BY REX BEYERS | PROFESSIONAL ODDSMAKER, FORMER SOIN NATIVE
Those who have been wishing for new guidance at the top of the program for Indiana’s flagship basketball program got their wishes last March when Tom Crean was fired after nine seasons in March and Archie Miller was hired in from the University of Dayton to take over.
Crean admirably guided the Indiana Hoosiers through a tumultuous period at the start of his tenure. The program was gutted by Kelvin Sampson-era rules-breaking that left the Hoosiers woefully underprepared to win consistently in the uber-competitive Big 10.
Patient fans allowed Crean to win six 10 and 12 games in his first three seasons as he rebuilt the program properly through redshirting and better recruiting. The payoff came in 2011-12 when IU finished 27-9 and went to the Sweet 16. Ultimately, Crean never was able to better that season’s performance in the NCAA Tournament. Despite an outright Big 10 crown in 2015-16, the hungry fan base wanted more.
It’s tough to tell if they’re going to get it from Miller’s first team.
The losses from last season are fairly significant, as James Blackmon, OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant all left eligibility on the table to declare for the NBA Draft. Grant Gelon also is a transfer loss from last season’s 18-16 team that lost at Georgia Tech in the first round of the NIT.
Bryant started all 34 games from a year ago and averaged 12.6 points per game. He led the team in rebounding and got to the line far more than any other Hoosier. Anunoby injured his knee in early January and that finished his season. Blackmon led IU in scoring at 17 ppg.
Miller’s first coaching job was getting the three Crean recruiting signees to keep their pledge to come to Bloomington. He was able to get all three to re-commit. Hoosier fans will quickly get to welcome Justin Smith, Al Durham and Clifton Moore. Smith is a 4-star recruit, a wing from Buffalo Grove, Ill. Durham is a 3-star recruit at point guard from Lilburn, Ga., while Moore is a 6-foot-10 forward from Ambler, Pa. All figure to have a chance to contribute immediately considering what was lost.
Robert Johnson is the most notable letterman that will be back in cream-and-crimson, having logged more minutes than any Hoosier in 2016- 17. Johnson is also the returning leading scorer, at 12.8 ppg last winter. He also shot more free throws than any Hoosier other than Bryant, and led the team in both steals and turnovers, as well.
Josh Newkirk is among the more exciting of the returnees, having paced the Hoosiers with three assists per game while adding nine ppg as well. De’Ron Davis played in all 34 games, but averaged just 14 minutes per outing. His playing time figures to go up this season, as does his scoring average, which was 5.9 ppg. Davis and Juwan Morgan each blocked almost a shot per game and Morgan scored almost eight points.
Devonte Green, Curtis Jones, Zach McRoberts and Freddie McSwain are all players who contributed and started in at least one game that return as well. Those guys are likely to be role players on Miller’s first team.
No IU players made the preseason list of All-Big 10 players, so it will be incumbent on the sum of the parts to play well together if the Hoosiers are to exceed the mid-pack Big 10 expectations over the next few months. The preseason conference writers tabbed IU to finish ninth out of 14 in league play.
IU opens the regular season with a home game at Assembly Hall against Indiana State on Nov. 10.
ULTIMATELY, CREAN NEVER WAS ABLE TO BETTER THAT SEASON’S PERFORMANCE IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT. DESPITE AN OUTRIGHT BIG 10 CROWN IN 2015-16, THE HUNGRY FAN BASE WANTED MORE.