It's that time of year folks. Snow is falling. Sleigh bells are ringing. People are-a-caroling.
Bloomington might be a bit more empty this time of year, with the break between semesters letting kids go home, but that doesn't mean that Hoosier basketball goes away.
The Indiana Hoosiers have had a very poor 12 months, but the signs are already here that Tom Crean's boys are on their way back to the top.
The Hoosiers already are one win away from tying last year's total mark and look certain to win at least a few more.
We have seen big performances from Verdell Jones, Maurice Creek, and even Tijan Jobe with a couple big blocks this season.
So to recap 2009, lets see which Hoosiers made Santa's Naughty or Nice List.
Honorable Mention goes to Malik Story, Nick WIlliams, and Broderick Lewis, who all played for the Hoosiers last season, but have since transfered to USC, Ole Miss, and Purdue, respectively.
VJIII (as he is commenly known) has arguably made the most strides on the court from last year to this year.
During the Big 10 season last year he made some huge strides in his dribble drive ability, as well as creating more opportunities for his teammates.
He finished last season on a high note. In the final three games, he averaged 20.3 points, 2.6 assists, and 2.6 rebounds, and was one of the Hoosiers best performers.
He was second on the team in scoring with 11.9 points per game, 4.3 assists, and 3.8 rebounds.
This season, Jones has taken a bigger leadership role, starting every game, and not having to be relied on to be the teams playmaker. Jeremiah Rivers has taked that role from him. This has allowed Jones to focus just on getting to the basket.
He is currently third on the team in scoring with 11.5 points per game, and he has improved his assist to turnover ratio from 1/1 to 1.3/1.
Verdell has seen himself improve throughout the course of 2009. For that, he gets on Santa's Nice list
Mr. Pritchard has not had the best 2009. After ending 2008 excellently, he was outmatched and outsized almost every game of the Big 10 season and saw his averages decrease sufficiently, while his foul numbers increased dramatically.
Because of Pritchard's 6'9'' height, he was forced to play many more minutes than would normally be given to a freshman, and he hit the perverbial freshman wall.
Early in games, Pritchard would either play poor defense or get into early foul trouble and have to sit on the bench for an extended period.
He finished the Big 10 season averaging 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 fouls per game. Respectable numbers for a freshman at most programs but not at Indiana when he is a starter.
This season, Pritchard was expected to improve and grow like the rest of the team. But we have actually seen his play continuously get worse, to its current state where he is now starting games on the bench.
Pritchard keeps getting into foul trouble, plays slow and poor defense, as well as being a poor shooter, except for dunks and some layups. For this, Tom Pritchard gets on Santa's Naughty List.
Devan Dumes was the star player for the Hoosiers last season, if such a thing existed. Coming in from Vincennes University, the junior was the team'slead scorer in 2008-09. If Indiana needed to make a big shot, you knew the ball would go to Dumes.
Devan was also our best on the ball defender and did an outstanding job at times defending the top player on opposing teams.
Dumas had a solid Big 10 season, finishing with averages of 12.1 points and 2.9 rebounds per game, and he shot 45% from behind the arc.
This season, due to injuries over the summer, Dumas has had to be content with coming off the bench; however, he is working his way back and should see more playing time come Big 10 season. His tough, physical defensive skills and ouside shooting will force him into the lineup.
Dumes' play last season and good energy off the bench this season puts him on Santas Nice List.
As bad as the team felt during last season, no one felt worse then Jeremiah Rivers.
To have to sit out and not be able to help your teammates on the court killed Rivers, who is the son of NBA coach Doc Rivers.
But, Jeremiah has worked hard over the last year to get faster, stronger, and better adjusted to the Indiana guard-oriented offense.
At times this season, the junior transfer from Georgetown has looked like a great pick up. He has the ability to make some amazing passes, as well as athletic plays. He also is the best dribbler on the team and does a good job driving the lane to the basket.
His defense has also been a great help. Even though he uses alot of energy on offense, he doesn;t sacrifice anything on defense.
Sometimes though, Jeremiah gets a little too excited on the ball and tries to make some rediculous passes that his teammates can not get to. Also, he doesn't have much of a jump shot. So even if he is open with the ball, he sometimes will elect to just pass, which defenses now are planning for.
Jeremiah's energy and basketball IQ have certainly helped the team this year. While he has not played well in every game, he still ends up on Santa's Nice List, mostly for playing through so many injuries daily.
Maurice Creek was hyped up by Tom Crean and other scouts to be one of the best pure shooters in the freshman class.
Three months later, the Oxen Hill, Maryland native might be one of the best in the nation.
With his ability to dribble and drive the lane, absorb content and still make the basket, he has turned into IU's scoring weapon this season. On top of that, he has the range to make shots all over the court, including from three, and he is a very good free throw shooter as well.
