The 2016-’17 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2016-’17 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 said team.
Judging success is a tricky endeavor in college sports. At the professional level, it’s pretty easy. If a team wins the championship, it’s a successful season. If not, then more likely than not, the season was a failure.
But at the collegiate level, fans are afforded no such luxury.
With hundreds of teams and multitudes of championships awarded each season, setting a barometer for success is challenging. Is a conference title good enough? What about if that title comes with an early exit from the NCAA Tournament? Trying to navigate the waters between successful and failure in college is always a moving target with plenty of opinion involved.
This is the discussion that many had about Indiana’s team last season. While the Hoosiers were able to put together a 27-8 overall record, a conference championship, and a trip to the Sweet 16, the team still fell short of its lofty postseason goals with a loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament and North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Those losses dealt a decent hit to what was otherwise a fruitful year.
Which brings us to this season.
Expectations for the 2016-’17 season will largely depend on how fans viewed last year. If the conference title and a Sweet 16 were good enough, Tom Crean and his staff can breathe a sigh of relief. But if fans weren’t satisfied with last season, then this year becomes incredibly important. That’s because the roster could take a significant step back next offseason with several potential NBA departures.
If Indiana needs to cash in on success, it needs to do it this year.
The good news is that the pieces are there for success. The frontcourt looks stacked, there’s plenty of depth on the wing, and the backcourt has several potential star players. Improving on last year’s success will be difficult with the loss of key players like Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams, but the hope should still be there. This team has questions, yet still has enough talent to repeat or exceed its success from last season.
And with that in mind, here’s a look at what to expect this year.
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. 2015-’16 Season Performance
- Record: 27-8 (15-3)
- KenPom Team Rating: #11
- RPI Rating: #19
- Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament (Sweet 16)
Indiana had a terrible start to the 2015-’16 season, but after a blowout loss on the road to Duke, things turned around in startling fashion for the Hoosiers. The team reeled off 12 straight wins and recorded major victories over Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Wisconsin among others. That run eventually helped Indiana win the Big Ten and earn an NCAA Tournament bid for the fourth time in five years.
Many were certainly hoping that Indiana would have gone further in the NCAA Tournament, but it’s hard to complain too much about the team’s performance. It won 27 games, had a 20-3 run to end the regular season, and made the Sweet 16 thanks to a win over a rival Kentucky team. Even if there were some rough moments, that’s an impressive run that would satisfy most fanbases.
Highlights of the season included a non-conference win over Notre Dame, conference wins over Iowa, Purdue, and Wisconsin, and an NCAA Tournament win over Kentucky. Low points of the season included non-conference losses to UNLV and Wake Forest and conference losses to Penn State and a Big Ten Tournament loss to Michigan.
Individual statistical leaders were Thomas Bryant, Yogi Ferrell, and Troy Williams. Bryant led the team in blocks. Ferrell led the team in minutes, points, assists, and win shares. Troy Williams led the team in rebounds, steals, and usage.
2. Offseason Exits
Indiana might return some quality options, but is also losing quite a bit from last season. The team will be losing five seniors, one junior to the NBA, and a walk-on to transfer. These players were Max Bielfeldt, Ryan Burton, Yogi Ferrell, Harrison Niego, Jackson Tharp, Troy Williams, and Nick Zeisloft. Four of those players will leave a dent for the Hoosiers and the other three won’t mean all that much.
The biggest departures will come from Ferrell and Williams. The two were multi-year starters and put up massive numbers during their respective careers. Ferrell was one of the best passers in the Big Ten last season and Williams was a dynamic wing that could play multiple spots. Both averaged over 26 minutes a game and ranked in the top three for Indiana in total win shares. Replacing either would be difficult and replacing both will be even tougher.
Along with those two, Indiana also loses important reserve options in Bielfeldt and Zeisloft. Both players finished in the top seven in total minutes, averaged over 17 minutes a game, and saw major playing time in the postseason. Bielfeldt also finished third on the team in total rebounding and Zeisloft finished second in three-pointers. Indiana will have to find some depth options to replace these two.
