Ranking the top 10 players of the Tom Crean era

  • 06/29/2015 7:48 am in

It’s late June, recruiting won’t heat up until a couple of weeks into July and thus, there’s finally some time to dig into one of the list ideas we’ve been kicking around in recent weeks for offseason content. 

As we enter season eight of Tom Crean’s time in Bloomington, it’s time for our ranking of the top 10 players to play for the Hoosiers in his tenure:

10. James Blackmon Jr. (2014-present)

It will interesting to see where Blackmon Jr. ultimately ends up if this list is reexamined when his career is over. But as it stands, it’s hard to warrant placing him higher given that he’s played just one season. Still, Blackmon Jr. accomplished a lot offensively in his first season. He ranked sixth in the country among all freshman in scoring at 15.7 points per game and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection. He also set the freshman record for 3-pointers made in a season (77), breaking a mark set by Eric Gordon. If Blackmon Jr. continues the scoring pace he exhibited as a freshman and stays until he’s a junior, he’s going to go down as one of the better backcourt scorers to ever play for the Hoosiers.

9. Verdell Jones III (2008-2012, four seasons)

The only player on this list to appear in a game during Crean’s first season when the Hoosiers finished just 6-25, Jones was a bright spot in some lean years when the program struggled to find success on the court. And while wins might not be plentiful on his resume, Jones left Indiana with stellar numbers. At the time of his graduation, he ranked 23rd on the school’s all-time scoring list (1,347 points) and ninth on the assist list (389). Efficiency was never his forte, but until his last season Jones was asked to carry a heavy offensive load without a lot of help.

8. Troy Williams (2013-present)

As mentioned with Blackmon Jr., Williams is likely to move up if this list is ever reexamined. But he’s already put together enough of a career for placement here. As a sophomore, he was third in the conference in rebounding and also in the top 20 in scoring while earning All-Big Ten honorable mention accolades. He’s one of the best athletes and finishers to ever wear the candy striped pants and continues to evolve as a distributor. The missing piece for Williams is a consistent jump shot and assuming it’s a focus of his development this offseason, he’s headed towards becoming the fourth first round NBA draft pick to play for Crean at IU.

7. Will Sheehey (2010-2014, four seasons)

IU’s top reserve during its two trips to the Sweet Sixteen under Crean, Sheehey was a versatile scorer best suited for a complementary role rather than one as a first option. The Big Ten’s coaches picked him as the league’s sixth man of the year during the 2012-2013 season when the Hoosiers spent several weeks as the nation’s top ranked team and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Sheehey finished his career with 1,120 points, which was 37th all-time when he graduated. He also set a single-game school record by going 9-for-9 from the field against Purdue on Feb. 16, 2013. The Sagemont (Fla.) product was never an All-Big Ten pick, but did earn honorable mention accolades in his final season.

6. Jordan Hulls (2009-2013, four seasons)

Hulls was a key commitment for Crean early in his IU tenure and the Indiana Mr. Basketball was a key piece in bringing the Hoosiers back from the cellar of the Big Ten to national relevance. Hulls finished his career with 254 3-pointers, which is second all-time in IU history. He shot 44.1 percent from distance for his career (fifth all-time), made 85.9 percent of his free throws (third all-time) and played in 135 games, a school record. He also surpassed the 1,000 career point barrier finishing with 1,318 points which ranked 26th in school history at the time of his graduation. But perhaps more important than the statistics or accolades, Hulls staying home and playing for IU helped the program build recruiting momentum early in Crean’s IU career.

5. Noah Vonleh (2013-2014, one season)

Vonleh was one of the most difficult players to place on this list. He only played one season, but that was because his immense talent and potential allowed him to leave early to become the No. 9 pick in the 2014 NBA draft. During his brief career, he was named the Big Ten freshman of the year and third team All-Big Ten by the coaches and media. The 6-foot-10 forward led the Big Ten in rebounding, was third in field goal percentage and finished eighth in blocked shots. He also showed an ability to step outside and knock down 3-pointers, which made him a difficult matchup for opposing defenses. The downside for Vonleh is he never appeared in a NCAA tournament game and his talent didn’t translate into many wins for the program.

