Team Preview: 2014 Indiana Hoosiers
By: Nick Healey
2012-13 Record: 29-7, 14-4
Coach: Tom Crean
No college program is immune to the ups and downs of the recruitment process (except maybe Duke), and right now Indiana is laboring through a down phase. In fact, the relatively short Tom Crean era at the school has been a story of boom and bust days. After taking over in 2008, Crean’s Hoosiers languished through some brutal seasons, including a 6-25 year (the worst in school history). But the boom years have been good too. Both the past two seasons have included Sweet Sixteen appearances, and 2011-2012 saw some big wins against conference heavyweights. But in the off-season, the roster was basically gutted after four starters left, led by Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, both of whom departed to the NBA. So this year will be a defining one. While Crean consistently struggles to get the length of his tie right (it is often too long), he has done a good job recruiting, and if the young players figure it out quickly, a prolonged downturn could be avoided.
Strongside: Freshman forward Noah Vonleh has been a pleasant—and much needed—surprise for the Hoosiers. Vonleh is second on the team in points per game (12.4) and minutes played (24.6) and is one of the top rebounders in the country, averaging 9.4 per game. Incidentally, this is one of the team’s strongest attributes as well. At the time of writing they are currently ranked fourth in the NCAA in rebounding at 42.7 per game. They also anchor their zone defense around Vonleh, so the freshman has quickly become a key cog in the system. They do manage to score a fair bit, and their free-throw shooting is also pretty solid (they’re ranked 43rd in the country), but that won’t help them much when they face opponents who can stay out of foul trouble (Michigan). So the team is capable of good things; they’re just not all the way there yet. But it should be said that the Hoosiers played well in their biggest win this year when they handed third-ranked Wisconsin its first loss of the season.
Weakside: This team is a very young one and is struggling to cope with the major turnover from last season. As a result, there are a number of holes in their game. They turn the ball over at a dreadful clip (15.4 per game). As a team, their shooting isn’t great. Their field goal percentage is around 44 percent, and their three-point shooting is an abysmal 33.3 percent, leaving them tied for 201st in the league. So they’ve still got work to do there. They’ve also only managed to go 2-5 in conference play so far, and their defense is still very much a work in progress, so all of that could leave them on the outside looking in come tournament time.
All Told: Unfortunately for Indiana fans, this is just one of those building years. They will have plenty to look forward to next year, and they’ve definitely been improving as the season has gone on, but it’s unlikely they’ll be a real threat. So far they’ve let some close ones get away and have been dispatched by better opponents, losing to Michigan State (twice), UConn, Syracuse and lesser lights like Northwestern and Illinois. Barring the last-second inspiration of a drunken Dennis Hopper, these Hoosiers are formidable, and promising, but unlikely to do anything major at the tournament—if they even make it that far.
Nick Healey is a Toronto-based writer/editor. He once met Dan Akroyd in a Dairy Queen. You can follow him on Twitter @nickjhealey.