Saturday, March 30, 2013

Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Ben Fishman

    Well, it’s over. Let that sink in for a few days. Sulk for a bit and then understand that it’s just a game.
    Indiana lost to Syracuse Thursday night in a game that many believed IU should have won. Now, they will watch the final weekend of the tournament from Bloomington, after Syracuse got revenge for the 1987 title game.

    The bigger question now revolves around the man dubbed “Big Handsome.” Cody Zeller began his sophomore season at Indiana as one of the nations best players. Will he decide to leave following two Sweet Sixteen appearances?
    It’s not really will he decide to leave, as much as can he leave. Throughout the year, Zeller struggled with multiple player control fouls and bigger, physical big men such as Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe. He struggled to adjust to defenses keying in and collapsing on him as Syracuse did in their Sweet Sixteen victory.
    It wasn’t that Zeller regressed this season, anyone that believes that is fooling themselves. The Hoosiers wouldn’t have been in very many games without the big man’s play, but his defense in the Syracuse game and in other matchups during the year leaves little to the imagination that Zeller can survive in the NBA.
    Will he get drafted? Of course he will. But is he NBA ready? That is up for GM’s and scouts to decide and big men are usually drafted on body of work plus potential rather than just potential as many guards are.
    Zeller throughout the season went missing for stretches of games and wasn’t as assertive as a quality big man should be. The preseason All-American didn’t have numbers that jump out at you, but he wasn’t asked to be as pick a piece this season as he was last year.

    Is he still a lottery pick? I don’t know. I could see that, considering the weakness of this years NBA Draft. Without a doubt, Zeller is a first rounder. But is he ready to be in the NBA? Who knows. Zeller will have to spend some time with his family and brothers and decide ultimately what is best for himself.
    Should Zeller return, Indiana would immediately shoot up top 25 projections heading into next season. With a recruiting class coming into Bloomington headlined by Noah Vonleh, the Hoosiers would be just as good as they were this season, especially with a more mature Yogi Ferrell.
    If Zeller returns, the Hoosiers could easily be a favorite to repeat as Big Ten regular season champions and should start the year in the top 10, but this is all on body of work, not what the Hoosiers potential says, like say a Kentucky team.

    This is what March Madness is about though. Guys like Zeller and Oladipo, guys like Michigan’s Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway and so on and so forth, must decide what is best for themselves and their family as they begin a new journey in life. It’s the only constant in sports, somebody has to lose. For Indiana, unfortunately, it was them.
    So it’s back to the drawing board for Tom Crean, after back to back Sweet Sixteen appearances. It’s another Monday night in April, watching at home. It’s back to Cook Hall for another grueling summer of work outs and getting better.   

    But for Indiana fans, it’d be a much better summer, if they knew the Big Handsome, would be hanging around for one more year.

Friday, March 29, 2013

When is Enough, Enough?

Ben Fishman

    On Friday night in Austin, Texas, the Minnesota Golden Gophers took on the UCLA Bruins in second round action of the NCAA Tournament. UCLA had just lost one of its best players, Jordan Adams to a broken bone in his foot in the PAC-12 Tournament. The 11th seeded Gophers took advantage and sent UCLA back to Westwood, with an 83-63 victory. On Sunday, Minnesota’s season came to an end with a disappointing blowout loss to Florida.

    It’s funny isn’t it? These two schools, both who shared time in the top 25 of both major polls during the year, just didn’t live up to expectations. The end result?
    Over the course of 24 hours after UCLA’s loss on Friday, athletic director Dan Guerrero made the decision to fire Ben Howland. As news broke, ESPN reporter Jay Bilas was shocked, even dropping an expletive on live TV late Saturday night.
    On Monday morning, also within the 24-hour time period after their loss, Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague, who took over just last April, fired head coach Tubby Smith after 6 seasons. Howland went to 3 consecutive Final Fours at UCLA, while Tubby Smith reinvigorated a program that was in the dumps following violations that saw Minnesota’s 1997 Final Four vacated.

