An early look at the 2015-2016 backcourt

  • 09/08/2015 11:07 am in

With the official start of practice less than a month away, the 2015-2016 season is on the horizon. We’ll have comprehensive player-by-player previews later this fall, but here’s an early look at some of the storylines to keep an eye on with this season’s backcourt:

Previously: An early look at the 2015-2016 frontcourt

· This group should be special: After missing the postseason altogether in 2013-2014, Indiana returned to the NCAA tournament last season. The reason? Guard play.

The Hoosiers had one of the country’s best backcourts last season and every notable contributor returns this season. Yogi Ferrell is back with a chance to set some program records. James Blackmon Jr. was one of the best freshman scorers in the country last season and after considering turning pro, is back with plenty to prove. Robert Johnson was overlooked at times as a freshman, but played heavy minutes and that experience will be beneficial as IU sets its goals even higher this season.

Troy Williams, another player who considered entering the NBA draft, is also back as one of the Big Ten’s most versatile wing players. And there’s also senior Nick Zeisloft, who torched the nets as a shooting specialist to the tune of 45 percent from 3.

· Can Yogi lead a deeper NCAA tournament run? Ferrell’s career in an IU uniform hasn’t been without its share of twists and turns. As a freshman, he was the point guard for a team that won the Big Ten and spent considerable time ranked No. 1. His role grew as a sophomore, but Indiana took a major step back and failed to reach the postseason.

As a junior, Ferrell was a big reason Indiana won 20 games and returned to the postseason, but the Hoosiers never developed the consistency necessary for sustained success.

Now Ferrell is back for the final chapter in his IU career with major expectations. He’ll be a consensus All-Big Ten first team selection in all of the preseason magazines. He’s also surrounded by enough talent to make a run in March. But can he be the catalyst on a team that advances past the Sweet 16? Fair or not, that is how Indiana’s season is going to be judged and could drastically shape how Ferrell is remembered in the hierarchy of Indiana point guards.

· Major expectations for sophomore duo: Plenty was expected of Blackmon Jr. and Johnson last season. Those expectations will be ramped up significantly this year as both players were successful last season, but showed plenty of room for growth.

Blackmon Jr. continues to recover from offseason knee surgery, but is on track to be 100 percent by the start of practice. He had no problem finding ways to score as a freshman. His impact on defense, however, was minimal. For Blackmon Jr. to be considered one of the best guards in the Big Ten, he must become more than just a scorer and rebounder.

For Johnson, who quietly put together a very good freshman campaign, there are questions to be answered from a decision making perspective. His turnover rate of 24.2 stood out on a team that was vastly improved in that area last season. Johnson could also be in line for a bit of a shift in his role if Indiana opts to go with more traditional lineups featuring Williams at the three.

· Is Williams in line for another leap? Williams was undoubtedly one of the Big Ten’s most improved players as a sophomore. But in what will likely be his final season in Bloomington, is he ready to solidify himself as one of the league’s elite players?

To do so, Williams must continue to exhibit improvement with his midrange and perimeter game. There’s no questioning his ability to score at the rim and in transition, but when the offense slows down, Indiana needs Williams to create plays for others and knock down shots when left open.

Williams is also one of the league’s top returning rebounders, which should continue to be a major focus of his game. Thomas Bryant’s arrival should take some of the pressure of cleaning up the defensive glass off Williams, but it should still be his goal to lead Indiana on the glass as he did as a sophomore.

· Can Zeisloft’s hot shooting continue? After being questioned by many IU fans when he signed with the program in July 2014, Zeisloft was one of the surprises for Indiana last season.

He led the Big Ten in 3-point shooting in conference games at 51.4 percent and 70 of his 81 field goal attempts in conference play came from behind the 3-point arc.

While he’s talked this offseason about diversifying his game, it’s hard to imagine a role more appropriate for Zeisloft than finding space on the perimeter and burying shots when the defense collapses on IU’s other playmakers.

Like the rest of Indiana’s backcourt, Zeisloft must improve defensively, but it’s clear he’s one of the best perimeter shooters in the country. When he’s on from distance and is on the court with playmakers like Ferrell and Williams, Indiana boasts one of the best offenses in the country.

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  • TomJameson

    You are, as usual, SOWRONG!

  • Bill Graham

    Yogi dropped 9 threes on a Maryland team that finished 28-7 and finished 2nd in the BIG. If thats not enough for you how about the fact that he’s 6th in IU history in assists. Still not enough? How about the fact that he is 1 of only 5 players in IU history to have 1,000 career points, 400 assist, and 300 career rebounds and HE STILL HAS A YEAR LEFT TO PLAY! Pair that with a freshman who averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds a game. I’d say thats pretty spectacular.

