This is a continuation of a previous post. If you want the background of the last three years to put this post into context scroll down and check out Part I of The Three Year Plan.
Year 3, this year, is where I consider the Three Year Plan to have began. 2 years of foundational recruits with a year of playing time. You can't expect much from the team before this year. With Crean's second recruiting class now having a year under their belt, IU fans could start having expectations.
Crean brought in high quality "glue guys" in Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey to team up with the sophomore class and transfer Guy-Marc Michel to make some noise in the BIg Ten. However, Guy-Marc was ruled ineligible because he had played a few games of pro-ball in France. Mo Creek broke again, Watford broke his wrist and Jones is playing on a gimp knee.
Before the season I had put our wins at 17 and currently it appears 13 is about the ceiling. Despite admirable attempts to drive this ball club by the healthy they're falling short. Jordan Hulls has gone from quality role player to leader on this young team. His development of some quality dribble penetration has brought his game and value up a few notches. Despite the vast improvement of Hulls, Elston and Capo look to be the exact same players as last year, depth players. In context with the injuries this season is to be expected when the top half of your roster is depleted as it has been. I leave this season at that because it isn't quite over and there is still some of the story to be written, but it doesn't look promising that we'll bag another win. Finishing at 12 wins.
The Future is what IU has to look forward too. Expectations should jump greatly going into next year. An NIT bid should be expected at the least by everyone and a very successful season should culminate in a Tournament bid. I believe this is what Tom Crean and his staff are seeing as well. The entrance of Cody Zeller in 2011 is going to be huge. His offensive post presence will move Christian Watford to his more natural PF position or possibly even to a SF position with Pritchard at the 4 for a big lineup. That leaves VJII and Hulls to battle for time at the point with a healthy Mo Creek and Oladipo fighting for the SG spot. What Cody Zeller means to this program is no more of that dreaded weave we've seen so much this season.
The dark horse that I think will surprise everyone for 2011 is incoming freshman Austin Etherington. He has really been the heart and soul of this successful Crean recruiting run. The kid bought into the system when he was the only one in 2009 and the program was in limbo. He may not be the most talented kid on the floor (though he has plenty to give) but I will guarantee he'll compete with Will Sheehey as the heart and soul of Indiana basketball. Both kids believe in their teammates and what they can achieve. Put them two together and its like having 2 Chris Kramers. Sheehey and Etherington are kids that will win a game or two next year on sheer will power. You watch.
2012 is the culmination of the Three Year Plan. No more excuses, no more being content with losses. Every game should be winnable and a top 25 ranking from start to finish should be expected. You may be saying to yourself, "but AJ is the 2012 class really that good?". The answer is no. No they are not. They aren't going to be a John Wall Kentucky class but what they will be is a class of freshman that can come in and supply immediate depth and contribute from the bench without sacrificing much in production. The current sophomore class will be grown men. Seniors that have been there. Real veteran leadership for the first time in Crean's tenure. Watford should be an All-Big Ten player. Hulls and Creek should be 2-3rd teamers and Cody Zeller should be +20 lbs. stronger than he is currently. Add in dynamic freshmen in Yogi Ferrell and Buss Patterson, and dynamic post defense and rebounding in Jurkin and Perea and you have a team 1-12 that is damn good. Add in that they've all played with each other for years already and you have the makings of a special season.
Tom Crean has been building this program. It has been baby steps up to this point, but giant strides should be made starting next year. Anything less than a super competitive 2012 is a letdown and we should probably think about replacing Crean with someone else, because if you can't win with a balanced and cohesive team that he has built, you probably aren't going to win. So take a breathe my Hoosiers we will once again be back in no time. The program will improve and it all started at the beginning of this year whether you know it or not.