The final three departures come from Burgon, Niego, and Tharp. These three combined for a total of 304 minutes all season with 110 coming from Niego. All three averaged fewer than five minutes a game. None should be that difficult to replace on the court.
3. New Additions
This season, the Hoosiers will be adding four new recruits and two transfers. These recruits are De’Ron Davis, Grant Gelon, Devonte Green, and Curtis Jones. Davis and Jones are rated as four-stars and Gelon and Green are rated as three-star prospects by 247Sports. Green is listed as a point guard, Jones as a combo guard, Gelon as a shooting guard, and Davis as a power forward.
The two prospects who have received most of the attention are Davis and Jones. Neither is a five-star, but both are top 100 prospects with paths to playing time. Although Davis will have to fight for playing time behind players like OG Anunoby, minutes off the bench are available. Jones will join a backcourt with uncertainty after seeing Yogi Ferrell graduate. Both project as star players down the line.
Gelon and Green won’t get the same attention as the other members of the class, but both are joining that uncertain backcourt and have some hype of their own. Green is a top 200 recruit with decent size and Gelon is a local kid looking to make a splash for the Hoosiers. It’s unlikely either will play a major role this season, but the two should offer solid depth for Indiana down the road.
Along with the recruiting additions, Indiana is adding two transfers in Freddie McSwain and Josh Newkirk. Both are solid players that should contribute for the Hoosiers this season. McSwain is a lengthy wing that should boost Indiana’s depth on the wing and Newkirk figures to compete for the starting job at point guard. Considering the uncertainty in the backcourt, Newkirk is probably the guy to watch of these two.
Indiana won’t be adding any proven or sure-fire pieces this season, but there’s a lot of incoming depth that could contribute immensely down the line for the Hoosiers.
4. Team Strengths
Indiana will have plenty of talent on its roster heading this season and as such, will have some serious strengths for opponents to face. Those will primarily come from Indiana’s frontcourt along with its three-point shooting and offensive rebounding.
The frontcourt was a major concern for Indiana heading into last season, but with the emergence of freshman players in OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant, most of those fears were reconciled. Although neither dominated offensively, they were dynamic players that could guard multiple spots and played well on the boards. Both were also solid shot blockers and Bryant was excellent at getting to the free throw line. With those two back and some depth behind them from players like De’Ron Davis, Juwan Morgan, and Tim Priller, the position group should lead the team.
With that frontcourt largely returning, Indiana should remain a solid rebounding team. The Hoosiers weren’t all that great on the defensive end (No. 140 nationally) last season, but were a quality group on the offensive end (No. 15 nationally) last season. Anunoby and Bryant were key in this area and figure to be yet again.
Indiana also projects to remain as a quality three-point shooting team. The Hoosiers ranked No. 4 nationally in three-point percentage last season and return excellent shooters in James Blackmon and Robert Johnson. The offseason losses of Yogi Ferrell and Nick Zeisloft will take a hit here, but when a team is at No. 4, there’s some room to drop and still be a great shooting team.
5. Team Red Flags
Of course, even with Indiana’s dynamic frontcourt returning, there are still some areas of concern for fans heading into this season. The most prominent will start in a backcourt losing the team’s best player in Yogi Ferrell. Additionally, Indiana will need to find a player that can attempt to fill in for Troy Williams’ lost contributions on the wing and for the team’s significant defensive rebounding losses this offseason.
Perhaps nothing is more concerning that the uncertainty in Indiana’s backcourt. The return of James Blackmon and Robert Johnson will relieve some fears, but the loss of Ferrell is massive. He was insanely efficient (124.9 offensive rating), played 86.5 percent of team minutes, used 24.8 percent of team possessions, shot well (42.0 percent) from long range, and was one of the best passers (28.4 assist rate) in the nation. Add in that elite three-point shooter Nick Zeisloft is gone and there is some major concern here. Indiana will need to find some new faces here.
