The Tom Crean's Hoosiers rebuild
Christian Watford's a good step, as is Jordan Hulls. What else needs to be done?
For years, the Indiana Hoosiers had been among the bluest of blue-chip programs. The Hoosiers are blessed with a storied tradition, an ex-coach who is quite well-known and no less than five national championships to their name.
The only thing IU doesn't have is much to show in the way of recent success. Indiana posted a combined record of 16-46 the past two seasons, and Saturday's 80-61 win at home over Michigan put an end to a six-game losing streak. Heading into tonight's game against the Wisconsin Badgers, Tom Crean's team stands at 10-8 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten.
Of course, Crean walked into said storied program at a time when it offered a lot more tradition than short-term promise. When former coach Kelvin Sampson and Indiana parted ways in February 2008 amid a swirl of NCAA allegations, it stood to reason that there would be a rocky transition period for the new coach. That is exactly what has happened, and apparently the transition period is ongoing.
But, hey, let's start with the good news. (Yes, there's good news.) Last November, Crean secured a commitment from 6-foot-10 high school senior Cody Zeller of Washington, Ind. It was rightly regarded at the time as a huge day for IU basketball. Over the past few years the state of Indiana has produced a small army of Zellers (and Plumlees), all of whom made haste for the ACC or Big East. For Crean to land this nationally ranked in-state prospect was a sign that the Hoosiers will again be a player in the pursuit of top talent within their borders. In fact, IU fans have been waiting for years for a coach in Bloomington to bring together "consistently elite recruiting" with "NCAA compliance." It looks like Crean is poised to do just that.
Nor is it necessary to look to the future to see glimmers of hope for IU. Leading scorer Christian Watford has made a huge leap in efficiency on offense from his freshman to his sophomore year. Fellow sophomore Jordan Hulls may not shoot much but when he does it goes in, period. No player in D-I is more accurate from the field than Hulls. Lastly, not enough people have heard of Victor Oladipo. On paper it says the 6-foot-5 freshman from metro Washington, D.C., averages just 18 minutes a game, but actually his playing time's been increasing of late -- and rightfully so. Oladipo accounts for as many possessions as a featured scorer when he's on the floor and he makes 57 percent of his 2s. There are certainly signs of progress at Assembly Hall.
But for Indiana to truly become "Indiana" again, here is what the Hoosiers need to fix, change and/or transcend on their way back to the top:
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John Gasaway has written for Basketball Prospectus since its inception in 2007. His college hoops commentary appears weekly on ESPN Insider. John's writing has also appeared at SportsIllustrated.com, as well as in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Playboy.