When it comes to Tom Crean’s best teams at Indiana, one aspect stands out as clear as a picture-perfect James Blackmon jumper:
Outstanding 3-point shooting.
The four 20-win seasons and both Big Ten regular-season titles under Crean came when Indiana ranked among the top-six schools in the nation in 3-point percentage.
Throwing out his first year, the three times IU hasn’t won 20 games, the Hoosiers ranked 177th, 165th and 177th in 3-point percentage nationally. Those years resulted in records of 17-15, 12-20 and 10-21.
When IU ranked in the top-10 in 3-point percentage, it went 27-8, 20-14, 29-7 and 27-9.
As it relates to style of play, effectiveness from the arc has been a determining factor in IU’s success under Crean.
He leans heavily toward versatile players and likes lineups that include at least three legitimate 3-point shooters on the floor to be able space the floor and play to the corners. It’s not enough for the ball simply to get to spots, including the corners, the player there has to be a threat to make a 3.
Last season, when everyone was healthy, Indiana started guards Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson along with forward Troy Williams and center Thomas Bryant.
There have been variations on lineups over the past few years and players such as current NBA player Victor Oladipo became proficient at 3-point shooting as did, to an extent, Will Sheehey in spots.
With that as a backdrop to Crean’s preferred style, we take a look at Indiana’s options as far as style of play for the 2016-17 season.
Will IU still have a strong focus on 3-point shooting? It probably has the shooters to do so, but it’s not an automatic. However, Indiana also has multiple frontcourt players who can produce in Bryant, OG Anunoby, Juwan Morgan, De’Ron Davis and Collin Hartman.
And IU's frontcourt players can play inside and play outside-in, at least they’ve shown flashes of that with the way Bryant and Anunoby hit from the arc in spots.
Indiana could still go the three-guard route, starting Josh Newkirk at the point with Blackmon and Johnson on the wings.
Some statistical analysis of college basketball general trends suggest if teams can’t shoot well from 3-point range, success is difficult to achieve.
Last year, Indiana had four players — Blackmon, Johnson, Yogi Ferrell and Nick Zeisloft — who made more than a 3 per game and Max Bielfeldt was just below that mark.
Indiana returns only two players who made more than a 3 per game and shot at least 35 percent from the arc. Blackmon made 37 3s in 13 games and shot 46.3 percent before suffering a third serious knee injury, and Johnson made 51 3s in 30 games and shot 44.7 percent from the arc.
The only two other returning IU players to make at least 10 3s last year are Hartman (29 makes in 35 games, 35.8 percent) and Anunoby (13 makes in 34 games, 44.8 percent).
Newkirk, coming off microfracture knee surgery and eligible after sitting out following a transfer from Pittsburgh, shot 43.3 percent (23-for-53) from the arc for Pitt in 2013-14.
Indiana’s losses of Ferrell, Williams, Bielfeldt and Zeisloft mean the players who made 199 of the Hoosiers’ 345 made 3s last year are gone.
If IU is going to continue to have four players who can average at least a made 3 per game, new shooters will need to emerge.
Now, IU does have a history of players’ ability from the arc taking major jumps under Crean.
Bielfeldt shot 26.8 percent from the arc in 3 years at Michigan, 44.6 percent his one season at Indiana. Blackmon went from 38.7 percent as a freshman to 46.3 percent as a sophomore. Hartman was 0-for-3 as a freshman, 40 percent his next two season. Johnson went from 38.8 to 44.7.
Oladipo went from 24.3 percent his first two season to 44.1 percent from the arc as a junior on the way to becoming the No. 2 NBA draft pick, and Ferrell shot 30.3 percent from the arc as a freshman but 41.1 percent his final three season at IU.
IU did bring in two freshmen in four-star guard Curtis Jones and Indiana All-Star Grant Gelon for whom the 3-point shot is a weapon, but how much Gelon will be ready as a freshman is yet to be seen.
As for the frontcourt, IU has options there.
The 6-foot-10 Bryant headlines the group after averaging 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds as a freshman. The 6-foot-8 Anunoby, whose older brother Chigbo Anunoby is an NFL defensive lineman, averaged nine points in IU’s four postseason games.
Indiana also has a 6-foot-7 senior in Hartman (5.0 ppg., 3.1 rpg.), 6-foot-8 sophomore Juwan Morgan (2.4 ppg., 2.1 rpg), 6-foot-10 freshman De’Ron Davis and 6-foot-6 junior college transfer Freddie McSwain. Six-foot-9 forward Tim Priller is a junior, but he has been deep on the bench his first two seasons, and 6-foot-6 Zach McRoberts, an Indiana All-Star and state champion at Carmel High School, will be a redshirt sophomore walk-on.
Add all that up, and IU has the option of going with bigger lineups. IU could play more traditionally with two guards and, say, Hartman, Anunoby and Bryant together.
If Indiana wanted, it could play both the 6-foot-10 Bryant and 6-foot-10 Davis together. Both players can shoot out to the arc, and Davis mentioned being in situations as a power forward has been discussed prior to his arrival at Indiana. Both players are expected to continue to expand their games facing the basket.
Both Davis, the highest ranked of IU’s incoming recruits and the 2016 Colorado Mr. Basketball, and McSwain had academic work to finish this summer and arrived on campus in August.
IU could have plenty of mix-and-match options on the front line and go with more of an interior offensive game if it wanted because Bryant, Davis, Anunoby and Morgan — and to a degree Hartman — can score inside. It wouldn’t be totally an old-school pound-it-in attack, but with cutting and movement, those players could produce points in the paint.
Some decisions as far as lineups and attack could be dictated by what IU wants to do, and some could be dictated by matching up with a specific opponent defensively.
Anunoby certainly made an impact defensively, and Bryant’s improved footwork and ability to play against pick and rolls was a factor as IU’s defense improved throughout last season.
Morgan’s play and Hartman’s help-side defense on rotations also were notable at various points in the season.
The chart below illustrates the correlation between 3-point shooting percentage, where IU ranks each year and how successful it is each year over the past seven season:
Catch up on the other offseason storylines to date: