There’s no denying the fact that Cody Zeller was one of the best players in college basketball last season, as the 7-footer averaged 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game on an Indiana squad that won the Big Ten regular season title and reached the Sweet 16. But he’s gone now, as are Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Derek Elston, meaning that head coach Tom Crean will need his newcomers (and seldom-used returnees) to have an impact in 2013-14.
One of those players is 6-foot-11 freshman Luke Fischer, who is expected to factor into Indiana’s interior rotation. Fischer arrived in Bloomington after leading his Germantown (Wis.) High School team to a 56-0 record over his last two seasons, but there’s still much for him to learn as he transitions to the college game. Fischer’s gotten stronger, adding 15 pounds to his frame as the strength and conditioning staff gets the big man ready for those rugged nights in the Big Ten.
Fischer’s development is important given the Hoosiers’ lack of interior experience, and according to Pete DiPrimio of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel Indiana head coach Tom Crean feels that it’s “very important” that Fischer be ready (and able) to play right away.
Crean didn’t recruit Fischer to sit the bench. Fischer has to be a big contributor, especially with the Hoosiers’ lack of inside experience. Sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell played the most of the returning big men last year (he averaged 2.8 points and 2.06 rebounds in 9.7 minutes). Forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea and center Peter Jurkin saw limited action.
Indiana will certainly have leaders, with senior Will Sheehey and sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell filling those roles. But if the Hoosiers are to factor into the Big Ten race their youngsters will need to contribute. Coach Crean and his staff reeled in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, led by forwards Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams and guard Stanford Robinson, so the talent is certainly there.
Even with the stars from last season’s Big Ten champion squad gone, the process of restoring one of the game’s most storied programs continues. The hope is that Fischer and the other underclassmen will prove themselves capable of helping the Hoosiers return to the days when they were consistently contending for Big Ten and national honors.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.