In games against Kentucky and North Carolina Central, he scored a combined 60 points, had eight rebounds, and two steals. He was also a perfect 8-for-8 from the line, and hit 10 three-pointers.
Overall, this season, he leads Big 10 freshmen with 17.6 points, four rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.
He is already one of the best guards the Hoosier faithful have seen play for the Cream and Crimson, and his current play has put him on Santa's Nice List.
The 6'9'' freshman was arguably the diamond of all the recruits in the 2009 recruiting class.
Watford has height, quickness, the ability to slash to the basket, the ability to play with his back to the hoop and range to shoot the three.
He is excactly the kind of player that NBA scouts are looking for. So far, he is proving his skills as a Hoosier.
He started his career with a bang, recording two double doubles (14 points, 11 rebounds vs. Howard and 17 points, 10 rebounds vs. USC-Upstate). While his rebounds are a bit down from that mark, he continues to score in bunches.
Although he has had to play poer forwarddue to the Hoosiers lack of a true center, Watford has done well when using his superior quickness to get around his defender or his long arms to shoot over the opponent.
Watford is the second-leading scorer for IU, and among Big 10 freshmen. Watford holds averages of 12.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and just under one block per game.
Watford's arrival has paid immediate dividends for this Hoosier program. Because of that, he deserves a place on Santa's Nice List.
The big man from Evansville, Indiana had just about seen it all.
He walked on to the Hoosier basketball team in 2005 as a freshman when Mike Davis was the coach.
At the end of that year, Davis was removed, and next up to coach the Hoosiers was Kelvin Sampson.
We all know that he didn't last long. In the late winter of 2008, Sampson was canned, and Dan Dakitch took over.
But after a couple months of that, Tom Crean was officially hired to be the coach of Indiana basketball. In his five-year stay, Taber had endured four coaches and had seen a once proud program find its way to the basement.
But, Taber is what Indiana basketball is. A player who plays for the name on the front of the jersey and not the one on the back.
Taber entered the 2008-09 season with only four starts, mostly garbage time minutes. Yet, he played in all 31 games last season and started 23 of them.
During Big 10 season, while the Hoosiers were outsized and Pritchard was battling foul trouble, Taber averaged 4.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 27.1 minutes per game on the court.
And that was after hurting his knee during the summer and missing the first couple weeks of the season.
The power forward had two big games towards the end of the season. At Purdue, he scored 10 points and grabbed five boards, and at home against Northwestern where he scored 12 points, had six rebounds and two blocks. Alas, the Hoosiers lost both games, but his contributions were not in vain as they kept the games close.
Taber definitely earns a place on Santa's Nice List, for his perseverance throughout the roller coaster ride that was his tenure as a member of the Cream and Crimson.
The bench players have played a big role in the year 2009. Numerous walk-ons got chances to play big minutes, as well as other players emerging as sixth man candidates.
Matt Roth: He was arguably the sixth man of the team last season, including in the Big 10 where his offensive production off the bench was vital, especially his 29-point outburst. Currently, he is injured and out, but his solid play has put him on Santa's Nice List
Daniel Moore: His performances for the Hoosiers were valient, but he consistantly came up short. He tries his best, but he is just overmatched. He doesn't have the ability to match up with real Division-I athletes. He turns the ball over more than necessary and is afraid to take a jumpshot. For this, he gets on Santa's Naughty List.
Jordan Hulls, Bobby Capobianco, Derek Elston: The young freshman have each brought something different to the team. Hulls had the ability to run the point, hit open shots, and make great passes. Capobianco improved his down low effort and second chance points. Elston brought his overall offensive and defensive plays, range of shooting and rebounding. All three have done well and should end up on Santa's Nice List for next year, although it's a bit too early to tell.
Tijan Jobe and Bawa Muniru: The two African giants on the Cream and Crimson are both very tall players, although both are very raw at this stage of their careers. Tijan has improved greatly since last year. Every time he is on the court, even if he isn't playing great, at least it gets the crowd into the game even more. He gets on Santa's Nice list. Bawa is still a project, and I had expected him to be redshirted this season. But it looks like he will be playing during the season. If he can improve his game down low, look for him to be a feel good story around this time next year.
Brett Finkelmeier, Steven Gambles, Kory Barnett: These three only play the last minutes of blowout games, yet they are working their butts off every practice and cheering on the team every game. They are all on Santa's Nice List.
Tom Crean has had arguably the toughest 12 months of his life. He took over a team that was at its bottom point. Even I don't think that he could have forseen just six wins in his first season.
So far in the year 2009, he also has just six wins, but this season should bring greater performances from the Hoosiers.
Game after game, he is proving to Hoosier Nation that he was the right choice for coach.
He recruits the right kind of people, teaches them how to play and gets them to play with heart, hustle, and the will to risk it all for the team.
Crean brings with him everywhere he goes his passion for the game, as well as his pride to coach for Indiana University. For this, he will go on Santa's Nice List.