Florida is playing tonight for a chance to make its fourth straight Elite Eight appearance (and sixth in nine years), and Gators coach Billy Donovan is attempting to coach in his fourth Final Four. Indiana is struggling to defend its position as an elite program.
A couple of decades ago, you would have laughed at that contrast. It’s no joke.
Following a season in which Indiana missed out on post-season play, the off-season is off to a shaky start with numerous defections/transfers. I’ve heard some IU fans say that none of these players will be missed. In fact, I’ve heard a convenient excuse for every player that has left the program. Despite the reasons why, level-headed fans can’t be thrilled with the position the program is in.
When you start adding up the losses, including those of Luke Fischer earlier this year and Remy Abel, Matt Roth and Maurice Creek last year, it makes it pretty hard to build a consistently good program. It takes more than star players to build a program. It takes experienced role guys who buy in.
Things happen and kids leave for all kinds of reasons, I get that. But the fact of the matter is Indiana has eight or nine players right now for 2014-15 season (I’ve lost count) and not much experience.
To have a consistently solid program, you need your share of three and four year guys, be it an Abel, Etherington or whomever. Right now, IU doesn’t have enough of those program guys. Either guys are being politely told they have no future with IU, they aren’t compelled to stay or they have work ethic/character flaws. Whatever the reasons, there are too many of them all at once.
You can’t have the turnover IU has had and have consistent success. Sure, you can have one-and-done guys, two-and-done guys. But you mix that in with all of the other turnover and you have problems.
IU isn’t short-handed right now just because of a one-and-done like Noah Vonleh. It’s short-handed for a slew of reasons.
When Remy Abel left, I thought that was a problem. Why? Because some kids take time to develop and you need your share of experienced three- and four year players to develop. I thought Indiana would definitely need the experience this year. But the reaction by many was no big deal, he wasn’t that good, he can be replaced. Maybe so, but you don’t know what the kid could have done three and four years into the program. I simply use Abel as an example, not a means to dissect the basketball virtues of Remy Abel.
The contrasting part of all of this…
Casey Prather of Florida averaged two points per game his sophomore year. He averaged six his junior year. This year, he’s the leading scorer on the #1 ranked team in the country. It took him time to figure out what kind of player he really was.
Will Yeguete doesn’t score much for Florida, but he’s a four year glue guy. The Gators couldn’t win consistently without him.
Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Patric Young…they are all guys who could’ve left sooner than they did (Young being a senior this year). But they didn’t because they loved playing for Donovan and Florida.
The best point guard in the country, Scottie Wilbekin, did a 180 in maturity and leadership. He was told by Donovan before this season to follow a strict set of guidelines and move in with his parents (Gainesville residents) or he’d have to transfer. Wilbekin did the former and now he’s one of the best leaders Donovan has ever had.
Donovan also had one-and-done Bradley Beal help carry Florida to the Elite Eight in 2012. Beal left for the pros and Florida went right back to the Elite Eight in 2013. The beat goes on at Florida.
Having followed both programs closely over the years, I couldn’t help but compare the two. They’ve both faced similar circumstances – players who can leave early, players with maturity issues, players who are under-achieving. The difference, though, is the end result. Forgive me if I don’t embrace excuses from Hoosiers fans. They are just that, excuses.
Indiana can live at the top of college basketball again, but there’s a lot of work to do to get there.
Follow on Twitter @BertBeis