It’s been a quiet couple of weeks from a news perspective, but that should change next week as the evaluation period begins Tuesday. I’ll be at the adidas Invitational in Indianapolis on Tuesday and Wednesday and will probably head to the Kentucky Hoopfest in Louisville at some point on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
It’ll be a great opportunity to watch, interview and capture video of top prospects from across the country and observe which players the IU staff are tracking the closest.
With that said, let’s dive into an early look at some of the storylines to keep an eye on with next season’s backcourt:
+ Maurice Creek’s health: This might be the No. 1 storyline leading into next season. Creek’s horrific injury probably cost the Hoosiers at least a couple more wins in 2009-2010 (if not more) and also kept one of the best young players in the Big Ten from playing in a conference game. Creek’s progress towards 100 percent, based on his comments on Twitter and updates from Tom Crean, seems to be steady. A healthy Creek in 2010-2011 gives Indiana something it lacked when the going got tough late in games: A player you can rely on for a critical basket.
+ How much will Jeremiah Rivers contribute? Prior to last season, The Herald-Times referred to Rivers as Indiana’s unquestioned leader. As the season played out, this characterization spoke more to the state of IU’s program than Rivers’ ability to lead. Rivers showed flashes of brilliance, but was inconsistent and often unreliable from the foul line. As IU’s lone senior, Rivers will enter next season as more of a question mark than a known commodity. If he plays to his skill-level, the potential is there for Rivers to make a positive impact.
+ Verdell continues to grow: As a sophomore, Jones posted an impressive 16.7 ppg in 18 conference games. His shooting percentage wasn’t great overall at just a shade under 40 percent, but Creek’s return should free up Verdell for better looks as opponents will no longer be able to key on him. The keys to Jones blossoming into an All-Big Ten level player are continuing to put on weight and adding upper body strength that will allow him to finish plays at the basket instead of relying primarily on the pull-up jumper.
The Fan Report is Inside the Hall’s version of Letters to the Editor. Submit a Fan Report at this link. Today’s entry was submitted by Joe Moffo.
Upon viewing Inside the Hall today, I noticed the new poll on who the starting PG for next season should be. The two options: Jordan Hulls and Jeremiah Rivers. As I saw this the only thought that came to my head was “None of the Above.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Jordan Hulls, but I don’t think he is going to be next year’s starter and here is why:
– Prior to Hulls’ explosion against Northwestern, Tom Crean decided that Verdell Jones was going to take over the duties as PG. The reasons? Plentiful. Jones is not a consistent threat to shoot the ball from outside like a two-guard or a three can. Also, Maurice Creek or not, Jones is arguably the top threat on the team to drive the lane and create a shot for himself or a teammate, or get to the line (Jones lead the team and was 2nd in conference with 6.1 attempts per game from the line). Also, Jones has the experience and the savvy, he was clearly the only player on the roster willing to step up in the clutch when needed most (see Minnesota game).
– Hulls off the point allows him to work more freely, and thus creates more shot opportunities. And let us all be honest, Hulls contributions are going to come from behind the arc. He doesn’t have the size or athleticism to break down the D and barrel down the lane.
– Rivers is not a good offensive player. He was anything but the calm, experienced leader this team needed. Also, he can’t shoot at all, if you didn’t notice. He’s valuable for his defense off the bench, and of course, blocking weak break-away layups.
Next season is up in the air in my mind. But at this point, I see Crean utilizing a lineup of Jones, Creek, Christian Watford, Derek Elston, and Bobby Capobianco. This team though young, lengthy, athletic, and after watching Elston emerge late, it would have four legitimate scoring threats. It would also take the 3-pointer, allowing the offense to spread the floor the Tom Crean way.
Final Stats (31 games): 6.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.5 apg, 40.6% FG, 80% FT.
The book on the season of Jordan Hulls can be written in a similar fashion to many of his freshman peers throughout the country.
There were spectacular moments — eight 3-pointers — in the regular season finale versus Northwestern, which snapped an 11-game losing streak.
And there were not-so-spectacular moments — two points and four turnovers — in a 25-point loss at Ohio State in IU’s first conference road game.
But more importantly for the point guard Indiana hopes will develop into one of its key contributors over the next few years, Hulls showed improvement as the season rolled along.
The Hoosiers were a better team, from a turnover standpoint, with Hulls at the point rather than Jeremiah Rivers. The freshman turned it over 14.8 percent of the time compared to 21.6 percent for Rivers.
Hulls was Indiana’s best 3-point shooter, knocking down 47 of 117 attempts, good for an impressive 40.2 percent. While many wondered how the unorthodox release on his jump shot and stature would translate against bigger and quicker guards in the Big Ten, the adjustment was, for the most part, seamless.
