BOZICH | Ferrell, Blackmon, Williams and super-sized expectation - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Ferrell, Blackmon, Williams and super-sized expectations return at Indiana

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Troy Williams will be back at Indiana University for his junior season. Ditto for freshman guard James Blackmon Jr.

Yogi Ferrell made the Hoosiers an improbable three-for-three on sensible NBA early-entry decisions. Ferrell surprised the world (or at least me) Sunday by announcing he would play his senior season in Assembly Hall.

I'll tell you one more thing that's back at Indiana: Super-sized expectations.

Not the pre-season number one noise that surrounded the Hoosiers during the Victor Oladipo/Cody Zeller season two years ago when Zeller and Oladipo each made appearances on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

But folks around Bloomington will not high-five a basic first-weekend visit to the NCAA Tournament and a modest form of contending in the Big Ten in 2016. Nor should they. The discussion starts with the Sweet Sixteen – or likely higher.

Pent-up demand in Assembly Hall will require more, more, more. Begin with the top four (or maybe three) in the Big Ten, although the sad truth is that conference regular-season performance has edged towards irrelevancy in the power leagues. (See Virginia, last month for the latest details.)

In 2013, when the Big Ten was as rugged as it has been in years, Indiana won an outright conference title, its first in 20 years. That satisfied the faithful for about three seconds.

As soon as that Indiana team lost to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen, the howling began. It's really never stopped for head coach Tom Crean. Chances are only a Final Four will stop the grumbling. It's the way of the world.

Especially with Indiana 13 seasons since its last Final Four appearance and 28 seasons since the school's fifth and last NCAA title.

And, with Kentucky roaring into four Final Fours in the last five seasons.

With Butler backing up its first Final Four appearance in 2010 with another in 2011.

With Michigan State and Wisconsin thundering into the Final Four earlier this month, the latest confirmation that the Spartans and Badgers have become the signature basketball programs of the Big Ten under Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan.

The candy-striped, post-season slide toward mediocrity that began during the final six seasons of Bob Knight (2-6 overall record) has not been shaken.

The official count: one Final Four (Mike Davis) and two additional Sweet Sixteens (Tom Crean) over 21 unremarkable post-seasons. That's correct. Crean has more Sweet Sixteens in his seven seasons at IU than Knight had in his final half-dozen.

In 2016, Indiana is projected to return 94 percent of its scoring, 92 percent of its rebounding and 90 percent of its assists – plus an inside player (recruit Thomas Bryant) more likely to succeed in the low post than anybody the Hoosiers threw the ball to last season.

The official totals will decline slightly because with three recruits scheduled to arrive and only Stanford Robinson and Max Hoetzel confirming their decisions to transfer, Indiana will remain one scholarship over the NCAA limit of 13 until another departure is announced.

But Crean's top eight scorers and rebounders are scheduled to return. Where else do you see that many players returning to an NCAA Tournament team?

None of the six teams that finished ahead of the Hoosiers in the Big Ten can make that statement.

Big Ten champ Wisconsin says goodbye to four of its top six scorers, including likely first-round picks Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Maryland must replace Dez Wells, who gave the Terps 15.1 points per game.

Michigan State loses its top scorer (Travis Trice) and rebounder (Branden Dawson). Purdue is loaded (and beat Indiana twice) but the Boilermakers are without point guard Jon Octeus.

Both Iowa (Aaron White) and Ohio State (DeAngelo Russell) lost their top scorers.

The only thing Indiana needs to lose is its indifference about playing defense. How significantly Crean's team improves on defense will determine if the Hoosiers can play their way into the national discussion.

IU ranked last in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency. They ranked 214th nationally, at least 150 spots behind the six Big Ten teams they trailed in the league standings. It won't matter how many three-pointers Ferrell, Blackmon and Williams make if the Hoosiers don't commit themselves to stopping opponents.

Indiana's KenPom defensive efficiency number ranked 72nd among the 75 schools in the Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big East and Southeastern Conferences. Only DePaul (228), Virginia Tech (245) and Washington State (313) were worse.

That explains why you can find the Hoosiers ranked in the too-early pre-season polls, but not ranked as prominently as they were ranked in 2013.

CollegeBasketballTalk.com ranks Indiana 15th in the nation, third in the Big Ten, behind Maryland and Michigan State. CBSSports says third in the Big Ten, 13th in America. That's reasonable until Indiana finds a few guys ready to play defense the way Victor Oladipo played defense.

Troy Williams, James Blackmon Jr. and Yogi Ferrell will be back next. So will the super-sized expectations.

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