Christian Watford spoke from the heart, which is what you want but don’t always get in these sanitized media times. He said if the Hoosiers don’t make the NCAA tourney this season, it would be a failure.
“With what we’ve got,” he said, “the time is now.”
In so many ways, he’s right.
Sure, you can point out that Indiana has won just 28 games in the last three seasons, so how does that translate into a NCAA tourney team. A more realistic goal would be a winning season and a NIT berth, with NCAA Tournament opportunity coming next season.
But this is a veteran team that has the pieces in place for a special season. Yes, it would use another big guy or two, but that’s true for a lot of teams that will make the NCAA tourney field. Watford has All-Big Ten ability after leading the team in scoring (16.0) and finishing second with 37 three-pointers. The 6-9, 230-pound junior shot 38.1 percent from three-point range, which is what you’d expect from a guard rather than a forward.
Freshman Cody Zeller is primed for a major impact college debut season, and while it almost certainly won’t be as dominant as the one turned in by Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger last year, it should be a good one.
If forward Derek Elston is healthy, he could be a big inside contributor. The Hoosiers look solid at guard with Jordan Hulls, Verdell Jones, Maurice Creek (if he successfully recovers from two major knee injuries), Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey.
Defense has been a major emphasis during individual workouts this fall, for good reason -- it’s been a major liability these last few seasons. Figure that will change, and if it does, look out.
“We realize the time is now,” Watford said. “We don’t have time to wait. We have some senior guys who want to get something done while they’re at Indiana. We don’t want to send them out with a losing record. The sense of urgency is definitely there.”
That urgency has helped develop strong veteran leadership, which is crucial if IU is to turn the program around.
“I feel it’s more player driven now more than anything,” Watford said. ‘Because we’re a veteran team, we hold each other accountable more than anything. We kind of embrace the hard work. We know the workouts are going to be hard going into it. We just try to attack it.”