WASHINGTON – Indiana’s season ended earlier than expected.
The Hoosiers, who were the preseason No. 1 and spent 10 weeks atop the Associated Press poll, fell 61-50 to Syracuse in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 on Thursday in the Verizon Center.
It was a postseason blow Indiana experienced last year, when it lost in the regional semifinals to Kentucky.
But this year’s NCAA elimination was different after the Hoosiers won the program’s first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 1993, earned the third NCAA No. 1 seed in school history and finished tied for the fifth-most victories in IU history at 29-6.
The bottom line is that this program has come from so far, and I hope at some point in time, the seniors, the guys on this team will remember that they did things that hadn’t been done, first off in 20 years at Indiana, but more importantly, there are not any programs – whether this be Syracuse, Kentucky, Carolina, Duke, you name it – that are the blue-blood programs of the country that have had to endure what these guys have had to endure, Indiana coach Tom Crean said. They have done it with perseverance, toughness and improvement, and they have done it with great class and they will all be better for it.
That’s how I view it.
Indiana will look different next season as it could lose four starters.
Forward Christian Watford, who averaged 12.4 points and 6.3 rebounds, and guard Jordan Hulls, who averaged 9.7 points and 3 assists, will graduate. Reserve forward Derek Elston also graduates.
IU could also lose leading scorer and rebounder Cody Zeller, who averaged 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds, and second-leading scorer and rebounder Victor Oladipo, who averaged 13.6 points and 6.3 rebounds, to the NBA. Zeller, a 7-foot sophomore, and Oladipo, a 6-5 junior, could both declare for the NBA draft.
Oladipo and Zeller said after Thursday’s loss that they were not sure whether they would return or not.
I don’t know what the process is like from here, Zeller said. I’ve put everything into this team and this tournament. I don’t even know where I go from here.
If Oladipo and Zeller do go, only point guard Kevin Yogi Ferrell will return from the starting lineup. The 6-foot guard averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists, but he struggled in the final two NCAA tournament games, going 0 for 4 from the field with seven turnovers.
Ferrell started the NCAA tournament with a 16-point, eight-rebound and six-assist performance in an 83-62 win over James Madison.
The Hoosiers will likely move reserve guard Will Sheehey, who averaged 9.5 points and was named the Big Ten’s sixth man of the year, into the starting lineup next season.
IU will also look for Remy Abell, who averaged 4 points in 12.5 minutes per game, and Jeremy Hollowell, who averaged 2.8 points in 9.7 minutes per game, to take on expanded roles.
Indiana has a strong incoming freshman class in forwards Devin Davis, Luke Fischer, Collin Hartman, Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams along with guard Stanford Robinson. The class was ranked No. 3 by Rivals.com and Scout.com.
I feel like the younger guys have seen how hard some of the veterans have been working, we’ve already been working that hard and that work ethic will continue to increase in the following years, Ferrell said of the program’s future.