When the preseason began last year for men’s basketball the Big Ten was marked potentially as the best conference in the nation. Though the conference did not exactly meet these expectations, it still finished the season with a final four team, three total sweet 16 teams, and a total of five teams that made the dance.
The Indiana Hoosiers of course, were not one of these five teams. In fact, the five tournament teams from the Big Ten, all beat the Hoosiers by double digits at least once last season. This is all in the past now, and optimism has returned in Bloomington but the scary thing is… These five tournament teams virtually return all of their star players as well as the supporting cast. Ohio State was the only team of the three teams that tied for the regular season Big Ten title last year that lost a vital part in Evan Turner. Losing Turner though does not seem that terrible when you bring in the nation’s number two recruiting class and Indiana’s own Mr. Basketball Deshaun Thomas. Purdue returns everyone apart from the most hated Boilermaker of all time Chris Kramer and fellow senior Keaton Grant. Michigan State has been selected as a top three team in almost every media outlets early preseason poll. These three teams are just the cream of the crop in the Big Ten, teams I feel our Hoosiers are not even close to being ready to compete with.
Illinois returns their entire team along with the addition of McDonald’s All-American Jereme Richmond. Wisconsin is always a tournament team no matter who is returning, and surprising Northwestern will welcome back their best player in Kevin Coble. Tubby Smith will have Minnesota ready for its third straight tournament appearance while Ralph Sampson III looks to finally make a name for himself in the conference.
With all this established Indiana as well returns their entire core, apart from the departure of Devan Dumes. The truth is the Hoosiers after losing to Purdue in a close game at home, lost eight straight where they failed to even compete. What I question is if the Hoosiers will be ready to compete in the conference that will definitely again be marked in the preseason as the best in the country.
Maurice Creek’s contribution will be massive. He showed true flashes of brilliance at the beginning of the season and I believe would have run away with Big Ten freshman of the year if not for the injury. He will be the next great Hoosier to have a great career in Bloomington, but the team will not finish in the top half of the Big Ten just because of him. A leader will need to emerge, Verdell Jones showed signs last year, but will need to step it up even more this season if we plan to finish in the upper echelon of the conference. The 2009 recruiting class in Elston, Watford, Hulls, and Capobianco displayed some signs of what could be the next Indiana tournament team. If we can get physical post play from Elston, Capobianco, Watford, and Bawa than the potential of hanging in games against great post teams looks promising. It is too early to get a read on the team’s new freshman but I believe Victor Oladipo will play a critical part in helping the Hoosiers compete against up-tempo athletic teams such as Ohio State and Michigan State.
Fans are optimistic but Hoosier nation can only be patient for so long, a winning season is expected this year from a more experienced team, but if the history of Crean’s first two seasons repeats itself. Which consist of the Hoosiers tragically falling apart late in the Big Ten season than Indiana may be looking at another losing season. Every team in the Big Ten loves to beat Indiana because of the school’s rich basketball history, and with three potential final four teams in the Big Ten, there are no easy games for the Hoosiers once the conference season hits.