NEWCOMERS

Thomas Bryant is a 6’10” center who single handedly changed the perception and perhaps the possible season for Indiana when he committed earlier this month. He’s not Jahlil Okafor…Bryant can stand to get stronger and he’s sometimes prone to disappearing for stretches but the size and talent level is clearly there. He has range out to around 18 feet but I suspect Crean will try to get him to focus mostly on providing an interior presence for IU. At a minimum, he gives the Hoosiers someone who can physically match up with the plethora of capable big men in this conference. He may not even be a double digit scorer but other than Ferrell, he may be the most important guy on the roster because he allows everyone else to play natural positions AND gives IU a chance at improving defensively just by taking up space in the paint.

Juwan Morgan is a 6’8″ forward who should also be able to help immediately in the paint. He’s more of a traditional 4 type than IU has had in awhile, as his game right now is better at the rim on both ends. As with Bryant, he can stand to improve his strength but his motor and athleticism along with his length should help him earn an early role on this team.

Ogugwa Anunoby is a 6’7″ wing who is more athlete than player right now. He would seem to be a reasonable candidate for a redshirt as he gets stronger and works to develop his ball skills. Long term, he’s the kind of player Crean seems to gravitate toward in that he has higher end athleticism who also has the potential to develop some offensive versatility. IU is well stacked at his position, though, so there wouldn’t seem to be a need to force feed him minutes immediately.

There are rumors that IU is a player with 7 foot freak talent Thon Maker from Canada as well. His situation is extremely cloudy right now in terms of what he’ll do but the latest thought seems to be that he could commit to a college in time for the second semester of this upcoming season. IU is one of a handful of schools thought to be in that mix but as of now, it doesn’t seem they’d have an available scholarship…part of the reason why I suspect Mr. April may not be long for the program. I can’t even begin to sort out what that would all translate to if Maker did come to IU (or any other program) in January just to play one semester before presumably leaving for the Draft. For now, let’s assume that’s unlikely to happen and if it does, we’ll all be recalibrating what we think.

OVERALL – Hard to imagine IU not being better next season, maybe significantly so. Bryant and to a lesser extent Morgan give them two bigger bodies, with Bryant providing actual center size. Now you can put Holt and HMP and maybe even Devin Davis in reserve roles, where they’re better suited, and allow Hartman to slide back to a wing, where he absolutely is better suited.

IU should have a starting lineup capable of hanging with anybody on the offensive end. The three guards are really, really tough to guard because they can all shoot and they all have the ability to get past defenders and finish or draw contact. Williams is a freak athlete at the 4 and an improving basketball *player* in all that entails. Bryant will be young but he has a world of talent and size which cannot be taught. Now, they’re also a deep team. They don’t have an obvious answer to giving Ferrell help at the point but guys like Blackmon and Johnson can handle things for the few minutes Yogi is off the floor at a decent level. Otherwise, IU has answers. Zeisloft and Hartman can each really shoot the ball on the wing and Holt, HMP and now Morgan give them real answers inside as well.

Two big issues loom and they’re why I have IU 3rd instead of 2nd or 1st. One is the fit. Despite everybody coming back, I wasn’t entirely convinced that IU had the greatest chemistry last season. Now they’re adding a guy in Bryant who should get the ball far more often than any post player IU had on the floor last season. Does that all hang together well? Do guys play for others rather than themselves? Remember, it’s not just Yogi looking at the NBA…Blackmon and Williams at a minimum will have a decision to make in April most likely as well. Sometimes that all works out and sometimes not so much. The second issue is the more profound one, though…can IU learn to check ANYBODY at a decent level? This was a horrible defensive team. Crean tried everything…lots of zone, aggressive man, passive sagging man…nothing worked. Bryant and Morgan will help because just having real big man bodies inside is better than what they had last season, but that wasn’t the whole deal. IU struggled to stop guys on the perimeter as well.

I think this team is going to be lethal offensively. Other than the fact that Bryant isn’t quite as good off the dribble as Frank Kaminsky was, IU will likely be a hyper adrenalized version of what Wisconsin was last year in some ways…everyone on the floor can shoot and most everyone can take you to the rim as well. They’ll hit a lot of 3s and they’ll draw a lot of fouls. If Bryant can give them SOMETHING in the way of post offense, it’ll make everything else that much tougher to deal with as well. The question will be whether that offense is good enough to offset their defense. I can buy that they’ll be better but I’m not yet ready to believe they’ll be anything approaching “good” on that end.

I think they’re a real threat now. A threat to win the Big Ten and to reach a Final Four and maybe even win the whole thing. However, I think the defensive flaws are more profound than issues facing MSU and Maryland and that’s why I have the Hoosiers third instead of first. They can win it all, though. They are a factor, no question.