Wrapping up the Hoosiers’ season

Yeah, I’m a few days late to this, but after spending the weekend handling other responsibilities, I’m ready to weigh in on what’s next for IU basketball.

Certainly this wasn’t how the team or its fans had expected the season to end. Just like last season, the Hoosiers’ campaign ended with a loss in the Sweet Sixteen. There were higher expectations for this year’s squad, who were considered the No. 1 team in the nation about this time a year ago.

Didn’t happen. Time to move on.

Now, just how many of these Hoosiers are moving on remains to be seen. We know Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston are gone, and all three will be missed in their own way. Watford finished his career as one of IU’s top ten all-time scorers and finished with 130 career starts, tied for the most ever by a Hoosier. Hulls played in more games, 135, than any other Hoosier. And while Elston’s playing time at IU was hampered by injuries, he still served as one of the team’s leaders.

But will they be the only ones who have played their final games at IU?

There was plenty of speculation about Cody Zeller’s NBA future last spring, and it’s only grown. And for months there’s been chatter about whether Victor Oladipo, who today was named to the Associated Press All-America team, would leave early for the NBA.

Despite a disappointing finish for the team, Oladipo’s stock has risen dramatically. Zeller isn’t necessarily the can’t miss prospect he was a year ago, but I think a lot of that can be attributed to how he was forced to play this season.

Consider that Zeller, as a freshman, played 1,025 minutes in 36 games. His minutes increased to 1,063 in 36 games this season; sure, that’s only another minute per game. But while Tom Pritchard was chipping in almost 10 minutes a game last season to give Zeller some help in the post–and some necessary foul protection–the Hoosiers didn’t get that kind of production from Hanner Mosquera-Perea this year.

True, Zeller’s numbers improved pretty much across the board–more scoring, more rebounding, fewer fouls–but there were plenty of times late in the season where Zeller at least looked like someone who was being cautious to avoid fouls and turnovers. Not that there’s anything wrong with playing smarter, but there were times when the Hoosiers needed to be more aggressive.

Just a hunch, but I think Zeller stays while Oladipo leaves for the NBA. My initial thought was that both guys would stay, a la Zeller and Watford a year ago. But Oladipo, I’m sure, is well aware of the scholarship bind the Hoosiers face next season, and I could see him deciding to sacrifice a shot at a national title in order to help out his team.

Of course, even if both players leave early, the Hoosiers face a scholarship crunch next season. With six incoming freshmen, IU would have 16 players on scholarship next fall, including Zeller and Oladipo. Even if both leave early for the NBA, IU is still one over the 13-scholarship limit — assuming, of course, that all six freshman qualify.

I’m not about to speculate on what some kid currently in high school might do to not qualify to play college basketball as a freshman. So it’s worth looking at some of the current IU players to see who might also leave to free up a scholarship.

Maurice Creek comes to mind, simply because, had he not lost two seasons to injury, would have been the Hoosiers’ fourth senior this season. He’s also a young father who might be looking for a steadier income. Again, that’s purely speculation, and it’s entirely possible that Creek would be back for IU next season to try to end his college career on a more positive note. He averaged just 1.8 points in 24 games this season.

Another name bandied about is Austin Etherington’s. The junior-to-be played just seven games this season because of a leg injury; the disappointing thing is that Etherington was being named by some to be a transfer possibility last offseason.

Peter Jurkin? The NCAA suspension and injuries put him way behind in development, which didn’t help Zeller at all.

Tom Crean and the program have a few months to figure out how to solve the oversign issue. Still, here’s an informative blog post from Dustin Dopirak of the Bloomington Herald-Times which explains how IU was able to accept the national letters of intent from the six incoming freshmen in November.

Share your words of wisdom.