It Took A While, but Indiana is Back. Get Used to It
Indiana just completed a dream season: 27-9 and a trip to the Sweet 16. Exceeding expectations of a .500 season and a trip to the NIT, the team was a joy to watch from start to finish. It’s never too early to look ahead to next year, especially given that the team will be talented enough to compete for a Big Ten and NCAA championship.
The challenge heading into next year is dealing with this brand new set of expectations. With a highly ranked recruiting class coming in, it was always thought that the 2012-13 season would see the return of IU to prominence. IU will have their best two players, Cody Zeller and Christian Watford, coming back to lead the team, and with the excellent recruiting class ready to bolster an already great team, most of the pundits have pegged IU as the number 1 team in the nation next year. In fact, the title of this post is taken from the article I just linked.
During the off season, IU will have to deal with one major issue, being one player over the scholarship limit. There are three ways to deal with this. I’ll analyze each option and its odds below:
I. A player pays his own way (.001%)
A message board favorite is that miraculously one player will decide to pay his own way. The two players most often named are Jordan Hulls and Cody Zeller. While this is a great clean solution, it will never happen. Although I’m sure this has happened sometime, I personally can’t think of a situation where a kid has actually decided to pay his own way. Kids who are capable of starting on the best team in the country aren’t going to pay their own way.
II. One of the incoming freshmen goes to prep school (9.999%)
This is another popular message board solution as it also cleanly fixes the scholarship problem without requiring anyone to transfer. The two players most often mentioned are Peter Jurkin and Ron Patterson. While this solution has been used in the past, it seems unlikely in this case. The rumor mill has said that neither of these players seem all that interested in prep school, and for this reason I don’t see this happening.
III. A player transfers (90%)
This is clearly the least desirable option, but it also seems the most likely. It is not uncommon in college basketball for kids to transfer, and on a team as talented as IU’s will be next year, someone will most likely see the writing on the wall and decide to go to a school where he can play major minutes. Obviously, it’s better if the player comes to this realization himself and not due to pressure from the coach. Based purely on conjecture and by analyzing the roster for next year, the two returning players that would appear to be in line for the least amount of minutes are Austin Etherington and Remy Abell. An issue, however, is that Austin is a good friend of Cody Zeller and apparently is a big reason Zeller committed. Abell really came on late last year and provided good minutes, but with the log jam at point guard, he might actually play less time this coming year.
While it will be sad to see a player go, it’s an unfortunate reality in college basketball. Hopefully it will be handled without incident, as the last thing the team needs is a controversy or distraction entering next season.
On a much more uplifting note, it’s always fun to take a look at the rotations for the next year. I’d love to see two lineups that could substitute wholesale for one another. The team is talented and deep enough to pull it off. Regardless, I expect next year’s team to run. A lot. I’m also hoping that the team concentrates on defense next year, as that was their main weakness last year. Below is my guess for the starting lineup by the time the Big Ten season rolls around. My guess for the second unit is below it, with the 11-13 guys coming off the bench. Obviously this will change based on how the scholarship situation is resolved.
This group of starters is incredibly talented and athletic. The one change from last year’s starters is Yogi Ferrell in place of Jordan Hulls. I truly believe that by the time the Big Ten Season rolls around, Yogi will be starting, as he is a true point guard. His defense has also been praised in scouting reports, and this will be IU’s best defensive five.
I believe that if this was IU’s starting five next year, they’d still be looking at a tournament berth. That alone speaks to the depth of the team. Creek’s ability to come back from injury is obviously a huge question mark, and the two freshmen are highly touted but unproven. This unit’s glaring weakness is a lack of scoring ability inside. If I had to list IU’s biggest weakness next year it would be inside depth, especially size with the ability to score. Perea is incredibly athletic but lacks a polished offensive game and Elston lacks the size to play the center position.
The most significant thing I can say about the last 3/4 guys off the bench is that they all have a lot of potential and would all play on Big Ten teams. That couldn’t have been said of IU teams in the past few years.
As a big IU fan, I’m looking forward to next year’s team A LOT. Managing expectations of the players on the team and the fans will be the biggest issue. However, when the team is as talented as it is, this is a good problem to have.