Indiana Basketball: Why Noah Vonleh Is Hoosiers' Biggest X-Factor

Kyle GrandFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2013

April 3, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA;  McDonald's All American forward Noah Vonleh (35) poses for portraits before the 36th McDonalds All American Games to be played at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines X-factor as, "a circumstance, quality, or person that has a strong but unpredictable influence."

In sports, every team has one. Indiana's is freshman Noah Vonleh because, while he has tremendous talent, transferring it to the college game isn't a guarantee.



Vonleh is a 5-star recruit and ranked No. 13 in ESPN's 100. There's no doubt that he has all the tools to be a phenom this season. If he's not already the Hoosiers' best player, he could be by the end of the year.

The power forward is dangerous because he's built like a big man (6'10", 240 pounds), but possesses the skills of a guard.

His dribbling is superb. He gets to the rim with ease and finishes with authority. His three-point shot isn't spectacular, but it's enough to cause opposing defenses to respect it.

Vonleh's post-player characteristics show up on the glass. He is a tenacious rebounder, especially on offense. His long arms and insane vertical leap allow him to grab rebounds that other players simply can't reach. 

His combination of size and speed is rare. Throw a smaller defender at him and he will muscle his way to the basket. Assign a bigger, slower player to defend him and he will blow right past his man. 

Clearly, Vonleh isn't touted as one of the best prospects in the country for nothing. He will have a distinct presence on this year's team. The question is, what will his presence be?



Despite all of the highlight tapes and hype surrounding Vonleh, fans must remember he is a freshman. Though he just hung his high school diploma on the wall, the expectation is he will carry Indiana this season.

The fact still remains that, until the games are played, no one can know how Vonleh will perform.

Will he take after previous superstar freshmen such as Eric Gordon and Cody Zeller? The Hoosiers certainly hope so, but that doesn't mean it will happen.

Could Vonleh average 17-18 points and rebound like crazy on a nightly basis to lead Indiana to another successful season? Yes.

At the other end of the spectrum, could he only average around 10-12 points per game and not live up to the hype? Yes, again. 

No one knows how the adjustment to college basketball is going to affect him.

A lot of pressure has been thrown onto this young man's shoulders. Indiana's top four scorers in 2012, two of which were All-Americans and lottery picks in the NBA draft, are gone. Those players brought IU out of college basketball's cellar and back on top.  

Vonleh is expected to help keep IU as successful as it has been over the last two seasons. Now that the program is back, fans won't settle for anything less. 

Only being a freshman, that's a lot for him to have on his plate.

The success of Indiana's season will be determined by how Vonleh performs. He will either crumble under the expectations or exceed them, making this talented freshman the Hoosiers' X-factor.