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New-look Hoosiers after better results in 2013-14
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) -- Indiana has a new blueprint for basketball success.
Instead of relying on all those familiar names and faces that helped turn the Hoosiers from a beleaguered basketball program into a national power, this year's players are focused on extending the legacy.
They know one Big Ten title won't suffice in this basketball-crazed state and that more banners are needed inside Assembly Hall, so this season, they're on a quest to prove the so-called experts wrong. Again.
''It's a pretty important season to try and not let down Indiana basketball because they brought it back,'' guard Yogi Ferrell said, referring to last year's graduates. ''We don't want to let ourselves down. We noticed how hard they worked and what it took for them to bring it back, so we want to kind of hold it up there.''
Clearly, this won't be the same team Hoosiers fans embraced over the past few seasons.
Most outsiders expect Indiana to take a step back after losing Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, both unanimous all-Big Ten first-team selections last season, to the NBA; guard Jordan Hulls and forward Christian Watford, both 1,000-point scorers, and oft-injured forward Derek Elston to graduation; and backup guards Remy Abell and Maurice Creek, who transferred to new schools.
And the big changes have forced Ferrell and senior forward Will Sheehey into new roles.
Sheehey, the Big Ten's 2013 sixth man of the year, is likely to earn starting job at forward. Ferrell, a sophomore, is being asked to reduce the turnovers and become the stabilizing force with nine new faces - eight freshmen and Evan Gordon, a transfer from Arizona State who is the younger brother of NBA star and former Hoosiers guard Eric Gordon.
While Indiana might be short on experience, it is not short on bodies. Or talent.
''They're probably the most talented group since I've been here. The freshmen want to be with the same names as Vic and Jordan who really turned this place around,'' Sheehey said. ''Stan (Robinson), in particular, wants to know about everything and everybody.''
Hoosiers fans have only one question: Can the defending Big Ten champs keep their title another season?
Here are five things to watch this season.
TOUGH START: It's been a rocky transition for Indiana's highly touted freshmen class. Center Luke Fischer is recovering from a torn labrum in his left shoulder, forward Troy Williams is recovering from an injured right hand and Robinson, a guard, bruised his right knee. All three have been limited at practice, and even though all three are expected to be key contributors, the injuries may slow their progression and put more pressure on forward Noah Vonleh to make up for it.
THE REPLACEMENTS: Somehow, the Hoosiers must find a way to replace 75.6 percent of last season's scoring and 69.5 percent of their rebounding. The 6-foot-7 Sheehey has always been solid, yet has never averaged 10 points per game for a season. And though Ferrell is considered one of the Big Ten's top point guards, he averaged 7.6 points last season. The Hoosiers need more points from both veterans this year. Having Gordon, a fifth-year senior who averaged 10.1 points at Arizona State last season, should help, too. But the bulk of the replacement parts must come from the freshmen and sophomores.
FORGOTTEN MEN: While much of the early attention has focused on the newcomers, the key to success might be the sophomore class. Indiana expected major contributions from Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Mosquera-Perea last season, but Mosquera-Perea and Hollowell both missed early games because of NCAA issues and never made a big impact. With a full summer to work out, both could play key roles in 2013-14.
DEFENSIVE DIMENSION: Coach Tom Crean believes in getting physical and playing on the run, and the Hoosiers were among the nation's best at both last season. Crean isn't changing his approach, even with so many young guys. Instead, he'll have to be patient with the youngsters. Expect some rough patches, especially early, but if the Hoosiers progress the way Crean expects, Indiana could be tough to beat by season's end.
BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA: Crean has put together a schedule that should help the young Hoosiers mature. They play 17 home games this season. Their nonconference schedule includes only one true road game, at Syracuse for the ACC-Big Ten challenge, and four games against power conference schools (Syracuse, Washington, Boston College or UConn and Notre Dame). They also avoid going to Ohio State and will play the Big Ten tournament just down the road in Indianapolis.