We are about two months away from the start of the basketball season and everyone is still undefeated and has dreams of being the last team standing in Indianapolis come early April. All fan bases are looking for reasons to be optimistic, so let's look at five reasons why Hoosier Nation should be looking forward to the upcoming season.
1. Offseason of Improvement - Indiana has had another offseason to improve their skills. The Hoosiers were young last year and they will be young again this year - but the core of last year's team has had a few months to work on skills needed to become a successful basketball program. If the Canadian trip was a preview of the upcoming season, Troy Williams has made Victor Oladipo like strides in the summer and could prove to be NBA ready by the end of the season. If that happens, Hoosier fans could be in for quite the ride this year. Devin Davis and Stanford Robinson also looked bigger, stronger, and better as compared to their freshman years. The importance of the trip to Canada also cannot be overstated given how young this team is. It was a chance to learn to play together a few months ahead of schedule against decent competition. While it was very disappointing not to get Hanner Perea involved, it was a very successful trip overall.
2. Star Studded Freshman - The Hoosiers have brought in two highly touted freshman guards who can flat out shoot the ball in James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson. Blackmon is going to start right away and play a lot of minutes this upcoming season after choosing the Hoosiers over Kentucky in a huge recruiting win by Coach Crean. Many believe Blackmon is a shoe in for Freshman of the Year in the conference and could be the difference in getting Indiana back into March Madness. Johnson is likely going to be the first or second player off the bench this season and also has a sweet shooting touch which was desperately needed by Indiana a year ago. Johnson also brings a very high basketball IQ and mental toughness to Indiana which seemed to be lacking at times last season.
3. Improved Shooting - Besides turning the ball over, there was one other very obvious item that kept the Hoosiers out of the NCAA Tournament a year ago - shooting. Coach Crean has done everything he possibly could to ensure shooting is not an issue on this year's squad. He brought in Blackmon and Johnson as mentioned above which probably would have been enough to solve the issues alone, but didn't stop there. In early July, Nick Zeisloft announced he was transferring to Indiana from Illinois State which didn't get a great reaction from Hoosier Nation immediately. However, after the Canadian Trip where he shot 55% from a further back three point line - Hoosier fans now understand why Zeisloft was brought in. When Kevin Yogi Ferrell is added in, this quartet of shooters will likely be as potent as they come in the B1G Conference.
4. Unconventional Lineup - Indiana fans are well aware they will lack a true difference maker down low this season as it has been discussed on every message board, at every office water cooler, and by every media outlet known to man this offseason. However, I believe this could play to Indiana's advantage for most of the season. Look at what Villanova has done in the past with what was essentially a 5 guard lineup. Yes, there will be major concerns on the defensive end when the Hoosiers go up against a solid big man - but that doesn't happen as often in today's game. The Hoosiers will be able to get out and run with anyone and will be running circles around the opposing team's big man on the offensive end. It presents a lot of matchup problems that Coach Crean might be able to exploit. His teams like to run and have never been as attached to the defensive end anyway - so I am not sure there will be a tremendous drop off there. Are the Hoosiers going to come out and win a National Title without a true big man? No, they are not - but I don't think many fans are looking for a title this season. They are simply looking for a team that is once again fun to watch and one that is capable of making noise come March.
5. Low Expectations - This may seem counter intuitive to be a reason for optimism given the proud history of Indiana Hoosier basketball, but I really believe Coach Crean does his best work when expectations are low. A few pre-season rankings have come out so far and they haven't been tremendously favorable to the Hoosiers. One even ranked the Hoosiers #10 in the conference which would be flat out embarrassing. Coach Crean has always seemed to have the mentality of a caged animal, and I think this season could rival the 2011-2012 season in which Indiana basketball rose from the ashes. Expectations were down that year as well after a number of poor years at the beginning of Crean's tenure, but an improved Victor Oladipo and a freshman star in Cody Zeller led the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16 where they lost to Kentucky in what was arguably the most exciting game of the tournament that year. Many are starting to wonder whether this season is Coach Crean's last stand, and I think he is going to use that to fuel his team and finish much higher in the conference than many expect.