For the first time since 2002, the Indiana Hoosiers are the returning Big Ten champions. Indiana took a preseason #1 ranking and the leading preseason National Player of the Year candidate all the way to a Big Ten title, a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and the team's second consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance. The Hoosiers lost four of the team's starters and several players to transfers, but there is still a lot of talent returning and one of the nation's best recruiting campuses arriving on campus this fall. Can Indiana use these returns and newcomers to repeat on a very successful year and once again be one of the top team's in the Big Ten?
Any team that loses four starters during the offseason will have some questions coming into the year. The good news for the Hoosiers is that a big hunk of Indiana's lineup already appears defined. We've already looked at both the frontcourt and backcourt for the Hoosiers, so let's take a look at who will be the likely starters from the 1 to the 5:
Yogi Ferrell: The only returning starter for the Hoosiers. Ferrell was only a freshman last year, but he was still one of the most important players on the team. Ferrell averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists per game last season and played in all 36 games. He is perhaps the most known commodity on the roster, but he will need to create more for himself offensively this year to make up for the departure of Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls. Look for Ferrell to attempt to get to the paint much more often.
Evan Gordon: Gordon is a transfer from Arizona State. He averaged 10.1 points per game and is looking to make a splash early for the Hoosiers. Gordon will share minutes with Stanford Robinson and Troy Williams, but his experience and ability to defend outside will probably get him the nod here. If he can provide a scoring threat, he will be an important factor for the Hoosiers. The question for him will be whether he can provide enough of an offensive threat to get pressure off of Ferrell. Victor Oladipo averaged 13.6 points and Jordan Hulls averaged 9.7 points last year so Gordon will have some big shoes to fill.
Will Sheehey: The returning Sixth Man of the Year in the Big Ten. Sheehey did quite a bit for the Hoosiers off the bench last year, but will need to do it from the starting lineup this season. He is the leading returning scorer for Indiana and will need to improve offensively to make up for all the offseason departures. Look for Sheehey to make a tremendous impact defensively as he could easily turn into the team's "lock down" guy now that Victor Oladipo will be in the NBA.
Jeremy Hollowell: No player on Indiana's roster could be more important than Hollowell. Indiana's lack of depth upfront has been well documented and Crean will likely look to Hollowell to hold down the 4 spot as a result. He has received great reviews from camp and will need to convert on that to be another scoring threat for the Hoosiers. The key here will be Hollowell's performance on the defensive side since he is going to be forced to defend bigger players playing at the 4.
Noah Vonleh: Indiana's prize recruit from the 2013 recruiting class. Vonleh has received much attention from recruiting services and will need to produce almost immediately. In most cases, he would probably be a better fit at the 4, but due to Indiana's lack of depth upfront and his ability to defend and rebound the ball, look for Vonleh to play down low for Indiana. The question here will be if Vonleh can make enough of an impact when he is forced to go against the Big Ten's big men inside.
The biggest strength of the Indiana Hoosiers has to be their length and athleticism in the backcourt and on the wing. Indiana is probably going to be forced to play small, but dynamic players like Hollowell and Sheehey should be disruptive for many opponents with smaller wings, especially on the defensive side. Along with this, a returning point guard is an asset that is often overlooked. Ferrell can handle the ball and control the offense, which should help the team to get good looks despite having some questions in the starting lineup. Finally, the added depth in the backcourt should help the Hoosiers find that offensive production to help alleviate the losses of Oladipo and Hulls.
The clear weakness for this team is in the frontcourt. This is probably going to force many players to play out of position and for perhaps the team's best talent (Vonleh) to play out of his best position. Surely, Indiana will try to fix some of these problems by rotating players, but Vonleh is going to have to prove himself defensively very early if this lineup is going to be effective in the Big Ten season. This was detailed in an earlier post, but Vonleh almost has to be the answer down low. Along with this, the lack of a pure scorer could be a concern. Ferrell, Gordon, and Sheehey have proven they can put up solid numbers, but unless this team improves defensively (which seems unlikely considering they are probably going to be playing small and out of position), one of the guys on the starting lineup is going to have to put up better numbers considering that last year's top 4 scorers and 5 of the top 7 scorers are no longer on the roster.
Look for Jeremy Hollowell to have a breakout season. He didn't do too much last year, but his offseason improvement has received much praise from the staff and media. He fits a dire need for this roster and could be the guy that takes the team to the next level. In an earlier article, his potential to explode was addressed. The defensive side of the court is going to be a challenge, but his 6'8" size could soften some of these problems and his offensive skillset could make him a matchup nightmare for opponents. Laquinton Ross for Ohio State is receiving a ton of attention as a darkhorse candidate to explode this season, but Hollowell could easily fill the same role and has the potential to be even better. Achieving this is a different story, but everything is set before Hollowell to have a monster season for the Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers are probably not going to live up to the team's performance last season. Replacing four starters including two All-Big Ten players and two seniors is never an easy task. However, there are some really good returning pieces on this team, a transfer that could make an immediate impact, and probably the best incoming recruiting class in the Big Ten. Due to this, it's not crazy to think that Indiana could still challenge for the Big Ten title and make another run in the NCAA Tournament. There are more questions than answers for Indiana right now, but everything's there to do some serious damage.
Prediction: 4th in Big Ten, NCAA Tournament
2013-14 Indiana Preview:
the Indiana Frontcourt
the Indiana Backcourt
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