Last season, Indiana won its first Big Ten title in years. Much of this was built on the performances of players like Cody Zeller and Christian Watford. This year, both of these players (and several more) have left Bloomington. That leaves Crean and his staff looking for answers on how to fill these major roster voids. But how do you replace two of the conference's best big men in just one offseason? The answer is complicated, but many have speculated one recruit may provide just what the staff and fans are looking for this year.
Enter Noah Vonleh, the 5* stud out of New Hampshire. Vonleh is one of the most talented players in the 2013 recruiting class and the prize of Crean's stacked class that ranks 1st in the Big Ten for 2013. Vonleh is listed on Indiana's roster as a forward at 6'10" and 240 lbs. Many had slated him as more of a power forward due to his tremendous skills when the ball is in his hands, but due to Indiana's roster needs, many have wondered if he might help the team more if he's placed down low.
This leaves us with the question: can Noah Vonleh fill Indiana's void at center? And what may even be a more important question: can Vonleh fill Indiana's void at center effectively? The factual answer is something that we probably won't know until a good way through the 2013-2014 season, but let's take a stab at it.
Upfront, there are probably going to be four serious options at the 5 spot: Luke Fischer, Peter Jurkin, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, and of course, Noah Vonleh. To be frank, each of these players is an unknown commodity for the Hoosiers. Fischer and Vonleh are true freshmen, Jurkin has had health issues, and Mosquera-Perea's averaged 5.6 minutes and 0.9 points last season (not exactly spectacular). Essentially, there is plenty of room for any of these players to step up and take over Zeller's former spot.
So what about Vonleh? If all goes right, he's probably going to get a bunch of time at center. Not only are there few reliable options at this time, but he might just be a better option down low than many assume. First, take a look at Indiana's roster outside of the big men. It seems hard to believe that Crean is going to want to play "big" with the roster he has this season. Sure, guys like Jurkin and Fischer might be surprises this year, but Indiana also has Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey, Evan Gordon, Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, and Jeremy Hollowell (who is quickly becoming the darkhorse candidate to explode onto the scene). If Crean decides to play big, he's only going to be able to get 3 of these guys onto the floor at a time and put two of his big men on the floor instead. Plus, the depth upfront looks a lot shallower than in that backcourt. With a deeper bench and talent that appears to be more ready to play, it seems like a better option to play small. If Crean decides to play "small", he's going to have to put one big man on the floor for long segments.
There are a lot of ifs in this discussion so far, but Vonleh might just make this scenario possible. He has grown into his body at 6'10" and 240 lbs, which should allow him to compete with the big men in the Big Ten. Just look at Fischer, who many believe could be the team's center option. He's 6'11 and 230 lbs. This isn't much different from Vonleh. Not only does Vonleh have tremendous size, but he's also an excellent rebounder and has a pretty good low post game. If Indiana does go small, they are going to need guys that can rebound and Vonleh certainly has the raw skills to be that guy.
There are a lot of unknowns about this year's Hoosier team, but it will be interesting to see if Indiana can use their incoming talent to alleviate some of the team's offseason losses. Vonleh's skills are still unknown at the college level, but if he can produce the way that many expect and is able to man the center position, it could allow Indiana to get a lot of talent on the floor. If this happens, the Hoosiers could be a great team this season.