Indiana Hoosiers Basketball: Cody Zeller and the Top 5 Players for IU Next Year

Tim LewisContributor IJuly 3, 2011

Indiana Hoosiers Basketball: Cody Zeller and the Top 5 Players for IU Next Year

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    Faced with a seemingly impossible task three years ago, Tom Crean is on the verge of returning Indiana basketball back to its rightful place in college basketball.

    After inheriting the mess Kelvin Sampson left behind in 2008, Crean has worked tirelessly around the clock with one goal in mind—hanging a sixth banner from the rafters of Assembly Hall.

    Despite going 28-66 during his first three seasons in Bloomington, including 8-46 in Big Ten play, Crean landed the one recruit he desperately needed in order to send a signal to the rest of the country that IU basketball was back.

    Indiana's Mr. Basketball, Cody Zeller, is ranked as the No. 15 player overall in the class of 2011, and the No. 5 power forward according to Rivals.com.

    At 6'11", 215 lbs., Zeller is the highest ranked recruit to come to Bloomington since Eric Gordon in 2008. He's also the younger brother of Tyler Zeller—a projected first round NBA Draft pick in 2012 according to nbadraft.net.

    Zeller will immediately step in as the Hoosiers best rebounder and potentially leading scorer as a freshman in 2011-12.  

    Let's take a look at the top five players for Tom Crean's Indiana Hoosiers next year. 

5. Victor Oladipo, Sophomore, Guard

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    Victor Oladipo (6'5", 210 lbs) exploded onto the scene as a freshman in 2010-11, displaying a type of world-class athleticism never before seen in Bloomington.

    Oladipo's highlight-reel dunks frequented SportsCenter last year as he established his reputation as one of the best dunkers in all of college basketball.

    The key for Oladipo in 2011-12 will be improving his all around game, particularly his ball handling and passing skills as the Hoosiers are without a true point guard next season.

    Oladipo averaged 7.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per game last year, including a five-game stretch where he averaged 14 points and five rebounds per game at the beginning of conference play.

    Oladipo and his teammate Jordan Hulls both greatly benefited during the offseason from their experience playing for the Reach USA team. The two were amongst a group of college basketball players who played nine games in China against various international teams.

    Oladipo primarily worked on getting better defensively—the key to seeing more playing time under head coach Tom Crean.

4. Jordan Hulls, Junior, Guard

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    Jordan Hulls (6'0", 175 lbs) was by far and away the most efficient player for the Hoosiers last season while playing a team-high 31.2 minutes per game.

    Hulls ranked third on the team in scoring (11 points per game) and led the team in free throw percentage (.912) and three-point percentage (.414).

    The Hoosiers lack of a true point guard has forced Hulls into the starting point guard role, despite the fact that he is much better suited as a three-point specialist on the wing.

    Hulls really stepped up his scoring at the end of last season, scoring a career-high 24 points against Iowa on 10-17 shooting from the field.

3. Maurice Creek, Junior, Guard

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    Maurice Creek (6'5", 200 lbs) looked ready for the NBA as a freshman two seasons ago.  

    After scoring 31 points against Kentucky and following that up with 29 points in his next game, he led all freshman with a 18.5 points per game average 10 games into the 2009-10 season.

    Unfortunately, he was a shell of his former self in 2010-11 as a result of two season ending knee injuries the past two years that have robbed him of his once elite athletic ability.

    If Maurice Creek is ever 100 percent healthy again in an IU uniform, he has the potential to be the best player on the floor at all times.  

    On the flip side, we may never again see the player we saw in 2009—one who scored 60 points in two games as a freshman. 

2. Christian Watford, Junior, Forward

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    Christian Watford (6'8", 230 lbs) was the Hoosiers leading scorer and rebounder last season, averaging 16 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.  

    He also shot .381 from three-point land and .843 from the free throw line as he continued to improve his all-around game.

    Watford has all the potential in the world and despite a solid season as a sophomore, IU fans are expecting more from the multi-talented forward in 2011-12.

    He scored a career high 30 points against Iowa last season and just as he appeared to really be taking his game to the next level, he broke his left hand and was never really the same player for the rest of the year.

    Watford has the potential to play at the next level, and many are anticipating a breakout year for the junior to be in 2011-12.

1. Cody Zeller, Freshman, Forward/Center

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    Cody Zeller (6'11", 215 lbs) is one of the most heralded freshman in the history of Indiana basketball. Zeller will immediately step in as the starting center and could very well be the Hoosiers No. 1 option on offense.  

    Zeller will greatly benefit from a year of college basketball experience before the Hoosiers top ranked recruiting class (according to Rivals.com) joins the party in 2012-13.

    Assuming Zeller is as good as anticipated, the Hoosiers will fight for a NCAA berth next season before reclaiming their spot amongst the college basketball elite in 2012-2013.