IU’s depth takes preseason hit #iubb

CHICAGO — Troy Williams had never jumped higher, and Tom Crean was sure of it.

But this moment of athletic brilliance was built with an equal helping of violence that left a thinning Indiana frontcourt even thinner.

As Williams glided into the apex of his memorable leap in a recent IU practice, his knee connected with the midsection of Collin Hartman, who took the brunt of the collision to his ribs. It was only the latest injury setback to a Hoosier program that opened fall practice only two weeks ago, but has already found itself down two men.

Crean said at Thursday’s Big Ten Media Day that Hartman and incoming freshman center Thomas Bryant have each been sidelined with respective health issues as Indiana moves through the preseason. Bryant, who has been called a transformative addition to IU’s program, has not been a full participant since hurting the arch of his foot in the Hoosiers’ first practice on Oct. 2.

“Right now we’re the product of injuries, and we’ve got a long way to go to get our depth where it needs to be to be considered an upper-echelon team in this league, from my estimation,” Crean said.

Neither injury is believed to be serious, long-term reasons for concern, but they’re clear setbacks for an Indiana team that needs all hands on deck as it introduces an entirely new frontcourt for the upcoming season. The off-season dismissals of Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Emmitt Holt and Devin Davis sapped depth and production from Indiana’s front line, and the recent spate of injuries means Indiana doesn’t have a single active player that’s recorded any minutes in its frontcourt.

At the moment, incoming freshmen forwards Juwan Morgan and O.G. Anunoby, and Michigan transfer Max Bielfeldt are among the few options up front in practice.

“Max is going to be a good player, and our other freshmen are going to be good players, but we don’t have that depth,” Crean said. “If we get it, we have a chance to be a good team, but we have a long way to go to get to that point.”

Bryant has been left to rehab his foot over the last two weeks, and began jumping into more drills on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Although he’s left with non-contact work and five-on-zero shooting drills, Bryant has shown signs of progress since Indiana’s fall break trip to Baltimore last weekend.

“But we’re taking it really slow,” Crean said. “It’s much more precautionary than anything else.”

For good reason. The extended preseason gives the Hoosiers more time to bring Bryant through the recovery process, but should they lose Bryant for any extended period this season — or even see him fall into prolonged foul trouble during individual games — trouble could follow.

Holt’s departure was a major loss for a program that had visions of rejuvenated frontcourt depth after Bryant’s spring commitment and Bielfeldt’s transfer. Indiana’s frontcourt was always going to have to be something more than merely Bryant, and the recent injuries to the freshman center and Hartman underline Crean’s call for versatility across the board.

“Thomas’ situation is really the hardest, because it’s hard to have any player out, but it’s especially hard when you have a freshman that’s going to have the significance and the potential for a role that he has,” Crean said. “But it’s early and it sets us back, but it’s a long haul, it’s a long process. I just want to make sure we’re building toward it, and it gives a chance for other guys to get more reps.”

Crean estimated that his team has yet to hold a practice with all 10 core rotation players on the court together. The good news, however, is that there are still 18 days before IU first takes the court for its exhibition against Ottawa.

It’s anticipated that both injuries are only of the short-term variety, and both could be back for the Ottawa game or for the Nov. 13 season opener against Eastern Illinois.

Until then Indiana will be shorthanded as it tries to establish a level of depth that eluded it a season ago.

“We would want to have a true two-deep,” Crean said. “We’re two deep at every position. We want two-deep not where the coaches see it two-deep, but one where the players know it is. And, based on the fact that they’ve got to bring their very best in and it’s very competitive. We’re not there right now. And, hopefully, we’ll be able to get to that. That’s why improvement for our team, especially with our freshmen and sophomores, is going to be imperative that we can get to that point.”