An early look at the 2014-2015 backcourt

  • 08/29/2014 11:08 am in

We took an early look at the 2014-2015 frontcourt on Thursday and today, the focus shifts to the backcourt, which is expected to be a major strength for Indiana. We’ll have comprehensive player-by-player previews this fall, but here’s an early look at some of the storylines to keep an eye on with this season’s backcourt:

· A major personnel overhaul should bring improvement: Indiana underwent a major roster overhaul in the offseason, but the Hoosiers didn’t lose a perimeter player of significance besides Will Sheehey, who also spent a lot of time playing the four last season. Yogi Ferrell, Stanford Robinson and Troy Williams are all returning and will be joined by James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson and Nick Zeisloft. Swapping in Blackmon Jr., Johnson and Zeisloft for Austin Etherington, Evan Gordon and Jeremy Hollowell is a major upgrade.

Fitting the pieces together to find the right combinations is a challenge that still awaits the coaching staff, but the first look we received in Canada was a positive one as IU’s ball movement was crisp and Ferrell was surrounded by shooters, something that wasn’t the case a season ago.

· Can Ferrell continue his rise? Yogi Ferrell was very good as a sophomore, but Indiana is going to need even more out of him as a junior. The question is, where can he get better? It’s a topic we tackled earlier in the summer and Ferrell’s midrange game and turnovers are two areas to keep track of this season.

But beyond that, Indiana needs leadership from its most experienced player. Last season, Ferrell was still an underclassmen and ceded some of the leadership mantle to Sheehey. As a junior, Ferrell will be the only holdover with major experience from IU’s Big Ten championship team and how he leads improvement in areas like decision making and turnovers will be paramount to this team’s success.

“I’ll give him the huddle and he took it right there to get his team settled in and I love that,” Crean said of Ferrell in Canada. “That’s what you want, you want a team of collective leadership, but they have to be able to look to somebody that’s been through it and he has to understand that they need him constantly.”

· Elite shooters join the backcourt: Indiana’s incoming class, led by Blackmon Jr. and Johnson, has been called the best recruiting class of shooters in the country. And after the Hoosiers shot just 34.3 percent from behind the 3-point line last season (172nd nationally), both players are welcome additions. Indiana also added Illinois State transfer Nick Zeisloft, who led the team in 3-point shooting percentage over five games in Canada.

So how will the improved shooting change how the Hoosiers play? The short answer is that defenses will no longer be able to focus on just guarding Ferrell. Last season, it was easy to sag off guys like Etherington, Gordon and Hollowell. That won’t be the case this season as Ferrell will have shooters (Blackmon Jr., Johnson and Zeisloft) and slashers (Robinson, Williams) at his disposal.

Another difference between Blackmon Jr. and Johnson and some of IU’s very good 3-point shooters in the past like Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls is that they, like Ferrell, can create space to take 3s off the dribble rather than just catching and shooting.

“You have to guard the corners this year,” Crean said. “You had to guard them the couple years we had the 50-plus wins and with those teams you had to guard the corners every game. You didn’t have to guard the corners last year for 3s, you had to guard for back-cuts, now you have to guard it for everything. That just increases our ability to do so many different things on offense.”

· Getting to the line: A staple of Crean’s best Indiana teams has been getting to the foul line, but without a dominant post player, the guards are going to have to drive that initiative. The Hoosiers were solid at getting to the line last season — 54th nationally in free throw rate — but fell off quite a bit from their two Sweet 16 seasons when they ranked in the top 15 nationally in the category.

It’s probably unrealistic for Indiana to climb back into the top 15 in the country in free throw rate (FTA/FGA), but guys like Robinson and Williams have to make it a point to attack the rim. Robinson was strong last season with a free throw rate of 54.5 percent, but he hit just 60 percent of his attempts. Williams was solid with a free throw rate of 44.5 percent, but has the potential to take a major step forward.

· Will the turnover problem be fixed? Besides the uncertainty of the frontcourt rotation, this is arguably the most important question that Indiana will have to answer this season.

In five games in Canada, Indiana turned it over on 19.3 percent of its possessions, down from 21.8 percent in the 2013-2014 season. But given that the Hoosiers played with FIBA rules, which included a 24-second shot clock, it’s hard to draw any decisive conclusions from these exhibitions as it relates to turnovers. Crean believes that keeping things simple will be the key for a shift in a category that defined Indiana at times last season.

“We have to be more aggressive with the ball, we have to get our head up on the dribble, we have to throw the ball out ahead,” he explained. “Too many of those turnovers tonight (against McGill) were unforced because we just didn’t keep the game simple. Last night we didn’t have that many and we kept the game simple. That’s all part of it and we’ll get to that point. We’ll understand how to play simple basketball.”

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  • Ole Man

    Let the games begin.