The loss of Williams is another significant departure. He was inconsistent during his career in Bloomington, but he led in the team in rebounding and steals last season and maintained an impressive (26.3 percent of team possessions) usage rate on offense. He also saw time at multiple spots. There’s no way a single player can replace that production, but Indiana will have to hope they can at least fill his minutes effectively. Most eyes will be on OG Anunoby and Freddie McSwain.
Indiana’s defensive rebounding will also be interesting to watch. While the Hoosiers were an impressive offensive rebounding team last season, its defensive numbers weren’t nearly as impressive. Now that the team will be losing three of its top overall defensive rebounders (Max Bielfeldt, Ferrell, Williams) this offseason, the defensive boards will be an area of concern. Seeing progress from Anunoby, Bryant, and the frontcourt depth will be vital.
6. Top Player
Heading into last season, Yogi Ferrell was the easy pick to be Indiana’s best player. He was coming off three years of exceptional play as Indiana’s point guard and figured to have a massive senior season. And of course, Ferrell largely lived up to that hype, putting together an All-Big Ten season and a season packed with impressive statistics.
However, with Ferrell and Troy Williams off to the pros, the role of Indiana’s best player will be up for grabs. The two top contenders figure to be OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant. While Anunoby has gotten most of his attention based more on hype than production, Bryant was one of the Big Ten’s more productive big men and came along significantly by the end of the season. Both figure to be in this discussion.
Along with those two, there are two other players that deserve mentioning. Those players are James Blackmon and Robert Johnson. Although Blackmon has been far more inconsistent than Johnson, both have shown stints of excellent play during the last two seasons. These two will likely settle behind Anunoby and Bryant, but could break through with some moderate offseason improvement.
Indiana also hasa few potential wildcards that could play a factor in this discussion. Those are Curtis Jones, Freddie McSwain, and Josh Newkirk. All three are newcomers to the roster with a route to early playing time. However, none are considered to be elite prospects, especially in year one. They should play, but passing Anunoby or Bryant is pretty unlikely.
7. 2015-16 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/1 - Hope College (Ex.)
- 11/5 - Bellarmine University (Ex.)
- 11/11 - Kansas (Honolulu, HI)
- 11/16 - UMass Lowell
- 11/19 - Liberty
- 11/22 - at Fort Wayne
- 11/27 - Mississippi Valley State
- 11/30 - North Carolina
- 12/2 - SIU Edwardsville
- 12/4 - Southeast Missouri State
- 12/10 - Houston Baptist
- 12/17 - Butler (Indianapolis, IN)
- 12/19 - Delaware State
- 12/22 - Austin Peay
- 12/28 - Nebraska
- 12/31 - Louisville (Indianapolis, IN)
- 1/3 - Wisconsin
- 1/7 - Illinois
- 1/10 - at Maryland
- 1/15 - Rutgers
- 1/18 - at Penn State
- 1/21 - Michigan State
- 1/26 - at Michigan
- 1/29 - at Northwestern
- 2/1 - Penn State
- 2/5 - at Wisconsin
- 2/9 - Purdue
- 2/12 - Michigan
- 2/15 - at Minnesota
- 2/21 - at Iowa
- 2/(25/26) - Northwestern
- 2/28 - at Purdue
- 3/4 - at Ohio State
Indiana has put together a non-conference schedule that’s going to be exciting for fans, but particularly intriguing from an RPI perspective. It’s a schedule that has four marquee and nationally relevant games, but with the remainder dedicated to matchups with mediocre competition. As such, those four marquee games are going to be immensely important for Indiana’s at-large seeding hopes.
Those marquee games are composed of neutral site matchups with Butler, Kansas, and Louisville and a home game against North Carolina. Scheduling one of those games would probably satisfy the appetite of fans, but to schedule four of those in one non-conference slate is downright impressive. Of course, as mentioned, with no other quality competition in non-conference play, Indiana has to find a way to win some of those four marquee games.
However, things figure to be different in Big Ten play. Indiana gets 17 of its 18 conference games against top 100 KenPom teams and eight games against top 40 opponents. The schedule has some reprieves, but it will be a consistent challenge from start-to-finish. The final eight games will be particularly challenging with seven of those eight games either on the road or against top 40 opponents.
