Feb 8, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward Noah Vonleh (1) goes up for a shot in the first half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Williams Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Should Noah Vonleh Stay at IU for a Second Year?

Freshman forward Noah Vonleh has been a star for Indiana all season long. He is in the running for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and is looking like an early pick in the NBA Draft.

He has 10 double-doubles this year and is averaging 11.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. He’s also averaging 1.4 blocks and nearly a steal per game. He ranks sixth in the nation in defensive rebound percentage.

The 6-10 240-pound freshman is on the radar of NBA scouts across the country. He currently sits at eighth on Chad Ford’s ESPN Big Board.

If Vonleh were to leave for the NBA, it would likely be the second year in a row that the Hoosiers had a player taken in the top 10.

Right now, Vonleh is easily IU’s best player. No one has the versatility that he brings to the court. Yogi Ferrell has had a great season, but Vonleh is a true game changer.

As it currently stands, Vonleh is a bit raw offensively. He can score in a variety of ways, whether its in the post, off the dribble or from the arc. The fact that he’s averaging just 11.5 points says more about the offense Tom Crean is running than Vonleh’s abilities with the ball.

The problem is that Vonleh is averaging just seven shot attempts per game. He’s behind Ferrell and Sheehey in shots per game despite being a 54-percent shooter (and a 58-percent shooter from the three-point line).

The  offense isn’t centered around Vonleh like it should be. The most important thing they do on offense should be getting him the ball in the post. Far too often Vonleh’s teammates fail to find him or simply stand around waiting for something to happen. We could write multiple posts on the failures of IU’s half court set, but the lack of focus on Vonleh is appalling.

Vonleh spent most of the Purdue game in foul trouble, but still had only eight shots in 24 minutes. Shouldn’t you force feed your best player when he’s on the court if you know that you’re only going to get limited minutes? I would think so.

Its looking more and more like Vonleh’s and Crean’s futures are directly tied to one another. If Vonleh stays, IU should have a very competitive team next season. If he leaves, IU will have a depleted front court and far more questions than answers. Another bad season, and Crean will spend the year on the hot seat.

IU fans are a lot of things, but patient is not one of them. The perception has been that once IU became a good team again, they should stay there. Two good years, and now Indiana is going to miss the NCAA Tournament due to an immature team that doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

Vonleh leaving creates a ton of problems for the Hoosiers, much like Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo leaving did. In fairness, Oladipo had graduated and Zeller was never going to be at IU for more than two years. Squeezing out another season from Vonleh has to be Crean’s number one concern for the rest of the season.

Forget winning games, just do whatever it takes to keep Vonleh in Bloomington for another year. If he doesn’t, we’re likely having a serious discussion about firing Crean this time next season.

At this point, what does Vonleh really have to gain by staying at IU? He could refine his game a bit and become more of the wing player he’ll be in the NBA, but that’s assuming Crean uses him in that capacity. He’s not going to get better at rebounding or blocking shots. If there isn’t an emphasis on getting Vonleh the ball now, why would that change next season?

There isn’t much he can do to improve his draft stock. His ceiling was probably always in the mid-lottery range and that isn’t an insult. The NBA has a tendency to draft more on potential and teams are generally pretty patient with young players. He’ll have a chance to grow at a more competitive level and likely play in an offense that focuses more on his skills.

The lack of touches, the strange rotations, and general disarray with the program has to have Vonleh leaning towards the pros and I can’t blame him. I said last year that Zeller should have stayed another season to get tougher and improve his game, but I can’t make the same argument for Vonleh.

He should take the money and get out of Bloomington. For the sake of IU fans, I hope he doesn’t but I can’t think of a reason for Vonleh to stick around.

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Tags: Indiana Hoosiers Noah Vonleh Tom Crean

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