Coach: Tom Crean
Years at school: 4 (55-75; 245-171 in career)
Best NCAA tournament finish: Final Four (with Marquette, 2003)
Last season's record: 27-9 (lost to Kentucky in Sweet 16)
|Vital Info: No. 3 Indiana|
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Notable returnees from last season: Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls
Notable losses from last season: Verdell Jones, Matt Roth
Notable newcomers: Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell
Projected starters: G: Yogi Ferrell; G: Jordan Hulls; G: Victor Oladipo; F: Christian Watford; C: Cody Zeller
Why this team will be good: Let's move beyond the obvious mention and impact of Zeller for a second -- ours and most people's pick for preseason National Player of the year -- and mention just how loaded this team is beyond him. It was the fourth-most efficient per-possession offense ( 120.6 points per 100 possessions on KenPom.com; a ferocious attack on O) in college basketball last year … and it's four best scorers are back on the team. This Indiana squad really has that "I love when a plan comes together" feel to it, you know? Most everyone is back, jelling and forming into a prototypical really good-to-great college basketball team. You look at the squad and don't see many shortcomings, offensively. The Hoosiers will score and be one of the best in the nation and screwing up defensive scouts. In Zeller, a guy who at worst will be a Second Team All-American (and that's the worst-case scenario, far as I can see), Crean has the only perfect 5 in college basketball.
Oladipo is a freak athlete. Hulls is going to have the green light from deep. Watford isn't as deadly as he should be, but he remains a matchup problem for most teams. If Will Sheehey does end up coming off the bench again this season, he'll be the best sixth man in college basketball. As for the freshmen, Ferrell is a quick point guard who is capable of running an offense. He should be handed the keys this year, and IU fans should be excited over that. And Hollowell is a smooth player who can play well in transition. The Big Ten is set for a huge year, it will be the best league in the sport, and the flagship will fly high the colors of the conference's most historic program.
Why this team might disappoint: How will a team of 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds react to this kind of pressure? It goes beyond just expectations at Indiana. It's been said this college basketball season is a crapshoot, an unpredictable five months lie ahead. That's true, but I think there's no doubt that IU is expected to make the Final Four. If it doesn't, is that disappointment? It will be in Bloomington. So how will this team, and Crean, react to having suppositions that are only rivaled in recent college basketball by Kentucky?
Then there's the defense, and here's a stat you might have already heard about. Indiana wasn't a great defensive team last year. It was No. 64 overall on KenPom.com's adjusted defensive rankings, and even if you don't much care for new-age stats, just know this: No team in the "modern" era (since 2002, when this stuff started to be fastidiously documented) has won a title the following year after being ranked so low in defensive efficiency. In basic terms, Indiana would be an aberration if it could turn around its defense this year -- or win a title with the same, average-level D from 2011-12.
Bottom line: Indiana's about as foolproof a team as this season offers, and what I mean by that is, I don't know if it will be an unstoppable, incredible squad -- but it's not going to bomb. I'm failing to see how Indiana is anything worse than a 25-win, fourth-seeded team. That's my worst-case scenario. The team is stacked, and reliable big men like Zeller usually get teams through the season without too much drama. On a side note, I think there will be a dip in Zeller's total statistical impact for the Hoosiers. He was so do-it-all and brilliant last year, to expect that kind of repeat of play when IU has so many weapons to go around, it's unrealistic. And probably unhealthy. Let Indiana do its thing by spreading its assassins all over the floor, then watch Zeller be the fall-back guy. He'll get his inside the paint and out (and the rebounding should improve), but I don't think he's going to be a transcendent impact player like, say, Anthony Davis was last year.
Quote from an opposing coach in the league: "Ferrell's speed is what makes him one of the best freshman point guards in the country. That's going to be the difference for them, adding speed at point. Hollowell is like a strong scorer, and with main, core guys on the wings and Hulls off the ball, they'll be even better. Everyone talks about Zeller and the way he's impacted that team and turned them into one of the top teams in the country, but his [quiet] impact is the way he runs. He outruns big guys down the floor and they're getting easy dunks in transition. They shot the ball at a very high percentage last year, and I think that comes from people zero'ing in on Zeller down low and then them beating people in transition.
On how to beat Indiana:
"This is no knock on Tom Crean at all, but they're a high emotion team. It's always clapping and intense, and we tell our guys, if you don't let that stuff bother you -- because it's not really basketball, it's just the crowd and hype -- if you can withstand that, you can play with those guys. If you can kill their emotion by being strong with the ball, they'll get over that high."
The second-biggest concern to Zeller:
"Watford has had a great career and will again have a great impact on their team because of his versatility, so he's the No. 2 concern, but the addition of Ferrell is going to help a guy like Hulls, too."