Tom Crean’s restoration project of Indiana University basketball has pretty much come full-circle.
After being crippled by NCAA sanctions stemming from former coach Kelvin Sampson’s violations, struggling through six-, 10- and 12-win seasons his first three years in Bloomington, and leading a remarkable turnaround in 2012-13 that resulted in a Sweet 16 appearance, Crean has his Hoosiers sitting atop the USA Today Coaches preseason poll, released today.
With key returnees in Player of the Year Candidate Cody Zeller, senior Christian Watford and juniors Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey — plus a loaded freshman class dubbed “The Movement” — Indiana appears poised for a run at a sixth NCAA championship, which is remarkable given all the program has been through in recent years.
Crean began his tenure as the Hoosiers’ coach with a couple of benchwarmers and a bunch of unheralded freshmen — and even a member of the school’s baseball team. Now he has arguably the deepest roster in the Big Ten and perhaps the nation.
How deep? There’s a legitimate question whether Jordan Hulls, a sharp-shooting senior who has served as Indiana’s starting point guard for much of his career, will even start.
Freshman guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, who starred at Park Tudor High School in Indianapolis, was one of the top-rated point guards in the 2012 recruiting class by most respected recruiting services. Unlike Hulls, who hasn’t consistently demonstrated the skill set of a pure point guard, Ferrell is exactly that. He has special vision and passing ability along with speed that jumps out at spectators. He could make quite an impact in facilitating Crean’s offense and in fast-break offense, an area in which the Hoosiers led the nation last year without a true point guard.
With Ferrell, Hulls, Watford, Oladipo, Sheehey and freshman forward Jeremy Hollowell — who strikes many as a more athletic Watford — Indiana could have as deep and lethal a backcourt as any team in the country. Any depth issues likely would arise in the frontcourt. We all know what we’re getting in Zeller, who averaged 15.6 points and 6.6. rebounds as a freshman, but the bigs behind him might display rawness early on. Freshman forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea is as freakish an athlete as they come, but he seems to have excelled in high school mainly on that athleticism and will need development early on, as will freshman center Peter Jurkin. The Hoosiers might be limited up front if Zeller gets in foul trouble, though the backcourt options certainly are talented enough to handle such situations provided Zeller doesn’t miss much time with injury.
It’s an exciting time for Indiana fans, who have been through much over the past four years. It’s also great for college basketball on the whole to have Indiana basketball back to relevance and prominence. Regardless of whether the Hoosiers raise their sixth banner this season, how far they’ve come is admirable.