4. Christian Watford (2009-2013, four seasons)

The owner of one of the most memorable shots in school history, Watford finished his career ninth on IU’s all-time scoring list with 1,730 points. He was a third team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches and media in his senior season, is ninth in school history in total rebounds (776) and posted 17 double-doubles over a four-year career. He also developed from a below average 3-point shooter as a freshman (31.9 percent) to one of the Big Ten’s best as senior (48.4 percent). But Watford will be remembered most for the buzzer beater he hit on Dec. 11, 2011 in Assembly Hall to beat No. 1 Kentucky, a win that propelled the Hoosiers into the national rankings for the first time under Crean.

3. Yogi Ferrell (2012-present)

This may be Ferrell’s ceiling on this list even if it is revisited after his time in Bloomington is finished, but that speaks more to the two players in front of him than anything else. Ferrell’s career has undergone several transformations. He started as a facilitator as a freshman, morphed into a featured scorer out of necessity as a sophomore and then did a little bit of both during a brilliant junior campaign that landed him on the All-Big Ten first team. If he plays in 34 games as a senior, he’ll set the IU record for games played. He’s already got an IU record for consecutive games with a made 3-pointer (65), an active streak that currently leads the country. What’s left on Ferrell’s plate to solidify him as one of the best lead guards to ever play for IU is a stronger finish in league play as a senior and a deep NCAA tournament run.

2. Cody Zeller (2011-2013, two seasons)

Can Zeller be listed as 1a on this list? If that were an option, that’s where he’d be as it was a close call when comparing him to Victor Oladipo for the top spot. There’s certainly an argument for Zeller as his arrival was a turning point for on court success in terms of wins and during his two seasons, the individual accolades he collected were numerous. Zeller was a second team All-Big Ten selection as a freshman and was first team as a sophomore. He was also a second team Associated Press All-American as a sophomore while ranking second in the conference in scoring and fourth in rebounding. He finished his career with a field goal percentage of 59.1, the best in school history.

1. Victor Oladipo (2010-2013, three seasons)

Oladipo is the best player development story of the Crean era. He arrived in Bloomington as the No. 141 player in the Rivals Top 150 and left as the No. 2 pick in the 2013 NBA draft. As a junior, he was a finalist for the Wooden Award, Naismith Award and the Oscar Robertson Trophy, was the Sporting News national player of the year and an Associated Press first team All-American. His career scoring totals (1,117 points) don’t jump off the page, but he was truly a two-way player as his 78 steals set a single season school record during his junior season. He finished his time at IU with 161 steals, which ranks third in program history. He also grew immensely as an offensive player as he posted an effective field goal percentage of 64.8 in his third season. Oladipo also brought a contagious personality and charisma that made him one of the most adored players by fans in program history.

Filed to:

  • SCHoosier

    IU under-performed expectations..end of story./

  • BT

    Really don’t agree with Vonleh on this list at all. I could make an argument Perea had a greater impact on the program than Vonleh.

  • Outoftheloop

    Whose stats are you relying on? Cody was the most important player: as a recruit, as a Big, as a Hoosier Kid, as a team player! I would rank Will over Noah.

  • Outoftheloop

    I find only total nonsense in your “argument”. There can be rational argument about who is the better player, Cody or Vic, but to say Cody didn’t do much at IU is laughable!

  • Outoftheloop

    1-A, 1-B and 1-C, in any order that you want!

  • calbert40

    You may be right, but it is one of those things we can never know for certain. I’m just glad both went to IU!

  • calbert40

    I agree with you. Defensive metrics are tricky, and college basketball doesn’t have a great deal of info in this area yet. That’s why I think Vic was the MVP, while Cody was the MOP.

  • calbert40

    sports-reference. com

    They have stats for about every major sport. I use them for a lot of stats.

  • No me.. It would be close, but I still think Oladipo is a much better player and really did more for the program..

  • Agree.. I think Troy should be as high as maybe 6th.. then Will and Jordan, then Noah. Course I am counting on troy ‘big time’ this year.

  • Very goo points.. have to agree with that assessment.