    The question then becomes, when is enough, enough? What does a coach have to do to remain at their respective school? I can see UCLA’s case, but just barely. Howland did go to three straight Final Fours, but he didn’t come away with a banner to hang in Pauley Pavilion, the only banners they hang at UCLA. For the record, I thought he should have been fired last summer when the embarrassing SI report came out, detailing drug use and total lack of institutional control at UCLA.
    Yet, Howland was given a second chance at UCLA, only because he had a recruiting class coming in that many had ranked #1 in America. And here he now stands, watching the rest of March Madness from home just like you and me. Is that fair?

    What about fair for Tubby Smith? Smith left Kentucky, the so called “gold standard” of college basketball for Minnesota, at the time, a bottom feeder in the Big Ten. Not only did he put Minnesota back on the map in the Big Ten, but he put the Gophers back on the map nationally and Minnesota appeared in the top 10 earlier this season.
    So why fire him? I’ll tell you why. It’s because Norwood Teague came in and didn’t like the direction Tubby Smith was leading his program. One of the all-time great coaches in basketball, wasn’t good enough for Minnesota. When a new AD comes in, you better win, or the new guy won’t hesitate bringing his own guy in. And that’s what happened to Smith.

    Don’t read this as sour grapes. UCLA and Minnesota will both hire good guys who will have experience at either the college or professional level. Both schools will hire guys that will invigorate both the Twin Cities and Westwood. But why did we arrive here? Is Tubby Smith not good enough for Minnesota? If that’s true, then good luck to Teague in his quest for someone who is. Good luck to Guerrero with finding someone at UCLA where Final Fours and PAC-12 titles aren’t enough. It makes me sick.
    Steve Lavin went to multiple Sweet Sixteens at UCLA. Howland went to multiple Final Fours. Both were fired. What is the expectation in LA? UCLA can no longer go out and get the best guys to compete for titles as seen by this years squad. The Bruins were stacked with talent, but couldn’t put it all together. How much of that can you put on Howland? Who knows?

    Minnesota and UCLA could both hit home runs in their next coaches. Indiana did it with Tom Crean. Kentucky did it with John Calipari. Miami did it with Jim Larranaga. But for Guerrero and Teague, they’re in this position on their own accord. And for their sake, they better hope they were right.
    Because right now, they aren’t.

Monday, March 25, 2013

First Weekend Recap

Ben Fishman

    What an exciting weekend of basketball on weekend one of the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look around the nation with the second and third rounds now complete.

    I knew it was going to be a bad idea to pick against Brad Stevens and Butler. I just didn’t trust them. And they almost made me pay. Butler’s big guys shut down Mike Muscala and held him in check for the better part of the game against Bucknell in round 2 before exiting with a loss to Marquette. But boy, was it a couple fun games to watch or what? Marquette and Indiana are now just one win away from a very interesting meeting between coach and mentor should Marquette knock off Miami, and Indiana beat Syracuse.

    Michigan State looked very impressive and it’s going to take a very strong team to knock Tom Izzo’s squad out of the big dance. Adrian Payne continues to impress me every time he steps on the floor. With Keith Appling and Gary Harris running the show in Auburn Hills, it was going to take a very impressive showing from Memphis to knock them off on Saturday. Guess what? Memphis wasn’t there for the second half. The Tigers made some good plays to claw back into it, but Sparty looked very good in a blowout win, payback for the 2008 debacle. MSU is showing itself to the nation as a title contender.
    How about the season St. Louis had? Man, was it special or what? The late Rick Majerus had to be looking down and smiling on the Billikens all year long after his death in December. Majerus wasn’t just one of the best coaches in basketball, he was one of the best people in basketball. St. Louis won more games than anybody else in school history and advanced to the 3rd round where they ran into a hot shooting, Rodney Dangerfield-esque team in Oregon. Nobody on SLU’s campus should be frowning today. They were one of the feel good stories in basketball.

    Marquette survived and advanced this weekend. And that’s that matters in March. Marquette knew they were going to need two near perfect performances to advance to the Sweet Sixteen under Buzz Williams, and they got them. The Golden Eagles now have nothing to lose, as they prepare to take on Jim Larranaga’s Miami squad on Thursday night in Washington. Expect that game to be just an appetizer for the late game.

