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.
To sum up how well Maurice Creek started his freshman season, let’s take a trip back to December 12, 2009. On that Saturday, No. 4 Kentucky came to Assembly Hall. And while the Wildcats won comfortably, Creek made quite the impression on John Calipari.
“How about this Creek kid?” Calipari exclaimed. “We’ve played a lot of good teams, and he’s as good as any player we’ve played.”
On that day, Creek scored 31 points. He showed off his ability to knock down shots from the perimeter (5 of 8 on 3-pointers) and got into the lane and earned points from the line (8 of 8 on free throws). And even after that brilliant performance, Creek talked more about the team’s performance than personal accolades.
“We battled hard, we gave a good effort,” Creek said. “We’ve just got a lot of things to work on as a group.”
Through 11 games, the 6-5 freshman from Oxon Hill (MD) who committed to IU before ever seeing the campus, was emerging as a silent leader of sorts. While many expected Jeremiah Rivers to take the reigns, Creek’s immediate success and competitiveness demanded the respect of his teammates.
And then, on December 28 against Bryant, this happened.
Indiana freshman guard Maurice Creek, who suffered a fractured left knee in Indiana’s 90-42 win over Bryant on December 28, continues to making progress in his rehabilitation and is ahead of schedule, according to Tom Crean.
After a caller requested an update on Creek during Crean’s Monday evening radio show with Don Fisher, the IU coach provided the following update:
“He’s been doing very well. He had a great first semester, I know that doesn’t have anything to do with his injury, but he’s continued to work very hard academically. He’s ahead of schedule. He’s still definitely a ways away from being on the court and being able to work out on the court in a hard fashion. He put up 205 six times the other day, which is real progress there. I think his body will continue to really grow. He’s on all of our trips. We have him doing different statistics for us during the games just trying to help him really learn the leadership that he’s gotta have to be successful moving forward.”
Creek, who was leading all freshmen nationally in scoring at the time of his injury, averaged 16.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.8 apg and 1.4 spg in 12 contests.
Devan Dumes certainly could make headlines last season. No, they weren’t always the kind you cut out and pin up at your desk, (or were they?) but Dumes’ confidence at least made for some memorable moments in a season mostly devoid of them.
So where did he go?
Last season’s leading scorer, it made sense when Dumes’ numbers came down in 2009 with the influx of fresh talent. And an injury to begin the season kept him from fighting for a starting place and visibly hindered his ability to get into an offensive rhythm once he was healthy.
But Dumes, who averaged 12.7 points per game last season, has seen that average fall by more than half, and his minutes-per-game average has been reduced almost as much. Worse, Dumes has lost nearly nine points off his overall field-goal percentage from last season to this one, and his 3-point shooting is down from 38.1 percent to 32.6 percent through 14 games.
Of course, none of this looked like more than an unexplained anomaly until Maurice Creek was lost for the season, cutting more than 16 points and the Hoosiers’ best offensive option out of the gameplan. And yet, in the two games since Creek’s injury, that open starting spot has gone to Jordan Hulls, not Dumes.
A couple of our readers have requested that we create a virtual get well card to pass along to freshman guard Maurice Creek as he recovers from a fractured left knee. So we’ve done just that. Post your message to Creek in the comments and we’ll send this thread along to our contacts at Indiana.
It’s official: Maurice Creek, barring an unforeseen miracle, is done for the season. It’s a shame, it’s tragic, it came against a team in a game Creek could have sat out, and IU still would have crushed by 30 or more. We can play the what-if game all we want, but the sooner we get over the loss, the better it will be.
This will be a two-parter. Part 1 will dive into win expectations now that Creek is done for the season. Part 2 will look at some potential new starting lineups.
After IU beat Pitt and lost to Kentucky, I wrote the Hoosiers were on track for 10-14 wins this season. Is this still possible? I’m not so sure anymore. Besides Iowa at home on Feb. 4, there’s no game on the schedule where IU looks like a favorite. But did anyone expect the Hoosiers to go into the Garden and win? No. And I think unlike last year, home-court advantage is going to mean a little more, and IU can still steal a couple wins at Assembly Hall. Thursday’s game against Michigan is one of these games, but it just would have been easier with Creek on the court.
So if we’re going to re-adjust for the absence of Creek, we’re likely going to have to bring down the win-total range. As much as it pains me to put single digits up on the board, IU is now probably looking at an 8-12 win season. Other guys can step up, sure. But a team like this — one without a lot of margin for error to begin with — losing their leading scorer is a big blow. It just is. And it’s not just for the team, but for Creek himself. He loses out on the valuable experience of traversing through a Big Ten season as a freshman, and really only has Maryland, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Pitt as big games to speak of.
IU Media Relations released the following statement late last night:
Indiana University men’s basketball coach Tom Crean has announced that freshman guard Maurice Creek (Oxon Hill, Maryland/Hargrave Military Academy) underwent surgery today to repair damage to his left knee, which was injured Monday night in a game against Bryant.
“In visiting with Dr. Steve Ahlfeld, the surgery went very well and we expect a full recovery,” said Crean. “His rehabilitation will start as soon as possible.”
Creek, who leads the Hoosiers averaging 16.4 points, is not expected to return to the lineup this season.
“After spending time with Maurice and his family tonight, it is clear they are very touched by all the support they have received from fans and friends across the country,” Crean added.
Ryan will chime in later today with his thoughts on how the loss of Creek will affect the rest of Indiana’s season and I’ll be heading to Hamilton Heights this morning to check out a member of IU’s 2011 recruiting class, guard Austin Etherington.
“I’ll start with an update on Maurice (Creek), he has a fracture of his left knee and will have surgery tomorrow. I am in the process of getting his parents here so they can be here for the surgery. I don’t have many more updates than that. He is a very, very special young man. It’s gut-wrenching in so many fronts when you see a young man like that go down, who works as hard as he does. It’s a little different for us as the Crean’s and for the coaches because he was probably going to be with us where ever we were at, whether it was Marquette or here at Indiana.”
If there was anything Indiana needed to key on in this game, anything Tom Crean likely would be pleased to see, it was a good start by the Hoosiers. I know this is Bryant College, a team that’s only entering its third season as a D-I school, a team that’s now 0-13, but the Hoosiers’ good start — well, save for those six turnovers in the first 10:30 — was so crucial to this team’s overall makeup after their atrocious first half against Loyola (Md.) last week.
Heading into Big Ten play Thursday against Michigan, this young team needed a bit of a confidence boost, and going into the locker room with a 45-17 lead did just that. Jordan Hulls was solid in his start — I know Jordy has been playing well off the bench, but anyone else thinking Jeremiah Rivers’ rough game last time out had anything to do with him riding the pine to start? — and Tom Pritchard continued to return to form by bruising down low, getting fouled and getting to the line. He only hit 3-of-9 from the charity stripe, but it’s encouraging to see he got there that many times. He finished the game with 11 points and eight boards, and if he can keep up that kind of production, that starting spot should remain his. I love Derek Elston, but his energy is perfect in a sixth-man role.
IU also shot well from three-point land making 9-of-22 for 40.9 percent. And it was a team effort on the offensive end: four other guys scored in double figures besides Pritchard, as Christian Watford led the way with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Verdell Jones also had 15, Devan Dumes added 12 and Hulls had 12 as well.
Other than that, it’s sort of hard to glean much out of this one. No offense to Bryant, but they were such an inferior opponent and it was so out of hand in the second half — IU did win by 48 points tonight, after all — what we saw might not be all that telling of how the Hoosiers are set up heading into Big Ten play.