POTB 143: Hartman, Justin Smith, Big Ten projections with Mike Miller

Podcast on the Brink is back for another episode with host Jerod Morris of The Assembly Call. The show is currently available weekly. You can access a full archive of episodes here.

In this edition of the show, Morris and Inside the Hall editor Alex Bozich are joined by Mike Miller of The Herald-Times.

Among the topics discussed:

· Collin Hartman’s injury and how it could affect this season’s rotation
· Is Indiana’s ceiling as a team lower if Hartman is out for the year?
· Where things stand injury wise with Robert Johnson and Juwan Morgan after offseason surgery
· The importance of Justin Smith for Indiana’s recruiting momentum
· How Smith and Kris Wilkes could fit together in Bloomington
· What stood out from Mike’s conversation with Smith’s high school coach
· The Big Ten hierarchy entering the 2016-2017 season
· Indiana’s seven games starting at 9 p.m. this season and if that number is higher than usual
· A brief IU-MSU football preview from Mike

And plenty more. As always, feel free to drop the show a note at jerod@assemblycall.com.

Listen in the audio player below, download the episode, subscribe via iTunes or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Around the Hall: Smith talks decision, recruiting updates, more

Around the Hall is recommended reading from the Inside the Hall staff.

Justin Smith spoke to the Chicago Tribune about his decision to commit to Indiana:

The son of Illinois graduates, Smith committed to Indiana on Monday night. The No. 4 senior recruit in the state and 76th nationally in 247Sports’ composite rankings, Smith ultimately chose the Hoosiers over Villanova.

The Illini were in the final eight of his “14 or 15” scholarship offers, but they got no closer than that. Smith said Stanford, Wisconsin and Xavier rounded out his top five.

“Very early in the process, my parents let me know it is my decision,” Smith said. “They would steer me in right direction, but not force me to go anywhere.

“I just felt (Indiana) was the best fit for me basketball-wise and academic-wise and for my family being able to come to see my games. Just the entirety of it felt right.”

Indiana is playing in four of the top 25 non-conference games in college basketball this season, according to NBCSports.com. The highest ranked of the four is the New Year’s Eve tilt with Louisville:

10. Louisville vs. Indiana – Indianapolis – Dec. 31 (12:30 p.m.): This border battle game will be played off-campus at the home of the Pacers, but with Indy’s close proximity to both schools and a pair of fervent fanbases, this one should have that big-time collegiate feel with two top-15 teams.

Indiana’s OG Anunoby is among 20 breakout candidates for the 2016-2017 season, according to CBSSports.com:

A tremendous athlete with loads of potential. If we were only listing the top five breakout candidates for this season, he’d crack the list. I think he’ll be that good, that important to Tom Crean’s team this season. His usage numbers should blow up — and he’s really fun to watch. As electric a player Indiana’s had since Victor Oladipo.

NBCSports.com named Thomas Bryant a preseason second team All-American:

Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Bryant is another guy that had a chance to be a first round pick last season but opted to return to school. He had a promising first year in Bloomington, but it came with typical freshman mistakes: He was lost early in the year, especially on the defensive end. But Bryant has the tools, he plays extremely hard and he’s young for his grade; he was born five months after Josh Jackson.

Kentucky has “positioned themselves pretty nicely” for Tremont Waters according to comments made by Evan Daniels to Kentucky.com:

Indiana was the perceived leader for Waters coming out of the summer, but Calipari traveled to Connecticut to meet with him during the opening days of the fall recruiting period, and Waters showed up on UK’s campus two weekends ago for an official visit.

“I think Kentucky has certainly positioned themselves pretty nicely,” Daniels said. “They seem to have made a pretty big impression on him. … From the outside looking in, it certainly looks like Kentucky is in great shape for him.”

Five-star forward Billy Preston is opening his recruitment to other schools, he told Zagsblog.com:

Presently, Indiana, Syracuse, Maryland, Kansas and USC are actively recruiting him, and he’s slated to take any official visit to Kansas this weekend for “Late Night in the Phog.”

