The defending Big Ten Champions look poised for another solid season near the top of the conference and a chance at making another tournament run. Indiana is the type of program these days that is never short on on newsworthy story-lines, so let’s take a look at three shall we?
Tom Crean enters the season off the fan-base’s “hot seat”.
This time last year we were fresh off of Emmitt Holt being dismissed off the team in a final strike alcohol possession charge. Freshman Thomas Bryant was involved in the incident as well, along with Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who had been kicked off the team in May for smoking in a dorm room along with Devin Davis. Davis had been struck by a car driven by Holt the Halloween prior. Yogi Ferrell was caught with a fake I.D. in between there in April. Stanford Robinson and Troy Williams failed drug tests.
With all of that and the struggles against teams like Duke last season, folks in Bloomington were ready to ship off Tom Crean. For now it appears #FireCrean has lost most of it’s firepower in the past ten months or so, which feels like the first time in years that pundits and fans alike aren’t thinking that the now ninth-year man is coaching for his job.
The non-conference schedule is a mix of quality opponents and dreadful cupcakes.
Having Kansas, North Carolina, Butler, and Louisville all in the non-conference slate is great. Playing teams like SIU-Edwardsville and Houston Baptist is not.
Look, putting a couple of downright bad teams on the schedule for the sake of tune-ups is fine. Every major program does it. The problem for Indiana, and this has been an issue for years now, is that the top-level talent of their schedule is weighed down by teams whose ceilings are reaching .500 on the season, or even just double-digit wins.
The four initial games listed will be great tests to see how good this Indiana team is (and if they can exact revenge on last seasons tournament loss). The other nine on the schedule should be one’s where fans can check the score in passing on their phones rather than invest two hours of viewing time. The only positives that will come from those games is the “9” that should go into the win column without a hitch.
The sophomores need to become production leaders, the juniors need to become on-floor leaders.
Collin Hartman injuring his knee last week with no timetable given for his return leaves the Hoosiers without an on-court senior for the second time in three seasons. It is time for guys like James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson to take command as the vocal leaders of the program. Also, one should probably take control of point guard duties for this team, because I’m not buying Josh Newkirk until I see it.
The sophomore class (Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby) need to establish themselves as a dominant front-court this season. Shooting just under 70-percent last season, Bryant certainly showed he is capable of being a top big man in the country.
Anunoby has become one of the darlings to make a huge leap in the eyes of NBA scouts over the next season. If Anunoby wants to make the NBA a realistic option in 2017, he needs to show that he can play significant minutes throughout a season while also producing at a high level.
Indiana is a fun team to cover if you’re the kind of journalist that likes the thought of chaos being constantly surrounding the program. The Hoosiers are in a position that this season should be about nothing more than on-court results, but that just wouldn’t fit the profile of this program.