Just one year removed from winning a Big Ten regular season title, Tom Crean’s run in Bloomington came to an end, sunk primarily by injuries and the old familiar bugaboo which seem to plague his teams in many seasons, an inability to defend at a respectable level. While IU was at something approximating full strength, they were inconsistent…contrast an opening win over Kansas with a loss to IU Ft. Wayne just 11 days later. IU also beat North Carolina in the non conference, so the potential for this team was certainly high, but when they hit Big Ten play, injuries started to mount (most notably to OG Anunoby) and those defensive issues manifested profoundly. IU ended the season just 18-16 overall and 7-11 in the Big Ten.
In the end, what led to Crean being fired had as much to do with perception within the fanbase as anything else. The sense was growing that Crean wasn’t ever going to be able to get his program on a consistent level at the top of the conference and contending for Final Fours and national titles. That started to be reflected in attendance numbers at Assembly Hall, and when that happens, the jig is up. Crean put a number of guys into the NBA and won two Big Ten titles during his time in Bloomington but when you’re coaching IU and you’ve only managed three Sweet Sixteens as your best NCAA Tournament runs over a near decade tenure, it’s probably not going to work…not in that job, not in that place.
James Blackmon Jr. – It would be a rare program which would look upon the early departure of a leading scorer as a potential positive, but I think that’s the situation IU is in. Blackmon averaged 17ppg to lead the Hoosiers last season and he did it while shooting 48/42/84%, so it wasn’t a result of crazy volume. The thing is that despite the scoring, Blackmon rarely seemed to elevate his team’s performance unless he was carrying them on his back (see the MSU game this past season as a rare example of that) and defensively, he was a major, major problem. It seems to me that with Archie Miller looking to establish a new culture, one where defense will be emphasized more than it has been, he might be better off without a leader like Blackmon around, who might not be engaged as much as Miller probably needs his players to be in changing their habits.
Thomas Bryant – Bryant was a 7footer who never managed to play enough like one expects a 7footer to play to do IU the most good he could have. Bryant was a skilled big man who scored 12.6ppg who shot 52/38% from the floor, but he only averaged 6.6rpg and about 1.5 blocks per game. Those numbers are OK but Bryant had the physical tools to dominate at the rim much, much more than he did. He’s a talented guy and I won’t be surprised if he finds a role in the NBA , but IMO his two year run in Bloomington wasn’t quite all it could or should have been.
OG Anunoby – Anunoby is an immensely talented 6’7” player who got hurt early in Big Ten play and wasn’t able to return, costing his team seriously. He was one of the few Hoosiers who could defend at a high level and he impacted the game in a variety of ways. He’s a loss after he too declared early for the Draft, but that loss was anticipated. The shame is that IU wasn’t able to get more games out of him than they did. His presence might have made a difference last season for a team sliding on the defensive end.
Grant Gelon – Gelon was a freshman guard who played sparingly for IU and recently elected to transfer. That probably makes sense for him, as he appeared to be perhaps a bit of a reach as a Big Ten rotation guy.
Robert Johnson – Johnson pulled his name out of the Draft near the deadline and that was a key for IU, as he’s a multi-dimensional guard who has the ability and mindset to help Miller establish his program. Johnson scored 12.8ppg and will be a key part of the offensive attack, while he’ll also be expected to be part of a renewed defensive effort for the Hoosiers. Johnson could stand to improve his decisions and his consistency, but he should be a big part of this team as a senior.
Josh Newkirk – Newkirk was handed the point guard job after transferring in from Pitt and had an up and down season. He shot better than expected, hitting 44/38% from the floor. However, he was inconsistent on defense and had well under the threshold 2:1 assist to TO ratio expected from quality point guards. Newkirk will certainly play but I’m not sure he’s the best choice to lead this team from the point. He might be more effective in a rotation role if IU can find another answer at that position.
Juwan Morgan – Morgan is a 6’8” junior who started to come into his own last season as a 4 man for this team. He averaged 7.7ppg and 5.6rpg in about 22 minutes per game. Morgan hasn’t proven to be a reliable deep shooter yet but he’s good inside the arc and has a nice combination of length and athleticism. I think he could be ready to take another step forward this year as he continues to mature.
De’Ron Davis – Davis is a 6’10” sophomore who played like a 5, as opposed to what happened too frequently with Bryant. In just 14mpg he averged 5.9ppg and 3.1 rpg and looks to be potentially a strong rim protector on defense. I thought Davis showed a lot of promise as a low post scorer during his freshman season and I expect serious strides from him now that he should be getting starter’s minutes for IU. He’s a guy to watch.
Devonte Green – Green is a 6’3” combo guard who saw his role grow during his freshman season. He showed a good jumpshot and ability to get to the rim (44/44%) and seems to be a guy who could be solid defensively. If he’s going to push Newkirk for the point guard role, Green needs to improve his decisions and take what the game gives him as opposed to forcing the action as much as he did at times last season.
Curtis Jones – Jones is a 6’4” sophomore guard who showed the potential to be a solid all around contributor both on and off the ball. He could stand to improve the consistency of his jumper but I expect him to play an increased role for this team, perhaps contrbuting at point as well as on the wing.
Freddie McSwain – McSwain is a 6’5” senior who transferred in from a JUCO last year. He’s a strong guy who has explosive athleticism but lacks the ball skills to be much more than a rotation guy. I’d expect he’ll see some minutes at both the wing and perhaps the 4 with certain matchups.
Zach McRoberts – McRoberts is a try hard guy who transferred in from Vermont and actually ended up playing more than many assumed he would, due in part to his at least having a willingness to work on defense. I’m not sure that I expect him to play a big role this season, but if others don’t play with the proper attitude, he may be used again as a guy who reinforces coaching.
Collin Hartman – Hartman missed all of last season and his return could be a big deal for this group. He’s started 36 games over his IU career and provides experience, shooting and serious toughness for this team. Remember, he was the guy who was forced into playing the 5 for significant minutes as a sophomore when IU was hit with injuries in the post that season. I suspect he’ll be a guy Miller leans on as he works to establish his culture in Bloomington. Successful transitions usually involve veterans with the rough profile of a guy like Hartman playing big roles.
Clifton Moore – Moore is a 6’9’ freshman from Pennsylvania. He’s seen as a bit of a developmental project as he needs a serious bit of bulk and strength added to his frame. He also just needs experience in playing at a high level, as he was a late riser last summer in recruiting circles and hasn’t proven much yet against Big Ten level talent (even on an incomer’s basis). They like his athleticism and skill set and when he can get strong enough, that may make him a versatile contributor in the post.
Al Durham – Durham is a 6’4” guard from Georgia. They see him as a versatile guy who could help some on the ball but probably projects more as a wing over the long haul. He’s a decent athlete who has to work on consistency in his jumper to make a serious contribution early.
Justin Smith – Smith is a 6’6 forward out of Illinois who is the top recruit in this class and the one with the best chance to play early. He’s a very good athlete who also has respectable ball skills with the potential to improve as he gains experience. Expect him to be in the rotation this season for the Hoosiers on the wing and perhaps even at times as a stretch 4.
IU hired Archie Miller to replace Crean and that was generally well received by IU fans. Miller did a fine job at Dayton, winning 68% of his games overall and 67% of his conference contests while with the Flyers. He took Dayton to one Elite Eight and made the Tournament his last four seasons after missing during his first two years with UD. Generally, his teams were athletic but undersized groups which played with serious toughness. Miller employs the “pack line” defense, using a sagging man to man, and runs a lot of sets on offense while looking to push the ball in transition when possible. If that sounds familiar, it’s not massively dissimilar to what Tom Izzo does at MSU (though Izzo plays a more aggressive defensive system to some degree, using “gaps” as opposed to pack line principles).
This is a transition year for IU. I don’t think the combination of talent and experience is one where you’d expect a Tournament team to develop, but there’s enough here to cause upper tier opponents some problems on given nights. I think Johnson is a solid two way guard, Hartman will provide experience and shooting on the wing, and Morgan and Davis should be a good post combination. The bigger thing this season than wins will be how quickly Miller gets his culture and system established. In the long run, that’s what enables him to get IU back into consistent contention in this conference.