Friday, March 11, 2011

IU Needs More Than Zeller To Turn Program Around

Cody Zeller is not a savior. Tell yourself that. He will not be Jared Sullinger and dominate the Big Ten next year. He won’t overpower defenses with his size and strength, won’t force double-team dilemmas that will leave good shooters such as Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford plenty of three-point looks.

Zeller is not a ready made NBA guy, a one-and-done player in the mold of Sullinger or even Eric Gordon. He has to build his strength and body, develop a warrior mindset. Figure that he will

He will arrive in Bloomington this summer with room to grow, which is as it should be. He will have significant impact, but do not expect him to carry the weight of Hoosier hopes that next season will be the dawn of Indiana’s return to glory. Yes, he’s a McDonald’s All-America, but he will need inside help, which leads to the obvious question -- where will it come from?

Tom Pritchard is the most logical candidate. He is 6-9 and 250 pounds and, when he doesn’t foul, is IU’s best inside defender. He will be a senior and, in essence, a four-year starter and that should count for something.

“Foul trouble hurt me all year in certain games,” he said. “The team needs me out there on defense. It’s something I always have to work on.”

Neither Derek Elston and Bobby Capobianco seems to be an inside answer. Elston has more of an all-around game that doesn’t lend itself to in-the-paint banging. Capobianco seems more suited for a Mid-American Conference team than a Big Ten power.

Both could transform themselves in the off-season into inside beasts. Will they? Logic suggests no, but sometimes will can overcome that.

“I have to stay away from injuries,” Elston said. “I’ve been battling knee injuries here and there, but everybody has dealt with something. We have to get bigger and stronger. We’ve got to battle. That’s all it comes down to. You have to want to get the ball down there. You’ve got to want to score. You’ve got to try hard to get better at different moves.”

And then Elston taps into the message coach Tom Crean has pushed since he arrived in Bloomington three years ago. He knew his early Hoosier teams would lack talent, but they could make up for it with non-talent factors, starting with toughness and effort and tenacity.

Next season IU will be among the Big Ten’s most veteran teams. Pritchard and Verdell Jones will be four-year starters. Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls will be three-year starters. Oft-injured Maurice Creek, if he can return to full health and stay there, offers impressive potential. Freshman Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey got invaluable experience this season because, Crean has said, they have uncommon work ethics.

The Hoosiers have to become more athletic (recruiting is key for that) and better rebounders and defenders. But in the end they have to play with uncommon passion and purpose. If they do, a winning record and NIT opportunity are possible, perhaps more given the Big Ten can’t possibly be as strong with so many good players graduating.

If they don’t, well, we’ve seen that before.

“We have to fight every day,” Elston said. “Everybody has to leave it on the line. We have to do it day in and day out to achieve what we want to achieve. We’ve got to fight.”


Ben Chappell will never remind anybody of, say, Michael Vick. He will never terrorize defenses with his speed. Still, now that the former Indiana quarterback is healthy after a beating of a season, he just might earn himself a shot on a NFL roster.

Chappell was among the players participating in IU’s pro day in front of around 14 NFL scouts. He was leaner (down to 224 pounds after a high of around 250) and far fitter. He’d spent the off-season working out in Arizona with Oakland Raiders quarterback Charlie Frye. Chappell needed off-season foot surgery to fix an injury that basically left him unable to condition last season. Still, he finished as the most accurate quarterback in school history.

His accuracy and intelligence (he was close to a 4.0 student) give him an edge. Is that enough for a team to take a shot at him? Perhaps. But as Jamarcus Russell and Vince Young have proven, superior athleticism isn’t enough to become a NFL quarterback.


  1. "Inside help" for this team is only going to come from the junior college ranks. Obviously after the kelvin Sampson fiasco any juco should come under heavy scrutiny but I believe there are some out there that would pass muster - 6'7" to 6'10" true posts that with Zeller would allow Indiana to play inside out at times.

    A few other things - look for Capobianco to "transfer" (i.e. be forced out) and don't expect Creek to play any future meaningful minutes. Zeller (as Pete stated) is only the first piece of the puzzle - the 2012 class provides the rest. Hopefully Coach Crean can show progress and get this team to postseason play next year. I don't think anyone was expecting a final four run this year, but the way IU finished can't be allowed to continue.

  2. Totally agree with you about Zeller. If anybody has watched his high school gameplay videos - he doesn't dominate in high school - so he certainly will not in his first couple of years at IU. As a result, do not look for a major IU turn-around until Perea is into his second year at IU - not sure how many years away that is.

