LAST SEASON – Coming off an NCAA miss and the Sweet Sixteen disappointment the year prior with a #1 seed team, Tom Crean was starting to feel real heat for the first time in his tenure in Bloomington. Given the post-Sampson nightmarish state of the program, IU fans had been remarkably patient in watching Crean dig out from the rubble and slowly but surely assemble a roster which seemed to be up to what most of that fanbase deems to be the historical standard for the school. Yet, failing to even reach a Final Four in 2013 was coupled with a disappointing 2014 and a roster entering last season which looked seriously flawed from the start.

Crean adapted to what he had, emphasizing a fast paced, perimeter oriented attack because he lacked any kind of legitimate post presence. Fortunately for him, he had the right kind of guards to make it work to an extent. IU had their moments where they looked very dangerous but the lack of size made them extremely vulnerable on defense and opposing teams often punished them in the paint…the Hoosiers surrendered a 45% FG against number last year, simply untenable at the Big Ten level. Yet, their offense was good enough to override those issues at time and finish 9-9 in the league. They squeaked into the NCAA TOurnament for the 3rd time in 4 years but lost a tight 5 point decision against a good Wichita State team in the first round to go one and done.

At that point, things didn’t look good. There was rampant speculation that Yogi Ferrell, the most indespensible player on IU’s team, was thinking seriously about either transfering or turning pro. IU still had a major hole in the paint and without addressing that need, it was hard to see how things would be dramatically different next season even if everyone returned. Then it happened…on April 4th, McDonald’s AA center Thomas Bryant decided for IU and single handedly gave them a legitimate center option, and potentially a very good one at that. Just recently both Ferrell and James Blackmon decided to return for another year in Bloomington. In one month, IU has gone from a program in some trouble (along with the job security of its coach) to a team many (including me) believe is Top 10 good and a potential Final Four and Big Ten title threat. Lots of things need to happen, improvement needs to be made in several areas, etc. but in terms of pure talent, IU can stack up with anybody.

RETURNING PLAYERS

Yogi Ferrell is a 6 foot senior guard who decided to come back to IU for one more season. IMO, his mindset seemed to change when Bryant announced and it became clear that he would be playing for a more complete team, one with a legitimate chance to win. It was crucial for IU’s contention hopes that he opt to return. Offensively, few point guards anywhere are better than is Ferrell. He uses exceptional quickness, decent strength and good court sense to create shots for himself and for others. He shoots well, he can finish at the rim and he’s a very good passer (better than a 2.5 to 1 assist to TO ratio). Where he can improve and really make a difference for this team is on the defensive end. He has the physical tools to be a better defender than he is, and IU really could use solid play from him at the point of attack.

James Blackmon is a 6’4″ sophomore guard who had a strong if inconsistent freshman season. He was second on the team in scoring at 15.7 ppg and had some big offensive outings. He was a 42/39% shooter and really seemed to fit well within IU”s offense, giving them a shooter who can also get to the rim, draw contact, hit free throws, etc. However, he had issues dealing with physical opponents. MSU really gave him trouble and so did other teams who could play him that way. This is often something gifted young players go through…learning how to be effective in the face of physical opposition is often the last piece to fall into place. He has to be better in that type of scenario this year. As with Ferrell and really the entire IU team, they could also use better attention to defensive detail from him.

Troy Williams is a 6’6″ junior forward who with the departures of BJ Dawson and Sam Thompson would seem to be unopposed for the title of most athletic player in the Big Ten. He is a truly jaw dropping athlete and unlike his freshman year, he managed to combine that with an improved skill set to be more than just a runner and jumper. He averaged 13 ppg and 7.4 rpg and gave IU a slashing offensive presence which was very difficult to stop at times. He’s also the closest thing to a good defender on the roster…he’s not consistent but his energy and activity level allows him to make defensive plays at times. This is a big year for Williams…if he can extend his range a bit and tighten things up a shade in terms of decisions (he can still get out of control on occasion), he could be a first round draft pick because the physical tools are clearly present.

Robert Johnson is a 6’3″ sophomore guard who got a bit lost in the wake of his teammates last year but proved to be as good as advertised. Johnson shot extremelly well (43/39% with half his attempts coming from deep) and showed a good level of athleticism and aggressiveness. He struggled some at the line, strange for such a good shooter and they’ll want to see that improve as he presumably gets their more often with a maturing offensive approach. He’s a great third perimeter option alongside Ferrell and Blackmon…his presence makes it very tough to overcommit to other shooters and especially with a new post presence, he should get some high quality looks.

Nick Zeisloft is a 6’4′ senior who had a fine first year at IU after transfering in from Illinois State. He’s almost entirely a three point shooter and he’s a good one, hitting 45% of his 140 attempts from beyond the arc last season. He also plays with good energy and grit, so he can sometimes make a play here or there, but his middling athleticism does make him exploitable on defense. He played almost 20 mpg last season and I suspect Crean would like to reduce that a shade, but he’ll still definitely have a role as another deep shooting option.

Hanner Mosquera Perea is a 6’9″ senior post who hasn’t come close to matching what was, in fairness, ridiculous hype when he committed. I said at the time that he was impressive athletically but I didn’t see much evidence of real “game” in him and that’s essentially been the way it’s panned out. He was also banged up some last season, which didn’t help matters. In the 26 games he played in, he wasn’t bad…he shot 59%, playing within himself, rebounded OK and blocked more than a shot per contest. At this stage it’s entirely about the role he’s in and the expectations you set. If he’s your primary post presence you’re in trouble, because he’s not a guy you can dump the ball into on the blocks and have good things happen. He’s an energy guy, someone who can get you a couple of putbacks and maybe block a shot along the way, grab a couple of boards and run the floor. If IU can use him that way, play him 15-18 minutes off the bench, I think he helps them. More than that, and diminishing returns start to set in IMO.

Collin Hartman is a 6’6″ junior forward who was recruited as a wing but was pressed into duty last year as a 5 man if you can believe that. I’ll give him credit…he competed his ass off and showed he has some toughness to him. However, what he is is a wing. He’s a very good shooter and that’s primarily what he should be doing for this team. Given the roster additions, I think he’ll settle back into that role.

Emmitt Holt is a 6’8″ sophomore forward who had flashes of production once he started to play after a rough beginning to his career (he was at the wheel of the car involved in the accident which put Devin Davis on the shelf for the entire season and even seemed to threaten his long term well being at a certain point). Holt is a bit undersized to play in the paint in the Big Ten but he’s a good athlete with a high motor and so he should be able to help at least in a reserve role. He proved to be a good finisher around the rim and a very productive rebounder (3 per game despite only averaging a bit over 11 mpg). I think he’ll be in their rotation firmly and has a chance to develop into a solid player for IU.

Jeremiah April is a 6’11” redshirt freshman who would seem to be a candidate to be “Creaned” to make room for a late signee if need be, but for now appears to still be on the roster. He was brought in because of IU’s screaming need for size but proved unable to claim a spot. I wouldn’t think his long term future in Bloomington is very bright at this point.

Devin Davis is a 6’7″ 225lbs redshirt sophomore who should be able to play next season according to most accounts. He showed flashes as a freshman, averaging 9 mpg but seemed set for an expanded role last season before suffering a serious head injury in an accident involving teammate Emmitt Holt. Davis sat out the entire season but was practicing before the year was out. If he’s 100% he can help this team as he’s a good athlete with decent size, a guy you could expect to give them some energy and rebounding off the bench.