    The top seeds looked very good this weekend, even if one lost and one barely made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Louisville looked unbeatable for stretches of their two victories over the weekend and the Cardinals have enough firepower to match their extremely talented defense. The hot pick by many to cut down the nets in Atlanta in April, Louisville will now need to beat Oregon and then either MSU or Duke to make it to Atlanta. That region will be fun to watch next weekend.
    Kansas struggled early against a North Carolina team that was playing out of their minds in the first half, trying to give Roy Williams a huge, upset win against his former team. But Kansas just wasn’t having any of it. The Jayhawks ran away from Carolina in the second half and right into another Sweet Sixteen. Kansas, the national runner-up from last year, now gets to play a very tough, and very good Michigan squad. That game has the potential to be the game of the tournament.

    Indiana survived as well this weekend and they now get to return to the Sweet Sixteen for a date with Syracuse, in a rematch of the 1987 National Championship game. The Hoosiers trailed for much of the second half against Temple but made big shots when they needed to be made. As Indiana came back and began clicking on offense, their defense stepped up as well, holding Khaliff Wyatt to zero field goals in the last 6:31 seconds of the game. The result? A Victor Oladipo 3-pointer to seal the deal and send Indiana to DC.

    Gonzaga got all they wanted and more from Southern. Then the wheels came off. After a too close for comfort victory in the second round, the Zags were exposed by the hot shooting Shockers of Wichita State. Mark Few had his best team, probably in his tenure in Spokane, and they ended up being put out in the third round, another year without a Sweet Sixteen berth. Gonzaga hasn’t been to the Sweet Sixteen since 2006, when Adam Morrison and company lost to a talented UCLA squad in Oakland.

    I admit I didn’t know much about Florida Gulf Coast till this week, but I had at least heard of them. They beat Miami earlier in the year when the Hurricanes were without arguably their best player. Since then, they have become this years Cinderella. After upsetting Georgetown in the second round and SDSU in the third round, they became the first ever #15 seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen. Good for them. They’re the feel good story of this tournament and now have a date with on Friday.

    Oregon as a #12 seed and La Salle as a #13 seed will reach the Sweet Sixteen. Oregon gets a shot at Louisville and La Salle gets Wichita State. These two teams however, are very different. Oregon was vastly under seeded at the #12 position they currently inherit, while La Salle made it here through the First Four. Both teams have the potential to upset their Sweet Sixteen opponents, with La Salle probably having the better chance.
    All in all, it was a wildly entertaining first weekend of March Madness. Let’s sit back and see what Thursday and Friday night bring us.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Previewing the Last Two Games of the First Four

Ben Fishman

    After a couple exciting games last night in Dayton, the relatively small Ohio town gets to host two more before the second and third rounds begin action in the UD Arena this weekend.
Let’s preview tonight’s last two games of the First Four.

(16) LIU Brooklyn vs. (16) James Madison
For the record, the only thing I know about James Madison is that it is named after our 4th president. But upon further review, one can see that the CAA Champions can play a little ball too. JMU brings a star in Rayshawn Goins to Dayton for a matchup with LIU for the right to face Indiana on Friday. Goins will miss the first half after head coach Matt Brady suspended him for an arrest this week.
For LIU, the Blackbirds bring in a dynamic scorer in Jamal Olasewere. He comes in averaging 18.9 points per game for an offense that averages just over 78 points per game. The Blackbirds will need to lock up on defense however, in order to advance.

Players to Watch
If you look past Olasewere, you will see C.J. Garner, a stud, senior guard who averages 16.1 points per game. LIU has been without Julian Boyd for much of the season. Before he was injured, he was averaging 18.5 points per game.
For James Madison, look for A.J. Davis to play a big role in spelling Goins in the first half. Davis comes in at 12.1 points per game and hails from nearby Columbus. Expect him to want to put on a big show for his hometown fans.