  • BMusic

    Fascinating topic for discussion! Stats are one thing, but gut counts for a lot. I have to differ in some respect, and would tend to go

    10. Troy Williams—walking highlight play

    9. Blackmon—a shot in the arm.

    8. Sheehey—for the VCU shot, and the edge I wish more Hoosiers had

    7. Bryant—count on it. Maybe a few spots higher, before he’s gone.

    6. Watford—the Shot.

    5. Verdell—I think a PG means so much more to a team, all things being equal

    4. Yogi—his history is yet to be written

    3. Jordy—the closest thing Crean has had to a Steve Alford

    2. Cody—game changer. Could go #1 but…

    1. Victor—he’s the Hoosier we all want to grow up to be

  • Bill Graham


  • HannerTime Hoosier

    Precisely!!! Just do not understand how CZ plays @ IU and has Yogi as PG and CTC fails to get bigs play like CZ in the post?

  • hoosier93

    I’m beginning to think they put Vic #1 for a better discussion… because it really isn’t close between Cody and everyone else.

  • Chappy Dan

    Wow. Yes.

  • HannerTime Hoosier

    Sounds like you are selecting some sub-par players . . . Verdell is not on any of my lists. He was filler in a time of need. Kinda like being on foodstamps.

  • Jtime

    Agreed on Yogi. By the end of this season, Yogi will be viewed as one of the best Hoosiers to ever wear a uniform. He already has many Indiana records, but he’s about to break a LOT more of them in his final season. If this list is based on being a Top Hoosier, he will be it. He will have more points, assistant, ft’s, 3pt’ers, games played, wins, minutes played, etc, etc, etc.

    And in most cases the other players on this list won’t be close. Did I mention he will be a 4 year player in this era? Yogi is about to have a storybook season like we haven’t seen since Cheaney/Alford/Isiah days.

    Is the most talented Hoosier in the Crean era? No. Is he the best Hoosier, YES. By the end of this season, he could go down as a Top 5 Hoosier of all time.

  • g_bo

    VO #1

    How could anyone not like VO? I remember seeing him at the bus stops singing his heart out like no one was watching, all the time. (everyone was watching, it was VO, duh)

    He did so much more than just play the game on the court. That was such a team they had. Team in the sense that they all liked each other and looked out for each other. Loved seeing pics from the Hulls wedding.

    Hoping TB brings a similar energy to the team this year. Those qualities are immeasurable.

  • hoosier93

    I don’t think anyone is saying they don’t life him. But Zeller was better at IU.

  • Well then what crowning achievement are we going to remember 20 years from now? His 3-11 FG for 10 point performance in his final game against Syracuse? Or maybe we should stick with his final B10 game in the B10 tourney where they lost to 4th seeded Wisconsin and he scored 13 points on 4-10 shooting and we lost by 12? And now he’s an afterthought in the NBA with his team already looking for better options. Meanwhile VO was on Sportcenter highlights regularly and made a great impression at the dunk competition last year. Who do you think young kids will look up to and want to be like? VO will be a great spokesman for IU for years as he continues to become an all-star, Cody’s best days are already behind him.

  • E Foy McNaughton

    I agree completely. If the top 10 is based on where we think they will ultimately end up as players, then maybe NV ends up at 5 on this list (or even higher). But if the top 10 is based on the body of work while at IU, then I just don’t see him at #5. I’d also say I’d expect TW and JBJ to move up on the list if they develop as expected (we are hearing good things from LA on TW). I would not be surprised to see RJ and TB crack the list in the near future depending on RJ’s continued development and TB’s tenure/performance.

  • E Foy McNaughton

    M Creek is the PERFECT argument to counter why I argued that NV should have stayed in school to develop. What a shame.

  • Ole Man

    Strong opinion. I humbly disagree. IU doesn’t make the tourney without Cody. VO doesn’t take them there.
    And to say that Cody didn’t do a lot while at IU is ludicrous. Stats prove you wrong on that one.

  • david r

    Yogi has done more on the court than Blackmon, and Troy combined! Where would we have been without him in any ONE of the last 3 seasons. Not having him on this list shocks me. Considering what he has done, and much more importantly WHEN he did it, puts him on my list of top five in the TC era. Save your stats and draft predictions. All he was expected to do was EVERYTHING, and apparently in some eyes that was not enough. Unbelievable.

