Indiana coach Tom Crean and his staff have spent much of the offseason trying to answer a question that will dictate the coming season.
Who are the Hoosiers?
They are more athletic than last year.
They have more length at most positions and could be better in transition.
But who are the leaders? How do you replace Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller – four starters who were among the team leaders not just on the court, but in the locker room?
How does a team with one returning senior, a group with one player who has seen a losing season at IU, keep the edge and nastiness that allowed the Hoosiers to go from the brink of irrelevance in Crean’s first season to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances?
Those are questions that can’t be answered quickly.
I think we’re going to have good leadership, assistant coach Tim Buckley said. I think it might be different leadership, but it will be good leadership.
It will also be younger – much younger – leadership.
Most of the focus on what could be for the Hoosiers in 2013-14 is pointed toward a six-man recruiting class that is the No. 6 group in the nation according to the 247Composite, a ranking by 247Sports that aggregates several major recruiting-site rankings into one.
But the returning players, and particularly the sophomores, will have to grow up in a hurry as well.
Only senior forward Will Sheehey and incoming fifth-year transfer Evan Gordon, a former guard at Arizona State, boast more than three years of college playing experience. Only Kevin Yogi Ferrell, a sophomore, was a regular starter last season.
Gordon was a big addition for experience, but his role with the squad hasn’t been pinpointed yet.
He really showed great promise, and he’s a guy that we feel like can contribute because of his ability to understand how to play at this level, Buckley said.
He shot 35 percent from three, but he’s also a guy that played in the point guard position for them. The more guys you have on the floor that can handle the ball and get in pick and rolls with the style of play that we like to play, the better.
Still, this is a team with just three scholarship upperclassmen, which includes deep bench player Austin Etherington.
While freshmen like Noah Vonleh – a consensus top-10 recruit – will be integral to IU’s success, so will big strides from sophomores Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin.
Jeremy had to go through some tough things, and I think that’s gonna make him better, Buckley said of the combo forward. I just hope that Hanner’s watched a lot of (Chicago Bulls center) Joakim Noah video getting ready for next year because if he plays with that kind of energy, with his athleticism and his ability to influence the game on the defensive end, I think he can help, as well.
It’s a great challenge in that you never really know what you have until you have them together and you start to put a team together. If everyone buys in to what their job is and they get locked into that and they do that well, and we become a great defensive team and we deflect the ball and turn our defense into offense, we have a chance to make up for some things that we lost.
The Hoosiers have started to gain some semblance of what they could look like through individual workouts. And while national analysts aren’t as high on IU as last season, there is some respect for the potential this group has.
CBSSports.com put IU at No. 23 on its early preseason rankings. ESPN.com had the Hoosiers at No. 20.
But while last season’s team was a sure thing, this group is hit-or-miss. It should take on a form similar to Crean’s teams at Marquette – lengthy, athletic and strong defensively.
To have that kind of impact, this group will need to find its identity. And it will have to do it without the core of a group that learned what IU basketball was about by reviving it.
I think we’re going to be probably more athletic and probably longer, so we’ll have to trade that for experience right now, Buckley said. I think that we can make some progress here in the summer time because we get a chance to work with them.