BLOOMINGTON – Don't tell Tim Buckley Indiana faces a down basketball year in the wake of losing four starters from a Big Ten championship team.
First, the associate head coach knows what a down year is like after enduring three straight 20-loss seasons as the Hoosiers rebuilt from NCAA sanctions.
Second, it's not as if IU lacks talent. It has plenty, perhaps more than in the previous two Sweet 16 years. It's just that the talent is young and unproven.
“I don't look at it like we're losing a lot,” Buckley said. “We're bringing other guys in. We'll probably be different, but our expectations aren't any different than the previous group.”
The Hoosiers return starting point guard Yogi Ferrell and top reserve Will Sheehey, the Big Ten's sixth man of the year. They also add fifth-year senior transfer Evan Gordon, who previously played at Liberty and Arizona State.
After that, the experience level drops dramatically. Sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell is next after averaging 9.7 minutes and 2.8 points.
“Collectively coming together as a group will be the key,” Buckley said. “You don't replace the 2nd pick (Victor Oladipo) and the 4th pick (Cody Zeller) in the NBA Draft with one guy trying to get everything done. I know our veterans are smart enough to know that. They needs the other guys for our team to be successful.
“Will and Yogi, and even Jeremy and Hanner (Mosquera Perea) and the other veterans, have the ability to make the other guys better. That will be an important key for us.”
That key gets a public showing tonight at Assembly Hall when IU plays its first exhibition game against the University of Southern Indiana. The Hoosiers also will go public Sunday afternoon with their annual Haunted Hall of Hoops Halloween scrimmage, also at Assembly Hall.
USI is a perennial Division II power. It is ranked No. 23 in the Division II Bulletin top-25 preseason poll. The Screaming Eagles are picked to finish second in the Great Lakes Valley Conference behind No. 5 Bellarmine.
USI led all of Division II in rebound margin last year. It returns three key players from last year's 23-8 team in 6-8 forward Aaron Nelson (11.9 points, 7.9 rebounds last year), 6-8 forward Taylor Wischmeier (10.5 points, 4.7 rebounds) and 5-9 point guard Lawrence Thomas (9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists).
All-GLVC forward Orlando Rutledge returns, although he won't be eligible until the second semester. He averaged 16.4 points and 5.5 rebounds last year.
Coach Rodney Watson is 95-29 in four seasons.
USI is 0-12 in exhibition games against Division I opponents. IU is 15-0 in exhibition games against Division II opponents.
As far as recruiting, the Hoosiers are set to have visits with Marion guard James Blackmon, Massachusetts forward Max Hoetzel and perhaps Evansville shooting guard JaQuan Lyle this weekend.
Blackmon, the former Bishop Luers standout, is rated as the nation's No. 23 player in the Class of 2014 by Rivals.com, a national Internet recruiting service. His finalists are IU, Kentucky, Michigan State, Michigan and Kansas. He had committed to the Hoosiers before he started high school before de-committing last summer.
Lyle, who is at Huntington Prep in West Virginia for his senior season, is No. 22 in the Class of 2014. He also has scholarship offers from Oregon, Memphis and Connecticut. He had previously committed to Louisville before reopening his recruitment.
The 6-7 Hoetzel is not rated in the Class of 2014. Originally from California, he has offers from Utah, Pacific, San Diego, Loyola Marymount and Cal Poly. St. Johns and Florida also are recruiting him.
Virginia forward Devin Robinson is set to make his college choice on Wednesday. The 6-8 Robinson is rated No. 20 in the Class of 2014. His finalists are IU, Notre Dame, Florida and Oklahoma State.
IU's only committed player in the Class of 2014 is Virginia guard Robert Johnson, who is ranked No. 42.
Also, the basketball team was one of 11 IU athletic squads to earn perfect 1,000 Academic Progress Rate scores for the 2011-12 season.