I’m sure the knee-jerk reaction of freshman center Luke Fischer’s departure from the Indiana basketball program is that the Hoosiers will suffer for a couple of seasons due to his change of heart.
In reality, Indiana coach Tom Crean has much bigger fish to fry, even though they might be quite a bit smaller than Fischer, the former Wisconsin Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year.
In the here and now, Crean needs a Jordan Hulls clone, not a 7-foot center.
OK, it would be nice to have a 7-foot center who can run the floor and keep pace with Indiana’s frenzied tempo. Oh, why couldn’t Cody Zeller have stayed just one more season?
The fact is that while Fischer might have been all-world in high school, he truly wasn’t the best fit (as Fischer said himself in his transfer announcement) for the Indiana basketball program. The role of star big man at Indiana right now is being filled by Noah Vonleh, who is simply awesome.
Fischer, who was hampered by a shoulder injury early in the season, was averaging 10 minutes a game along with 2.8 points. Those numbers were going to go up as Fischer learned Crean’s system. Down the road, Fischer was destined to become a big-time player.
For many of the blue-chip basketball recruits, though, there is no “down the road.” Quality big men don’t have time to fit into roles. They don’t want to hear about improvement. It’s one and done or two and through.
This is not a knock on Fischer, it is the college basketball landscape that forces freshmen to decide in 10 minutes whether a program suits them. They have millions of NBA dollars on the line.
Whenever you see a program sign a bevy of four- and five-star recruits, you know there is likely to be some kind of negative fallout. Whether it’s Crean or any other coach in the nation, only so many minutes are available. Even if Fischer were 100 percent healthy at the start of the season, it is likely Indiana’s lineup would have looked much the same. Now if Fischer could drop 44 percent at the 3-point arc, he would have been in business.
We might never know the exact reason Fischer decided to transfer, but you have to think his transfer wouldn’t have happened if he were a starter and Indiana’s offense was built around him. That kind of thing makes homesickness disappear.
Indiana, which suffered an overtime loss to Illinois on the road in its Big Ten opener Tuesday, isn’t going to be a different team Saturday at home against Michigan State because Fischer walked away. Sure, Indiana will have less depth in the middle. But the Hoosiers have been outrebounding opponents by a whopping 14 a game with Fischer not being much of a factor.
What hasn’t changed is that Indiana is lousy from the 3-point line. Shooting 32.9 percent isn’t going to get it done, now or in the tournament. Point guard Yogi Farrell is terrific (hitting 44 percent even though he has to force up 3’s late in the shot clock) and Evan Gordon at 37.9 percent is OK. The rest of the Hoosiers shoot from long range like a bunch of sports columnists.
That’s the problem Crean has to solve if his team wants to make a run in the NCAA tournament.
As far as the future, no fear Hoosier fans. If Vonleh goes to the NBA after one season, the high school’s best big men will take notice, and Crean won’t have any trouble signing up another one, or two, Parade All Americans.
And if Vonleh stays, Crean will have another scholarship available to find somebody the team truly needs, a guy who can hit a jump shot.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.