How Indiana Turned Their Tumultuous Offseason Into A Surprise Year

Heading into the 2014-15 season, Indiana basketball saw some of its worst moments since Kelvin Sampson and his recruiting violations that took place during his tenure as IU's head coach (2006-08).

Sophomores Troy Williams (averaging 13 points per game) and Stanford Robinson, as well as freshman Emmitt Holt, were also suspended for failed drug tests and alcohol violations.

Holt was arrested following an accident that left teammate Devin Davis in serious condition after hitting him with his vehicle.

Robinson was also arrested in April of last year alongside Yogi Ferrell, one of the 25 finalists for the John R. Wooden Award, for minor consumption of alcohol and possession of false identification.

Hanner Mosquera-Perea was also suspended last February following an arrest.

Despite the string of untimely incidents, Head Coach Tom Crean only handed out suspensions for two exhibition games and two regular season games, which, of course, caused enough controversy to the point where some fans wanted Crean (and even Athletic Director Fred Glass) fired.

Crean spoke of the incident on his radio show, but it was star point guard Yogi Ferrell who stepped up, took responsibility for his actions and defended his coach and the rest of the coaching staff.

Ferrell said,

The root cause is the entire team, ourselves. It has nothing to do with the coaching staff. Coaching staff is great … get us ready for each game. It's just with the team. We don't hold each other accountable.

Ferrell is right. Despite being the coach and a father figure to his players, Crean can only do so much. He cannot keep these guys from doing what they want to do outside of practice and after a game.

He, outside of basketball, also has a life of his own that includes three kids with his wife Joani, the sister of Jim and John Harbaugh.

Crean, to me, is a decent head coach, but he can recruit with the best of 'em. Let's not forget he took over a program full of recruiting sanctions and got the Hoosiers back into the tournament (with a Sweet 16 appearance) in just his fourth season.

The following year, Indiana spent much of their season ranked No. 1 and again made it to the Sweet 16. (Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo would later be selected in the top four of the 2013 NBA Draft.)

But, somehow, someway, the Hoosiers have left all of their troubles in the past and now have a shot at (once again) making the NCAA Tournament.

Ferrell, who is averaging 16 points per game this season, is the motor of this team. His overall play and the balance he brings to the guard position has been phenomenal thus far.

One thing I said before the season started was, if the Hoosiers want to turn their season around, they would have to beat the bubble teams.

They had a tough overtime loss to Georgetown back in late December, but they also beat Pittsburgh, SMU and then #23 Butler in Indianapolis during the Crossroads Classic.

From December through January, they beat the likes of Nebraska (on the road), Ohio State and Maryland before dropping the ball against Ohio State in Columbus and Purdue (dear God, why?) in West Lafayette.

Last night they faced No. 5 Wisconsin in Madison, where the Badgers routed the Hoosiers 78-92.

There are two things IU lacks: height and defense. We know the Hoosiers can score -- their high-octane offense is 13th in the nation — but can they defend on a consistent basis?

Mosquera-Perea, who is out until at least the middle of February, needs to be IU's rim protector. By no means does he need to lead the nation in blocked shot, but he does need to make things harder on guards driving to the basketball and be able to defend the post without fouling.

On the bright side, since the Hoosiers lack size, their guard-heavy lineup has caused problems for teams this season because they rarely have less than three shooters on the floor, all of whom can shoot from 40 to 50 percent from the field.

Ferrell, though, has been a nightmare for the Badgers over their last two meetings, having scored 24 and 25 points. He's certainly the fastest guy Wisconsin will see for the rest of the season.

The Hoosiers' overall rebounding efforts have made up for their lack of interior size. Their starting five is full of athletically gifted athletes that put in team effort when it comes to crashing the boards.

As the season goes on, the chances of reaching the tournament get harder, and Indiana cannot afford to lose anymore games to teams they should be beating.

With a meeting against Michigan on Sunday followed by games against Maryland and Purdue, their chances of winning 20-plus games come down to their next six.

This team has matured on a weekly basis since their knuckle-headed decisions nearly rolled them off the tracks during the offseason.

And, to be completely honest, I never would have imagined them to be 5-3 in the Big 10 and ranking in the top 25 at this point in the season, but hey, crazier things have happened, right?

We, as fans, know how special this team can be and we've had a small taste of success thus far.

Once they begin to understand how important defense is, just like they did when they quickly cleaned up their act by understanding how important it is to stay focused when you're an athlete, this team of young talent and untapped potential can go a lot further than where they were headed just a few months ago.