James Madison overcomes Goin’s early suspension and wins

(13) La Salle vs. (13) Boise State
In one of the more intriguing matchups this week in Dayton, Boise State will take on La Salle with the right to face Kansas State on the line. Boise State and La Salle are two at large teams from the Mountain West and Atlantic Ten, both conferences gaining more respect this season in terms of teams in and seeding, but these two teams are considered the last two in.
For Boise State, they must focus on getting good shots as they shoot close to 46% per game.
For, La Salle, the Explorers, I love that name, need to pound the ball inside against Boise State. Neither team rebounds the ball very well, so the battle of the boards will go a long way in deciding who wins tonight in Dayton. Boise State was a surprise team this season, owning a signature win over Creighton. And La Salle finished 5th in the A-10, with wins over Villanova, Butler and VCU.

Players to Watch.
Boise State sends out a couple studs in their starting lineup and it all starts with Anothony Drmic who comes in averaging 17.3 points. Spelling him will be Derrick Marks who has 16.3 points per game and scored 38 on March 2nd in a win over Colorado State.
On the other side, La Salle’s offense is keyed by a pair of guards in Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren, who average 32 points between the two. La Salle and Boise are both very balance teams.
Boise State has 7 players who average at least 5.1 points per game. While La Salle has 6 players that average at least 6.4 points per game.

This one will be fun and likely be a back and forth game, another tasty appetizer before the second and third rounds begin on Thursday. I like Boise State

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Previewing the First Two Games

Remington Stubbs

Preview: (16) North Carolina A&T (19-16) vs (16) Liberty (15-20)
Liberty is the first team to enter the tournament with 20 losses since Coppin State in 2008 which could make them a Cinderella team in this year’s tournament if they could become the first #16 to ever upset a #1 seed. The Flames winning percentage (.429) is also the lowest of any team in the field since 2005, when Oakland qualified with a 12-18 record (.400). The Flames went winless in their first eight games of the season but faced a competitive non-conference schedule with matchups against Georgetown, Richmond, William & Mary and Iona.
North Carolina A&T, meanwhile, entered the MEAC tournament at 15-16 but won each of its first three games in Norfolk by double digits. The Aggies 19 wins are the most by the program in more than a decade.

Players to watch:  Liberty Junior guard Davon Marshall is one of the top long range shooters in school history. In four games in the Big South tournament, Marshall averaged 18 points per game including 20 points in the final against Charleston Southern in which he drained six of seven attempts from beyond the arc. North Carolina A&T junior forward Adrian Powell led the Aggies in points with 12.5 per game and pulled down 5 boards.

Key to the game: The Flames will look to deny the Aggies with perimeter defense. Liberty held opponents to 27 percent shooting from 3-point range in the Big South tournament, including Coastal Carolina to one made 3-pointer on 16 attempts. North Carolina A&T has only hit 30 percent of its 3-point attempts on the season. The Aggies also enter the tournament ranked 317th in Division I in field goal percentage. The Aggies force 7 steals and 16 turnovers per game. So I’m predicting this is going to be a good all-around game by both teams that want to make it to the field of 64.

My prediction: Liberty 79 North Carolina A&T 73

Preview: (11) Middle Tennessee State (25-8) vs (11) St. Mary’s (27-6)
Matthew Dellavedova is one of the most creative, electrifying players in the NCAA tournament but could be making a short stay if he is unable to solve one of the stingiest defenses in Division I. Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis employs a 10-man rotation and will likely throw several defenders at Dellavedova in an effort to frustrate the three-time All-West Coast Conference guard. Dellavedova is more athletic and has experience handling physical defenders after facing a host of NBA All-Stars at the London Olympics last summer. After averaging 7 points and close to 5 assists per game for Australia in London, Dellavedova returned to campus for his senior year better equipped to face longer, more athletic players.
Middle Tennessee State went 19-1 in the Sun Belt Conference, finishing the regular season as one of just seven teams in Division I to lose one game or fewer in conference play.

Players to watch:  St. Mary's forward Brad Waldow. Dellavedova has help on the perimeter with WCC honorable mention guard Stephen Holt and junior swingman Beau Levesque, but may look to feed the post often with Waldow. In spite of their depth, the Blue Raiders still lack a go-to scorer. Marcos Knight leads Middle Tennessee State in scoring (close to 13 PPG). The senior guard has attempted less than 20 percent of the Blue Raiders field goals this season.
Davis has described senior guard Bruce Massey as the nation's top perimeter defender in the nation besides Ohio State guard Aaron Craft. Massey can also be spelled by Tweety Knight, another relentless defender.

