The Indiana Hoosiers' top four scorers from last season have either graduated or made a jump to the NBA. Consequently, this will be a rebuilding year for Tom Crean's program.
At least that’s what most would have you believe.
Will the Hoosiers be constructing a new nucleus of stars and leaders? Absolutely. Are there unproven players who must validate themselves as All-Big Ten quality talents to compete in arguably the toughest conference in the nation? Of course.
If having to devise a new way to win with new players, leaders and stars is what experts are referring to when they tab the 2013-14 Indiana Hoosiers a rebuilding squad, then you won’t find any argument disagreeing with that premise here.
Inexperience has already sealed the Hoosiers' fate as a rather equivocal team. Indiana must see players who haven’t played a minute of college basketball and those who have only played few transform into stars and key contributors overnight.
But if labeling these Hoosiers a rebuilding team indicates a poor or mediocre season is inevitable, then a history lesson may be in order.
It's easy to predict that IU will struggle this season, especially considering so much talent left the program and was seen walking across the stage at the NBA draft.
Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller—two National Player of the Year candidates last season for Indiana—were selected second and fourth overall respectively in this year’s draft.
During the previous five drafts, nine other teams have produced two or more lottery picks in the same year. Those programs, like IU this coming season, faced the incredible challenge of replacing two of the nation’s top players.
How did those schools fare? Only to the tune of 27.3 wins and 8.2 losses per season.
Kentucky (21-12) and Connecticut (20-10) in 2013, were the only teams of that group of nine that didn't qualify for the NCAA tournament. Kansas won 35 games in 2011 after losing Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry to the 2010 draft. Kentucky won the national title in 2012 after seeing Enes Kanter (who was ruled ineligible for his one year with the Wildcats) and Brandon Knight selected in the top 10 of the 2011 draft.
Some may have expected those teams to take a small step back after producing two top draft picks. “Rebuilding” was likely used to describe many of those following seasons. Instead of rebuilding, though, most of those programs reloaded.
College basketball has been revolutionized by the influx of superstar freshmen and sophomores in recent years. Over the past five seasons, AP All-American teams have averaged 2.4 underclassmen.
The Hoosiers project to start four underclassmen in 2013-14, three of which could be freshmen. But just stating that IU is young and other young players have played well recently surely won’t help the Hoosier faithful sleep better at night.
Indiana’s underclassmen must have high potential like previous youthful successes. Thanks to Tom Crean’s recruiting, they do.
According to Rivals.com, Indiana ranked fifth in 2012 and sixth in 2013 for national recruiting. Over the past two years, programs that have been slotted in the top 10 of Rivals' rankings have finished the following season with an average record of 25.5 wins and 10.35 losses.
St. Johns (13-19) and Arkansas (18-14) in 2012 and Providence (19-15) in 2013, were the only teams of those 20 that failed to reach 20 wins. Not surprisingly, those three schools missed the NCAA tournament, as did Arizona (23-12) in 2012 and Kentucky (21-12) and Baylor (23-14) last season.
But top-10 recruiting classes over the past two seasons have been succeeded by six conference titles, four Final Four appearances and a national championship.
It goes without saying that those teams that recruit better players tend to have more success. But the point is, the Hoosiers have recruited well. There’s no reason they shouldn't be able to mirror the achievement of other programs that have done the same.
Programs that have loaded up on the same caliber of talent Indiana has rarely hobble to brutal seasons. Some are relegated to bubble-team status, which seems to be this IU team’s floor, but very few are reduced to bottom-feeders. Far more surpass expectations and become legitimate contenders.
For a team that will introduce four new starters in 2013-14, the Hoosiers will only naturally acquire doubters. If recent history has taught us anything, though, Indiana being competitive in the Big Ten should still be assumed. Qualifying for the NCAA tournament should still be expected. Success, both in conference and on a national scale, is just as likely as a mediocre season.