    Once again your pessimism has no basis. You talk tough but you bring no logic or supporting statistics to back your distorted patriotism.

    P.S. sorry for smashing him so harshly guys.

  • Bill Graham

    You’re right because 23 ppg and leading the nation in 3’s made is irrelevant because Harvey was playing against Montana instead of Rutgers…And you’re right we have accepted mediocrity… being ranked in the top 15 in the nation and top 2 in the BIG is just mediocre. Oh and about your point about PU doing a “better job recruiting,” let me remind you that Cody should have been a SENIOR last year and NOAH would have been a JUNIOR!….ya you’re right Hammonds and Haas are way better than those guys…..

  • Bill Graham

    I agree with that point. I still disagree with your point about Eastern Washington and Purdue though. Yes its Indiana and I would love to get back to those great days with a loaded front court. But regardless, I’m not looking at last year. I’m excited to play Purdue this year. And I think we can make some noise. If there is one thing I’ve learned about the game (from coaching it) anyone can beat anyone on any given night. We can’t discredit the Eastern Washington’s of the world.

  • Bill Graham

    By the way tell Jack Nunge that we need him in candy stripes.

  • Bill Graham

    Dont forget about Buddy Hield and company.

  • eville87

    We always start the season off well then we have the typical late season slide. We recruited both Noah and Cody knowing they were not 3 or 4 year players. What we have not done is a great job from that point managing our roster since then. Yes this team will be good! But do we get past the sweet 16? Can we play defense? Ready for the 3 man weave? Can Bryant stay out of foul trouble? Emmitt Holt was going to play a bigger role this year. Thanks….

  • ForeverIU

    But isn’t it fascinating that the name “guard” itself is all about defense, about “guarding” and “protecting” your territory, and loving the half of the court that you are entrusted with? It’s easy, or easier, to attack and penetrate and bash and destroy, but much harder to defend and attune yourself to every detail and nuance of your opponent’s movements. I will even go as far as to say that becoming a good defender disciplines a player in body and soul. You become more proactive, more alert, you sense the excise police before they turn the corner, LOL. Now that is the point of it all. So relax buddy, and there is no love lost.

  • ForeverIU

    Don’t worry, I think PMSWRONG has nerves of steel. And I still think he is really a computer. LOL!

  • fourputtsforsnowman

    Hi Bill. I’ve always said on these threads that yogi is closer to average than great. The tell tail sign is that no NBA team had any serious interest in him last year. It isn’t that is offensive stats are poor, but his overall game still isn’t where it needs to be. For instance, when he consumes time with the ball in his hands there is a lot of standing around by other IU players. It isn’t a winning strategy and IU generated an average big 10 W-L record.
    It is really hard to watch yogi closely and conclude that he puts effort into defense. He’s ok at it and yes, once and awhile he’s inspired. But frankly he is just disinterested in it most of the time. So subtract something from his offense.
    And he isn’t an aggressive rebounder and seldom blocks out. So 300 rebounds is more a result of standing on the court for 30+ minutes a game for 3 years than an achievement.
    There are many many many other weaknesses in his game. His help defense is seldom up to big 10 standards and his court awareness as a point guard seems inferior compared to someone like Hulls, or many opposing point guards last year.
    To me, the big negative about yogi is the number of times he threw his arms up/down in disgust at his younger teammates because he thought they weren’t doing something they should do. Unacceptable to this IU fan.
    If he wants a chance to play in the NBA he had better get serious about these fundamentals fast but for IU to win this year the ball needs to not be in his hands as much. It will be interesting to watch the team work on this squad.

  • IMSKRONG

    And with all of that…. he still can’t play defense. He ALMOST makes his offense moot.

  • IMSKRONG

    Oklahoma has a good backcourt. You almost have to throw Miss St in there solely based on Malik Newman. UCLA with Alford and co..

  • IMSKRONG

    EVERY year it has been fixed? How much could have been fixed from the 12-13 year? Maybe a little better defense? Better coaching?

  • IMSKRONG

    Take Zeller away and they win 12 games again. Take Dipo away they win 20. Zeller was that good and meant that much.

  • IMSKRONG

    You make me sad…. lol.

  • oldiugymnast

    are there things in your life that are positive?

  • oldiugymnast

    You are delusional young man. Olidipo was a defensive nightmare for opponents.