“After talking with my family and starting my senior year at Oak Hill Academy, I have decided to open my recruitment up and explore what schools would best fit for me as a student-athlete,” Preston said. “I am looking forward to taking official visits and have no time table for making my final decision.”

(Photo credit: Darrell Goemaat, Chicago Tribune)

Indiana picked to finish fourth in Big Ten by Blue Ribbon

The fourth college basketball yearbook published this fall, the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, was released this week.

After being ranked No. 38 by Lindy’sNo. 12 by Athlon Sports and No. 13 by The Sporting News, the Hoosiers come in at No. 18 in the Blue Ribbon preseason top 25.

Here are some other IU and Big Ten centric notes from the yearbook:

· Thomas Bryant is a preseason first team All-American and is joined by Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes and Maryland’s Melo Trimble. No other Big Ten players are on the second, third or fourth teams named by Blue Ribbon.

· Indiana’s projected starters are James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson, Collin Hartman, OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant. That projection, obviously, was made before the Hartman injury news last week.

· Blue Ribbon projects Indiana to finish fourth in the Big Ten. Here’s the complete forecast for the order of finish: Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois, Northwestern, Penn State, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Rutgers.

· Blue Ribbon’s All-Big Ten team includes Bryant, Trimble, Hayes, Malcolm Hill of Illinois and Iowa’s Peter Jok.

· Hayes is the preseason player of the year and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges is the newcomer of the year.

· Here’s a composite look at all of the preseason Big Ten projections announced thus far:


2016-2017 ITH Season Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our Big Ten team previews with the Illinois Fighting Illini.

As John Groce enters his fifth season at the helm in Champaign, the Illinois program is at a crossroads.

The Fighting Illini have missed the NCAA tournament in three consecutive seasons and a fourth straight miss would turn up the heat even more on Groce’s seat. However, Groce still has the confidence of new athletic director Josh Whitman and has recruiting momentum in the class of 2017.

This year’s Illinois squad might be the toughest Big Ten team to project as the Illini have been picked to finish as high as sixth in the league and as low as 12th in the preseason. The talent is certainly there to surprise, but there are plenty of caveats, too.

At the top of the list of those caveats is health. Illinois has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons and will need Tracy Abrams, Mike Thorne and Leron Black at full strength if expectations are to be exceeded.

Senior wing Malcolm Hill is one of the Big Ten’s best players and will once again carry a heavy offensive load. Hill used 27.7 of Illinois’ possessions last season while on the floor and posted an effective field goal percentage of 47.8. Hill does a great job of using his body to get into the lane and draw fouls. He can play both forward spots and averaged 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists as a junior.

Abrams is back for a sixth season after injuries derailed his last two attempts at a senior year. He’ll get the first shot at the point guard position, but could be pushed by freshman Te’Jon Lucas.

Sophomore Jalen Coleman-Lands is currently recovering from a broken hand, but should be ready to go sometime in November. Coleman-Lands connected on 42.2 percent of his 3s last season and is a prime candidate to have a breakout season.

Sophomore D.J. Williams is a solid athlete and slasher while classmate Aaron Jordan hit 34.4 percent of his 3s last season. Both could have a chance at increased minutes following the offseason dismissal of Kendrick Nunn, the team’s second leading scorer last season. Transfer Kipper Nichols is another player to watch, but he’ll miss the first 11 games due to NCAA rules.

Up front, Illinois should have more options this season if Thorne and Black are healthy. Thorne was granted a medical redshirt after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Black is suspended for the first four games, but is a former top 50 recruit who has the potential to make an impact on the glass.

Senior Maverick Morgan and sophomore Michael Finke, both of whom started last season, could be looking at lesser roles if Thorne and Black are healthy. The 6-foot-10 Finke can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot and Morgan shot 56.4 percent on his 2s as a junior.