  • Gregory Spera

    Interesting that you include Troy Williams in the “backcourt” discussion, considering most on ITH think he will be playing power forward for this team. But then Crean has said that there are no real “positions” this year. Am excited to see how it all works out.

  • Miamihoosier

    The biggest challenge of the non-conference is going to be finding a consistent rotation with this back court. We know James, Yogi, and Troy are starting and playing significant minutes. Past that, it will be really interesting who plays more between Robert and Stan. If it’s Stan, with the 3 guys above, and say Hanner, you have experience out there, but only one true shooter. Please CTC, no matter what you do, don’t play 10+ guys in games that matter! Every year, I watch the NCAA tournament, the best team consistently have a 8-9 man rotation. He has GOT to figure out who our best players are, and go with it. Sorry to Hartman, Priller, April, walk-ons, and the like, there is no way these dudes should be popping up in Big Ten games (unless we’re up 30).

  • Bryce Kepner

    This years backcourt has to be one of the best in the nation.

  • CreanFaithful

    What are you basing your analysis of April on?

  • SCHoosier

    Best thing I saw in Canada was Yogi’s willingness to be a distributor of the ball to other shooters while still taking his shots and drives when it made sense. No reason to believe IU’s offense won’t spread out the floor opening shooters on the wings and corners. Of course if the opposing 5 player can just disregard IU’s five and provide help against Yogi and Stan’s driving..that could be an issue.. I think the TO’s will improve altho at the pace TC wants this team to play TO’s will be fact of life.

  • CreamandCrimson

    It will be very interesting. Here’s my line of thinking (not that it counts for anything)…our backcourt is our strength and our frontcourt is our weakness. Tom Crean has had success with guard heavy teams in the past. Our offense should operate better by increasing the number of shooters that are on the floor. To me, it makes sense to almost always have 3 guards on the floor (three of Yogi, Blackmon Jr., Johnson, Zeisloft and Robinson). Troy figures to be one of our best five and should get among the top number of minutes on the squad. That puts him at “forward” for the majority of the time and we try to find which guys work best to round out the lineup (Hanner, Devin, Holt, Max, Priller, April). I don’t know though and neither does anyone else…you are right, it’s exciting to see how Tom Crean works it out.

  • Miamihoosier

    I’m basing it on reality. Do you remember Peter Jurkin was actually ranked at one point during his Junior year of H.S.? Pete Jurkin? Sure rankings are somewhat arbitrary, but 7 footers who can play, or even hope to play, don’t fly “under the radar” in the United States. You have team scouts finding big guys in other countries even. I am not saying he can’t come in and be good in a few years. He’s not ready this year. No way, no how. If this kid was good enough to be a contributor as a freshman in the Big Ten, his recruitment would have included some competition……just sayin.

  • HoosierPat

    This will be another interesting season. Lots of talent with a lot of question marks.

  • OhioHoosier

    Zeisloft has a chance to earn that starting role as well IMO.

  • WhatsUpKnight

    yes, i’m glad yogi gets to step back into more of his natural role of distributor (though i expect he’ll still easily be a double-digit scorer). and you’re probably right about the to’s (can’t imagine what that ul game’s gonna look like. yipes!), they’re gonna happen a bit more than we’d like. but i think we’ll at least see the number of dumb, completely senseless to’s go down. ;). consecutive to’s on inbound plays, for example.

  • CreanFaithful

    Reality says that Peter Jurkin is a completely different person than Jeremiah April. Why are you mentioning him? I concede that the odds of a 1st year B1G contributor flying under the radar are slim. But, as you admit, and as I alluded to, your analysis has nothing to do with watching him play basketball.

  • WhatsUpKnight

    gonna feel like forever between now and the first game

  • MillaRed

    Whether it was in here or in the forum Alex mentioned within the last week there are a handful of dominant bigs in the country. The B1G itself has a few 2nd tier I would say. I have to agree with Miami. If we get any productive minutes at all out of April this year it would be a surprise. Can he knock down a few jumpers? It seems to be his thing. Otherwise I think he will get pushed around on the glass.

    I am hoping by the time he is an upperclassman he can provide solid minutes. Until then, it just doesn’t happen in the B1G.

  • MillaRed

    Thing is, if Yogi is going to the next level it will be as a true PG that can rack up 10 assists and minimize TOs. And that is probably coming off the bench. It will be interesting if he can cut down on the mistakes. An even younger team that is prone to TOs.

  • Erik Holm

    I agree, and they all could/should return next year. That’s why I’m surprised all the bigs that transferred snubbed us. Hopefully some of the 5-star, college ball ready kids recognize the situation for next year. I hope Crean get get a couple to hop on board.

  • Outoftheloop

    Except to provide WINNING plays! A block or a rebound by Jeremiah; a 3 from Tim! IU will need these plays to win games…which is the point of the exercise…not to fit some preconceived idea of the ideal number of players to play.

