Hoosiers knock down treys at the fourth-highest efficiency in the entire country (40.3 percent).
Freshman Collin Hartman hopes to pick up some of the slack from behind the arc. The Indianapolis Cathedral product has a pure stroke from three-point land and could work his way into the rotation as a player that can stretch the floor for Indiana’s guards.
Hartman was considered a highly-touted recruit when he verballed to the Hoosiers as a high school sophomore in 2010. But Hartman slipped down recruiting boards after so-so production as an upperclassman.
Even in the likely event he never materializes into the player many hoped he would become a few years ago, a Matt Roth, three-point specialist type role would be consolation for Hartman and the Hoosiers.
Devin Davis Jr., the first player to commit in the Hoosiers’ 2013 class, is a high-energy small forward who could provide a spark off of the bench at some point in his freshman season.
His offensive skill set is far from polished, which could keep him off the floor initially, but he can defend multiple positions and does a solid job of crashing the glass. Davis is probably at least a year away from becoming a significant contributor, but don’t write him off as a future star in the crimson.
In some ways, Davis resembles the player Victor Oladipo was coming out of high school. Davis is considered a 3-star recruit just like Thursday night’s No. 2 overall pick, and has quality physical tools.
Developing a consistent jumper from 15 to 21 feet and fine-tuning his handle would help Davis elevate his offensive game like Oladipo did for the Hoosiers this past season.
Not to say Davis can or will ever become the player Oladipo is, but the model for honing one’s craft that No. 4 so impressively exemplified should be something for him to strive after.
Cody Zeller declaring for the NBA draft left the Hoosiers thin in the post. There isn't a true center with any amount of starting experience on the roster and the job will be won by a player who barely played last season or is an unproven freshman.
Peter Jurkin, seemingly by default, could find himself in the mix despite only playing seven minutes in 2013.
As the Hoosiers’ only seven-footer, Jurkin could conceivably be thrust into the rotation if Hanner Mosquera-Perea continues to disappoint and freshman newcomer Luke Fischer struggles early on.
But that likely wouldn’t be great news for Indiana’s chances of competing in the Big Ten. It’s the nation’s most physical conference, and although Jurkin has ideal height, he lacks the strength and girth to bang down low with the likes of Michigan State’s Adreian Payne and Purdue’s A.J. Hammons.
Austin Etherington’s 2013 campaign was cut short when he fractured his patella in a December matchup against Central Connecticut State.
He has yet to be cleared to scrimmage, but Tom Crean has bragged about the work he's put in during the rehabilitation process so far.
If Etherington can return to 100 percent by the start of the season, he could become one of the Hoosiers’ top spot-up shooters off the bench.
He hasn't had the opportunity to showcase his three-point range yet (3-11 in 23 games), but it’s one of his strengths. And at 6’6”, he isn't the defensive liability many other three-point specialists have been for Indiana over the years.
Outside of top recruit Noah Vonleh, there may not be an incoming freshman that the Hoosiers will rely on more this season than center Luke Fischer.
Fischer is nearly 7', has nice touch around the basket, runs the floor well and may remind Hoosier faithful of a certain No. 4 overall draft pick. Well, a poor man’s version.
No, Fischer doesn’t quite have Cody Zeller’s potential, but he has the tools to eventually become one of the Big Ten’s better big men with some added bulk. Fischer’s outlook shouldn’t be exclusively future-focused, though. He may start from day one. And if not from day one, he’ll have an opportunity to eventually move into the top five at some point this season.
Fischer could already have a better low-post skill set than freak athlete Hanner Perea. If he can demonstrate the toughness and durability necessary to hold up in the dogfight that is Big Ten play, he’ll be a mainstay as a force down low for the Hoosiers’ frontcourt.
Stanford Robinson is another freshman that could have a crucial role right away for Indiana. The starting two-guard position is for the taking. Freshman Troy Williams is the favorite to land that role thanks to his slashing ability and defensive prowess, but Robinson is the better shooter.
If the Hoosiers come to find that they’re in dire need of more offensive production, Robinson could be a nice complement to Yogi Ferrell in IU’s backcourt. If not, Robinson should still see plenty of minutes as a versatile player that can spell either the shooting guard or Ferrell at point.
The Hoosiers lack depth at point guard after losing Remy Abell to Xavier. Robinson and Arizona State transfer Evan Gordon should both see time as Indiana’s primary ball handler.
Hanner Mosquera-Perea must prove he is more than just a phenomenal athlete in his sophomore season.
He was a highlight machine in high school, earning the nickname “Air Columbia” for his ferocious dunks. But he looked lost in brief action as a freshman, having more turnovers (eight) than made field goals (five).
In all fairness to Perea, his development was obviously stunted by serving a nine-game suspension during non-conference play. He would have seen extended playing time against the cupcake programs on the slate, which could have done wonders for his confidence.
The beginning portion of the schedule will be huge for Perea this season. If he can find his game, he could easily hold off Fischer and crack the starting lineup.
Tom Crean allowed Jeremy Hollowell to play through tough stretches as a freshman, which frustrated many Indiana fans. Hollowell was seemingly a turnover machine and did more harm than good when the Hoosiers had the ball. But he quietly began to develop into a solid defender as the year progressed.