  • oldiugymnast

    You are delusional. All the experts are wrong and you are right. Again – do you have anything in your life that you approach from a positive point of view or are you always this negative about everything? Maybe some Vitamin D would do you good if you can roll yourself out of mommy’s basement.

  • oldiugymnast

    Jesus you are an idiot dude. The 12-13 team was a very good defensive team. 13-14 was a pretty good defensive team, good rebounding team and couldn’t hit ocean from 10 feet. The 14-15 team could fill it up – but couldn’t keep anyone in front of them. You are just so entirely full of bs! There are plenty of reasons to be critical, but you just seem to pull your ideas directly from your rectum.

  • oldiugymnast

    The NBA thing is a terrible measuring stick to use for how good a college player is… Different game, different rules and small isn’t as big of a liability for a point guard in the college. But your really went off the rails when you said he is inferior compared to Hulls. Seriously? I love Jordan but come on!!!!

  • ForeverIU

    The Gymnast against the Evil Computer. LOL.

  • IMSKRONG

    He said the problems from the previous year were fixed the next year.

  • IMSKRONG

    And Zeller was on both sides.

  • oldiugymnast

    And what part of what I posted didn’t show that exactly that happened. We had one bad shooting team – next year great shooting team that didn’t play d. This is pretty easy to figure out. They got better at what was deficient – but new issues crept up. Both can happen.

  • IMSKRONG

    What got fixed after the 12-13 season?

  • IUMIKE1

    You are absolutely correct. I tried to do more thinking before typing this time hoping to have a shorter reply than usual too long one. lol Had been thinking that in the past TC has seemed to not ever start someone that a lot of us thought should maybe get a crack at starting because he thought it more important to have that player used for others with foul trouble, in need of a breather etc and was thinking of TC very possibly using CH as that this season. My bad, I’m in complete agreement in that the best lineup would be to have CH starting alongside of TB and having TW at the three. Looks like my trying to think more before typing was a fail in more ways than one, oh well, back to the drawing board. lol

  • calbert40

    As Drew said, it really is not relevant to this discussion at all, but how many of those situations are the fault of the coaching staff? Certainly not Patterson. April and PJ were not ever going to get any PT here, so they transferred for those reasons. Luke was homesick. HMP, DD and EH were dismissed for off-court incidents. Hollowell was a malcontent, and I think it was in everyone’s best interest that he left.

    The only guys listed above that are rough to deal with, IMO, are Stan and Max. Both cited PT, and I can buy that, but both were guys we could have used. Transfers happen. Dismissals happen.

  • oldiugymnast

    What needed to be fixed? That was a near complete roster reload. Only 1 starter returned. Let me guess – you think that the Syracuse game was all on coaching and had nothing to do with our best shooting guard having a badly injured shoulder against a zone that was collapsing (and incidentally fouling the snot out of Cody on nearly every possession without a whistle) because they only had to guard one shooter all the time. Jordan could create the way he had the rest of the season due to injury, and they effectively denied Watford the ball. 12-13 was a great team – but as we all are aware, it was not very deep and there were no shooters beyond Christian and Jordan. Yogi was not a great shooter until the next year – and wasn’t truly great until last year. What all of your comments boil down to is that you don’t like Coach or the style of basketball he plays. I am on the fence about that. When he has the horses, it is an awesome thing to watch. When he doesn’t – it isn’t.

  • fourputtsforsnowman

    I stated that I think yogi’s court awareness is below that of Hulls. If IU were in the final few minutes of the NCAA championship game I’d rather have hulls than yogi on the court because hulls makes the smart play and yogi is average (not terrible, just average). Yogi has more raw talent, always has, but his basketball fundamental skills as a PG hold him back IMO.
    What is your opinion of yogi throwing his arms up/down on the court in disgust of his teammates? Did anyone count how many times he did that last year? Not every game but still quite a few times.
    One of the issues with the idea of “yogi leading a team” is exactly what does that mean to him (and CTCreamed). Does it mean yogi gets his 20+ points at all costs? Or does it mean he sacrifices so others can shine? We will see this year. To me, if it is “yogi time” where he tries to make a play himself, IU will be disappointing again. For this team to go far, it will be because yogi sacrifices and others excel. They have more talent. By that I mean that I don’t want to watch yogi driving into the paint to win/lose the game. Nor do I want him taking a 3 point shot to win/lose a game. Others have more skill and yogi’s first job as PG is to get them and the ball into a position so they can succeed. Stating that another way, and more generally, it is time for yogi to pass the torch to others who have more potential and more upside. If he does that this year, I think IU will play above its ability on paper. If yogi decides everyone supports him, which I believe he has based on his past, look for quite a few disappointing losses.
    All this will be fun to watch and I would like to see yogi improve leaps and bounds. If he does, we will see it right at the start of the season. It will be obvious to all. And we will know immediately that IU will be playing late into the Spring against teams that don’t want to play us… as it should be.

