Every Indiana fan seems to have his own theory as to why the Hoosiers struggled last basketball season.
For those who were involved with the team, though, explaining the struggles is simple: There were too many turnovers, not enough shooters, and not enough guys willing to hold their teammates accountable for mistakes.
“Some games the connection was there, some games it wasn’t," junior guard Yogi Ferrell said at last week's Big Ten Media Day in Chicago. "This season, we’ve got to have that connection every game.”
When Indiana lost Jordan Hulls, Derek Elston and Christian Watford to graduation and Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo to the NBA after the 2012-13 season, they had to replace more than the points those players contributed.
Players like Hulls, Watford and Oladipo were successful not only because of their ability, but also because of the chemistry they developed with their teammates. That chemistry came through practices and games, sure, but it developed the most during the non-mandatory workouts the players held inside of Cook Hall.
That chemistry, which helped the Hoosiers earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, was never there last season. The work ethic wasn't the same, the friendships weren't as strong, and the roles weren't as clear.
“We had too many guys that hadn’t been through the hard days," Indiana coach Tom Crean said at Big Ten Media Day. "There’s a certain level that you have to be at. There’s punishment and there’s discipline. Punishment is, ‘You’ve got to understand there’s a price to pay for the actions.’ Discipline is getting to a point where you learn better and don’t wanna do it again. You have to learn it. People have to learn.
“We missed Derek Elston as much in a role as anybody. And we lost 6900 points. He didn’t have the most points, but he had a role on that team of leadership, of energy, of likability in the sense that he could crack on anybody. He was such a big part of the chemistry, and we didn’t have that. We didn’t have that maturity last year, which led to some poor decisions on the court and off.”
This year, the Hoosiers say that chemistry is much stronger. The roster is made up of mostly underclassmen, and the players seem to genuinely get along both on and off the court. The team's foreign trip to Canada in August helped that, but it's important those friendships and that chemistry continue to remain strong, even during the most grueling parts of the college basketball season.
The Hoosiers' leader, Ferrell, knows his role will change some this year. He won't be asked to take as many shots or score as many points as he did last season. Instead, he'll need to be an even better leader and distribute the ball to IU's capable group of perimeter shooters.
It's early, but Ferrell certainly sounds like a guy that is focused on the team first and doing whatever it takes to win games.
“This year what I want to focus on is not turning the ball over so much." Ferrell said. "I want my assist-to-turnover ratio to be a lot higher. I definitely wanna have one of the highest ones in the league. I want to work on not making jump passes, not trying to force anything.”
It's all just talk until the Hoosiers show their improvements on the court, but this has the feel of a group that can accomplish a lot of goals this season. They're a tighter-knit group, and that will undoubtedly benefit them going forward.Could Williams make an Oladipo-esque leap?
VIDEO: Best of Tom Crean at B1G Media Day
VIDEO: Best of Yogi Ferrell at B1G Media Day