  • Outoftheloop

    Starting is just NOT very important on this Indiana team…playing time IS!

  • Outoftheloop

    In “reality” Peter Jurkin has zero, nothing, to do with Jeremiah April! In reality who else recruited Jeremiah April has very little to do with how he will perform at Indiana in 2014-15. So your honest answer to the question should have been: “April was unranked by the recruiting services and not wanted by top programs.” I agree with you on this. Which means that Jeremiah is a big unknown to most basketball fans. However, Coach Crean is staking his reputation, and his career, in part, on the line, by giving Jeremiah a 4-year scholarship to play basketball at IU (as is Coach McClain who “discovered” Jeremiah). So his bet is that he knows talent (and need on the floor for HIS team) better than these services and other coaches. Let it play out! I am rooting for Crean to be right!

  • Outoftheloop

    Indiana now has four guys apart from Troy to play the #4: Devin, Emmett, Max, and Tim. Troy will definitely be a top performer and get 25 + minutes /game along with Yogi and James!

  • Outoftheloop

    But Tim and Max are as good at shooting the 3 as any guard that you mention, excepting, probably, James!

  • CreanFaithful

    10 assists would be awesome. But Trey Burke went 9th in the draft with almost identical stats to Yogi’s +3 assists/game. I don’t think that is unrealistic for him to accomplish this year. I still see him as a 4 year player, but I expect his stock to rise significantly this year…

  • Miamihoosier

    I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. However, I have to disagree on the notion that Crean has staked his reputation and career on Jeremiah April. Why do you think that? Is it a “ten strikes you’re out” policy? Fred Glass: “Alright Tom, I was cool when Jobe, Muniru, Jurkin, Capobianco, Hollowell, Story, Williams, Abell, and Etherington, didn’t work out, but Jeremiah April? Enough is enough, he was a sure thing, we’re going to have to let you go”

  • Kyl470

    Lol. I agree with you on that. I highly doubt CTC coaching career at IU rests in the hands of April. Also if I were a Vegas odds maker I would say April’s career is more likely to mimic Jurkin’s career than Zeller’s.

  • Snookafly

    What about “the greatest center that never was,” Guy-Marc Michel?

  • Snookafly

    Oh Penn State….I had almost forgot.

  • Snookafly

    I really think he could start after watching him in Canada. Of course Crean may want to pump up the younger recruits with the starter title instead, and have Nick come off the bench as a vocal Sheehey-type 6th man.

  • Snookafly

    Troy’s position is a great question with this line-up. Coach wants a 4 that can handle the ball outside some, shoot, and drive. I’m not sure DD has that type of skill set he’s looking for, and as much as I’d love to see 2 bangers down low (Hanner and DD) we know that’s not going to happen. Troy will start, but the line-up changes throughout the game should be interesting 🙂 We’ll see how his rebounding and defense inside hold up against grinders.

  • Miamihoosier

    That wasn’t CTC’s fault! That was the blasted NCAA…that one was a balk, not a strike…

  • fourputtsforsnowman

    No one talks about yogi’s defense. That might be significant to watch because if he can’t play tough on the ball defense then our front court will be challenged at all times to provide help.

    More interesting, BOTH johnson and jbj expect to play point guard (at times) this year, assuming you believe their news comments. Where does that put yogi? The early evidence is that he has serious competition at his position. I’m not sure how yogi would do if he played off the ball. We may see it.

    And unlike many ITH participants, it would not at all bother me at all to see yogi coming off the bench or take a lesser role and see this team turned over to others. I certainly know I’m in the minority. Regardless, this is just a discussion and it will be fun to watch how things develop and play out.

  • Michael Crawley

    It is unlikely that April gets any real minutes on the roster this year, this is his learning year. But I don’t mean he is not going to contribute. HMP, Devin, and Emmitt are going to be the main guys. I hope I’m wrong and that April will be a
    beast! Who knows what his future will be I hope him the best!

    Then again it is hard to say I have only seen the highlight real and I am using that as my opinion and what my fellow peeps wrote (ITH members). I have never seen him play (like would even know what to look for). Better thought let me pontificate that I don’t know crap! I
    should have erased all the stuff before this but I wrote the propaganda might as well leave it.

  • Ole Man

    If that old hound dog hadn’t a stopped to pee, he’d a caught that their rabbit.

  • Ole Man

    It has the potential.
    But right now it’s only a “paper tiger”.

  • MillaRed

    Could a kid like Priller do what Pritch did on that roster? We will never know. But that team was bad. This one isnt. I guess im talking about April being a factor in a runu to the dance. Not a FR on a untalented roster like Pritch.

  • MillaRed

    I wasn’t saying per game CF. I worded that badly. Just saying he has the ability to do so as a pro from time to time. Yogi has not shown he is NBA ready. It will be interesting to see if he does before he leaves Bloomington.

