When coach Tom Crean came to Indiana he had only one goal: to return the Hoosier nation to the glory that it once reveled in. Yet, for a team that only won 28 of 94 games in the previous 3 seasons, that was going to be a tall order.
Fast forward to today, Indiana is ranked No. 1 in almost all respected polls. They also return starters from a team that won 27 games last year. Two of those returning starters - Cody Zeller and Christian Watford - could be earning big contracts in the NBA right now. Add to that mix two experienced reserves and a top-10 recruiting class and you can see what all the buzz is about.
Zeller, the team's starting center, can be credited with making it "cool" to sign with Indiana again. Before that, the Hoosiers didn't have any of the "sexiness" that comes with some of the other schools. Remember the movie Hoosiers, with Gene Hackmon and Dennis Hopper, that was a long time ago, Zeller helped to reinvent the image of what a Hoosier is and can be. Any coach out there would be proud to have Zeller on their team and Crean is no exception. Zeller could have been a top-10 pick in the draft, but instead opted to stay for another season. He averaged 15.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG, but with another year of experience and growth he could average a double-double this year. Watford and Sheenhey will also be crucial parts in the success of Indiana this season. Watford played impressively last year, and that is without even mentioning his Shot of the Year to beat Kentucky. He closed out the year averaging 16.7 PPG and 7.7 RPG. He finished the season grabbing 10 rebounds or more in 3 of the last 7 games. Watford will be a force to be reckoned with. Will Sheenhey is what the NBA would refer to as a "garbage man". Not because his game is garbage, but because his job doesn't look glamorous or fill up the box score, but try winning a title without a guy like him on your team. Arguably the best garbage man of all time: Kurt Rambis. He's a hard-nosed player who plays with a relentless motor. He can contribute but if he hopes to get more playing time he will need to expand his mid-range game.
Jordan Hulls grew up in Bloomington and had a personal interest in seeing the Hoosiers return to glory. His role changed last season because Victor Oladipo became more of a ball handler. That allowed Hulls to post up on the outside and punish teams with his ability to make the outside shot. He led the Hoosiers with 72 made 3-pointers, 49.3% of his attempts.
Crean believes the arrival of freshman will help Hulls. "Jordan stands to gain as much as anybody from having a group of freshman coming in that can help impact the game athletically, especially with the way Yogi passes the ball." The key will be how well the two can play together defensively. Yogi Ferrell is a McDonald's All-American who will be expected to make an immediate impact. What he lacks in skill he will be able to make up for with raw athletic ability.
For a few years the Hoosiers have been the red-headed step child of the Big Ten. They were everyone's whipping post and it seems the players not only noticed, but got fed up with it, last season, they pushed back. Zeller is a National Player of the Year candidate. He is a big, strong 6'9" player with a great wingspan. With him leading the way the Hoosiers have a lot to be hopeful about. Rookies entering the program are very talented, but may have to show that talent in practice to start. "There's not a sense that any complacency has crept in," Crean says. "We don't have any guys who feel they've arrived at any point." The freshman may be talented and looking to get some tick on the clock, but with the upperclassman leading the charge, they may find it tough to do more than cheer.