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Junior Will Sheehey showed definitive improvements his game last season, overcoming an ankle injury at the start of Big Ten play, and bounced back to be an impact player. He even became a full-time eventual starter when Verdell Jones went down at the end of the season and hit the game-winning shot to send IU to the Sweet 16. Even better? Crean nominated Sheehey as one of the most improved players this Summer.
During the Hoosiers' remarkable turnaround last season, the players were asked what the difference was between the wretched season they had just suffered through in 2010-2011, and the success they were currently enjoying. Their answer was pretty simple, Cody and "Sheeladipo." Sheeladipo being the name the coined for the improved sophomore wings who added new dimensions to the Hoosier attack, and were playing defense without racking up tons of fouls. It's sometimes easy to forget what an impact Sheehey had with his improvement from his freshman year. What did that improvement look like? Here's the numbers:
His field goal and free-throw shooting improved steadily, from 52.4% to 54.3% and from 64.9% to 70.4%, respectively. Meanwhile, his three-point shooting rocketed through the roof, jumping from 30.4% to a fearsome 38.3%. His teammates had noted his improved shooting stroke before last season began, and they were proven right. Even better, Sheehey was no Bruce Bowen-type: just about spot-up threes and cuts to the basket (although increased strength certainly helped him finish through challenges), but he really developed a nice mid-range jumpshot as well. You might ask VCU about it.
So what else changed in Sheehey's game? He played more minutes but his foul rate dropped, and his assist/turnover ratio improved greatly, moving from 1:2 to somewhere around 4:5. Unfortunately, it looks like his rebound, steal, and block rates all decreased slightly, as he got slightly better numbers on the year, but not on pace with his increased minutes. Some of this may have to do with his overcoming injuries and being more averse to contact (but that doesn't sound like the "chippy" Will Sheehey I know), I actually think that a very slight decrease in rebound rate can be attributed to his newfound long-range shooting prowess, and how Sheehey was shifting a little more to the perimeter. The slight decrease in blocks and steals does concern me, but A) he came through big-time at Purdue when he was needed and B) maybe this is part of Sheehey's overall improvement in this offseason.
So, what can we expect from Sheehey this season?
First and foremost, I think we can count on Sheehey averaging closer to 30 minutes a game, which will be a substantial bump from 22.4 he saw last season. Crean has been hyping his endurance, and that season-long average from last season is a little misleading because of how he came back from the ankle injury halfway through the season, and once he was fully back, he averaged over 30 minutes/game once Verdell went out. It'll be very interesting to see where, in his game, that this vaunted improvement will be demonstrated. Better passing would certainly be welcome, and certainly acquiring more stops. Crean thinks highly enough of Sheehey's rebounding ability that he's evidently using him to school Hanner Mosquera-Perea. Even though I've mentioned this a bit, I'd really like to see Sheehey's shooting numbers stay steady with the free-throw percentage continuing to rise, and more than anything, see his assist numbers rise. I'd like Sheehey to become a "glue guy" more than an enforcer, the kind of player that makes other teammates better on both ends of the floor, and I think he's got the athleticism and instincts to do it. And with the incredible young talent that's on board now, Sheehey's going to be looked at for leadership both this year and next.