  • dssnyder1

    yogi is 3 on this list, not too shabby

  • IU doesn’t make the tournament??? and you say I have strong opinions. We had more than enough talent to make it into the field, not as a 1 seed but we certainly make the dance. Cody’s stats were ok, not great, but that’s not really the point. The point is what did he accomplish during his time there, he wasn’t a 1st team all-american, he didn’t lead us to a final 4 or B10 tournament win and he completely was a non-factor in his final game. Since his been in the NBA you don’t hear anything about him and his team is already drafting players to take his spot. Fact is 10 years from now if you ask an kid from Indiana about Cody Zeller my guess is his response would be “who”, whereas VO will be a household name. Loved Cody when he was there but the reality is the impact he had, and more importantly will have in the future, is not close to what VO has done.

  • HannerTime Hoosier

    No he is not, eat more grapenuts!

  • Robert Golden

    You’re probably cool at parties.

  • He wasn’t first team all-american, VO was and VO was the National Player of the Year runner-up. VO got better during his time, Cody didn’t and near the end he couldn’t beat any decent big man 1 on 1. Cody had all the hype/press coming in but if you put that aside and look at what the accomplished VO edges him out. If you look at what they’ll mean to IU in the next 10 years VO will be a household name and all-star and bring awareness to IU whereas Cody will be nothing more than a bench-journeyman player. By that accord its VO in a landslide, I mean in Jordan’s last year an NC he wasn’t the leading scorer on his team, he was actually third, so you can’t just look at season stats to rank players.

  • Ole Man

    Sorry, earl, I only debate basketball with those who have a working knowledge of the game.

  • I gave you lots of facts to back up my point and asked a simple question: What crowning achievement will we remember Cody by, either during his time at IU or in the NBA and you got….nothing. I get we all loved Cody but the reality is the hype/excitement didn’t live up to the results. A good comparison for Cody is Eric Gordon, big time recruit, good stats during his time at IU but wasn’t able to make the impact we all hoped and even then Gordon has been a better pro then Cody.

  • Arch Puddington

    Whether Oladipo is a better pro is irrelevant. This question was about their college careers.

    Cody scored more points in two years that Vic did in three. He averaged more points per game, twice as many rebounds, more FT’s, more steals, more blocks, and nearly the same number of assists as Oladipo. He shot better from both the field and from the line, and as per Calbert40’s excellent research, was significantly better in almost all of the advanced metrics. So your notion that Vic accomplished more “in a landslide” is contradicted by pretty much everything that can be measured.

    And while I agree that you can’t entirely judge a player on stats, it’s not close in other ways, either. Having Cody in the middle changed our entire team at both ends of the court. He was an excellent low post and help-side defender. he was always willing to set screens, and as CTC himself said repeatedly, playing through Cody was the single most important part of IU’s half court offense. So much so that during scrimmages he sometimes would not let Cody’s teammates shoot until Cody had touched the ball at least once (heck, it might have been three times…). As great as Vic was, the offense could run effectively without him, but without Cody it was far less efficient.

  • Ole Man

    Earl, you gave me lots of opinion. There are no cold, hard facts anywhere in your posts.
    I love VO. But Cody’s recruitment turned the team around. VO wouldn’t have led IU anywhere his Soph. year.

  • Good facts and can see your point. I would even agree that if you only consider their impact during their time at IU the stats/advanced metrics show Cody had a bigger impact then VO. I was coming from the perspective of the player’s impact on IU as a whole and not just during his time on the team. Former players have a big influence on fans/high school players and the attention that VO brings to IU does matter. When VO has millions of fans watching him in the dunk final on all-star week that’s great publicity for IU. VO will continue to influence and add value for years to come, so if you consider how they helped the program both while at IU and after it will be VO by a landslide. Last point, given how VO has done in the NBA and how awful our half court offense was when we played any decent team it was really a mistake by CTC to run everything through Cody. If the Magic can run their offense through VO then I’m sure IU could have as well and no NBA team would ever try to run their offense through Cody.

  • david r

    oops-missed yogi at #3

  • Robert Golden

    You are woefully mistaken.

  • I guess you need to look up the definition of a fact. Its a fact that VO was a 1st team all-american and national player of the year runner up. Its a fact that Charlotte drafted Kaminsky and signed Hawes, two players that play Cody’s position. And his performance did diminish once he played against better competition, he was 3-11 in the Syracuse game, and 4-10 against Temple and last B10 game against Wisc. Google it!