It's been 225 days since the Indiana Hoosiers took the court for an official game (not counting the Canadian trip this summer) and the team looks incredibly different. Eleven players, including walk-ons, are no longer with the program and nine new faces will be wearing the legendary candy stripes when the team comes out for the first time this season on November 6th against Northwood. So when the team comes to the floor for Hoosier Hysteria this weekend, you can't blame the fans if they accidently chant the wrong name from time to time. It is going to take a while to figure out who is even on this team.
Hoosier Hysteria is just that - Hysteria. The event starts at 6pm tomorrow, but the parking lots will fill and tailgating will begin early in the morning. Fans will likely also start to line up early in the morning and by 3 or 4pm - the line will be as long as the eye can see. Basketball has returned to Indiana which means a New Year for many in the state. Although many "experts" predict a very down season for Indiana, don't tell that to people in this state. No one wants to believe that yet. There is hope that Hanner Mosquera-Perea will be the big man he was recruited to be. There is hope that Troy Williams will take the Victor Oladipo like jump this season and put himself in prime position as one of the best players in the conference. There is hope that James Blackmon Jr. will be the next great Hoosier shooter. And until the season gets going in full force - that optimism will continue to reign here.
The event tomorrow is a celebration of all things Indiana and there are sure to be some surprises that send chills down fans backs like there are every year. Even with all of this optimism though, there are several questions that Indiana fans will be looking to answer tomorrow night. These are, in fact, the most knowledgeable basketball fans in the country and they have a lot of questions about their current roster. Let's take a look at some of the things to watch for tomorrow night:
1. Did Hanner Mosquera-Perea improve this offseason as much as advertised?
Fans were unable to watch Perea in Canada due to a visa issue, so this will be the first opportunity to see the "new Hanner" in action. The junior has had a very disappointing career so far which I laid out here yesterday, but word out of Bloomington has been he has really improved and put in the work necessary to be a contributor to this Hoosier team. We will likely see him in the dunk contest tomorrow night, but most fans will be waiting to watch him in the scrimmage that follows. How will his post moves look? Does he have a better handle on the ball? Is he able to defend with the fierceness expected of him? Will he be able to rebound the ball consistently? We won't be able to take away answers to all these questions tomorrow, but it will represent a start.
2. How good are James Blackmon Jr. & Robert Johnson?
Blackmon Jr. has been one of the most hyped recruits of the last decade. He hasn't quite reached the level of Cody Zeller, but he isn't that far off either. The main reason fans are going to pack The Assembly Hall tomorrow night is to get their first glimpse of the guy that decided to stay in his home state over playing at hated rival Kentucky. Both Blackmon and Johnson are viewed as top shooters in the 2014 class and many people actually have them as the top two shooters in the class. Will these two players come in and improve the dismal Hoosier shooting from a year ago? How will they hold up to being under the tremendous pressure of being an Indiana basketball player? Will they be able to take care of the basketball on a consistent basis which would also be a great improvement from last season? It will be interesting to watch these two players in both the three point competition and the scrimmage at the end of the night.
3. Have Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson made a significant jump this offseason?
Williams and Robinson looked very good in Canada. Robinson actually tied Blackmon for most points per minute at .71. Indiana desperately needs these two to take better control of the basketball and show an improved mid-range jumper this season. Everyone knows they are as athletic as anyone and can slash and finish at the basket, but can they lower the turnovers and make smarter decisions with the basketball? Defense is also going to be a key to watch. Williams is likely going to be defending much larger players most of the season as he plays the #4 or even #5 spot at times. Will he be able to hold up over the course of the season doing that? I'm not sure Hoosier fans will be able to even begin judging that tomorrow night given the lack of size on the Indiana team. One thing they will get to see for the first time is Troy Williams in the dunk contest which could be absolutely spectacular. He had to sit out last year with an injury which dampened the mood of the entire event.
4. What recruits will have their name chanted this year?
In what has become a Hoosier Hysteria tradition, fans will chant the names of the biggest recruits in attendance. Most fan bases likely wouldn't even realize who is attending an event like this. You better believe most Hoosier fans know the majority of the recruits that are showing up and know the impact they can have by showing attention. Both commitments for the 2015 class - Juwan Morgan & O.G. Anunoby will be in attendance. In addition, highly sought 6'10" Thomas Bryant will be coming back to Bloomington for the second straight weekend in order to attend the event which is huge news for a team needing a big man. Several highly touted 2016 recruits such as Miles Bridges, Eron Gordon, Rawle Alkins, and Curtis Jones are also scheduled to be in attendance. The majority of the visitors, though, will actually be local Indiana sophomores such as Paul Scruggs, Zach Gunn, Kris Wilkes, and Malik Williams. It's always a big night for recruiting at Indiana. Not many other places in the country are you able to pack in 17,000 for this type of event. Recruits get to see how fanatical Indiana fans are and many of them leave in awe. While I don't expect anyone to commit right after the event - you can never count that out in this type of situation.
Hoosier Nation has been waiting to move on from last season's forgettable performance for a long time. Now they get a new beginning. Here's to hoping it goes well and no major injuries occur in the excitement. Happy New Year Hoosier Nation. You deserve it.