NCAA countdown: No. 26 Indiana
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: The Hoosiers have officially dug themselves out of the purgatory they were burdened from the Kelvin Sampson era. Back-to-back Sweet 16 finishes have all but erased three dreadful losing seasons (2008-11) that included a 1-17 Big Ten stance in coach Tom Crean’s first season.
Now, the challenge ahead for a revamped program with rich tradition is simple: Keep it going.
Continuity could be a tall order for Crean after losing four pivotal seniors, including NBA lottery picks Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller.
Yes, the outlook is much different this year for Indiana, the preseason No. 1 in 2012. Crean will be tasked with meshing key returners — point guard Yogi Ferrell, forward Will Sheehey — and impact newcomers — Arizona State transfer Evan Gordon and a stellar recruiting class led by 6-8 freshman Noah Vonleh.
The challenge doesn’t bother Crean much. The way he sees it, he’s recruiting families, not just players. And, likewise, he’s cultivating a program, not just a team. The growth of this team could take time, and contending with in the Big Ten with Michigan State and Michigan would take some fast developments. But Crean has the perfect analogy when it comes to molding his team.
“Look at Victor Oladipo,” Crean said. The former Indiana wing rapidly transformed from role player to an All-American and the No. 2 NBA draft pick. If the Hoosiers can develop at anything close to an Oladipo-like rate, there’s no reason to question continuity.
2012-13 in review: 29-7 overall (14-4, Big Ten regular-season champions), lost in Sweet 16 of NCAA tournament.
Tournament projection: At-large bid, No. 7 seed.
Coach’s corner: “There’s plenty of talent there, and we have some experience. All the new players are quick learners with strong work ethics. This group is humble. We aren’t in a situation where everything is entitled. …The Big Ten is so powerful. Take last year for example. Penn State’s only win was against Michigan, the national runner-up. What’s that tell you? The Big Ten is realistically the most difficult conference every single year.” — Crean, now in his sixth season at Indiana. … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 26 Indiana, click here.]