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.

Filed to:


    Yogi Ferrell- Still around
    Hanner Perea- dismissed
    Peter Jurkin- Transfer
    Jeremy Hollowell- transfer
    Ron Patterson- never made it
    Noah Vonleh- NBA
    Luke Fischer- transfer
    Troy Williams- still around
    Colin Hartman- still around
    Stan Robinson- transfer
    Devin Davis- dismissed
    James Blackmon- still around
    Rob Johnson- still around
    Emmitt Holt- dismissed
    Max Hoetzel- transfer
    Tim Priller- still around
    Jeremiah April- transfer
    Nick Zeisloft- still around

    18 players in 3 recruiting classes. We have 7 of them. Only 1 left for the NBA.


    Sadly I think we’ll see the same starting lineup as last year but with Bryant. I feel bad for Bryant.

  • Hoosier Hall

    Why is it “Sadly”? Replacing Hanner with Bryant is a huge improvement in the lineup regardless of how you slice it. Individual and overall defensive improvement is the key to success but even if everyone played exactly the same as last year, Bryant is better than Hanner.

  • CreanFaithful

    This is the first thing you thought to post after reading an article about the backcourt?

  • BC Hoosier

    Not sure what your post has to do with the article.

  • BC Hoosier

    You beat me to it.

  • Sherronhasaheadache

    this group will be exciting to watch no doubt. a top 5 backcourt in the country. GO HOOSIERS!!!

  • Drew

    irrelevant to the discussion but pretty staggering numbers.


    It is sad… for Bryant.


    No. I hadn’t read it yet. It wasn’t n meant to go wroth the article.

  • Hardwood83

    It’s fun to be an Eeyore, apparently.


    He was pretty funny in the 2011 movie.

  • ForeverIU

    I still won’t upvote you, but pretty “staggering numbers” as Drew said and thanks for compiling the list.

    I will also point out though that you were happy that Emmitt was dismissed! So you seem to be proud of this horrific resume.


    I wasn’t happy about it. I understand it though. I wanted Holt starting this year.


    I wonder how you’d rank the top backcourts in the nation… with Indiana’s, Wichita States, Kentuckys, Marylands, North Carolinas, Dukes, Michigans and some others.

  • ForeverIU

    When we say we had one the nation’s best back courts, what does that mean? Is a back court judged on its offense only? We had one of the worst defensive back courts. The back court is the first line of defense. So we had a very average back court. I’m not saying we will be average this year, but we haven’t proven that we are an elite back court yet. We are building on an average reputation, not an elite one.


    Good point.

  • Outoftheloop

    Yes, it is offense only. National pundits don’t see most of the games and it is hard to see the defensive play from the stat sheet.

  • Outoftheloop

    To be on a top 10-15 team for your first college game? You are an idiot sir!


    But if actually ranking them you should look at both sides.

  • Outoftheloop

    There are 4-5 recruiting classes present at all times for 13 scholarships. IU has 2 transfers, so that leaves 11 spots. 10 are now filled from 4 recruiting classes. The average is 2-3 (2.5) per class. We have 3 from this freshman class. So what is your point? Most programs try four 4 new players in each class, with transfers, dismissals, NBA, etc. expected, to keep the 16 down to 13. IU has 1 unused scholarship this season-Holt’s, as no one expected his dismissal in August.

  • HoosierStuckInKY

    I’d say we have one of the “most dangerous” backcourts in the country. If we catch fire on offense, we will be able to put a lot of points on the board in a short amount of time (good kind of dangerous). Of course, if the opponent catches fire, I’m not overly confident our backcourt would be able to smother it (bad kind of dangerous).


    We’re not a top 10-15 team.

  • eville87

    All that turnover on the roster!!! With one first round exit!!! And a loss at home to Eastern Washington? Getting smoked by Purdue? Man seems like we have already accepted mediocrity…….. but hey our coach is a nice guy!!! I hade high hopes for this season until our front court depth dissapeared. We should still be decent.


    Wow, I didn’t know any of that, thanks for posting it and making me aware of it.

    Extremely deep purple font fully intended.

  • ForeverIU

    His post could have had the title: “Don’t Dismiss our Backcourt”. LOL.


    Please don’t think for a second that I’m agreeing with SOWRONG, but if we play the same lineup as last year only with TB plugged into the spot that HMP played we don’t stand near as good a chance of being where we will need to be team defensively wise. IMHO our best chance of getting to that plateau is by having TW play at the 3 and having another true big starting and playing alongside TB so that when he moves over to stop the drive to the basket the ball can’t just be dropped off to or lobbed to his man. Yes our offense was great last year and swapping out HMP for TB should make it even better, but it makes it even more plausible that we can afford to swap a little bit of offense to stand a chance of gaining a significant amount defensively.

  • ForeverIU

    I agree IUMIKE, but who is the other “true big”? Do we have one?

  • Come on guys

    It’s worth remembering that the 10-11 team went 12-20, the next year (with a big part going to the emergence of oladipo and that guy cody zeller) they wen 27-9. (In large part) Two guys turned the program around. it’s not like they steadily built back into being a strong program. They needed to keep reaching on players and taking risks in the recruiting game because they hadn’t built the program through depth and years of consistent ascent.

    I don’t see much of a difference between a kid getting dismissed/transferring and being a marginal (at BEST) player. Point being, that everyone recruits in groups of players and hopes a handful pan out.

    Luckily, I think we’ve gotten some really great players that have helped to build the program more steadily like a 4 year players in ferrell, and presumably hartman and johnson. We’ve had a one and done in vonleh to keep that aspect of recruiting viable going forward (couldn’t have hurt in recruiting TB). And we’ve had some other top tier players that play more than one season, which helps to maintain the program, before heading to the NBA (also a big benefit to recruiting) in Blackmon and Williams. Lastly, the zeisloft signing was a steal and was because we had scholarships open.

    I realize that it’s not ideal to miss on that many players, and is actually really ugly, but to some extent it’s part of recruiting.

  • mckillio

    There are defensive stats out there, they should be used for grading as well.


    “It’s great when I have a player score 25 points, or any large amount, but if in that same game, that player is going to let the man he’s guarding score just as many as him, or even more, than it doesn’t mean a whole lot that he put up a bunch of points in that game, and means I probably would have been better off playing someone that contributed maybe a little less offensively, but held his man to a significantly lower number of points.” Head Coach of Indiana University Basketball Tom Crean talking to Don Fisher on his post game radio talk after losing a conference game they were favored to win.

    If he remembers that and sticks to that philosophy it will be one small step in making us a better team defensively, and heaven knows we’re going to need every little trick there is to get to where we’re going to need to be team defensively wise.


    Do we have another true big, yes, do we now have another true big that is going to make that a viable option, well, that remains to be seen, but I think we have to at least try that path and not for just a game or two at the beginning of the season. I’m not saying continue to roll with that kind of a lineup if it becomes obvious that it just isn’t going to work and we can get a better end result by doing something else, cause, as bad as I hate to say it, the players we now have available may dictate that being what ends up having to happen. IMHO that route is our best chance at becoming a whole lot better as far as overall team defense goes. With what our options are now, (cough cough won’t go into that subject again here), it looks like our best option to have a second true big starting is going to be JM or MB. I know that MB is considered to be TB’s backup and TB’s backup only, but I believe that that type of lineup is necessary enough that I would start JM and try him there and if it just doesn’t work out, you try starting MB there and bring JM in if one of them gets in foul trouble or needs a breather. JM comes in for MB, he simply replaces him at the 4. He comes in for TB, then MB slides over to the 5 and JM plays the 4.

    Playing that type of a lineup, unfortunately, just simply may not work out with who we now have to work with when it comes to attempting to play another true big alongside TB. FWIW I think TC leaves MB on the bench and doesn’t even consider using him in that kind of a scenario.

    Whew, made it through without launching into that “other” subject. lol

  • marcusgresham

    While it was probably a game Indiana should not have lost, stop looking at the name on the jersey and consider the players that were on the floor—Eastern Washington was a good team last year.

  • Bill Graham

    Its interesting that you mention the defensive side of it. I think having Newkirk on the team should help given that he’s lightning quick.

