Last season was a disaster for the Indiana Hoosiers. It was a frustrating final season with Tom Crean that led to another March without an NCAA Tournament appearance. Something that simply won’t cut it for fans in Bloomington.
Indiana may have had some bright moments (beating Kansas and North Carolina was nice), but those were few and far between. In fact, the disastrous performances against teams like Fort Wayne and Nebraska will likely remain on the minds of fans for years to come. Unfortunately, there have been more than a few moments that Hoosier fans would like to forget over the last few seasons, to say the least.
But now, the hope is that new head coach Archie Miller can get things moving in the right direction. He’s certainly shown that on the recruiting trail so far, keeping Indiana’s 2017 class together and adding some huge pieces for 2018 and beyond.
However, whether fans want to admit it or not, Miller is going to have to start his tenure with Crean’s pieces. And after losing so many major contributors this offseason, fans have to wonder what that will mean for the team’s chances this season.
It’s important to realize just how severe those offseason departures are as well. Indiana will be losing OG Anunoby, James Blackmon, and Thomas Bryant to early NBA Draft declarations and Grant Gelon to transfer. While Gelon didn’t project to be a contributor for the Hoosiers this season, the other three were starters and will be sorely missed.
The most significant of those three will be Bryant, who averaged 12.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game last season and had an impressive 17.2 defensive rebounding rate. In a Hoosier frontcourt that saw inconsistent play, he was the one player that Crean and his staff could lean on routinely.
Anunoby and Blackmon were also major contributors for the Hoosiers. While both struggled with injury issues, Anunoby was a first round pick earlier this summer and Blackmon led the team in scoring and was a former five-star recruit. Those aren’t the kind of contributors that are easily replaced.
But, ready or not, Miller and his staff will have to find a way to move on without those four players this season. And they will have to do it with a fanbase that’s desperate for success after a mixed last decade of basketball.
So, can Miller and his staff get the job done?
The simple answer here is yes, it’s possible. Miller has the pieces to not only replace these three players (again, Gelon isn’t a noticeable loss), but improve a roster that only went 18-16 last season and missed the NCAA Tournament.
But, if Indiana is to overcome those departures, it will need to use a mixture of experience and talent to get the job done. That should start with seniors Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk returning in the backcourt. Neither will be as good as Blackmon, but both are proven Big Ten starters and known commodities. While they don’t have the potential of others, they should give Miller a solid base in his lineup.
After that, Miller will have to hope that Collin Hartman is ready to return from his injury and that De’Ron Davis and Juwan Morgan are ready to take a step forward in the frontcourt. Given the talent of Davis and Morgan and what Hartman did before his injury, none of these are crazy assumptions. Add in younger players like Devonte Green and Curtis Jones and a talented 2017 recruiting class and Indiana could have depth too.
However, there’s little debating that the scenario above is an optimistic view for next season’s Hoosiers. To start, Indiana fails to return anyone who figures to be a star player. Sure, Davis and Morgan have gotten some hype and the freshmen could be good at some point, but will Indiana have any All-Big Ten players? Probably not. And that’s a big step back from players like Anunoby, Blackmon, and Bryant.
Additionally, even if Indiana has an intriguing mix of experience and talent, that might not be all that encouraging either. That’s because the returning experience hasn’t been all that productive and none of the incoming recruits are elite prospects. Simply put, there are a lot of pieces, but this looks more like a mesh of decent to solid players than a depth chart filled with proven starters and talented young bench options.
Indiana will have a chance to overcome its substantial offseason departures this season, but Miller and his staff will have their work cut out.