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COLUMN: Romeo Langford and others must lead IU to NCAA tournament



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Indiana All-Star guard Romeo Langford goes to dunk the ball during the All-Star game Saturday, June 9, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Langford scored 22 points in Indiana's 109-81 win over the Kentucky All-Stars. Bobby Goddin Buy Photos

Romeo, Romeo, Romeo. 

It’s impossible to walk across campus and not hear his name being mentioned amongst the mingling students. Whenever Langford walks down Fee Lane or Jordan Avenue, heads turn, people stare, all eyes are on him.

People whisper about him when he hops on the bus, as if he doesn’t realize he’s the closest thing to a celebrity in Bloomington.

Because of those recurring situations, some might forget IU’s freshman class includes four other talented four-star recruits.

After Indiana Mr. Basketball, Romeo Langford, committed, the other recruits – Jerome Hunter, Damezi Anderson, Robert Phinisee and Jake Forrester – flew under the radar.

People often view them as “that guy walking with Romeo” and can’t even muster any of their names.

With the season quickly approaching, these other four freshmen will be key for the Hoosiers this upcoming season. Langford can only do so much by himself.  

Other than Langford, the highest rated recruit has to be Hunter. The Ohio native finished second in Ohio Mr. Basketball and averaged a double double his senior year.

Phinisee is the closest player IU has had to Yogi Ferrell, since the All-American graduated in 2016. Other than Devonte Green, Phinisee is the only true point guard on the roster, and he figures to get minutes behind Green.

This top-10 2018 class comes into the season with the highest expectations since the earlier days of the Tom Crean era.

Despite not having the highest rated class in the Big Ten, let alone the country, I believe IU’s class has the highest expectations in the nation coming into the season. 

Regardless of what IU is ranked during the preseason, IU must make the NCAA tournament this season or fans will become restless.

I realize Duke has the highest-rated incoming class with four five-star recruits, but they’re a perennial powerhouse that’s won multiple national championships in the past decade.

IU hasn’t had that fortune of late.

Despite being a historic basketball school, IU’s last national championship wasn’t even during this century. Simply making it to the NCAA tournament isn’t a formality anymore, as IU has missed out on March Madness the past two seasons.

This class carries the weight of Indiana on their shoulders, especially if they choose to stay in Bloomington for more than one season. As a projected top-5 pick, Langford figures to be the only freshman to enter the NBA draft after one year at IU.

For a team that hasn’t made the tournament the past couple years, preseason rankings are loving the Hoosiers, loving them enough to put them in the top-25.

CBS Sports has IU listed at 25, NBC Sports at 28 and SBNation has them at 25. Joe Lunardi, the ESPN bracketology guru, has IU as a 9-seed as of June 8. 

I understand these aren’t the lofty top-5 rankings that IU fans expect, but it’s a significant upgrade from past years. 

It’s a remarkable feat — a team that finished just above .500, 16-15, last year is consistently being ranked among the best 25 teams in the nation. Many of these websites credit Langford and the new class for the lofty expectations, the main pieces missing from last year.

Fans understood last season was a rebuilding year, which is why there wasn’t more animosity following the home opener loss to Indiana State. However, fans won’t make any more excuses this year, if Miller can’t get it done, fans will be ruthless.

There’s no doubt Miller did a spectacular job in recruiting, but he needs to translate recruiting into wins, something many great recruiters struggle with.

If year two of the Miller regime doesn’t pan out the way fans expect, questions will begin to be asked about the talent of Langford and the rest of the freshman class.

Until then, IU fans and students can continue to marvel at Indiana Mr. Basketball while he walks down Kirkwood and stops into Buffalouie's for a quick bite to eat.

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