Last season, Indiana returned to prominence in a lot of ways.
They beat three top-five teams and two Final Four teams. They defeated their rivals – Purdue (twice), Kentucky, and Illinois (for some). They finished with a winning-record, 27-9, for the first time in four years and nearly matched their win total of the previous three years combined. They not only made the NCAA Tournament, but advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, losing to eventual champion Kentucky.
And it’s only going to get better.
Christian Watford and Cody Zeller each flirted with the NBA Draft but ultimately decided they want more.
They aren’t contempt with a fifth-place finish in the Big Ten or a loss in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. And they certainly didn’t want to end their last game of the season in a loss.
Zeller was a guy I thought was staying but he took a look. Watford was a guy I thought was going to leave for the draft but opted to stay. In the long run, they both made the right decision.
Indiana now returns an incredible lineup — including the top five scorer’s from last season — and will add one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
If fans thought last year was fun, just imagine what next year could be like.
Tom Crean accepted the Indiana job and won just six games in his first season with the help of of walk-ons and baseball players. In his fifth year, he’s got a scholarship problem.
Five freshman will come to Bloomington, joining nine returning players (all five starters). That’s a good problem to have.
Those that follow the team are so excited, that they are already predicting starting lineups. That’s not going to matter because of the depth and skills of this team. I expect to see different starting lineups based on the opponent and who is playing best in practice. IU is strong and deep at everywhere, positioning them to compete for both a Big Ten and NCAA title.
ESPN, NBC Sports, USA Today, SI and Yahoo! Sports, to name a few, have Indiana No. 1 in their early preseason poll. All that could change with a few last minute recruiting pickups.
But just think for a minute where this program was four years ago, what they went through and now their back on top. Take the hype and run with it. I understand the buzz because there hadn’t been any in previous years.
Coach Crean kept at it on the practice court and recruiting trail, and it was that relentless effort that has put Indiana in the state they are now in.
Every player is eligible. 100-percent graduation rate. Academic All Americans. Players represent the program and university with pride. And they get it done on the court.
[Photo via Mike Dickbernd / IU Athletics]