Hoosiers, Crean looking for year of improvement
BLOOMINGTON, IND. Tom Crean spent two seasons trying to dig Indiana University’s men’s basketball program out of an incredibly deep hole.
This season, he hopes to start seeing the results.
While Crean downplays expectations, fans see an Indiana roster filled with talent, depth, experience and have more hope than at any time since Crean has been in charge of the storied program. All of it, they believe, points to more wins and a possible postseason bid, things Crean’s players believe they can deliver.
“It’s a lot different,” forward Christian Watford said. “We’re going in with confidence, a feeling that we can compete in this league. We’re a year older and a year wiser, and we know what it takes to win now.”
For Indiana (10-21 last season), it’s been a long slog back from the phone-call scandal that decimated the program. Crean arrived in Bloomington three years ago with one job: Restore Indiana’s glorious basketball tradition.
In Year 1, he had to contend with a number of promising freshmen but only two returning players, both walk-ons, and wound up with only six wins and a 1-17 mark in Big Ten play.
In Year 2, Crean brought in two of the league’s top freshmen—Watford and guard Maurice Creek. The Hoosiers went 10-21 and 4-14 in conference play, numbers that probably would have been better had Creek not gotten hurt in late December.
Now, with his third recruiting class, Crean finally has the kind of team Indiana fans remember.
Watford, the 6-foot-9 sophomore, averaged 12 points and six rebounds last season and is much stronger than he was a year ago.
Creek, a 6-5 sophomore, was leading the Hoosiers with 17.6 points per game when he went down with a fractured left knee. He missed the rest of the season. Crean has brought him back slowly, but Creek is now starting to play with more confidence.
“It feels pretty good,” Creek said after Indiana’s first exhibition game. “It just felt good to be out there with my guys. I showed some effort and didn’t get hurt.”
That’s the good news.
What Crean must do now is put it all together.
Verdell Jones should fill one starting spot. The junior guard has scored in double figures each of the past two seasons, averaging 11.0 as a freshman and 14.9 last season, and has played more minutes in college than anyone else on the team.
The problem: He missed both of the Hoosiers’ exhibition games after spraining his right ankle in practice.
If his players are healthy, Crean has a solid foundation.
Sophomore forwards Derek Elston and Bobby Capobianco provide inside muscle, and Elston is a capable scorer, too.
Indiana still is waiting for the NCAA to clear
7-foot junior college transfer Guy-Marc Michel after looking into ties he had with a French club he played with before enrolling in college. There’s also 6-9 forward Tom Pritchard, whom Crean calls his best help-side defender.
Together, it’s the best front-line contingent Crean has had in Bloomington, and it’s creating competition for playing time—something Crean has desperately craved the last two seasons.
Crean also has a deeper backcourt.
Sophomore Jordan Hulls, a former Mr. Basketball in Indiana and a hometown favorite, and senior
Jeremiah Rivers both return. Crean also has added two energetic swingmen—6-5 Victor Oladipo and
6-6 Will Sheehey. Both are expected to have key roles this season, and Oladipo could win more than just a starting spot.
The bad news is that three-point specialist Matt Roth, who missed all but two games last year, hurt his knee and may miss time.
But at least this time, Crean has a few more bodies to plug holes and plan Indiana fans can get behind.
“Our goal is to be relentless moving forward on defense. On offense, we need to continue to emphasize taking care of the basketball,” Crean said.
And maybe that will be enough to give Indiana its first winning season since 2007-08.