When Tom Crean took the Indiana job, he knew he would need some time to get the storied program back on its feet.
But few outside of the Hoosier State thought the future in Bloomington would start to look bright so quickly. Crean's foundation will be his 2009 recruiting class.
The Hoosiers have a class that Crean can build around. The six-man group checks in at No. 7 overall in the team rankings. Not bad for a class that doesn't possess a one-and-done-level player.
Christian Watford, a top-40 combo forward, is the team's marquee recruit in 2009. Shooting guard Maurice Creek, a top-60 recruit, gives the backcourt an added scorer from the perimeter.
While Watford and Creek are ranked higher, Jordan Hulls may be the most important recruit in the class. The local star from Bloomington gives the team a 3-point shooter whose value goes far beyond athleticism and scoring. He is a facilitator, and he has proven that at the grassroots level.
When Tubby Smith was hired as the new coach at Minnesota, he immediately set his sights on Royce White and Rodney Williams, the two best players in Minnesota.
Landing the Rivals150 duo was the No. 1 priority for Smith, and he never let up. White gives the Gophers the only five-star prospect coming into the Big Ten. Williams is one of the top vertical athletes in the nation.
Later in the recruiting period, the Gophers landed a commitment from Trevor Mbakwe, a local product who is now at Miami (Fla.) Dade Community College. The 6-foot-7 forward considered Minnesota out of high school but signed with Marquette instead.
The rivalry between Illinois and Indiana is one of the best in college basketball. With the Eric Gordon saga buried in the history books now, a new rivalry may be growing some legs. Both teams are bringing in guards who will lock horns for years to come.
Indiana is counting on Maurice Creek to put up big points in the backcourt when he arrives in Bloomington. Illinois is looking to D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul to do the same. All three guards are strong competitors, and a potential anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better matchup will be fun to watch at least twice a year in conference play.
Big Ten: Inside the Numbers
3 – Teams ranked in the top 25
19 – Rivals150 prospects coming to the Big Ten
1 – 5-star prospect coming to the Big Ten
9 – 4-star prospects coming to the Big Ten
9 – 3-star prospects coming to the Big Ten
13 – Non-ranked players coming to the Big Ten
7 – Number of players from Indiana who signed with a Big Ten school, the most of any state
Truth be told, very few players got away from Big Ten schools. The region is in somewhat of a down year for talent in the 2009 class, and most of the teams in the conference landed the top players on their respective recruiting boards.
Indiana lost out on Chris Braswell, a high school and AAU teammate of Creek, to Charlotte. The four-star big man visited IU's campus and had the Hoosiers high on his list but opted to ink with the 49ers. Indiana survived the blow and landed a top-10 class, while Braswell has a chance to be an immediate impact player for 49ers coach Bobby Lutz.
Top story lines
When Bruce Weber hired former Illinois guard Jerrance Howard as an assistant coach, the Illini went right to Chicago for recruiting. The results were immediate. Howard helped spark the team's efforts in the Windy City and helped recruit Brandon Paul and Joe Bertrand to Champaign.
Howard also played a small role in D.J. Richardson's decision to join Illinois, too. Howard and Illinois are embedded with several top players in Chicago's deep underclassmen pool, too.
Ohio State has consistently sat atop any recruiting rankings both nationally and within in the Big Ten since Thad Matta came to Columbus. Not this year. The Buckeyes don't need to fill any scholarships, and the 2009 recruiting class is empty at the moment. There is a chance the team goes after a big man during the season, but the cupboard is bare.
A lot has been made about what constitutes a "John Beilein player." Generally speaking, a Beilein player is not usually found within the top 150 player rankings. Some of the best players in his coaching career were under-recruited and undervalued but developed under Beilein's tutelage.
Next year, however, Beilein will have a pair of top 150 players. Incoming guards Darius Morris and Matt Vogrich, both Rivals150 prospects, should see major minutes as freshmen. Morris is a big point guard while Vogrich is one of the top shooters in the nation.