When Tom Thibodeau was fired by the Chicago Bulls after yet another disappointing playoff run, it had an interesting ripple effect on Max Bielfeldt's transfer decision. The 6'8" graduate transfer and Michigan's 2014-15 Sixth Man of the Year had narrowed his list of schools to which he might transfer to three: Iowa State, Indiana, and Nebraska.
Thibodeau's firing altered that list. One of the worst kept secrets in sports was the mutual interest between the Bulls and Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg's links to the team were plentiful: general manager Gar Forman was an assistant at Iowa State when Hoiberg played there, Hoiberg played for the Bulls from 1999-2003, and Forman even bought Hoiberg's former home in the north suburbs. Now that Hoiberg is leaving Iowa State to coach the Bulls, Iowa State is eliminated from Bielfeldt's list.
Bielfeldt had told the Indianapolis Star that he was going to wait to see what transpired with Hoiberg and the Bulls before he made his decision. "(Hoiberg) said he is going to look at (the Bulls), like he has done with his past NBA offers", Bielfeldt said.
Now that Bielfeldt's list is down to Indiana and Nebraska, let's take a look at the situations at each school that could be influencing Bielfeldt's decision.
The Hoosiers are bringing in five-star center Thomas Bryant, but still could use some depth in the frontcourt. Forwards Devin Davis and Hanner Mosquera-Perea were both dismissed from the program after Davis was cited for marijuana possession. Mosquera-Perea was with Davis at the time.
With the dismissal of Davis and Mosquera-Perea, and the transfers of forwards Max Hoetzel and Jeremiah April, the frontcourt rotation for Indiana is likely reduced to Bryant, Troy Williams, Holt, and possibly freshman Juwan Morgan. Adding Bielfeldt would provide much needed leadership and rebounding ability. The Hoosiers ranked 88th in rebounding last season, and Bielfeldt would help dramatically improve that mark. Per Sports-Reference, Bielfeldt is one of the Big Ten's all time leaders in both offensive rebound percentage and total rebound percentage, last season controlling 18.7 of available rebounds in conference play. His playing time was limited, but it does imply he could be a good piece off the bench.
The most appealing thing about the Hoosiers is the sheer talent on the roster. With Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., Williams, and Bryant, Indiana is poised to compete for the Big Ten title and make a deep tournament run.
Tim Miles can promise Bielfeldt more playing time than Tom Crean, that much is certain. After Walter Pitchford and Terran Petteway declared for the draft, the Huskers have no significant frontcourt returners except Shavon Shields. Even Shields doesn't count as a true frontcourt player, as he likes to spend a lot of time on the perimeter. Incoming freshman Ed Morrow Jr. will likely have the starting power forward position from Day 1, but Bielfeldt might be able to sneak into the starting lineup if Miles decides to go with a smaller look. Nebraska struggled with rebounding even more than Indiana last season, finishing 237th in the country--so the addition of Bielfeldt would be celebrated in Lincoln. Nebraska is in a period of transition, and is not expected to be a contender in the Big Ten. Bielfeldt's decision ultimately comes down to whether he values winning or playing time more.
Bielfeldt will not be playing in the NBA, so this is likely his last year of organized basketball. Therefore, playing for a winning team is likely at the forefront of his mind. Given that, Indiana appears to be the optimal landing spot, but how he compares playing time and the ability to win immediately will be crucial.