At first blush, the addition of a guy from the West Coast Conference that didn’t start and averaged five points a game might leave you scratching your head. That is a reasonable immediate reaction. Despite how it may look on the surface, we’ve walked through the reasons why Indiana’s decision to offer its final 2018-19 scholarship to St. Mary’s graduate transfer Evan Fitzner makes a whole lot of sense.
No one should be expecting Fitzner to play 30 minutes a game and average 15 points. The competition in the front court is too steep for that. It is possible that when practice starts in October, Fitzner gets lost in the sea of IU big men. Indiana hasn’t had front court depth in its recent history, but next year the Hoosiers appear to have that luxury.
So what is a reasonable set of expectations for Fitzner? Generally speaking, graduate transfers are an interesting lot. You might think of most of them as The Land of Misfit Toys — a group of guys that for a variety of reasons didn’t work out as planned to varying degrees. There are always a few diamonds in the rough, however.
Al Freeman transferred from Baylor to North Carolina State this past season. All he did was increase his scoring average by 6 points per game (from 9.4 to 15.4). He led the Wolfpack in scoring and they received an NCAA tournament invitation after missing out the two previous years.
Let’s be clear — Evan Fitzner isn’t going to be Al Freeman — and that’s okay. But what is reasonable to expect from the San Diego native? For that, we take a look back at some of the more recent graduate transfers that Indiana has either successfully recruited or tried to recruit and missed on.
Bielfeldt has become the popular comparison for Fitzner. Is that a wishful comparison, as we hope for a pleasant surprise, or is it setting the bar too high? The thing to remember about Bielfeldt is that he was walking into a better opportunity. Indiana was coming off the loss of Devin Davis, Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Emmitt Holt in its front court. The Hoosiers desperately needed someone to back-up and complement Thomas Bryant. As you can see in the table below, Bielfeldt took full advantage of the opportunity and filled in admirably.
Bielfeldt also added a 3-point shot to his repertoire after arriving to Bloomington. If Fitzner can add to his game, such as playing with his back to the basket, that might bode well.
Zeisloft was the rare graduate transfer that came in with two years of eligibility remaining. Like Bielfeldt, Zeisloft dramatically improved his 3-point percentage year over year upon transferring, and he was starting from a pretty good place. Was it Tim Buckley? Was it the Assembly Hall shooting background? Is Fitzner going to shoot north of 50% from distance next year? Probably not.
Not much was known or expected from Zeisloft when he came on board in 2014. Both he and Bielfeldt provide a really nice illustration of what a key contributing graduate transfer success story can look like.
While Gordon wasn’t by any means a failure at IU, his year over year comparison is interesting to say the least. His senior year with the Hoosiers was probably much less than he envisioned, playing 12 less minutes per game. It also probably didn’t help his cause that his name carries so much clout. The expectations might have just been too high.
This was a graduate transfer that Indiana fans were clamoring for. They remembered him from a 2013 NCAA tournament game. He had a very impressive junior season. Shoot, he was even nice enough to serve up a blocked shot to Christian Watford in that NCAA Tournament game to save Indiana’s season — if only temporarily. If there is a case study for graduate transfers gone wrong, for whatever reason, Lee is probably Exhibit A. Who knows, maybe the story might have ended better in Bloomington.
There was less enthusiasm from the IU fan base about Albrecht. Maybe it was because he was considering Purdue as well? Maybe it was because his 15 minutes of fame had seemingly run out several years earlier? Whatever the case may be, Albrecht is what most graduate transfer stories look like. As Dennis Green would say, he was who we thought he was.
Back to Fitzner
So what does a successful last run for Evan Fitzner look like? Strangely, it might just be more of the same. If he can come off the bench and end up around his career averages of around 6 points and 3 rebounds per game while shooting better than 40% from 3-point range, we’d call that mission accomplished.
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