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If you have to have a sudden flurry of injuries, it's better to have them now than in January.
That's the best possible outlook for Indiana coach Tom Crean right about now. Just a few days after it announced freshman guard Troy Williams would miss "the next few weeks" with a hand injury, on Thursday Indiana revealed that fellow freshman Luke Fischer sprained his shoulder in a scrimmage this week. The good news, beyond the fact that both injuries came in September, is that Fischer's injury is also of the "few weeks" variety according to the school; he isn't likely to miss a large swath of time. The bad news? The next few weeks are pretty important, too.
That is especially the case for Indiana. No team, save Kentucky and Kansas, needs its freshmen to take immediate steps like IU. The Hoosiers return just one starter, sophomore Yogi Ferrell, and waved farewell to four 1,000-point career scorers, two of which were reliable seniors (Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls), two of which were top-five NBA picks (Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller). Crean has established an unmistakable program momentum, one he has planned to sustain through solid recruiting, and he has done exactly that -- ESPN's recruiting experts rank IU's 2013 class No. 4 in the country, behind only Kentucky, Kansas and Memphis.
Fischer might be the most important player to that effort. Much of the summer's attention in Bloomington has focused on Noah Vonleh, and rightfully so -- Vonleh is a top-15 player in a loaded class, a likely lottery pick, and an athletic freak of nature who by all accounts has treated his first summer on a college campus like an 1980s action movie star in a training montage. Fischer's presence, on the other hand, has largely gone unnoticed. This despite the fact that a) Fischer is the No. 4 center in his class and the No. 34 player overall and b) the best shot Indiana has of replacing Zeller's interior dominance -- namely his ability to earn trips to the free throw line.
The Williams injury is probably less impactful, despite his status as a four-star player. Crean has plenty of guards and wings to throw at the problem. Jeremy Hollowell is a very promising sophomore, Will Sheehey is still in the building, freshman Stanley Robinson is comparable, Vonleh is versatile facing up, and so on. An anchor on the low block is the truly pressing need.
It's hardly a dire situation. A few weeks and zero games missed, as Crean said about Williams, is "minor in the scheme of things." But if IU wants to make the transition into its post-Zeller (or maybe post-Hulls?) era seamless, its prospects have to make good on their potential right away. That process has already begun, and it will continue long after Fischer and Williams have healed. But the first official practice of the season less than 30 hours away, a promising but unusually young Indiana finds itself at an unfortunate cohesion disadvantage. The clock is already ticking.