When Christian Watford’s buzzer-beating three against Kentucky fell through the net, it signified many things. Obviously, it meant IU won the game, but it was the amazing reward for a daunting trip back to prominence. In reality, you could write an entire article enveloping what that game and that shot (now known around Indiana as the “Wat Shot”) meant to the program.
In simple terms, IU was back.
The following season saw an IU squad that had a high octane offense and earned themselves a Big Ten regular season title in one of the toughest fields in recent memory. But a rather disappointing exit to Syracuse sent everyone crashing back to reality. Along with the departure of seniors Watford and Jordan Hulls, junior Victor Oladipo and sophomore Cody Zeller left for the NBA, leaving some big shoes to fill in Bloomington.
Last season was a sign of how hard it is to stay at the top. Despite nabbing top-15 recruit Noah Vonleh, his one-and-done season ended with the Hoosiers on the outside looking in toward the NCAA tournament. Their stay on top was a short-lived one.
This year, despite bringing in a five-star guard in James Blackmon, the Hoosiers will likely suffer through a season like last. With Vonleh’s move to the NBA, Peter Jurkin’s decision to transfer, and the lack of recruits to fill the void, Indiana will be extremely low on big men. Forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who is just 6’9″ but has incredible athleticism, is going to be asked to play a bigger role this year.
Causing even more concern is that, as it stands, Tom Crean not only doesn’t have a commitment from a big man in next year’s recruiting class, but he has no one committed. While it is still early in the process and IU is in on a handful of top recruits, another season like last year’s and Crean’s seat will start getting hotter.
Crean certainly hasn’t made it easy on himself. There are few better motivators and few better at developing players, but Crean’s in-game coaching has never been good. Now, with an undermanned and undersized team, Crean will have to find a way to make it work. While he’s earned himself some leeway by getting the Hoosiers back to the top, he also can’t hang around in mediocrity too long. Hoosier faithful expect tournament berths, and Crean must deliver.
The path to the top is always a treacherous one, but Indiana and Tom Crean are quickly learning that the battle to stay there is just as hard.