The ‘2015-16 BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2015-16 season with analysis on each program's previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team's starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local "insider" who covers each team.
The Indiana Hoosiers have seen a mixed bag of success over the last few seasons. Over the last three years, the team has been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, missed the NCAA Tournament altogether, and made the NCAA Tournament after some sweating on Selection Sunday. Fans have seen all ends of the spectrum and are now hoping that the upcoming season is closer to the higher end of that spectrum than the lower end.
This is also a particularly important season for head coach Tom Crean. Although his 121-111 (.521) career record with the Hoosiers isn't terrible, the underwhelming results on the court have led to some fanbase grumblings. In fact, Indiana has made the NCAA Tournament just three times during Crean's seven year tenure, has never advanced past the Sweet 16, and has finished the season unranked five times.
For many schools, that would be acceptable, but at Indiana, the bar is always set just a little higher.
The good news is that Crean should have plenty to work with this season. Indiana could have the nation's best backcourt thanks to players like James Blackmon, Robert Johnson, and Yogi Ferrell and should have plenty of talent on the roster as well. In fact, the wing group features a potential NBA first round Draft pick in Troy Williams and the frontcourt should have a McDonald's All-American in Thomas Bryant.
Nonetheless, there will be challenges this season. The Hoosiers were a dreadful defensive team last season and the frontcourt was underwhelming. The hope is that an elite offensive performance and the addition of several big men will reduce these issues, but if Indiana is going to live up to its lofty preseason expectations, becoming closer to average in these areas will be essential.
Overall, this is an Indiana that has plenty of raw talent and perhaps the best three player combination in the conference. However, it's also a roster with plenty of questions upfront and on the defensive end of the floor. This looks like an Indiana team that can compete nationally, but there will be some major challenges to get there.
With that, let's take a look at the Hoosiers.
BTPowerhouse Season Preview Podcast
Along with reading BTPowerhouse's season preview post for the Indiana Hoosiers, make sure to check out the site's podcast preview of the Hoosiers featuring BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit and Alex McCarthy of 247Sports breaking down Indiana's roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.
1. 2014-15 Season Performance
- Record: 20-14 (9-9)
- KenPom Team Rating: #53
- RPI Rating: #61
- Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament
Last season was an improved one, but largely an unsatisfying one for much of Indiana's fanbase. Despite the Hoosiers starting with largely underwhelming preseason expectations, the team got off to an impressive 15-4 start. Unfortunately, the team would fade down the stretch and finish at just 20-14 overall. The Hoosiers did make the NCAA Tournament, but had to deal with some pressure on Selection Sunday. The Hoosiers were eventually knocked out of the postseason by Wichita State in the Round of 64.
The unfortunate thing about Indiana's season was that, on paper, it was progress for the program. After all, Indiana improved its win total from the year prior and qualified for the NCAA Tournament after missing it in 2014. However, the rough finish to the season took the majority of the wind out of the team's sails. Maybe it's unfair, but finishing 4-10 during the team's final 14 games with the best win coming against Minnesota at home is going to leave a mark.
In my 2014-15 Big Ten Recapitulation Series, this is what I wrote about Indiana:
The storyline of Indiana's 2014-15 was one of a program getting back on track. Indiana was solid team this season and was on the borderline of truly being a good team, but never quite put it all together. The team's reward of getting back to the NCAA Tournament was more like a Diet Coke than a Coke. The drink was there, but when fans took a sip out of the glass, it tasted more empty than they had originally hoped
. . .
Indiana's performance during the 2014-15 season largely depends upon the evaluator's perspective. For instance, most Hoosier fans will hold the team's performance accountable based on the program's history and its recruiting fortitude, but for an outsider, an NCAA Tournament appearance is still remarkable given the team's severe youth and inexperience, especially upfront.
The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. Indiana had a lot of talent on its roster and fans were able to see a lot of it early in the season when the Hoosiers jumped out to its 15-4 start. However, the team still had plenty of weak spots and many were exposed as it ended the season going 5-10. This roster was probably better than a #10 seed and if the team simply had been able to close the deal during some late season games, its NCAA Tournament bid would have reflected that talent more accurately.
Indiana was not a great team in 2014-15, but its appearance in the NCAA Tournament deserves at least some credit, especially given the team's youth and performance in 2013-14. It was a season of progress for the program even despite its collapse down the stretch and its .500 record in Big Ten play. Indiana should avoid the lowest of grades, but it's rough finish over the last few months of the season prevents too high of a grade for its 2014-15 season.