    Indiana needs to land one of the top five JUCO college (NBA almost ready) Centers this summer to ensure they have a successful season next year - otherwise I don't see room for a whole lot of improvement in the bottomline results.

    And the pressure will mount on Crean if they don't.

    Crean will want to rebalance his bench this off season. Capo (& maybe another scholarship player) will have to walk-on as preferred or transfer to another college - good time for it sense he still has two years left.

    Some of the other existing walk-ons will have to give way to more talented players should they become available.

    Something else to note, of the two major upset wins IU had this season I believe at least one (if not both) of them came when Jones III was injured. Not knocking Jones III any but IU plays better as a team when he is on the bench. Do not take me wrong - I love Jones III as an individual player but he is not the type of player who makes his other team mates better - not like Hulls does anyway.

  3. All good points that IU players AND fans should keep in mind. Unfortunately, the rabid nature of Hoosier Nation expectations as already begun to place the weight of the world on this kid. You're right, he's not a Jared Sullinger, but he will be a great player and a superb student athlete. That last part,in my humble opinion, is a big reason why the win/loss columns have not yet improved substantially. Fred made it very clear at the outset of Coach Crean's hiring, that his intent is to restore IU bball to its glory days THE RIGHT WAY, which is to say, relying on honest to god student athletes. So, I'm not surprised we don't have any one-and-done players. I'm certainly not interested in seeing that here, but what I want is immaterial. This is the way our program's leadership intends to turn this thing around. Like everyone else, I'm disappointed we didn't win more games or play better this year but, I believe the program is on the right track. It remains to be seen, in this day and age, whether this approach can still carry over to actual success. Butler's been doing it, but they don't have to play in the Big Ten. I long to watch that tough-nosed defense we use to be known for. I also long for Assembly Hall to reestablish its reputation (nationally) as the place where nobody wants to have to play. It can happen. Can it happen doing things the right way. I think so. I hope so. Cody Zeller will be pivotal to this, but he is not a 'man-child' who will come in and dominate every game. It has to start with the players we have. They absolutely must start preparing now to compete at a much higher level next year. They also have to believe in themselves. And, learn to move their feet (ahem, Tom Pritchard and Derick Elston) and become, the beasts this article suggests they will need to be. And, real fans need to keep the faith and believe in the coach and the team. Go Hoosiers! We need another banner! - Ken Marshall class of '81 and lifelong hoosier fan.

  4. Elston needs to realize he needs to model his game after Jared Odle and not a 6'2 guard trying to pull off hang time and double pumps.

  5. This team is going nowhere without major changes to the roster and the coaching staff. Way too many fundamental mistakes at both ends of the floor must not be allowed to continue. No excuses accepted for not mastering the basics, for this isn't rocket science. All in all a shameful season, not worthy of an encore.

  6. This Indiana team is the worst team I have ever seen in just dribbling the ball. Everyone on this team wants to pound the ball. Why don't they try passing. Maybe Cream needs to go to the old girls basketball rule of two bounces and you have to pass.

  7. At this time last year, most Hoosier fans were really down on the program. Several month's later, we go on a recruiting rampage and spirit's soar. Then, before he ever plays, we lose Guy Marc-Michel and so goes our presence in the paint. That was huge, as was losing Creek, again, and Watford's hand injury.

    Prior to losing GMM, I liked our chances to make the NIT this year. Was not to be, of course, but can see why without GMM and a healthy Creek. Not going to lie, was expecting to see our Defense play better, particularly in the paint, and thought we'd do a better job with turnovers this year. The chicken or the egg argument applied to coaching versus talent has certainly ocurred to me. While I'm not expecting for CZ to come in next year and take us to the big dance, I think it is realistic to expect our D in the paint to improve (hopefully, our scoring in the paint as well). Our starting guards certainly won't be Freshmen next year, so I look for improvement in the turnover department as well.

    While Hulls played better (quicker) than I thought he would and both Freshmen showed they have Big 10 athleticism, I really hope we are thoroughly scouring the JUCO ranks for someone about 6' 8" to 6' 10" and quick jumping. Yes, I know, so are most other major programs, but I fear without him it could be another long year while we wait for the 2012 class, hello Hanner Perea, to arrive in Bloomington.

  8. This extraordinary basketball program, a program that, like Indiana high school basketball twenty years ago, was a singular organizing principle. It brought a sense of community to all who embraced it and it helped create a transcendent identity built on pride, integrity and excellence. It has now sunk to such a level of irrelevance that, like a dying language or culture, it is only thought of in nostalgic terms, part of a glorious and time-honored, but distant past. Because of incompetence, hubris and myopia IU basketball has lost its franchise. How utterly sad.