INDIANAPOLIS — The first words out of Jordan Hulls’ mouth talked about rebounding.
Standing outside his team’s locker room after a season-ending 73-58 loss to Northwestern, the question was posed to Indiana’s young guard: What did you learn from this season?
“We can be a great rebounding team,” Hulls said. “We came together, we have lots to improve upon, but I feel like we got a lot better as the season went on.”
Down the stretch run last year, during that record-setting losing streak and through the mounting blowouts, it began to feel as though the Hoosiers had maxed out their potential for that season. Overmatched and undermanned every night, Indiana reached a point where players were physically and, perhaps, mentally worn down to such a degree that both the means and the end of each game became thoroughly predictable.
This season looked that way too, for awhile. After a strong December and January, marked by wins over the likes of Pittsburgh, Michigan and Minnesota, the Hoosiers disappeared, losing 11 in a row in mostly-forgettable fashion. Fans wanted to give up. Some of us in the media (me, mostly) wanted to let go. Even players, at times, appeared as if their hearts and heads just couldn’t align well enough to give another win-worthy effort.
The Senior Day win over Northwestern disproved that. And Thursday’s loss, deceptively large, sort of said the same.
I was in this building a year ago when, against a talented-but-not-unstoppable Penn State squad, No. 11-seed Indiana basically rolled over. The Hoosiers just looked too tired, too worn down, too short of confidence to mount a significant challenge against any Big Ten opponent.
What positives could one take from such regular, predictable, heavy losing? I don’t think it’s fair to say that this time around.
FINAL SCORE: Indiana 88, Northwestern 80, OT | Box Score
This win did not come easy. When it seemed like the Hoosiers had it locked up in regulation, when if felt like this 11-game losing streak was finally — finally! — going to be over, a couple costly turnovers by Verdell Jones let Northwestern stick around in regulation.
And in OT, there was still that “IU-has-the-lead-but-is-it-enough” feeling up until Tjian and Fink came in to close it out.
But yes: it was a win. An impressive win. A sign that the future — for as bleak as it’s looked the last several weeks — is bright.
Let us count the ways:
1) Great call by coach Tom Crean to start Derek Elston and insert Verdell Jones at the point to start this game. Time and time again Elston proved his worth. He had a terrific dunk to ignite the crowd and nice tip-in for two early, and finished the game with 17 points — a career-high — and eight boards. He just brings an element to the court IU hasn’t had all season; Elston is a high-energy player with a big body that can score in a variety of ways and finish around the hole.
This kid can be a double-double machine for years to come.
And without Jeremiah Rivers at the point to start this game, IU didn’t turn the ball over until the 10:25 mark of the first half. That turnover was committed by, of course, Rivers.
But because the Hoosiers started out so well this afternoon, it gave them the confidence to realize they were not only in the game, but that they could win it. The first ten minutes of bullet-proof play were of the utmost importance.
Now, when the Wildcats went into that half-court trap in the second half, IU did have some turnover problems — espeically down the stretch — which let the Wildcats hang around. But including the OT period, the Hoosiers had 17 turnovers. Clearly, that’s still not too good. But they’ve had more in only 40 minutes of play this season, not 45.
Thanks to our friends @ChrisKorman and @DustinDopirak over at the H-T/Hoosier Scoop, you can listen to the postgame comments of Tom Crean, Christian Watford, Daniel Moore, Verdell Jones and Jordan Hulls following yesterday’s loss at Wisconsin.
THE GOOD: CONSISTENCY, EXECUTION, AGGRESSION.
The Good Hoosiers showed up tonight in Bloomington. After the Bad Hoosiers lacked any sense of urgency in Columbus earlier this week, IU was a completely different squad this evening. They played like they wanted to win, like they deserved to win.
Perhaps this is just what we’re in for this season: a bit of deer-in-the-headlights-what-are-we-doing play on the road, while on its home court, Indiana plays with the utmost confidence. If the Hoosiers can give this kind of effort inside Assembly Hall every time out, they’ll be in most, if not all, of their home contests.
IU rattled off 41 points in the first half, and looked like a team on a mission. They were executing at both ends of the floor. One thing I want to point out during that impressive first 20 minutes: there’s a reason Jordan Hulls is starting alongside Jeremiah Rivers in the backcourt: his spot-up shooting ability. When Rivers is at his best on the dribble-drive and can draw help defense, Hulls stays at home on the wing or corner and has enough spacing to elevate and hit the three. And Rivers is athletic enough to take it all the way to the hole as well.