Bottom Line: While it may be a stretch to call this a make or break season for Groce, there’s pressure to show progress. Strong early returns in 2017 recruiting have taken some of the pressure off, but Illinois needs quit moving backwards in the Big Ten standings. After a 23-win season in 2012-2013, the Illini have won 20, 19 and 15 games in the last three seasons. If this group can stay healthy, there’s potential to surprise, but it may be a reach for Illinois to finish in the top half of the league. It will also help quiet critics if Illinois can stay out of trouble off the court, which was a major issue last season.

Quotable: “I think it’s important today that folks understand that John Groce is going to continue to be our basketball coach. He’s a first-class individual and an excellent leader. He’s a student of basketball and leadership, and I feel really comfortable with the leadership he’s given our guys.” – Whitman on Groce last spring.

PreviouslyRutgers, Minnesota, Nebraska

(Photo credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)

Class of 2017 forward Justin Smith commits to Indiana

Indiana’s 2017 recruiting class added a second member on Monday night as Stevenson (Ill.) forward Justin Smith announced for the Hoosiers.

The 6-foot-7 Smith, who averaged 17, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists at Stevenson as a junior, chose Indiana over Villanova. He also considered Michigan, Stanford, Xavier, Wisconsin and Illinois.

The four-star prospect is ranked No. 76 nationally by the 247Composite.

Smith averaged 8.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game this past spring on the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) circuit for the Mac Irvin Fire.

Indiana hosted Smith on three unofficial visits before his official visit to Bloomington on the weekend of September 10. His first unofficial visit to Indiana came in August of 2015, following a scholarship offer in May of 2015.

Smith’s visit to last year’s Hoosier Hysteria was considered pivotal in his recruitment.

He joins Berkmar (Ga.) guard Al Durham in IU’s 2017 recruiting class.

Indiana is still targeting Kris Wilkes, who will be in Bloomington this coming weekend for an official visit and point guard Tremont Waters, who visited this past weekend, among several others.

As a sophomore at Stevenson, Smith helped lead Stevenson to a Class 4A state championship along with current Villanova guard Jalen Brunson. He averaged 10.3 points and four rebounds that season.

Video: Victor Oladipo at Oklahoma City media day

Former Indiana All-American Victor Oladipo is entering his fourth season in the NBA and his first as a member of the Oklahoma City following a trade over the summer.

Oladipo addressed the media in a press conference at the organization’s annual media day and we’ve got the complete video below:

2016-2017 ITH Season Preview: Nebraska Cornhuskers

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our Big Ten team previews with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

When Andrew White withdrew from the 2016 NBA draft last spring, Nebraska looked like a program poised to take a leap up in the Big Ten standings in 2016-2017.

But the optimism from White’s decision to return to school was short lived. In June, White opted to go the graduate transfer route, leaving the Huskers without their leading scorer and best shot creator. White ultimately landed at Syracuse after his recruitment stretched into late August.

Without White, the Huskers are likely to be one of the Big Ten’s most challenged offensive teams. The backcourt rotation is expected to be anchored by sophomore Glynn Watson, senior Tai Webster and Anton Gill, a transfer from Louisville.

Watson showed plenty of potential as a point guard last season as a freshman, but will have to improve his shooting. The 6-foot sophomore shot just 43 percent on 2s and 26.7 percent on 3s in his debut season. Webster is a powerful guard who can get into the lane, but hit just 35 percent of his 3s last season. Nebraska coach Tim Miles told The Sporting News college basketball preview that Webster “should be able to average double figures.”

Gill struggled to stay in the rotation in two seasons at Louisville and should benefit from a change of scenery in Lincoln. He’s a streaky perimeter shooter, but should be able to make up for some of the scoring vacated by White. The Huskers will also welcome junior college transfer Evan Taylor, who took the scholarship vacated by White.

Up front, the hope for Nebraska is the sophomores Jack McVeigh and Michael Jacobson will benefit from the extensive playing time both received as freshmen. The 6-foot-8 McVeigh was a poor finisher last season (36.8 percent on 2s), but did show the ability to step out and knock down the 3 at a decent clip (34 percent).

Jacobson played the role of undersized five man last season and was the Big Ten’s third best offensive rebounder behind Matt Costello and Adam Woodbury. He also did a nice job of drawing fouls and getting to the line as he posted a strong free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 55.8 percent.