The Diet Coke analogy still holds up well for Indiana. On paper, this was a successful year given the circumstances, but for fans that followed the season from start to finish, it didn't feel like a season that many would want to celebrate when it concluded. The Hoosiers had bad losses, were unable to close out big games down the stretch, and had a rough performance in the postseason. It was a successful season, but still a frustrating year.
Highlights of the season included wins over Butler, Pittsburgh, and SMU in non-conference play and wins over Maryland and Ohio State in Big Ten play. Low points of the season included a home loss to Eastern Washington in non-conference play, a loss to Northwestern in conference play, and two losses to arch-rival Purdue.
Individual statistical leaders were James Blackmon, Yogi Ferrell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, and Troy Williams. Blackmon led the team in usage. Ferrell led the team in minutes, points, assists, and total win shares. Mosquera-Perea led the team in blocks. Williams led the team in rebounds and steals.
2. Offseason Exits
Since the start of last season, Indiana lost a total of six players for various reasons. These players were Jeremiah April, Devin Davis, Max Hoetzel, Emmitt Holt, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, and Stanford Robinson. All six players opted to transfer from the team, but Davis, Holt, and Mosquera-Perea only opted to transfer after being dismissed.
For this season, the most significant departures for the Hoosiers will likely be Holt and Mosquera-Perea. Both played significantly last season and both were major options for the team in the frontcourt. Undeniably, the weakest spot in Indiana's lineup last year was the team's frontcourt and considering that Mosquera-Perea was the team's best shot blocker and that Holt still had plenty of upside, losing these two will be a big hit.
Along with taking a big hit to the team's returning frontcourt depth, these departures also include a bench player that got a decent amount of minutes in Robinson. He averaged 11.4 minutes per game last season and played at multiple positions in the lineup. He was not a great player or even one of the team's most frequently used bench options, but Robinson was a diverse player that filled in pretty well off the bench.
None of the other three departures look too significant on paper. Hoetzel played the most of the group and averaged just 7.7 minutes per game. Additionally, April played a total of 17 minutes all season and Davis didn't play at all due to a significant off-court injury. As such, none of these three losses will raise my red flags on the court.
Though the Hoosiers are losing a relatively large group of players, few of them were actually significant contributors last season. However, considering that Holt and Mosquera-Perea were two of Indiana's biggest contributors at its weakest positional group, those are significant losses. As such, finding some answers upfront will be essential.
3. New Additions
This season, the Hoosiers are adding three new recruits, two transfers, and two walk-ons. These recruits are OG Anunoby, Thomas Bryant, and Juwan Morgan. Bryant is rated as a five-star prospect, Morgan is rated as a four-star prospect, and Anunoby is rated as a three-star prospect according to 247Sports. Anunoby is listed as a small forward and both Bryant and Morgan are listed as power forwards.
Bryant is easily the recruit receiving the most attention for the Hoosiers this offseason. He is considered to be one of the best prospects in the country and comes in at a position of need. Though there are still questions about how much Bryant can do in his first year with the program, he is absolutely going to get a lot of playing time this season and looks to be in major consideration for a starting role.
Though Anunoby and Morgan will have more of a competition on their hands if they are going to crack the rotation this season, both players have plenty of talent and should be factors down the road. Additionally, Morgan's raw skillset could make him a bench factor upfront, which is a spot where the Hoosiers need depth.
Along with the recruiting additions, Indiana will be adding two transfers in Max Bielfeldt from Michigan and Josh Newkirk from Pittsburgh. Although Newkirk will have to sit out the upcoming season due to NCAA transfer rules, Bielfeldt will be eligible to play this season as a graduate transfer.
Similar to several other offseason additions for the Hoosiers this year, Bielfeldt is set to add depth and talent to the team's frontcourt. Though Bielfeldt was not an outstanding player during his time with Michigan, he was a consistent option for the Wolverines and was a quality rebounder. If he can provide experience and a solid depth option for the team, it could be a huge boost for a roster without much proven frontcourt depth.
Finally, Indiana will be adding two walk-ons in Harrison Niego and Quentin Taylor. Neither is expected to make a significant impact this season. Both will likely redshirt the coming year, but are guards that should provide depth next season when players like Yogi Ferrell depart from Bloomington.
Overall, the Hoosiers are adding a talented group of newcomers that should not only make an impact over the upcoming season, but should also make a significant impact long-term. The team completely reshaped its frontcourt with these additions and also provided depth on the wing and in the backcourt.
4. Team Strengths
For the most part, this year's Indiana team is going to look relatively similar to last year's team. With virtually all of the team's top contributors returning, that's not surprising. As such, Indiana's strengths will lie on the offensive end of the court and particularly, with the team's perimeter shooting.
