It's officially the offseason for Indiana basketball, but before I go into full recruiting and scouting mode, I wanted to touch on a variety of topics/thoughts on Indiana basketball, this year and going forward.
1. WHO'S LEAVING?: The Hoosiers obviously lose their best player and leader in Yogi Ferrell, but will also be without Max Bielfeldt, Nick Zeisloft and Ryan Burton next season. (Plug: Bielfeldt will be on my podcast on Monday.)
The primary question heading into next year will be: Will someone(s) step up and take over the leadership role now left vacant by Ferrell? Indiana will have plenty of talent next year -- likely even more than it did this year -- but you need more than talent to win at the collegiate level. Collin Hartman figures to be a prime candidate, as well as James Blackmon Jr., Troy Williams (if he returns), Thomas Bryant (if he returns), and Josh Newkirk, who sat out this year after transferring from Pittsburgh.
The next question: Who else is leaving? I'm told Williams will test the NBA waters, and I'd expect Bryant to at least throw his name in there as well since there is no longer a penalty for doing so. I believe Bryant really wants to return to school for his sophomore season, but if the information he and Tom Crean gather says he's a first-round pick, that's a difficult thing to pass up.
2. WHO'S COMING?: Recruiting is a year-round process in modern college basketball, so the chance remains that Crean will add another recruit and/or a transfer to the 2016 class. But as of now, the Hoosiers will add De'Ron Davis, Curtis Jones, Devonte Green and Grant Gelon this summer. It's already a solid class, of course led by the 4-star Colorado big man Davis.
Davis is capable of filling much of the void for Bryant if he were to leave school, but would fit even better beside him. Davis can play on the block, but he excels at the high post, and would give Crean an interesting high-low combination if Bryant were to stay. The other option, of course, would be to use Davis off the bench -- especially early in the season -- as insurance for foul trouble as well as overall depth.
What made Indiana such a dangerous team this year was the depth it developed over the course of the year, and losing Bielfeldt and Zeisloft will hurt that depth. Bryant and Davis would give the Hoosiers a big man on the floor at all times, a somewhat smaller version of what Purdue had with A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas.
Jones is a gifted scorer, but will need to add strength when he arrives on campus (shouldn't be a problem with Lyonel Anderson). Jones is undersized and has often been critiqued for his defense, so that will likely be another area of focus for him this summer and fall.
Green is a guy that most fans and writers don't know much about but that I really like. I've seen him play numerous times over the last two summers while watching his NY Rens AAU teammate, Rawle Alkins, and I think he fits the mold of a Crean recruit. Green, the younger brother of San Antonio Spurs' guard Danny Green, flew under the radar because he played with 5-star targets Alkins and Mustapha Heron. He's a solid, well-rounded player who seems to have a chip on his shoulder, the type of guy Crean has regularly had success with (i.e. Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, OG Anunoby, Dwyane Wade, etc.).
It's difficult to tell at this point what role Gelon will play next year, but there's no questioning his ability to shoot the ball. Gelon is very limited on the defensive end and needs to add weight, but a knockdown shooter is a coveted asset in basketball, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him carve out a small role.
3. PROJECTED 2017 ROTATION: So we know at least four that are coming and four that are going, with the potential for a couple more in each group. But with what we know right now, here's my early projected rotation for next season.
*Newkirk (He's often forgotten because he had to sit out this season, but I think Newkirk could be a big piece for the Hoosiers this year. He's a true point guard with good experience, and he fits best in an uptempo offense.)
*Blackmon (Figures to be Indiana's leading scorer during his junior year. How will he recover from knee surgery and can he stay healthy? Also, can he improve his defense to the level necessary?)
*Robert Johnson (Was a rough end to the season for Johnson, but he figures to be a big part of Indiana's future.)
*Hartman/Williams (Williams may leave school, but Hartman will be an important glue guy in his senior season.)
*Bryant (Will he return? If he does, he could have a huge year.)
*Juwan Morgan (Morgan is one of the toughest players Indiana has had in recent history. He played through pain all year long, and battled with bigger, stronger players even when his shoulder popped out multiple times in the same guy. Indiana fans should be excited to see what he can do when he's healthy.)
*OG Anunoby (The biggest surprise of the year for the Hoosiers, and one of the brightest spots going forward. Needs to improve his ball skills and perimeter shooting so he could potentially play the small forward position at times. But he's an absolute lockdown defender and a big reason Indiana projects to be a top 15 team next year.)