He isn't the quickest player and he’s not an elite athlete, but he has excellent size at 6’8” and can play either forward position.
Some of Hollowell’s struggles may have been attributed to a lack of confidence. He looked unsure of himself at times and the game never really came to him naturally like it did as a highly-touted prep star.
Hollowell has the ability to knock down open jumpers from 15 feet to three-point range and he can also score with his back to the basket on the low post. Doing so consistently could help Hollowell become one of Indiana’s most complete players this season.
Still, though, he may have a difficult time finding a spot on the starting five. Will Sheehey and top freshman recruit Noah Vonleh appear to be shoe-ins for the two first-team forward spots. Hollowell isn’t big enough to play the five or quick enough to be a guard. Regardless, expect Hollowell to be much more productive with his minutes this season.
When Remy Abell transferred to Xavier, Indiana was left void of any veteran experience to backup Yogi Ferrell at point guard. But former Indiana star Eric Gordon’s younger brother Evan changed that when he selected Indiana to be his destination after transferring from Arizona State.
Gordon will certainly be given an opportunity to compete for a starting spot at shooting guard, but he’ll likely be best served as a versatile role player, much like freshman Stanford Robinson, who can fill in at point or the two-guard off the bench.
Gordon is a proven scorer, which IU has very few of, but he’s small and doesn't have the upside on defense that freshmen Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson have. Still, Gordon makes the Hoosiers a better basketball team by improving their depth and versatility.
He could even look to follow in Will Sheehey’s footsteps as a potential Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
As arguably the favorite to become Yogi Ferrell’s counterpart on Indiana’s backcourt, Troy Williams is Tom Crean’s second-highest rated signee of the incoming class.
The Oak Hill Academy product has elite athleticism with the ability to soar well above the rim. He’s a slasher, meaning most of his buckets will likely come by attacking the basket.
At 6’7”, Williams has outstanding size and length. He possesses a non-stop motor and could take on Victor Oladipo’s old role of locking down the opponent’s top offensive weapon.
Shooting the basketball is one of his few weaknesses, but with improvement, Williams could easily surface as one of the Big Ten’s most valuable wings.
Senior forward Will Sheehey should have his most productive season in 2013-14 now that he’ll likely be a full-time starter.
Sheehey was the Hoosiers’ biggest spark coming off the bench last season, earning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year honors. But he’ll be relied upon to become one of Indiana’s primary scorers this season. He may not lead them in that department, as freshman Noah Vonleh can rack up buckets in bunches, but expect double figures on most nights.
Sheehey can finish above the rim and his mid-range jump shot is almost automatic in rhythm. He’s attempted to extend his range to three-point territory over the past two seasons, but he’ll need to knock down open threes more consistently this year (35 percent in 2012-2013).
Improving his on-ball defense will also be in order for Sheehey as he’ll likely be assigned more difficult covers this season. But nothing is stopping him from entering the NBA discussion with a fantastic year.
Starting point guard Yogi Ferrell may not top our power rankings, but this will be his team this season. With the entire nucleus of leadership from last year’s team gone, Ferrell will be expected to take on a leadership role as a sophomore. He’ll also be expected to be much more productive.
Ferrell’s numbers of 7.6 points and 4.1 assists per game didn’t do the impact he had on the Hoosiers’ half-court offense justice, but he’ll have to score and facilitate even more this year.
He’ll need to knock down his perimeter and mid-range jumper more consistently to make defenses respect his shooting ability. If not, defenders will be able to sag off to limit Ferrell’s penetration. And without Ferrell’s penetration, the Hoosiers will be less proficient in the half court.
I also think he’ll need to be more aggressive. He has the crossover and the quickness to attack the basket and he needs to look for his shot more often than he did a year ago.
Ferrell’s ceiling is still somewhat a mystery. Lacking ideal size does hold him back some. Syracuse forcing him to commit four turnovers in the NCAA tournament exposed that to a degree last season.
The Orange’s athletic and lengthy defenders made it difficult for Ferrell to fit the ball into tight passing lanes. But it’s certainly something he can overcome by playing smarter, which he did for the most part as a freshman.
Yogi still has first-team All-Big Ten potential and he definitely has the ability to eventually join former teammates Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller in the NBA.
Am I buying too much into the hype to already rank Noah Vonleh ahead of returning players Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell? Maybe. But truth be told, if the Hoosiers are going to legitimately contend for a second consecutive Big Ten title, Vonleh may have to take the conference and the nation by storm.
As the highest-rated recruit of Tom Crean’s tenure, Vonleh certainly has the ability to do just that. He can hit the three, finish at the rim with touch or authority and runs the floor well enough to score plenty of buckets in transition.
Defensively, his length and athleticism should cause opponents fits and he’s considered one of the top rebounders of the 2013 class. Shoring up his handle and getting stronger in order to play the post are ways in which Vonleh can improve. But he already appears equipped to lead the Hoosiers in scoring as a freshman.
If he does, chances are he’ll be considered a potential lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, a bittersweet scenario for Hoosier fans.
For Indiana to be a contender this season, Vonleh will have to emerge as one of the top players in the country. But if he does, the NBA will likely come calling after only one season, paving the way for Vonleh to potentially become Tom Crean’s first one-and-done recruit as coach of the Hoosiers.