  • Michael

    His defense has been talked about before and honestly I don’t even know why it’s ever mentioned. Not many guys in the country can do what he does

  • fourputtsforsnowman

    I agree…it will be interesting to watch yogi to see if he can take steps to become nba ready.

  • WhatsUpKnight

    yeah, sorry. shouldn’t have reminded you. it’s common to block out painful memories. 😉

  • HoosierGrampy

    Too many times last year, Yogi would drive to the rack, get challenged by a big, leave his feet and frantically try to find someone to whom he could pass the rock. More often than I care to recall, that maneuver usually led to a turnover. I hope he can learn to stay on the floor this year. The rest of his game is decent enough to be effective.

  • HoosierGrampy

    RMK often remarked to the effect that it’s not important who starts the game…it is important who finishes it. Excluding a lopsided score for or against us, I’m looking forward to see who gets counted upon to finish the close games.

  • HoosierGrampy

    Just out of curiosity, why are you so willing to accept TO’s as being a fact of life for IU? Wisconsin led the nation last year (8.1 per game), but Arizona, Louisville, Illinois, Syracuse, UCLA, Tennessee, Duke and Michigan ran when situations were favorable and every one of them averaged LESS than 11 TOs per game. Point being that teams can run AND take care of the ball. Unforced turnovers were a nemesis last year. This team does not appear to have the horses to try to “run anyone out of the gym” like Pepperdine, Richmond, Cleveland State, the Nick Anderson-era Illinois crew and a couple Big Blue Nation teams did to us. I hope our $3 million Head Ball Coach will mirror what Bo Ryan does w/players who make unforced TOs, i.e., tells them to find a nice, comfortable seat on the bench. A little “pine time” is always a good motivator–especially for young ballers.

  • Eugene Debs

    No doubt about it, the back court and wings looks solid.

  • Outoftheloop

    No hurt feelings. I just think that a college coach’s job can be approximately divided into thirds: 1/3 academic and citizenship (Crean gets an A); 1/3 recruiting (Crean gets a B/B+); Maximizing the team potential W’s and L’s (Crean gets a B-/C+). Jeremiah April will impact all three of these areas. I did say “in part”, so your failure to acknowledge this undercuts your criticism. Your examples are cited as a group, which demonstrates your lack of knowledge as to IU Basketball recent history, each is an interesting but very separate and unique story: Jobe “worked out great”, TJ was a great person, he was 7’0, he was no basketball player, but IU could not recruit any real basketball players that were 7’0 at that time, no negative to Crean; Muniru was 7’0 and ranked about #111 by Rivals, he transferred for playing time and has not been a real producer at TSU, so not much negative to Crean; Jurkin was 7’0 and ranked about the same as Muniru by Rivals, we all know his injury problems, so no negative to Crean; Capobianco was unranked, but a tough 6’9 added to a very good recruiting class (Mo, Christian, Derek, Jordy and Muniru), he transferred for playing time at Valpo, so no negative for Crean; Hollowell was a prized top 70 recruit who did not work out, but whether it was the kid or the coach we won’t know until after he plays at GA St, could be a real negative for Crean; Story worked out exactly as expected, a 1-year sort of OK player when IU had no basketball players, who did not want the academic work at IU, no negative to Crean; Williams worked out well, he was the #2 player on a horrible team with a future at IU, he went home and was OK at Ole Miss, no negative to Crean; Abell was a great success, he was signed late and Crean developed him from an average into a very good college player with a future at IU, most of Remy’s friends still think that he made an unwise decision to transfer, no negative to Crean; Etherington worked out great, he committed early, gave IU good In-State recognition, tried to recruit other Indiana HS players to IU, got every opportunity to show that he could play, and then left for more playing time at a lesser program, no negative to Crean. To my knowledge Crean has never had a “messy” separation with any of the players that you list. Only two, Abell and Williams left with a “good future” at IU available, and only two, Muniru and Hollowell, could be considered “busts”.

  • Outoftheloop

    That worked out well. Ask any young player in France about Indiana Basketball and they have heard of us!

  • Outoftheloop

    And why are those the only two career options? Have you heard of Odle, Nover,…the list goes on.

  • Outoftheloop

    I couldn’t agree more…whatever that might mean!

  • Knuckledrager

    I’m wondering about scholarships. This team has no seniors. Who’s leaving to open one up? Hate that someone will be “forced” out. Someone might leave for more playing time, but…Just saying where’s it coming from with no seniors to graduate. Go Hoosiers, ya hosers.

  • CreanFaithful

    Yogi come off the bench??? Hahahahahahaha! Our offense will involve multiple guys initiating the offense (take advantage of our strengths – multiple ball handlers/shooters). Thus, JBJ and RJ mentioning “playing the one.” Our offense will be much more flexible and dangerous. Yogi will play 35 min/game, again, as he should…