Judging Indiana's 2009 Recruiting Class Way Too Soon

Zachary OstermanCorrespondent IDecember 26, 2009

(Christian Watford and his '09 classmates are probably as-expected so far this season.)

They have been touted as saviors, they have been called the next great generation, and they are expected to foster the brightest of basketball futures.

Eleven games into their college basketball careers, the six-man Indiana freshman class has helped bring the Hoosiers the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, all between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But just how impactful have these six been? Let's take a brief look, shall we?


Maurice Creek

It's got to start with Creek, because that's where the Hoosiers often start as a team. Creek leads the Hoosiers in scoring at 17.6 points per game, shoots 45 percent from behind the arc and 76 percent from the free-throw line. He's also not prone to foul trouble, averaging less than two per contest.

However, when foul issues do arise—as they did in the Hoosiers' 72-67 loss to Loyola-Maryland—and Creek must sit, Indiana's offense can struggle, as it most certainly did Tuesday.

Creek isn't likely to be a one-and-done player, but 60 points in two games against Kentucky and North Carolina-Central have him on the Big Ten's radar.

How he handles conference play will go a long way toward telling the world what kind of player he is, and can become.


Christian Watford

Watford might have the most upside of any member of the class, given his size and inside-outside skillset.

He averages a shade over 12 points per game, despite shooting 37.7 percent from the floor and less than 30 percent from 3-point range. A free-throw percentage of 83.3—tops on a team that's dead last in the Big Ten in that category—certainly helps.

A lean 6-foot-9, Watford can get to the rim, and he can score in multiple ways, but he often needs a fair amount of shots to get his points. Other than Creek and Verdell Jones, no Hoosier has more attempted field goals.

Still, that willingness to attack down low is something the Hoosiers sorely, sorely (sorely sorely SORELY) lacked at times last season, and it's the reason Watford has taken 11 more free throws (60) than any other Hoosier thus far.


Derek Elston

Of the whole bunch, Elston could be the most intriguing. He's got size at 6-foot-9, and though he doesn't take many, he's 4-of-9 from behind the arc. Throw in the 4.4 rebounds per game off the bench, and he seems like a great bench option, although he's become a favorite target for the "more playing time" rallying cry amongst fans unhappy with coach Tom Crean's player selection. 

Still, Elston's been so hit-or-miss that it's hard to get a solid read on him. When he's efficient and "letting his game come to him," (that's coachspeak for not forcing shots) he can put up solid numbers on a limited number of shots.

When he forces things too much, the only high number on his stat line is "field goals attempted." It would also be nice to see a big man get to the line a little bit more often.

Overall, Elston is a solid bench player, perhaps not ready to break the starting lineup yet, but a much better option off the bench than the Hoosiers had at any point last season.


Jordan Hulls

Hulls has been a case of expectation vs. reality thus far.

A Bloomington kid who came out of nowhere the summer before his senior year then led his high school team to a perfect record and a state title, there was hope among some segments of the IU fanbase that he would be an immediate contributor at the point.

Others saw him play and judged him a solid prospect with plenty of potential but without the strength or size to impact the college game so quickly.

The truth is that he's probably a little bit of both—part project, part messiah. Hulls is talented, no doubt, and he has some of those "intangible" qualities coaches love to talk about.

But he needs a little bit more size, and the point is one of the toughest positions to learn in college sports.

Jeremiah Rivers has been solid—though at times also maddening to IU fans—at the point this season, giving Hulls some needed time to ease into running Crean's offense.

Rivers will undoubtedly be the No. 1 option at the position for the next year and a half, but Hulls should be ready after that.

Until then, he's got to continue to find ways to earn more quality minutes off the bench.


Bobby Capobianco

Capobianco brought a reputation as a worker and a hustler to college, and that's what he's been. He's not going to produce big numbers for you except on rare occasions, but you'll almost never get anything but 100 percent effort, either.

None of his stats wow, (at least not in a good way, but 27.3 percent from the free-throw line is a jaw-dropper) but Capobianco wasn't brought in for shock value or playmaking ability.

As the great Tree Lane might have said, every team needs a thumper, and that's what Capobianco can bring.

In the future, he might develop into a decent post threat. Right now, he's a big, physical body off a bench that could use to physicality.


Bawa Muniru

We can debate whether Crean should have slapped a redshirt on Muniru, as he's clearly a work in progress, as expected.

But unlike Tijan Jobe, (who also came to IU via the A-HOPE program) Muniru at least knows how to act and react on a court, and he has some semblance of post presence and ball-handling ability (re: He can catch).

Muniru will not be a primary candidate for meaningful playing time this season, unless he experiences an unexpected breakthrough somewhere.

But like the rest of this class, he's still got more upside than downside, and the Hoosiers have plenty of time to develop the former.


Final verdict

These guys are probably about what we thought they were: talented, determined and also young, a quality that can't be overlooked when wondering why this team still struggles with turnovers or bad shot selection.

They at least double the talent level on this team from last season, but the road back is far longer than many first envisioned.

Where this class can—and needs to—depart from last season's script is in conference play.

Last year's Hoosiers, in way over their heads, were so quickly beaten down by Big Ten action that marked improvement became hard to identify. By the end of the season, the Hoosiers just looked too tired to get better.

These six bring a level of depth last year's team never had, and as such, they need to bring a level of regular, noticeable improvement that wasn't always present last season. Do that, and this season should be considered a success.


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