The Guards

From Isaiah Thomas to Steve Alford to Tom Coverdale, a staple of truly good Indiana teams has been the play of their guards. The 2004 Indiana Hoosiers have a cornucopia of guards that are ready for some playing time, and they will be the strength of the Hoosiers this season. Indiana will almost always run a three guard set, and will occasionally run with four guards during the season, so it is important that all the guards are ready to play from day one.

Let's take a look at the Indiana guards who will be playing a major role for the Hoosiers this year, and see how they will help Indiana return to glory.

Junior Marshall Strickland- 6-2, 195. Marshall Strickland had a breakout year in 2003 after a freshman year that showed flashes of brilliance. Strickland averaged double digit scoring, and was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten by the coaches of the league last year. Strickland will be playing point guard for most of the year with Indiana again this year, as the junior from Maryland will try to lead the Hoosier ship to victory. What Strickland needs to do to be successful this year is trust in his ability and don't worry about mistakes. Strickland will make mistakes at the point guard, because he is not a true point guard, but if he can play safe basketball then he can cut down on his mistakes and help lead the Hoosier attack. Strickland will score the majority of his points when Bracey Wright is off the court, and will have to feed the ball to a scorer when Wright is out there. Expect Strickland to step up and play a very major role for Indiana this year, he was ranked among the top 20 of his recruiting class, and its time that he live up to that potential.

Junior Bracey Wright- 6-3, 200. Wright enters his third season with Indiana after being the main weapon of the 2003-2004 offense for the Hoosiers. Last year, Wright was relied on too much for scoring, and Indiana must change that this year to be successful. Wright still must be a good scorer, but he needs to develop his game more fully. Wright needs to start spreading the scoring around, and playing tight defense to be a more complete player. He has been rumored to be going to the NBA since his first day in a Hoosier jersey, but he has not played a good enough all around game to make the NBA yet. Many people think this is Wright's last year in the Crème and Crimson, but that is yet to be seen. One thing is for sure however, the Hoosiers will not be successful this year without the scoring presence from Wright. Wright is finally completely healthy this year, and the former McDonald's All American will have to be a star for the Hoosiers.

Sophomore Roderick Wilmont- 6-4, 205. Wilmont was originally a member of the 2002 recruiting class, but red shirted his freshman year at Indiana and is a sophomore in eligibility. Wilmont is considered one of the best overall athletes on the team, and can be a tenacious defender. He is not a high scorer, as his career high was 13 against Vanderbilt in 2003. However, Wilmont will be playing a more important role for the Hoosiers in 2004. Wilmont will be one of the first men off the bench this year, coming in to give Robert Vaden and Bracey Wright a quick breather. He can play either as a small forward or a shooting guard, and has a fairly good perimeter shot. Wilmont will be called upon this year to shut down the top scorers of several teams. The most important part of his game this year will be the intensity that Wilmont will bring to the team. He has been one of the hardest workers in practice and in the weight room, and will push his teammates to do their best. Wilmont will try to be a vocal leader for a team that has lacked true leadership in the past.

Freshman Robert Vaden- 6-5, 200 Vaden joins the Hoosiers after playing his senior year of high school at Bridgton Academy in Maine. He was rated the #47 player of his class by scout.com and is expected to start for the Hoosiers at the 3 guard. Vaden has a very first quick step and is an excellent shot. He will be able to get to the hole and pass the ball off for an open three. Vaden assimilating into coach Mike Davis's offense could be the most important factor for Indiana this year. Vaden will have a tendency to make freshman mistakes, and could find himself in foul trouble if going against an opponent who is quick. Vaden will contribute heavily for the Hoosiers this year, but he may seem to disappear against better defenders while he is still adjusting to the offense. Vaden will also be a leader for Indiana, as the coaches have announced him as a team captain for the year.

Freshman AJ Ratliff- 6-2, 180. Ratliff joins the Hoosiers after a very successful senior season at North Central. Ratliff lead the team to a 21-4 record, and earned the coveted Mr. Basketball trophy at the end of the season. He was rated the #72 player in his class by scout.com in the final class ranking. Ratliff will try to develop into a true point guard for Indiana, although he may be best suited as a shooting guard. Indiana has plenty of shooting guards though, and badly needs help at the point. Ratliff has a rare athletic gift, with the ability for a 39 inch vertical, while boasting a wingspan of 6'11''. Ratliff has a very good shot, and a good idea of what is going on with the game, but he will have to become a better ball handler to be a true presence in 2004. Ratliff should provide some good minutes off the bench, but he will not be a go-to player for Indiana.

Senior Ryan Tapak- 6-2, 180. The gutsy senior from Perry Meridian became a fan favorite in Indiana during the 2003 season. Tapak came into the games and played the type of basketball that the rest of the team seemed to have forgotten about, and the Hoosier fans appreciated it. Coach Mike Davis has said that he will get Tapak into the game quicker if starters Marshall Strickland or Bracey Wright are struggling. Tapak can spark the offense with his skill as a true point guard, something that the Hoosiers have been truly lacking. He has very good vision, and passes out assists by the bucketful. If Tapak sees regular time in 2004, he will be a very good contributor for Indiana, however it is yet to be seen if he will be ready to play. Tapak has been bothered by a back injury all off season, and has just gotten back to regular practices after the Bellarmine exhibition game. Tapak could really help the Indiana team to succeed this year, but coach Mike Davis will have to find a place for him on the court.

Senior Mark Johnson- 6-2, 190. Mark Johnson has been a walkon at Indiana for the last three years, but most Hoosier fans didn't know his name until the Big Ten tournament last year when Johnson scored 13 against Ohio State and 16 against Illinois. Johnson showed the Hoosiers that it isn't all about talent, but about hard work and drive. He and Tapak joined together to form a very effective pair of walkons. Oddly enough, the roommates have also both been hurt this preseason. Johnson and Tapak are both expected back for the season, but both have been struggling with sore bodies. Johnson has a very good shot, and works hard to find himself open. He is a good spot shooter and could be an important sharp shooter for the Hoosiers this year. He will be a good boost off of the bench, but also must get into the game to help Indiana.

Sophomore Errek Suhr- 5-8, 160. The 5 foot 8 inches that Errek Suhr is listed at might be a bit of an exaggeration, but no matter how small he may be, Suhr has a chance to help out Indiana this year. Suhr is a local hero, as he was the star of the Bloomington North High School team during his high school career. Suhr has gained the reputation during the offseason of an intense worker who shoots endlessly to improve his game. His is the quintessential small man, who hustles for every ball and works hard throughout the game. Davis likes the hustle that he shows off the bench, and Suhr could see more time than people expect him to this year. If he does get a lot of time, don't expect a lot of scoring out of him, but expect him to raise the play of his fellow teammates. As the old saying goes, hustle is contagious, and the coaching staff is hoping that it spreads like the flu.

Indiana guards not listed are: Senior Donald Perry who is serving an indefinite suspension for violation of team rules, freshman walk-on Adam Ahlfeld, and Auburn transfer Lewis Monroe. Ahlfeld will see slightly more time than Monroe, who must sit out the year, and it is yet to be seen if and when Perry will be back.

The Indiana strength over the last few years have been their guards, and they will continue to be the strength of the team in 2004. The guards must learn to share the ball better and to work to get the open shot. If Indiana settles for a bad shot or a quick shot this year they will struggle, but if they can move the ball around, they will find success. As many as eight guards could easily see time this year for Indiana, and it is the depth of the team. Will the team be able to overcome the lack of a true point guard though? Well, that's why they play the games.

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