The Indiana Hoosiers have a lot to prove this year. Both to their fan base and themselves. Coming off a solid year, the Hoosiers had a good offseason where they we able to land one of the top big man recruits in the country, Thomas Bryant. Once Bryant pledged to the Hoosiers, an immediate need was filled.
Indiana spent a lot of time last year on the floor playing small ball. Extreme small ball in some cases. With injury and suspension troubles for once heralded recruit, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, the Hoosiers were forced to play young and small. Many games in the Big Ten season saw 6'6" sophomore forward Collin Hartman jumping center for the Hoosiers. Not an ideal situation when playing in arguably the best conference in college basketball.
After another run in with trouble during the offseason, Mosquera-Perea, Devin Davis and Emmitt Holt were all dismissed from the program. If you remember correctly, Emmitt Holt was the driver of the vehicle that struck teammate Devin Davis on Halloween night, just before the start of last year's season. It has been a very rough 18-24 months for coach Tom Crean with all of the suspension and negative attention that was brought to the program and university.
Coach Crean is looking to start fresh with a team that returns every important piece that it bolstered last season. With Kevin 'Yogi' Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr. and Troy Williams all considering professional options, the near future looked troubling for the Hoosiers. A deep sigh of relief was let out when all three decided to return to school for another year. So now a team that contains one of the best point guards in the country, two very talented wings, a McDonald's All-American at center and the role players needed, Indiana is poised to make a run deep into March.
Tom Crean and the Hoosiers were able to land Thomas Bryant, a McDonald's All-American center out of Huntington Prep, WV, along with O.G. Anunoby and Juwan Morgan, both from Missouri. All three players stand taller than 6'7" which adds a size dynamic to a team that needed it to go along with their prolific perimeter offense.
The Hoosiers also landed transfers Josh Newkirk and Max Biefeldt. Newkirk transferred from Pittsburgh and will be forced to sit out a year. As he rehabs from a knee injury, Newkirk will be a key piece on the practice court. With his quickness and length, he will give senior guard Yogi Ferrell a good look in practice situations. Biefeldt, coming over from Michigan, is a fifth-year transfer and is eligible to play immediately. Biefeldt will add some more depth down low for the Hoosiers along with some experience that can only help the young bigs for coach Crean and the Hoosiers.
It all starts next Friday, November 13th against the Eastern Illinois Panthers in Assembly Hall for the Hoosiers. A big knock for the Hoosiers in recent years was their strength of schedule in the non-conference portion of the season. Tom Crean has stepped up his schedule for the 2015-2016 season and for a few after as well.
The Hoosiers have a home date with Creighton, open up the Maui Invitational against Wake Forest, a neutral site meeting against Notre Dame, and travel to Durham, NC and Cameron Indoor Stadium to face off with a top-five team in the Duke Blue Devils in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The Big Ten portion of the schedule never comes easy. Maryland, Purdue and Michigan State, among others, are going to be vastly improved basketball teams. The conference overall is going to be a tough slate to navigate for the Hoosiers, who have struggled away from Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN.
This writer envisions the Hoosiers to finish 23-6 overall and 13-5 in conference in the Big Ten. This team has a good mixture of youth and experience, along with inside presence and terrific outside shooting. If coach Crean can get this team rolling and playing well, lookout for the Hoosiers come March.