BLOOMINGTON -- So where do the Indiana Hoosiers stand in the college basketball world these days?
They lost players who used up their eligibility (Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Derek Elston), to the NBA (Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo) and to transfer (Maurice Creek, Remy Abell). They once again bring in one of America's best freshman classes -- six players who can fill all the needs if they play beyond their years.
And the newcomers must do it with while facing brutal Big Ten competition (Michigan State looms as the conference favorite with Adreian Payne and Gary Harris back; Michigan won't be far behind with Glenn Robinson and Mitch McGary still around), and, you'd like to think, a better non-conference schedule (could Louisville be in the picture?).
IU won 56 games and a Big Ten championship with Zeller thriving in transition (was there a better running big man in college basketball?) and in the paint. Now that he's gone, coach Tom Crean must devise new ways to excel.
Could that mean more of the full-court pressure Louisville used to national championship success?
Veterans Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey are the catalysts. They must lead by word and deed. If they do it well enough, the Hoosiers might emerge as another Sweet 16 contender.
If not, well, a lot of teams would love to hammer IU back to mediocrity.
Ferrell is the point guard, which means he runs the show. It's not quite the burden quarterbacks face, but the fact remains, especially in the postseason, teams go as far as their guards carry them.
The Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse showcased that. Ferrell and Jordan combined for zero points, four assists, six turnovers to the combined 38 points from Orange guards Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche.
Sometimes the best motivator is failure.
ESPN.com projects Ferrell as an honorable mention All-America next season. He averaged 7.6 points and 2.8 rebounds. He led IU with 147 assists against 75 turnovers.
His scoring must rise substantially, perhaps double or more. His shooting -- 40.3 percent overall, 30.3 percent from three-point range -- also needs a significant boost. This is the era of point guards who score as well as pass.
Michigan's Trey Burke was the Big Ten MVP example.
Sheehey is poised for a monster final season. His days of coming off the bench are over. He's an athletic 6-7 swingman who can thrive in a guard or forward role. He was the Big Ten sixth man of the year after averaging 9.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. He shot 48.6 percent overall, 34.6 percent from three-point range, 65.6 percent from the line. His three-point and free-throw shooting must improve, along with his ballhandling and decision making.
After that, there's uncertainty. Talent is there, but it has to emerge, and fast. The off-season is crucial for that.
Freshman forward Jeremy Hollowell showed flashes. He scored as many as 14 points, grabbed as many as six rebounds and blocked as many as three shots, all in limited minutes. He averaged 2.8 points and 2.1 rebounds. He, too, has lots of room for shooting improvement (40.3 percent overall, 23.3 from three-point range).
Forward Hanner Perea was considered one of the nation's top incoming freshmen last season -- a big guy (6-8, 225 pounds) with great hops and athleticism, plus a knack for thunderdous dunks. He has to play to the hype, which means he has to tap into his inner Oladipo and work constantly. He must catch the ball better, position himself better and be far more aware of what's happening on the floor and how to exploit it.
There's no reason why he can't be a solid rebounder (he had 10 rebounds against Florida Atlantis in 14 minutes) and defender. He'll never be an elite scorer, but averaging around 8.0 points a game seems reasonable. His numbers this year -- 0.9 points, 1.5 rebounds in 5.8 minutes -- aren't indicative of his potential.
At least, they'd better not be.
The bottom line -- we'll know next season what kind of off-season work he put in.
Guard Austin Etherington returns after missing most of last season with a knee injury. He was projected to be the three-point weapon previously achieved by Matt Roth, but he has yet to show he can handle that role.
Assuming the Hoosiers don't sign a point guard this spring, somebody has to emerge as Ferrell's backup. Why not Jonny Marlin, the former IPFW point guard?
Marlin had a strong freshman year for the Mastodons. He averaged 4.3 points and 3.5 assists while committing just 51 turnovers in 30 games, 28 of those starts. He shot 35.6 percent from three-point range, 87.5 percent from the line.
Those numbers would have been better last season if he had stayed at IPFW. Instead, he gave up a full ride to walk on at IU. He redshirted last season. Crean has a scholarship to play with. Why not give it to Marlin for a year and see what happens?
Will 6-11 Peter Jurkin ever help the Hoosiers? The odds aren't in his favor. His never-ending series of leg injuries cost him years of development. He struggled to catch balls during warmups. He only played in three games and showed few signs of making significant impact any time soon.
He needs to stay healthy and have a great off-season to have a shot at anything other than mop-up minutes.
As far as the freshmen, Noah Vonleh has the best chance to be an early difference maker. He's 6-9 and can play virtually any position. Luke Fischer, a 6-11 center, has lots of potential, although he's likely a year away from really being a factor. The same is likely true of small forwards Collin Hartman and Devin Davis.
Guards Stanford Robinson and Troy Williams have to make instant impacts. The need is there. So is the potential. If they show the necessary work ethic and toughness, starting from when they arrive on campus in June, well, all things are possible.
In other words, IU won't be a national title favorite, but it just might do what this past season's group couldn't do -- over-achieve.