When speaking about the uniqueness of his team’s inexperience, Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery suggested having 10 players prepared rather than five was critical to playing well in the Big Ten.
Indiana’s roster appears to be set up for that, and Indiana head coach Tom Crean said he wants to have a true-two deep roster for his team this season.
“We're two deep at every position,” Crean said Thursday at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago. “We want two deep not where the coaches see it two deep, but one where the players know it is. And, based on the fact that they've got to bring their very best in and it's very competitive.”
McCaffrey wasn’t wrong, and Crean recognizes the importance of it. In a league where two losses separated first, second and third place in the conference, depth is critical to achieving success.
2015 Big Ten regular season champion Wisconsin had a rotation that went nine deep last season. Runner-up Maryland had 10 players average at least 11 minutes per game last season.
Indiana, like Wisconsin, had a rotation that went nine deep. Like Maryland, those players in the rotation averaged 11 minutes per game. The difference, though, was where the teams finished as the Hoosiers ended Big Ten play tied for fifth in the conference with Illinois last season.
The guard position is where Indiana is arguably the deepest with four returning players. Between senior Yogi Ferrell, sophomores James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson, and redshirt senior Nick Zeisloft, a two-deep rotation already appears well-established at both guard spots.
It’s shown in practice, too.
“Practice has been really competitive,” Ferrell said. “Some practices we start off competing right off the bat with the first couple of drills.”
Competition will be the greatest in the frontcourt, however, as Indiana tries to reestablish that depth.
The dismissals of three forwards over the last year – Emmitt Holt, Devin Davis and Hanner Mosquera-Perea – left Indiana with junior Collin Hartman, sophomore Tim Priller, junior Troy Williams and redshirt senior Ryan Burton as frontcourt options.
The Hoosiers added Michigan graduate transfer Max Biefeldt and freshmen Thomas Bryant, O.G. Anunoby and Juwan Morgan over the summer – all players who played frontcourt positions at their previous school who stand at 6-foot-8, 6-foot-10, 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-7, respectively. But Bryant and Hartman have been limited in practice recently as a result of injuries.
“We're really dealing with our old dog team,” Crean said. “We're trying to get our young freshmen adjusted. Max Bielfeldt has been a tremendous addition to our team. But we've got a long way to go when it comes to getting that durability and that resiliency that we're going to need to be successful. But I'm excited to work with them.”
As those players get healthy and the frontcourt to full strength, it will give Indiana a clearer picture of its entire two-deep rotation.
Getting that picture, however, will depend on the amount of improvement of Indiana’s younger players.
“We're not there right now, and hopefully we'll be able to get to that,” Crean said. “That's why improvement for our team, especially with our freshmen and sophomores, is going to be imperative that we can get to that point.”