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Preseason Profile: Victor Oladipo

In this preseason profile, you'll find a discussion of the ups and downs of Victor Oladipo's sophomore season, and what we can expect next season. You could simply put Oladipo's year as thus: Great December, Bad January, Good February, and a kinda weak March. Let's look at the numbers!

Andy Lyons - Getty Images

On the one hand, anybody following Hoosier basketball knows that Vic improved dramatically as a sophomore, in becoming a full-time starter and the one tasked with defending the opponent's best perimeter threat. In one of the pivotal games of the season at Mackey Arena, Oladipo also became the initiator of the Hoosier offense and destroyed the Boilermaker defense. Indeed, there were many points in the games that followed where Oladipo would take the ball off of a high ball screen and you could see opponents starting to panic - let Vic drive and finish at the rim? Leave Zeller open for nasty dunk? Let Watford or Hulls or Roth, etc. spot up for an open three? There were almost no good options for the defense once he got going towards the rim.

On the other hand, in certain games I remember watching (usually against very good teams), Oladipo made little impact defensively, being neutralized by opponents' good ball-handling and screens. When the Hoosiers badly needed to make stops, sometimes they were switching Watford out high to guard Trey Burke, etc. Of course, Oladipo's rebounding also made this palatable, but the Hoosiers need guys who can simply go get stops if they want to win a championship.

But let's go beyond this to take a closer look at his numbers. From his freshman to sophomore years, his free-throw shooting got a lot better (from 61.2% to 75%) but both his three-point and overall shooting regressed (from 59.3% on 2pt FGs to 52.3%, and from 30.8% on threes to 20.8%). His assist-turnover ratio noticeably improved despite him handling the ball more, almost reaching the even (73:76) level, from a 2:3 ratio during Vic's frosh season.

Additionally, his rebounds rose to a total of 191 (128 defensive, notching a very good 15.7 defensive rebound rate) from 119 as a freshman. In fact, by my calculations, he's the ninth-best returning rebounder in the BigTen! Furthermore, he tripled his numbers of blocks (from 7 to 21) and increased the number of steals from 34 to 49 on the season. However, that was actually a decrease in his steal rate, due to increased minutes. That's no reason to worry in and of itself, Oladipo's shifting to direct on-the-ball pressure would naturally decrease his opportunities to jump into passing lanes or benefit from other's deflections.

Everyone's been saying that the outside shooting must improve, but I don't think that's an essential development needed for Oladipo and the Hoosiers to have a great season. Really, I think that it's Oladipo's defense that must get better - which sounds funny to say for a guy who was clearly the team's best perimeter defender and was arguably a better defender than anyone on the team except for Zeller. Christian Watford got superior numbers on overall stops, but Oladipo had a slightly better stops/minute number than CW. Some guys are streaky shooters, Oladipo seemed to be a streaky defender, and good defensive teams demonstrate consistency.

So what's up? I'm not knocking his ability or desire by any means, and he had some great moments - but I also saw a lot of games where he just didn't figure defensively, and the eye test sometimes hurt. I saw VO getting crossed up by foes who made him pay for his aggressiveness or picked him off screens. Oladipo just needs more consistency when defending - which could come naturally with experience after playing the role for year, but it seemed to me part of his bad January was mostly about adjustment on the offense end - once that game at Mackey arrived, he seemed to find his niche in the offense and his performance improved. More worrisome was his dip in the post-season games, especially on the defensive side.

Oladipo had a good offensive game against Kentucky but only grabbed two boards totals and notched one steal. Here's the key numbers from these key periods that bears this out:

Season (26.7mpg) 10.8ppg, 2.0apg, 5.3rpg, .6bpg, 1.4spg

January 2012: (25.1mpg) 6.6 ppg, 1.4apg, 4.8rpg, .6bpg, 1.4spg

B1G + NCAA tourneys: (29.2mpg) 8.4ppg, 3.6apg, 4.6rpg, .4bpg, .6spg

Here you see his offensive numbers take a big dip in January, but his defensive numbers are almost exactly the same. Really, nothing to worry about. However, in the post-season games, his points drop a little but his assists nearly double, so that's almost a wash, except that his minutes increase slightly. Also, his shooting wasn't great at 40% overall: indeed, 10-for-32 before that 6-for-8, 15 point performance against Kentucky.

Still, in the postseason all of his defensive numbers take a very noticeable dip, and his steal numbers absolutely collapse. And that's in spite of playing more minutes. Is this a result of O being more focused on offense instead of defense, or not being able to turn over players who are better, or a result of not playing next to Verdell Jones, or just a fluke?

What to expect next season? As much talk has gone around about Oladipo working on his outside shooting, we should expect some improvement there. I doubt anybody will mistake him for Jordan Hulls, and I actually don't foresee Oladipo's three-point shooting even matching Sheehey's from last season (38.3%). But if it approaches the 32-33% mark, that will greatly improve the balance on the floor when the ball isn't in Vic's hands. With Yogi Ferrell on board, Oladipo won't be the only one who cause havoc off the high-ball screens, and the Hoosier offense should honestly be in an elite stratosphere. However, where I really want to see improvement and leadership from Victor is on defense, and particularly in his steal percentage. With Ferrell on board, hopefully he allows Victor to play off the ball on defense, so that he can clog the passing lanes and come up with more steals. Oladipo needs to be able to be disruptive from wire to wire against opposing offenses, and yet still be able to be a "don't get beat" presence with his on-the-ball defense. With his ability to get to the rim, pass, hit free-throws, and get stops, Oladipo is already a rising star. Statistically significant improvements in his three-point percentage and steal percentage might not look like much individually, but should lay the groundwork for a starring senior year.