Key to the game: Following a win over Middle Tennessee State early in the season Florida guard Kenny Boynton described the Blue Raiders as one of the most physical defensive teams he's ever faced. If Dellavedova can handle the rough nature of the game early, the Blue Raiders could be in trouble. In five losses, Middle Tennessee State averaged 57.6 points per game. The Blue Raiders will need senior guard Raymond Cintron to be accurate from the outside. Cintron has hit 70 3-pointers and is shooting and an impressive 44 percent from beyond the arc this season.

My prediction: Middle Tennessee State 74 Saint Mary's 67

Monday, March 18, 2013

First Weekend Primer

Ben Fishman

    It’s finally here! March Madness is upon us. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting tidbits throughout the first weekend of play. From big games to big names, we cover it all in the First Four and first weekend preview.

    Louisville won the Big East with as impressive of a showing as we’ve seen as all season in the second half and was awarded the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. What did that get them? That would be Duke, Michigan State, St. Louis and the toughest bracket in the tournament. Louisville will get to play in front of a largely favorable Cardinal crowd in Lexington and Indianapolis, but they will need a lot more than that to advance to Atlanta.

    Indiana on the other hand got beat once again by Wisconsin and was held to its lowest scoring total of the season in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Yet there was selection chair Mike Bobinski saying that Indiana was the only team that had a #1 seed locked up. Indiana has a relatively clear path to Atlanta should they play the way they did on the road in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers have a couple troubling games against potentially North Carolina State and Syracuse, but Indiana has beaten better teams this year.

    Gonzaga was close to dropping off the #1 seed line after Miami wrapped up the ACC Tournament championship. Instead Mark Few’s squad gets to remain out West and enter the tournament as the #1 team in America. The Bulldogs also have a tough rout to Atlanta, with Ohio State and New Mexico waiting for them potentially in the Elite Eight. Pittsburg and Wisconsin are two tough outs as well and Gonzaga must be ready to play.

    Many analysts are saying that this year could be the one where upsets rule the tournament. The state of Michigan might be the victim of two of those. In the second round the Wolverines get South Dakota State, led by Nate Wolters, in a game where Michigan must bring its A game. Michigan State on the other hand, gets a tough Valparaiso team, the champion of the Horizon league. Should they win that one, they would likely get a Memphis team that had them down 50-20 the last time the two teams met in the NCAA Tournament.

    Steve Alford’s New Mexico team could be a trendy pick to make the Final Four out of the West regional, but they have to get past Ohio State to reach the Elite Eight let alone Atlanta. Should they get to the Elite Eight and meet Gonzaga, Alford’s squad has the talent to knock off Gonzaga in LA.

    Marshall Henderson is going to be must-see TV, even if he’s only around for one game. Bo Ryan gets a week to prepare for the hot shooting and wild Ole Miss guard which could spell bad luck for the Rebels. Still, Ole Miss was left for dead a couple weeks ago following a bad road loss to Mississippi State. Since then, Andy Kennedy’s team has rattled off 5 wins including an upset over Florida, a team they were blown out by just last month. Now, the Rebels are dancing and could be a trendy pick to upset Wisconsin.

    Oregon was hosed by the committee last night. The Ducks were given a 12 seed and the right to play a streaky Oklahoma State team in the 5-12 matchup. Oregon finished 26-8 and won the Pac-12 championship. Their resume also included wins over UNLV, Arizona, and UCLA twice. For whatever reason, they were given a double digit seed in one of the weirdest seedings we’ve seen in a while.

    The committee valued road wins very highly this season. Indiana picked up road wins at Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. Tom Crean’s squad also beat Georgetown earlier this season before the Hoyas rounded into form in Brooklyn. Memphis lost one road game all season and received a 6 seed when some were projecting them as low as a 10.

