On Tuesday news broke that Indiana sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. will likely miss the remainder of the 2015-2016 following a second knee surgery in less than a year. Blackmon had missed the Hoosiers first two Big Ten games of the season due to the injury sustained to his right knee, (the surgery last summer was on his left knee) in practice last week. The Hoosiers will now have to find a way to fill in the 15.8 points, 4.2 rebounds per game gap left by Blackmon's absence.
What should fans expect for Indiana as the Hoosiers try to replace Blackmon's production?
First and foremost, Indiana will look to players such as Robert Johnson and Collin Hartman to step up and take on a larger role than they have had up to this point in the season. Replacing Blackmon certainly does not have to be a one-man effort. In addition, Nick Zeisloft and Max Bielfeldt can help lighten the blow of losing one of the top scoring guards in the Big Ten. Expect the four-guard lineups to all but disappear from Tom Crean's rotation, and the aforementioned players can help alleviate the added pressure that IU's thin frontcourt will now face through conference play.
While the Indiana Hoosiers are certainly better offensively with Blackmon on the floor, there is no denying that his defense is his glaring weakness. Indiana has been noticeably better in the past few weeks on the defensive end of the floor, though one could attribute that to the offensive ineptitude of IU's opponents. This has been true in the Hoosiers' opening conference games as well, though again, Rutgers and Nebraska aren't exactly the cream of the crop in the Big Ten.
At the risk of stating the obvious, a 20-year having surgeries on both of his knees is a bad thing. Blackmon for the most part seemed unaffected by the procedure performed on his left knee during non-conference play, but the wording of Tuesday's breaking news gives the sense that this new injury is more severe. Needless to say, Blackmon's NBA dreams will be put on hold for another year, so Indiana fans can find a silver lining in the fact that JBJ will likely be in a Hoosier uniform for at least the 2016-2017 season.
For Tom Crean, this may give him an alibi if the season goes to hell in a hand-basket in the wake of Blackmon's absence. The collection of Indiana fans that are fresh from dismounting off of their high horse with the Indianapolis Colts-Chuck Pagano situation and Andrew Luck's injury could always run to the aid of Crean and pose a similar argument, (I'm kidding of course, this is a joke, please don't yell at me in the comment section Hoosier Nation).
James Blackmon Jr.'s injury is certainly a blow to the Hoosiers, but not a knockout punch. Indiana will now, even more so, have to show its front-court depth as walk-ons Ryan Burton and Harrison Niego may even have an increase in minutes due to Blackmon's absence. The fact remains that Indiana has a soft as possible first two-thirds of its Big Ten slate, and there is no reason to believe that this team cannot still reach the NCAA Tournament.
Whether or not the expectations for the Hoosiers come March changes, is another story.