Others to watch up front for the Huskers include freshman Jordy Tshimanga, freshman Isaiah Roby and freshman Jeriah Horne.

Bottom Line: Nebraska is going to be young as plenty of freshmen and sophomores are expected to see significant playing time. Gill and Webster are going to need to take on a big offensive burden to try and account for the unexpected loss of White. After a surprising trip to the NCAA tournament in 2014, Nebraska is now staring at the prospect of a third consecutive losing season. If that happens, it’s possible Miles could find himself on the hot seat entering next season.

Quotable: “I spoke with Andrew late last evening in which he asked me how he can proceed with a release from Nebraska. There have been discussions with Andrew and his father about Andrew’s place in our program for months and this is his decision. Even though I am extremely disappointed, he will be given a complete release as the logistics are handled this week. We will move on. I am truly excited about our team and next season.” – Miles, in a statement, following White’s decision to seek a transfer from Nebraska.

Previously: Rutgers, Minnesota

(Photo credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)

2016-2017 ITH Season Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our Big Ten team previews with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

After finishing the 2015-16 season 8-24 mark, their worst win total since 1967-68, Richard Pitino is hoping his highly touted recruiting class will lift the Gophers out of the cellar of the Big Ten.

Pitino has failed to reach the NCAA tournament since replacing Tubby Smith in 2013 and Minnesota’s win total has decreased each season during the Pitino era.

In year four, the pressure is on to produce victories, and he should receive a boost from a recruiting class ranked fifth in the Big Ten.

Leading the crop of incoming freshmen is the 6-foot-7 dynamic four-star wing Amir Coffey. The Hopkins High School product comes from a basketball rich family, as his father Richard is a Gopher alum and appeared in 25 games for the Timberwolves, while Coffey’s sister Nia is a standout forward for Northwestern. Coffey recovered from a torn ACL suffered his junior year to lead Hopkins to a 4A state title as a senior and he was named Mr. Basketball for the state of Minnesota. Expect Coffey, the Gophers’ highest rated recruit in more than a decade, to play significant minutes from the start.

Other freshmen joining Coffey include 6-foot-7 four-star forward Eric Curry and 6-foot-7 three-star forward Michael Hurt.

Minnesota will also be adding Illinois State transfer Reggie Lynch, who was reinstated earlier this month after the Hennepin County district attorney declined to pursue sexual assault charges. The 6-foot-9 Lynch is an undersized center with solid rim-defending skills. Despite spending just two seasons at Illinois St, Lynch piled up 189 blocks, enough to place him second in program history. Lynch set the Missouri Valley Conference single-season block record as a freshman and made the conference’s’ all-defensive team as a sophomore.

Other newcomers of note include 6-foot-4 guard Akeem Springs, a graduate transfer from Milwaukee, and 6-foot-8 forward Davonte Fitzgerald, who is now eligible after transferring from Texas A&M following the 2014-15 season.

The Gophers will rely heavily on 6-foot-1 junior point guard Nate Mason. Mason struggled shooting last season despite leading the team in attempts. He finished his sophomore campaign shooting just 44 percent from the field and 30 percent from behind the 3-point line.

Jordan Murphy, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, will be another key returnee for the Gophers. Murphy averaged 11.6 points and eight rebounds a game as a freshman, and will likely join Reggie Lynch in the starting frontcourt.

Other key returners for Minnesota are 6-foot-4 sophomore Dupree McBrayer, 6-foot-11 junior Bakary Konaté, and 6-foot-6 guard Ahmad Gilbert.

Bottom Line: The Gophers won’t contend for an NCAA or an NIT berth, but the Gophers’ fanbase is expecting Pitino’s team to take significant strides coming off a season in which they won just two conference games. Shooting will likely be an issue, as the Gophers ended last season with an effective field goal percentage ranking 309th nationally by KenPom. The defense should be improved with the additions of Lynch and Coffey, but Pitino’s young squad will need to make major improvements across the board if they want to contend in the Big Ten.