The Hoosiers are more than capable of getting through this schedule with well over 20 wins, but there’s no debating that things are going to be challenging. The non-conference slate is almost entirely dependent on four games and Indiana will have to play through a pretty tough Big Ten schedule as well. Indiana can have another great year, but it will have to earn that success.
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- PG: Josh Newkirk (Rs. Jr.) - 70%
- SG: James Blackmon (Jr.) - 75%
- SF: Robert Johnson (Jr.) - 80%
- PF: OG Anunoby (So.) - 90%
- C: Thomas Bryant (So.) - 95%
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
Indiana’s backcourt figures to be the biggest question mark for the team heading into this season. With Yogi Ferrell and Nick Zeisloft heading elsewhere, there are two key roles to fill. Those project to be filled by Josh Newkirk and James Blackmon. Neither has a complete game at this point, but Newkirk is an impressive passer and Blackmon is an elite outside shooter and a great scorer.
On the wing, Indiana should have a deep group, but lacks many proven options outside of OG Anunoby, who figures to start at power forward. The team does return Collin Hartman, Juwan Morgan, and Tim Priller and adds De’Ron Davis and Freddie McSwain, but none have shown to be excellent options. Hartman is the only one to have played significantly and he could be out for the year with injury.
Due to these issues, expect Robert Johnson to slide into the lineup and for Indiana to play a three-guard lineup for much of this season. Morgan will get serious time off the bench, but Johnson is simply too good to keep on the bench for that long. Johnson represents an excellent passer and should help to keep Indiana’s blistering offensive production going.
Upfront, Indiana shouldn’t have much drama. Thomas Bryant figures to be the team’s best player this season and should lock down the majority of minutes at the five. Priller should get some minutes off the bench behind Bryant and Anunoby should grab a few as well. However, the center position will be a one-man show.
9. Team Perspective From Alex McCarthy of 247Sports
"The main storyline going into this season, both within the program and outside the program, is the departure of Yogi Ferrell. The all-time assists leader at IU is gone, and there isn't exactly a clear heir apparent to the point guard position. Junior Josh Newkirk — who sat out last season after transferring from Pitt — seems to be the frontrunner after the exhibition games, during which he had 11 assists and just one turnover.
Junior guards James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson will also surely be involved, and Tom Crean has even used 6-foot-8 forward Juwan Morgan to bring up the ball on occasion. In the frontcourt, IU has two of the top NBA prospects in the conference in OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant. Anunoby in particular has been impressive thus far, shooting 16-for-20 from the floor for 41 points in IU's two exhibition games. Granted, exhibitions against D-II and D-III programs aren't great tests, but Anunoby looks like he's ready to shoulder more of the scoring load this season while still being able to guard at least four positions on defense.
Crean has been saying that people might need to be patient with this group, but if IU puts together all its pieces, it has a chance to compete for a second Big Ten title in a row." - Alex McCarthy.
10. Overall Season Outlook
There will be a lot of debate and discussion as to what last season meant for Indiana basketball. It was a return to form in many ways, but still left fans wanting for more at season’s end. Nonetheless, with the turn of the calendar, Indiana will have to find a way to build on that success and keep things moving ahead.
Indiana’s frontcourt should make that task easier with the return of OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant, but an unproven and inconsistent backcourt could make things challenging. Although there are enough options the backcourt to make things work, the question will be whether it’s good enough to let Indiana’s dynamic frontcourt win games for the team. Or better yet, whether the group can develop a star player or two.
But even with the backcourt concerns, this is still a very talented team. Indiana has depth at every spot, several potential All-Big Ten options, and a handful of players who could end up in the NBA. If the Hoosiers can navigate a difficult and tricky schedule, the sky’s the limit this season.
Fans are anxious for Indiana to take the next step in March under Tom Crean and this looks like it might finally be the year in Bloomington. If Crean can find his backcourt answers, this team could make a deep postseason run.
Big Ten Prediction: 2nd Place
[Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article failed to state that Collin Hartman was dealing with a significant offseason injury. This has been corrected.]