  • ForeverIU

    But he’s not playing this year, is he? He can practice with the team but can’t be in the games.

  • Bill Graham

    You’re right its not like Eastern Washington had the nations leading scorer. They sucked. and Purdue!? Like they were any good…its not like they had two 7 footers. We should never lose to anyone and when we do its because our coach is terrible.

  • eville87

    It’s Indiana It’s indiana. It is actually about the name on the front of the jersey. Cmon guys Eastern Washington at home? It’s Indiana? We make excuses and accept that? Reminds me of the Indiana State game from long ago. At least they were from a state were basketball is king. I just don’t know Marcus. I would think we could be better than that. But I’m just a disgruntled old fan so what would I know.

  • Bill Graham

    I just have to say. I am utterly amazed at how such a positive article about our undoubtedly spectacular guards can be twisted into a pessimistic Crean bashing forum. I dont believe in sugar coating but I do believe that if you are going to bring up the negatives then you also need to acknowledge the positives.

  • eville87

    Tough to be the nation’s leading scorer in the big sky? I know. Looks like Purdue unfortunately did a better job recruiting front court players last year. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing yogi guard a 7fter in our zone defense. Loved also seeing us repeatedly drive into the post players and getting rejected. But as we all know we don’t need any in game adjustments.


    I wouldn’t care to see Max start now.


    One guy turned the program around. Vic was a frosh the year before.

  • eville87

    I said we will be decent. We still have a lot of talent. Just not a whole lot left in the front court rotation. Collin Hartman will be a beast. I think he will make a huge jump again this year. It will be him and Morgan at the 4 I would guess.


    I wouldn’t call them spectacular. They’re good.

  • SilentBob

    I think he is suggesting that Yogi and company having to guard such a quick guard on the “scout” team every day should improve our defense. Which is possible. Certainly won’t hurt.

  • SilentBob

    I think Max starting would slow us down a bit too much. I don’t think he adds a lot defensively, and I think a starting line of JBJ, TW, CH, and TB would be one of the best (if not the best) rebounding line up in the big ten. I think better defensive rebounding alone from Thomas over Hanner will make us a lot better defensively. We allowed far to many second chance points last year. Especially around the rim.

    I do agree that TW should play the three however. Maybe even spend a fair amount of time picking up the ball handler at mid court. I think he is a lot better of a defender than people think. He has just been out of position and used wrong. But at the end of the day I just think Hartman is a better overall player than JM and MB right now, so that’s why I’d give him the nod. Wouldn’t mind seeing JM and MB both take the court when Thomas comes out however

  • SilentBob

    Nope a team full of guys did. They worked hard and improved their game every year. Take Oladipo away from that team and they are no where near as good

  • TomJameson

    Come on SOWRONG … at least TRY to keep with the subject matter of the article! LOL

  • TomJameson

    Man this is supposed to be about the CURRENT team, and the front court we have NOW. Not about the past. S**t man, can’t you, and folks like you, just let the past go for a little bit and look at what is in front of you now?

    With the exception of EH who contributed 3.6 pts per game, we are returning all significant players from a top-10 offense. Most people, except those most pessimistic ones, expect the defense to improve this year, the degree of improvement is the only unknown.

    There is every reason for optimism for those fans who aren’t blinded by their unreasoning hatred about everything relating to CTC.


  • TomJameson

    I agree about Troy at the 3. As far as defensive play goes for all the team, I have no doubt it will be improved on the individual, and team level. How much will be debatable, but it will all be clear by the end of the pre-season.

    I just can’t see how anybody can believe that there will be no improvements in the individual efforts in defense. That is supposed to have been a focus all summer. Every year there has been a deficiency, it has been fixed very well the next year. EVERY year.

    If the offense stays top-10 (no reason to think otherwise) and the defense improves to a top-100 (I personally expect more), IU will be a VERY good team.

    Ever the optimist! LOL

  • TomJameson

    I agree. Newkirk and Harrison (preferred walk-on) are both fast, and I know Harrison is more proud of his defense than on his offense (lights-out shooter). Hopefully those two can show the others a thing or two in the practices and scrimmages.