Quotable: “He’s got phenomenal potential. At 6-foot-7, to pass like he can pass, to handle (the ball) like he can handle it, he’s going to have to make an impact right away for us. I know he’s excited about that. When I watch him play, the things he can do from an offensive standpoint really excite me.” – Richard Pitino on Coffey to the Pioneer Press last April.

Previously: Rutgers

Report: Four-star forward Justin Smith down to two schools

Class of 2017 Stevenson (Ill.) forward Justin Smith, one of Indiana’s top recruiting targets, is down to two schools according to a report.

Jeff Borzello of ESPN.com reported on Friday morning that the 6-foot-7 Smith will choose between Indiana and Villanova.

Smith has taken official visits to both schools. He had an official visit scheduled to Stanford for later this month, but that will no longer take place.

The four-star prospect is ranked No. 76 nationally in the 247Composite.

Smith averaged 8.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game this year on the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) circuit.

As a junior at Stevenson, he averaged 19 points and nine rebounds per game.

An early look at the 2016-2017 backcourt

With the official start of practice now just a week away, the 2016-2017 season is growing closer. We’ll have comprehensive player-by-player previews next month, 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 2016-2017 frontcourt)

· Who’s the primary ball handler? It’s one of the biggest questions with this Indiana team entering the season and at this point, there’s no clear answer. The graduation of Yogi Ferrell leaves a significant void in the Hoosier backcourt, but the coaching staff has a solid list of options who could take over the role.

One thing to consider is that Indiana may take a “by committee” approach, particularly early in the season. Tom Crean’s offense has proven that it can be initiated in a variety of ways, so don’t be surprised if Josh Newkirk, Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr. split up some of that responsibility.

In terms of point guard experience, Newkirk has the most. He spent two seasons at Pittsburgh before transferring to Indiana. Although he sat out last season, Newkirk has been cleared since early this year (following microfracture surgery) and should be an immediate factor in the rotation.

· Can Blackmon Jr. bounce back from major surgery? He’s less than nine months removed from surgery to repair a partially torn ACL, but Blackmon Jr. has been cleared for all basketball activities by the medical staff.

A target for criticism last year because of his defensive struggles, Blackmon Jr. was in the midst of a very good offensive season when he went down with an injury on Dec. 28. His effective field goal percentage (60.2) was elite and the Marion product was also making better than 45 percent from behind the 3-point line.

As a junior, look for Blackmon Jr. to emerge as Indiana’s primary scoring option in the backcourt. In his first two seasons, that was a role he split with Ferrell, but now Blackmon Jr. is Indiana’s best option to create his own shot on the roster. While he could have some rust early from the court time missed last season, look for the junior to make a major impact in his third season.

· The new guys: Indiana welcomes a pair of freshmen – Devonte Green and Curtis Jones – who look capable of contributing right away.

Jones can play both guard positions, while Green’s high school coach told Inside the Hall over the summer that he’s more of a shooter and scorer than a point guard. Jones arrives with a top 100 national ranking and is the third player from the Boo Williams AAU program to arrive in Bloomington under Crean.

Green, meanwhile, is the younger brother of former North Carolina guard and current San Antonio Spur Danny Green. After being overlooked in many of the national rankings, the Long Island (N.Y.) native should arrive with a chip on a shoulder and a drive to prove he belongs.

· Defense starts in the backcourt: Indiana’s season turned around a year ago when it started to defend and that began on the perimeter.

But with Ferrell gone, who will lead the defense among the guards?

Johnson has shown continued improvement as a defender over his first two seasons and the coaching staff has been complimentary of Newkirk’s ability to pressure the ball. Blackmon Jr. has plenty to prove, but if he’s going to meet expectations, he clearly has to show he’s more committed on that end of the floor.

Ultimately, the fact that the coaching staff has five guards who could see minutes should allow for the bench to be used as a motivator. Indiana’s frontcourt will be better equipped this season to account for defensive mistakes on the perimeter. Ball pressure and limiting open looks from behind the 3-point line are going to be crucial to sustaining the defensive progress that was made a season ago.