Though Indiana was far from a perfect team last season, it was a very good offensive team. In fact, the Hoosiers came in at No. 9 in offensive efficiency, No. 20 in effective field goal percentage, and were third in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency during conference play. It truly was an elite offensive team for the duration of last season.
As seen above, Indiana's offensive numbers improved in just about every significant category last year. The Hoosiers scored more, shot better, and turned the ball over less. This isn't surprising given the emergence of players like James Blackmon and Troy Williams, but the improvement was pretty remarkable. All told, the offense was easily the reason that the Hoosiers were good enough to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, much of that improvement came from the team's perimeter shooting. The Hoosiers came in at No. 6 nationally in three point percentage and No. 22 nationally in percentage of points off three point field goals. Indiana certainly attempted a lot of shots from long range, but the team was exceptional at converting.
Undoubtedly, it was a team effort that allowed Indiana to see this type of improvement. Nonetheless, key contributions from James Blackmon, Yogi Ferrell, Collin Hartman, and Nick Zeisloft were huge in this area. Now, with all four of these players returning this season, it's hard not to think Indiana remains as one of the nation's best shooting teams.
Along with Indiana's elite shooting, the Hoosiers should also remain as one of the conference's better teams at avoiding turnovers. Last season, Indiana ranked No. 60 nationally in turnover rate and with the return of the team's top backcourt players, the team's performance should put up similar numbers.
Overall, the Hoosiers should have one of the nation's best offensive teams. Particularly, the team's elite three point shooting and ability for the team's top contributors to hold onto the ball should allow Indiana to be so good offensively. The biggest question will likely be just how good this offense can become this season.
5. Team Weaknesses
Like Indiana's strengths, this is also an area where the Hoosiers will look pretty similar to last year's team. With so many key pieces returning, most of the weaknesses of last season will likely carry over into this season. These weaknesses will largely fall on the defensive side of the ball and particularly, in the team's interior defense.
Indiana was not exactly an elite defense last season. Overall, the Hoosiers finished at No. 214 in defensive efficiency and came in at thirteenth in the Big Ten during conference play. Simply put, the Hoosiers had one of the weakest defenses in the Big Ten and the country. It was also a massive regression from the season prior.
The stats largely tell the story by themselves. Indiana allowed more points, allowed opponents to be more efficient offensively, allowed opponents to shoot better, and forced fewer turnovers. Across the board, the defense regressed pretty significantly, Considering that Indiana wasn't an elite defense in 2013-14, that's a big statement.
Of course, the area where Indiana struggled the most was in its interior defense and its ability to protect the rim. The Hoosiers came in at No. 283 nationally in defensive two point percentage and No. 251 nationally in block rate. Last year's Indiana team simply didn't protect the paint well. Perhaps the biggest issue was in how the team protected the rim, where the Hoosiers didn't have a great shot blocker.
With so many frontcourt additions, one would think that this is an area that should improve for the Hoosiers. However, you're talking about adding a true freshman in Thomas Bryant and Max Bielfeldt, who wasn't exactly an elite shot blocker during his time in Ann Arbor. Things should improve, but the question will be by how much.
Ultimately, the tale to Indiana's upcoming season will be about how much the team can improve its defense. With added experience and the addition of a few newcomers, there is reason to be optimistic. Still, Indiana's defense probably won't be great and a lot will depend on the frontcourt's ability to protect the paint.
6. Top Player
Heading into last season, there wasn't much debate about Indiana's best player. Most was pretty unanimous that Yogi Ferrell's skillset made him the top player for the Hoosiers and a potential All-Big Ten player. Ultimately, those claims proved true as Ferrell has a brilliant year. Now, with Ferrell's return to Bloomington, he is expected by most to once again be the best player on Indiana's roster. He came in at #6 in the BTPowerhouse preseason Big Ten player rankings heading into this season.
Indiana was a solid team last season and had plenty of quality players, but there isn't much arguing that Ferrell was the team's biggest contributor. He was a dynamic offensive player that could shoot, score inside, and was a pretty efficient passer. Now, entering his senior year, it's hard to see Ferrell regressing much, if at all.
Of course, there is a lot of talent on the roster and some other players could also make a run at being the team's best player this season. To start, James Blackmon and Troy Williams are both getting NBA chatter and were massive contributors last season. Additionally, Thomas Bryant was an elite prospect that should fill a position of need immediately. Any of these three could have a season that could pass Ferrell.
Nonetheless, even with some potential NBA guys playing around Ferrell, he has to be considered the frontrunner coming into this season. He is easily the team's most proven player and was already playing at an extremely high level. Of course, if one of the other Hoosiers is able to pass Ferrell, it would certainly be a great sign for Indiana's team goals. Still, expect Ferrell to get the nod here.
