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Indiana work already started for next season

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For more on college athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Prospects bright for sustained success

Saturday, March 30, 2013 - 3:25 am

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Yogi Ferrell hid his head in a towel before facing media inquisition.

Sometimes a guy just needs a little time alone -- even when he isn't.

Indiana's freshman point guard tried to process a season finale gone wrong (see Syracuse 61, Indiana 50), and the way to make it right -- for the future, because the present is spent.

“I'll take this loss to heart,” he said. “I'll be in the gym working every day. I don't ever want to feel like this again.”

Ferrell's tears and broken voice reflected his determination amid disappointment. He had a standout rookie season and a miserable final two games -- a combined zero points on 0-for-4 shooting and seven turnovers against Temple and Syracuse.

That was part of IU's overall poor guard play that helped end its season. Nothing determines NCAA tourney success more than guard performance and in a Sweet 16 statement-maker, Syracuse's guards were far superior.

Still, the super-quick Ferrell was the catalyst for IU's high-paced offense that led the Big Ten with an 80-point-a-game average. He averaged 7.5 points with a team-leading 147 assists, the second-most ever by an IU freshman behind Isiah Thomas. The future runs through him.

The Hoosiers will address its guard improvement through off-season workout and non-stop recruiting. In this win-now-or-else era, you need both to make it work.

The do-more-than-the-other-guy work standard was set by the veterans, and it's up to the returning players to keep it going.

No problem, Ferrell said.

“The younger guys have seen how hard the veterans have been working,” he said. “That work ethic will increase.”

As far as the recruiting, coach Tom Crean has it covered. He's set a high standard that shows no sign of slowing down. The incoming six-player class ranks among America's best.

We'll get to that in a moment.

But first …

This team was built for a championship run, and for much of the season, it played like it. IU won 29 games, won a Big Ten championship, spent 10 weeks at No. 1 and earned the program's first NCAA tourney top seed since 1993.

Yes, it was impressive stuff, but it wasn't close to being championship worthy. The Syracuse game proved that.

The old rule was you needed two NBA-caliber guys to win a national title. Now accepted wisdom has it at three.

IU covered the two with All-Americans Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. You could argue it had three with Christian Watford. Will Sheehey has a chance to make it someday. So does Ferrell. Both need plenty of work to get there.

So where do the Hoosiers go from here?

Let's take a look.

We don't know if Zeller and Oladipo will stay or go. Given the millions of dollars they're likely to get as NBA draft lottery picks, figure they're gone.

Besides Ferrell, IU returns Sheehey, the Big Ten's best sixth man. He seems set to finally crack the starting lineup. He averaged 9.5 points and 3.5 rebounds and brings a solid mid-range shooting game.

Valuable reserve guard Remy Abell, he of the unorthodox -- and effective -- jumper, is back. He averaged 4.1 points and 1.5 rebounds while shooting 46.8 percent from three-point range. Freshman forward Jeremy Hollowell got better as the season went on, and shows promise for the future if he follows Sheehey's work-till-you-drop workout approach. He averaged 2.9 points and 2.1 rebounds.

After that, things get less certain. Highly touted freshman forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea barely played down the stretch. He's big (6-8, 225 pounds) and athletic, but he's not polished on offense or defense. He has a lot of developing to do.

Guard Maurice Creek returns for what you assume will be his final college season. He was a seldom-used reserve this season (1.9 points, 1.0 rebounds) who remains far from the player he was before injuries hit hard. Another guard, Austin Etherington, will return after missing most of this season with a knee injury. Etherington's role seems to be that of a bigger Matt Roth -- a guy who can come off the bench and hit three-pointers.

Then there's the enigma that is Peter Jurkin, a 7-foot, 230-pound freshman prospect who has two big flaws -- he can't stay healthy (which has hurt his development for years) and he can't catch (pre-game warmups showcased how much work remains in this area). He barely played in three games.

The real key for next season is how ready are the incoming freshmen. There's a lot of buzz for a group that ranks in the top-5 nationally by most recruiting services.

McDonald's All-American Noah Vonleh, a 6-9 power forward rated No. 7 in the Class of 2013, is the most heralded. Then there's Virginia shooting guard Stanford Robinson (ranked No. 51 nationally), Virginia small forward Troy Williams (No. 38), center Luke Fischer (the Wisconsin Mr. Basketball who draws comparisons to Zeller) and forwards Devin Davis and Colin Hartman, both of Indianapolis.

Finally, don't be surprised if associate head coaches Tim Buckley and Steve McClain get chances to run their own programs again. Buckley used to coach at Ball State. McClain is a former Wyoming coach.

No matter what happens, IU seems positioned to be Big Ten and national factors for the foreseeable future.

“The sky is the limit for this program, especially with all the recruits we have coming in,” Zeller said. “We were hoping this would be the year, but it doesn't work out sometimes.”