Column: Big questions loom for IU basketball

Will they stay or will they go? Players and coaches alike. As Indiana basketball moves to the offseason there are a lot of questions. Here is my analysis of the Indiana basketball program moving forward.

The Indiana men’s basketball season came to a quick end Friday night in the NCAA Tournament with a quick 81-76 loss to Wichita State in Omaha. The Shockers went on to knock off No. 2 seed Kansas on Sunday and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

But for Indiana basketball fans the offseason has officially begun. And with that offseason comes a plethora of questions for the IU program.

Here are three of the hot button topics as IU moves forward.

1. WILL Tom Crean RETURN FOR HIS EIGHTH SEASON AS IU’S COACH?

There has been plenty of rumor and speculation on that topic in the last few weeks (That never happens with Indiana basketball, does it?).

Whether it has been fans hearing what they want to hear in Crean’s end of the season radio show, or Crean’s name being floated out there with any major Division I basketball opening, speculation has run rampant.

Will he stay or will he go?

My opinion is that whatever he decides it will ultimately be his decision. This will not be a situation where Indiana tries to push Crean out the door. If Crean isn’t coaching the Hoosiers next season it will be because Crean opted to leave the program. Not because Indiana wanted him out.

And right now I don’t get the feeling that Crean leaving is in the cards. I think there’s still a degree of unfinished business that exists with the IU head coach. And let’s don’t forget, he has taken Indiana basketball to the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four years including Sweet Sixteen performances in two of those seasons.

While it may be popular within the IU fan base to speculate that the IU coach has worn out his welcome in Bloomington, none of that really matters. The only thing that matters ultimately is that IU athletic director Fred Glass believes in his coach, and then, whether or not Crean wants to say at Indiana.

If he does, my guess is there will not be any movement on the IU head coaching front this offseason.

If Steve McClain indeed is introduced this week as the new head basketball coach at Illinois-Chicago, then obviously Crean will need to find a new assistant but my guess is that Crean already has a good idea of who he wants to fill that spot and an announcement will be there in the next few weeks.

WHAT PLAYERS – IF ANY – WILL LEAVE TO GO PRO?

If you check out most NBA mock draft boards for the 2015 Draft, you will see the names Troy Williams, James Blackmon Jr. and Yogi Ferrell in a variety of places. Almost without exception, they are projected in the second round of the draft.

But the question remains: Will any of these players opt to leave IU and head to the next level?

When it comes to judging NBA talent, I may be the wrong one to ask. I’m still on record as believing that Noah Vonleh had no business leaving IU after his freshman season just in terms of NBA readiness. I get the fact that he was projected as a top 10 NBA pick and that it’s nearly impossible to leave that kind of money on the table. Cody Zeller did it for one year but ultimately decided to leave Indiana after his sophomore year.

But in terms of being ready for the NBA? I really think Vonleh could have benefitted from a year or two more in college.

What about these guys? I think all three should be back with Indiana next year. I just don’t think any of them are ready to take the next step. Of the three, Williams seems to attract the most attention but myself I just think he needs to develop more of a perimeter game and work on getting bigger and stronger and then perhaps he’ll be NBA ready after his junior season. But right now? Myself, I just don’t see it.

Yogi? I suppose he could go but I just don’t see Yogi playing at the next level in the fall. I would think one more year of being the man, of running the show and being in the limelight will help a player like Yogi a great deal. He was a first team all Big Ten performer as a junior and should be in that company next year, too. If Ferrell were to stay, he would end up writing an impressive list of accomplishments in the IU basketball record book.

Blackmon Jr.? I just think there are areas of his game that could use a lot of fine tuning. But the big thing is consistency. When he can consistently knock down the open shot, consistently beat his man off the dribble and take it to the basket, and consistently be a presence on the defensive end, then I think he’ll be ready to go. I don’t think he’s there yet.

What will they ultimately decide to do? Now you’re asking me to predict what 18-22 year old kids are going to do and that’s way above my pay grade.

WHAT WILL THE IU ROSTER LOOK LIKE NEXT YEAR?

That’s the million dollar question. We know that Crean is over-signed by two players right now and the Hoosiers are still hot on the trail of signing a big man in this class. That could potentially mean there would be three new players in the program next fall.

The question that always looms large at Indiana is what players will leave in order to make room for the two (or three) new players?

And this is where the mystery always begins. My own personal opinion – and this has always been my view – is that it’s not fair to sit here in the media and speculate which guys should be gone to make room for new players.

These are still kids and they read things and their parents read things, or friends of the kids or parents read things. And it ultimately gets back to them that there’s speculation that they may be asked to leave to open up a roster spot for someone else.

And myself, I just don’t think that kind of speculation is fair to a college kid.

So I try to steer clear of that situation. Are there a few players on the roster that would be obvious candidates? Absolutely. But ultimately that will be their decision and my guess is that word will begin trickling out in the next few weeks as to which players will be leaving the program to open up spots on the roster.

The bottom line is that there are more questions than answers heading into the offseason for Indiana basketball.

Stay tuned because there will be some interesting decisions on the horizon.


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