5 Games to Watch in Round 2:

(5) Wisconsin vs. (12) Ole Miss
Bo Ryan has to be ready to go after Marshall Henderson in what will be a fantastic matchup on Thursday. Ole Miss is the hottest team in the country and just beat a very good Florida team. The Rebels strength down low is also a plus as their post players will look to use their toughness to matchup up with Wisconsin’s streaky stretch bigs.

(6) UCLA vs. (11) Minnesota
The Bruins come into the tournament having lost Jordan Adams to a broken foot over the weekend. Minnesota comes in having been beaten by Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Both teams began the year with high hopes, and neither really lived up to those expectations. The winner of this game will simply want it more.

(4) Michigan vs. (13) South Dakota State
We’ve already mentioned SDSU’s Nate Wolters, an NBA prospect, but SDSU also has a stud in Jordan Dykstra who shoots 43% from 3-point range. The Jackrabbits as a team shoot just under 40% from deep and can get very hot at any time. Trey Burke will need to be huge if Michigan intends to hang around past the first weekend.

(6) Butler vs. (11) Bucknell
I’ve never thought it wise to bet against Brad Stevens but this might be the one time I might seriously consider it. Bucknell boasts a stud in 6-11 Mike Muscala who averages 19 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. The Bison have four guys who average at least 10.3 points per game but the numbers drop off after that. Still, the Bison go 9 deep and will give Butler’s Andrew Smith a run for his money.

(8) North Carolina vs. (9) Villanova
Roy Williams will get a shot at his former team this weekend if his Tar Heels advance past Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats. UNC comes in thinking they should have won the ACC Tournament this weekend, but faltered down the stretch to Miami. Villanova comes from the battle tested Big East and wants to prove that they still matter in the college basketball world. Villanova hasn’t won an NCAA game since 2009-2010 and desperately wants a win against a UNC team that has been anything but consistent all year long.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Indianapolis Bound?

Ben Fishman

    Indiana deserves the #1 seed in the Indianapolis regional. The Hoosiers did their job this season and if the committee really does go off body of work, then they must award Indiana with a top seed, more importantly with the top seed just an hour up the road in Lucas Oil Stadium.
    Indiana got a bad draw in the Big Ten Tournament with having to play a team it hadn’t beat in 11 tries, and Wisconsin exposed Indiana much the way they did earlier this season in Bloomington. With Jordan Hulls ineffective through the first two games of the tournament, it was difficult for Indiana to overcome a hot shooting Badgers offense that advanced to the Big Ten championship game.

    The Hoosiers played in the toughest conference in America this season, the Big Ten was its own version of a mini March Madness and the Hoosiers did their job in the conference collecting the regular season title with 14-4 record. Their resume includes victories over Michigan and Michigan State twice, and Ohio State once, so the Hoosiers can play and beat the best teams in America, which is why they should be playing in Lucas Oil in two weeks.

    If Indiana isn’t in the Indianpolis regional, Hoosier fans shouldn’t be jumping off buildings in Indiana, because Indiana travels as well as any team in America. Playing in Washington or Arlington wouldn’t be terrible, except of course they wind up playing Duke in Washington or wind up in a situation like that.
    No matter where Indiana is pegged tonight when the brackets are revealed, they should hold their heads up, they just went through the toughest gauntlet in America and came out with a regular season title.
    They now get to rest up and see if they can play for three more weeks.

    Indiana doesn’t deserve the #1 seed in the Indianapolis regional. The Hoosiers were once again outplayed by a talented Wisconsin team, making some people feel dumb for questioning why Bo Ryan was named Coach of the Year in the Big Ten, and not Tom Crean. Ryan’s dominance over Indiana in the last 12 games has been ridiculous, but credit Indiana for making runs.
    Back to the question at hand. Indiana didn’t do enough to win a placing in the Indy regional and will now have to travel elsewhere and win on the road to reach Atlanta. Indiana strolls into the NCAA Tournament with a 3-3 record in their last 6 games. They’re not exactly killing it, but good teams win games in March and Indiana turned a stunning performance over Illinois on Friday, into the loss to Wisconsin.

