One of the most important keys to the success of any sports team is leadership. On a college basketball team, much of that comes from the upperclassmen, particularly the seniors.
Will Sheehey is the only senior on this year’s Indiana Hoosiers squad with significant playing experience—both this year and prior to this year—so it should come as no surprise that Indiana often wins when he has a breakout game.
Sheehey caught fire with a 30-point outburst against the Iowa Hawkeyes and followed it with 19 points and six rebounds against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The result was back-to-back victories over teams in the Top 25.
His breakout performances against Iowa and Ohio State were not only a sight to behold for Hoosier fans, but much needed. After all, he has struggled at times this year—especially from the three-point line, shooting a total of 26-for-84 beyond the arc this season.
This week, however, his outstanding play earned him a Big Ten Player of the Week Award.
This season has been a different one in terms of role playing for the senior from Stuart, Fla., who spent the last two seasons mostly as a bench player in relief of Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, and Jordan Hulls. Now, even with 2013 starter Yogi Ferrell still in the opening rotation, he has been challenged with the task of leading a very young team.
This is also an unusual season for the Hoosiers, in that a single player has been given the entire burden when it comes to senior leadership. Last year’s starting five included then-seniors Hulls and Christian Watford, who essentially shared less of the burden than Zeller and Oladipo. The most recent season when the Hoosiers had only one senior with significant playing time was 2010-11 (Tom Crean’s third season), with Georgetown transfer Jeremiah Rivers being the only senior on the team.
To say the least, Sheehey has played a much bigger role than he was used to going into the season. It is always a major jump for a college basketball player to go from a bench player in his first three seasons to a critical leader in his senior year. However, for the last two games in particular, Sheehey has lived up to expectations.
Perhaps what is best about his performance against Ohio State is that it came with Noah Vonleh sidelined from a foot injury. One thing that has helped the Hoosiers of the Tom Crean era has been the occasional breakout performances of certain players while others were on the bench, and Sunday was no different.
This is the Will Sheehey that Hoosier fans have hoped to see all season, and Wednesday night’s contest against Nebraska will be their last chance to watch him play at Assembly Hall unless IU hosts an NIT game later this month.
In Nebraska’s 60-55 win over the Hoosiers in Lincoln on Jan. 30, he scored six of his 12 points on free throws, shooting 3-for-10 on the night. However, he has been playing his best basketball this season lately, and another breakout performance may help IU get revenge and improve to 8-9 in Big Ten play.
With the season winding down, Indiana is still a long shot to reach the NCAA tournament and may need to win the Big Ten tournament to do so, but if Sheehey can continue to play at the level he has reached, the Hoosiers can—at the very least—upset some teams at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.
With that said, all eyes will be on Sheehey again on Wednesday, as he will be honored following the game and will look to close out his Assembly Hall days in style.
All stats from ESPN.com and IUHoosiers.com