IU must learn to handle high expectations

Unlike last season, there are high expectations on the Hoosiers heading into 2014-15. Can they handle the pressure?

Last season, Indiana tried to use the external expectations -- or lack thereof -- to its advantage. The Hoosiers had a chip on their shoulder. They tried to sneak up on people, to play the underdog card.

Ninth in the Big Ten? Really!? OK. We'll show you.

That method worked fine for the Hoosiers last year. It helped them pull off several upsets, and eventually advance to the NCAA Tournament.

But this is Indiana, and being an underdog doesn't last long. Assembly Hall's five national championship banners make that whole charade hard to buy into.

Expectations are high for Indiana heading into the 2015-16 season, and they aren't going away anytime soon. The Hoosiers are projected to be a preseason top 15 team by many media outlets. They won't sneak up on anybody. If you want to succeed, they will have to both embrace the expectations, and live up to them.

"We know the expectations are going to be high," guard Yogi Ferrell said. "The buzz is already out. We know how we wanna play, we know how we wanna produce, and we've already gotten started. We just gotta get doing what we do. When we get back to school, things have to pick up a little quicker. We can't be clicking more toward the middle of the season. We've gotta click from the very beginning.

"Now we might have a little bit of a bullseye on our back with people trying to come after us trying to say we aren't going to be as good as they think."

Ferrell is among the many reasons the Hoosiers are a legitimate contender in the Big Ten next season. He opted to return for his senior season, giving IU one of the most formidable lineups during the Tom Crean era. James Blackmon Jr. and Troy Williams also collected feedback from the NBA before opting to return to school.

But perhaps the biggest reason for the hype in Bloomington is the signing of center Thomas Bryant, a 6-foot-11 big man that should start for the Hoosiers from day one.

Indiana's biggest weakness last season was its post play. Now, at worst, IU is at least formidable inside, and at best, Bryant will help make post play one of the team's strengths.

"It can't hurt," forward Collin Hartman joked.

But as assistant coach Tim Buckley explains, Bryant is much more than just a big body.

"He has a great personality. It's probably not as flamboyant as Victor's, but it's a personality like that where you always like being around him," Buckley said. "When you have personalities like that, they play with that personality. You have to play defense with personality and intent. I think he's a guy that's going to talk on that back line, and that's very important. I think he has the ability to erase mistakes because he can block shots, but I also think he's the type of player that will slide over and take a charge if you need it.

"The great thing about Thomas is, as highly regarded as he is, he just wants to be one of the guys. He's not going to feel entitled or feel like he's a high-level guy. He's going to work every day. He's got that personality to do that."

Can the Hoosiers handle the pressure that comes with high expectations and national rankings? Ferrell certainly thinks so."

"We don't have to go out there and prove anything to anybody," he said. "We feel like if we do everything right, take the necessary steps, everything's going to fall into place. We don't have to have any nervousness to our game."

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