  • IMSKRONG

    Luke was “homesick.” But I just posted this to put it as a visual as to where we are right now.

  • IMSKRONG

    So again. What was fixed after 12-13? That was my original question that you haven’t answered in the two random replies you’ve given me.

  • calbert40

    Goodness…lots of Negative Nancies around here lately. Our backcourt has the ability to be prolific offensively this year. Last year (the operative word being Last), they struggled defensively; however, last year’s stats don’t have any bearing on this year’s team. With the potential to have better interior defense, and by all accounts, an emphasis on defense this summer, I believe the perimeter D will be much improved as well.

    Most D1 coaches would LOVE to have our backcourt. They should be great, and they will be very fun to watch.

  • Bill Graham

    guys….I actually agree with IMSKRONG…. that was actually a decent comment. Well said.

  • calbert40

    That’s fine. I’m not suggesting that our roster turnover is a positive or even a net neutral item. I don’t think turnover is ever a good thing; however, I do bristle at the notion that a) Crean is kicking guys out of Bloomington left and right for no good reason, and b) transfers and dismissals don’t happen elsewhere (not suggesting you did this…just an observation).

    I don’t think all of that turnover is bad or controllable. We had no control over the Luke situation. The dismissals were unfortunate, but they weren’t transfers…we kicked them out of the program for breaking team/school rules. A few of those guys weren’t contributors, and they left to go to smaller schools where they have the potential to contribute more than they did at IU, and I can’t blame the player or the coach for those. There are a couple unfortunate situations in there, but we don’t know everything that led up to those transfers, so I’m not going to judge the coach or the players on them.

  • IMSKRONG

    I will not comment on the Fischer situation. Just know what I’ve heard and it’s greatly believable.

  • ForeverIU

    Thanks, Polly Positive! LOL.

  • eville87

    See him down here often and he is better than people think has a great shooting touch for a big.

  • Come on guys

    I’m confused with what Vic’s freshman year has to do with anything? He got considerably better between freshman to sophomore year and ever more so going to his junior year. He and Zeller were a (nearly) unstoppable one two punch (probably why they were both lottery picks). I think he played a pretty pivotal role in turning the program around, and none of that at all even mentions the huge impact he made off the court.

  • IMSKRONG

    Because you could notice the massive improvement(from everyone) once Zeller stepped on the floor. I think people forget just how important Zeller was. On and off the court. He was our best player both years he was here. Plus.. no Zeller means no Yogi.

  • TomJameson

    Hahahaha … I heard the moon is made of blue cheese, and it was presented very believably!
    LOL
    LOL

  • calbert40

    I’d just love it if people would act like Realistic Rhonda! Someone says something positive, and people crawl out of the woodwork to bash them. I mean…we are a consensus Top 15 team for this coming up season, and the way most people act, you’d think we were destined for the CBI. It’s lunacy.

  • calbert40

    Fair enough, but unless it comes from someone with firsthand knowledge, it’s hearsay.

  • ForeverIU

    But we were Top 15 before Holt left, no? I think his dismissal hurt us a lot. Every player is crucial when you have a thin front court. Unless Juwan and OG contribute way beyond expectations (from freshmen), I don’t have very high hopes for us. I just don’t see it, and that doesn’t make me Nancy or Polly, lol. Maybe Rhonda! Plus, our player exodus is not over yet. It never is.

  • calbert40

    I really don’t think his absence would make a big deal, at least rankings wise. He is an undersized (6’7″, 215) post player who averaged 3.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg and played less than 10 mpg on the season, including 5 DNP – coach’s decision games, and 4 other games where he played 5 or fewer minutes. In more than a quarter of our games, he was a total non-factor.

    I’m not suggesting we won’t miss him, but I certainly don’t believe that most pollsters would view his dismissal as a reason to drop us too much, if at all. Equally, I believe we can replace his minutes and production pretty easily. JMO.

  • calbert40

    On the Cubs blog I frequent, we use italics as the sarcasm font.

    You just have to use what you want to say sarcastically
    Just don’t use spaces.

  • Come on guys

    I’m not saying zeller wasn’t the more important of the two. I never said they were equal. I’m just saying that you can reasonably say that the two of them were focal points in turning the program around. Also it is impossible to know the effect that each had off the court. Especially with leadership and recruiting. Way too intangible.