Indiana returns four starters from a team that won 27 games, including three against top-five opponents and two in the NCAA tournament. Two of the returnees -- Cody Zeller and Christian Watford -- could have departed for the NBA, but passed on going pro. The Hoosiers also bring back two experienced reserves and welcome in a top-10 recruiting class. Quite a change for a program that had only won 28 games in the previous three seasons.
Zeller led the Hoosiers in scoring and rebounding and tied for the team lead in steals. Though he would have been a top-10 pick in the NBA draft, Zeller said he wasn't "ready to grow up." Another summer in the weight room should make him capable of a double-double every night. Watford is primed for another stellar season. In addition to sinking one of 2011-12's most memorable shots (a buzzer-beater to top Kentucky), Watford averaged 16.7 points and 7.7 rebounds over IU's final seven games.
Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo saw their roles change last season, but both had successful years. As Oladipo evolved into a co-point guard, Hulls found ways to park himself on the wing and punish Big Ten opponents. He led the Hoosiers with 72 made three-point field goals, making 49.3 percent of his attempts. Crean believes Hulls can do better with the arrival of freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell, a McDonald's All-American.
It's dangerous comparing any freshman to Isiah Thomas, but Ferrell is drawing raves. Joining him is Jeremy Hollowell who has the three-point stroke to give Indiana another long-range threat after Christian Watford. Hanner Mosquera-Perea is the best athlete but needs better ball skills, while Peter Jurkin will be asked to concentrate on defense and rebounding.
After several years of what the Indiana players called "getting punked" by stronger and deeper Big Ten programs, Indiana pushed back last season. This year the Hoosiers should do their own punking. Zeller is a National Player of the Year candidate, a big man who never stops running. Watford -- who made nearly 44 percent of his three-pointers -- showed the maturity to defend and rebound late in the season. Big Ten coaches say that Oladipo and Sheehey, the team's two juniors, changed the program's mindset. And with a solid incoming class, look for the Hoosiers to live up to the preseason hype.