7. 2015-16 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/3 - Ottawa (Exhibition)
- 11/9 - Bellarmine (Exhibition)
- 11/13 - Eastern Illinois
- 11/16 - Austin Peay
- 11/19 - Creighton
- 11/23 - Wake Forest (Maui, Hi.)
- 11/24 - St. John's/Vanderbilt (Maui, Hi.)
- 11/25 - Chaminade/Kansas/UCLA/UNLV (Maui, Hi.)
- 11/20 - Alcorn State
- 12/2 - at Duke
- 12/5 - Morehead State
- 12/9 - IPFW
- 12/12 - McNeese State
- 12/19 - Notre Dame (Indianapolis, In.)
- 12/22 - Kneesaw State
- 12/20 - at Rutgers
- 1/2 - at Nebraska
- 1/5 - Wisconsin
- 1/10 - Ohio State
- 1/16 - at Minnesota
- 1/19 - Illinois
- 1/23 - Northwestern
- 1/26 - at Wisconsin
- 1/20 - Minnesota
- 2/2 - at Michigan
- 2/6 - at Penn State
- 2/11 - Iowa
- 2/14 - at Michigan State
- 2/17 - Nebraska
- 2/20 - Purdue
- 2/25 - at Illinois
- 3/1 - at Iowa
- 3/(5/6) - Maryland
Indiana has set itself up for a pretty challenging, but relatively unbalanced non-conference schedule. Though the Hoosiers will face a handful of teams in the national picture, the team is also facing a few teams that are considered to be national bottom-feeders. As such, the pressure is going to be on Indiana to perform in its marquee games.
The significant games on this non-conference schedule include the road game at Duke, the neutral site game against Notre Dame, the Maui Invitational, and the home games against Creighton and Wake Forest. When all is said and done, the Hoosiers could very well play four teams in top 25 contention and two national title contenders. In short, Indiana is going to have its work cut out.
To start, a road game at Duke could be the most difficult non-conference game in the entire Big Ten this year. It's the defending national champions in a place where the Blue Devils almost never lose. Along with that, the Hoosiers could very well get some combination of Kansas, Vanderbilt, and Wake Forest in Maui. All are in the KenPom top 60 and the Jayhawks are considered to be a top five team. Finally, facing Notre Dame on a neutral court and home games against Creighton and Wake Forest will be far from givens.
Reasonably speaking, Indiana is probably looking at two to four non-conference losses. The Hoosiers should be a really good team, but going on the road to Duke is practically a guaranteed loss and with games against Kansas and Notre Dame, it's going to be tough to avoid dropping at least one more game. With that said, look for Indiana to likely sit at two non-conference losses heading into Big Ten play.
Of course, conference play for Indiana will be extremely difficult. In total, Indiana will play 15 of its 18 conference games against top 100 KenPom teams and six games against top 25 KenPom teams. The Hoosiers did avoid a couple difficult games, but this is far from an easy slate.
Nonetheless, there are some places for Indiana to rack up some conference wins. To start, a double-play against Nebraska and games against Minnesota, Penn State, and Rutgers look manageable. Additionally, home games against Illinois, Northwestern, and Ohio State should likely be wins. With only those games, the Hoosiers have a pretty solid route to eight conference wins and wouldn't have to beat a single top Big Ten team. Finally, home games against Iowa, Maryland, Purdue, and Wisconsin are certainly winnable as well.
Again, it has to be recognized that this is a pretty tough slate. The home-road split for the Hoosiers could probably have broken better and as such, beating the bottom teams is going to be essential. With that in mind, look for Indiana to have a conference record somewhere between 10 and 14 conference wins.
Overall, Indiana is going to have a very challenging schedule this season. The Hoosiers are probably going to face a handful of top 10 teams this season and a plethora of teams in top 25 consideration. Indiana has the roster to have success against this schedule, but there aren't going to be many easy games this season.
8. Projected Startling Lineup
PG: Yogi Ferrell (Sr.) - 95%
SG: James Blackmon (So.) - 95%
SF: Troy Williams (Jr.) - 95%
PF: Max Bielfeldt (Rs. Sr.) - 60%
C: Thomas Bryant - (Fr.) - 80%
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
The backcourt for Indiana is absolutely loaded. In fact, it may not only be the best in the conference, but also one of the best in the entire country. At point guard, Yogi Ferrell should lock down the spot. He will likely be the team's best player this season and one of the best players in the Big Ten. He is a tremendous offensive player that can shoot, pass, and score inside. Behind him, expect Robert Johnson to man the backup minutes.
Alongside Ferrell, this is another position that will likely be pretty solidified. James Blackmon may not be on the same level as Ferrell, but he should be one of the best players in the conference. He is a fantastic offensive player and one of the better shooters in the conference. Like point guard, expect Robert Johnson to take the backup minutes.
On the wing lies another position that shouldn't have much drama. Like Blackmon and Ferrell, Troy Williams is one of the best players in the conference and should get the starting role. His athleticism, length, and ability to destroy opponents in transition should make him a dynamic player in the lineup. Behind Williams, expect Collin Hartman and Nick Zeisloft to man the backup minutes.
Power forward is where things get interesting. Michigan transfer Max Bielfeldt looks to be the frontrunner for the starting role, but this is something that could move going forward. If Bielfeldt doesn't get out to a fast start, perhaps incoming freshman Juwan Morgan can get some serious minutes or Indiana would shift Williams back down to power forward and insert Robert Johnson back into the lineup. This is perhaps the most interesting spot to watch.
Finally, at center, this spot should be locked down by incoming freshman Thomas Bryant. For better or worse, Bryant is pretty easily the team's best option at center and gives it Indiana the best chance at success this year. If he struggles, Bielfeldt could move here as well, but expect Bryant to get the primary minutes. Bryant appears ready to contribute, but the Hoosiers desperately need him to be an impact player early in his career.
The particularly interesting thing about this year's Indiana lineup is that the backcourt and wing groups are absolutely loaded. In fact, Indiana's top three players could be the best three-man group anywhere in the Big Ten. However, the frontcourt is a massive question mark. There seem to be solid options in Bielfeldt and Bryant, but if these players don't work out, it could derail a lineup that looks absolutely stacked otherwise.
Overall, Indiana looks like it will have a very good starting lineup. The frontcourt is going to be a major question all season, but there are proven options and plenty of talent. With three players who could reasonably get into All-Big Ten consideration and a center that could win Big Ten Freshman of the Year, there's a lot to like about the Hoosiers.
9. Team Perspective From Alex McCarthy of 247Sports
"Indiana enters the 2015-16 season with a chance to be the most successful team in Tom Crean's tenure if everything goes right. If point guard Yogi Ferrell and sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. are as dynamic a scoring duo as they were last year, if Troy Williams makes another jump in his development and if Thomas Bryant is as good a freshman center as advertised, Indiana could compete for a spot at the top of the Big Ten and a decent run in March.
The question marks for the Hoosiers are mainly on the defensive end, where Indiana struggled mightily last season. They have put an emphasis on that end of the court this offseason, and hope that the addition of Bryant can help change the landscape on defense. The Hoosiers hope that having the 6-foot-10 Bryant as a true rim protector will allow IU to play with a little more pressure on the perimeter without the fear of getting beat.
It's an important year for Crean, as this team is as talented as any team he's had at Indiana, and the IU fanbase is looking to win big and win soon. A tougher nonconference schedule this season that includes a trip to Duke and to the Maui Invitational could help toughen up the Hoosiers, and a fairly favorable conference schedule could set Indiana up with a good seed in the NCAA Tournament.
With the way these Hoosiers can score and the experience they return in Ferrell and Williams, combined with the young talent of Blackmon and Bryant, Indiana has a shot to advance past the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in Crean's tenure." - Alex McCarthy.
10. Overall Season Outlook
Indiana is entering what could be the most important season in quite some time for the Hoosiers and head coach Tom Crean. The fanbase is desperate for the program to get back to its elite status and this team finally looks like it has the talent to achieve those goals. However, with the way the roster is set up, this could be the best shot at elite success for at least the next few years.
This year's Indiana will start with the team's backcourt. It is one of the best and most talented groups in the country. With a potential Big Ten Player of the Year candidate in Yogi Ferrell and one of the conference's best players in James Blackmon, there is a lot to work with this season. Additionally, Troy Williams is set to be a force on the wing and Thomas Bryant could be a difference maker down low.
Unfortunately, this team is far from a guaranteed success. The Hoosiers collapsed down the stretch last season, were pretty bad on the defensive end, and had one of the more underwhelming frontcourts in the conference. Most expect these issues to improve with some offseason additions, but until Indiana can show it can produce inside, many will be skeptical. Particularly, improving the team's interior defense will be crucial.
Nonetheless, with the elite talent in the backcourt and some quality options on the wing and upfront, this looks like an Indiana set to improve and be in contention at the top of the Big Ten. The depth and frontcourt issues will likely hold the Hoosiers back from being at the very top of the conference, but expect Indiana to absolutely be in the conference race for much of the season.