    It’s not really a question of what Indiana didn’t do, don’t get me wrong here. The Hoosiers won the Big Ten regular season title outright, which included some huge wins. They were able to win the Legends Classic in Brooklyn earlier in the year and each of their losses were to teams that will not only be in the tournament, but can win a few games themselves.
    But Louisville did its job. The Cardinals won the Big East Championship, not an easy task, so they deserve the #1 seed. Louisville deserves to play just two hours up the road in Indy and Louisville deserves to be the overall seed in the tournament.

    Again, it shouldn’t be seen as a negative for Indiana. They lost. Big Deal. Many teams have lost in their conference tournaments and then used that as motivation to win 6 in March. Indiana still has the talent to do that and Hoosier Nation travels. So expect Indiana to be successful this month. Just don’t expect it to be an hour up the road.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tom Crean's Snub and the COY Race

Ben Fishman

    Tom Crean took the Indiana job five years ago this April. In his first season the Hoosiers struggled to a 6-25 season, winning only one Big Ten game. Since then, the turnaround has been steady and time consuming all at once.
    Indiana won 10 games, then 12 games in Crean’s second and third years before the final breakthrough year last season, a 27-win year, with a berth in the Sweet Sixteen. This year Crean’s Hoosier’s officially christened the turnaround as in the past, winning their first Big Ten regular season outright championship since 1993.
    Yet, on Tuesday, the Big Ten released its Coach of the Year. The recipient? Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan.

    Now I know what you’re saying. This might come off as sour grapes to you, but it’s not. The only award that matters is the one given out on the first Monday of April. But Tom Crean deserves the Big Ten Coach of the Year award.
    It’s not a slight in any ways against Bo Ryan. Ryan’s Badgers became the first Big Ten team to lay a defeat on Indiana in January, in Bloomington, for their 11th straight win over Indiana and were in the Big Ten regular season title race right until the end. Wisconsin lost several key players from last season’s squad that finished 4th in the Big Ten, and Ryan’s squad entered the year as an afterthought.
    But Bo Ryan simply didn’t do enough to earn the Coach of the Year award in what is the best conference in basketball this season.

    When the season started, the Indiana Hoosiers were selected to finish first in the league, with Cody Zeller taking home the pre season Player of the Year honor. Since then, not only did Zeller live up to expectations, so did teammate Victor Oladipo, but Indiana did as well. The Hoosiers won the Big Ten outright and all but guaranteed themselves of a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday. So why shouldn’t Tom Crean be rewarded for the job he’s done?
    Was it because of his post game outburst at former Indiana assistant Jeff Meyer following the 72-71 victory at Michigan? Was it because people simply don’t like Tom Crean? Who knows. But Indiana went 14-4 in the Big Ten, beat Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan on the road and won the outright title. 
    Yes, Crean had the best players, evident by Yogi Ferrell making the All-Freshman team, Will Sheehey winning 6th Man of the Year, and Zeller and Oladipo being named to the All-First team. So why did Bo Ryan win Coach of the Year?
    I will never understand.

    Speaking of Coach of the Year, how about the candidates nation wide?

    Tom Crean should be given consideration should Indiana win the Big Ten tournament as well this weekend in Chicago. Crean has brought Indiana back from the depths of basketball hell, and done a good job ticking people off while doing so. But Crean also has Indiana on pace for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and hopefully placement in the Indianapolis regional, something that would give Indiana close to 30,000 screaming fans in Lucas Oil. Crean has done a phenomenal job in Indiana and a Coach of the Year award could easily go his way in the coming weeks. 

    Jim Crews should also get consideration for the job he’s done at St. Louis. Mind you, the Billikens have never been a basketball powerhouse, but Crews has done a fine job getting them into the Top 25 and right in the thick of the Atlantic-10 tournament this weekend. That’s the hard part, the extra hard part is considering the circumstances under which Crews has excelled. Before the season started, legendary coach Rick Majerus stepped aside and announced he wouldn’t be returning to coach this season. In December, Majerus passed away. What Jim Crews has done in St. Louis, with the memory of Rick Majerus lingering over the program, has been nothing short of amazing. Crews and his squad are doing a great job of paying homage to one of the all-time greats in basketball.

    John Thompson III needs to be on every ballot cast for Coach of the Year. In the last year of Big East affiliation, the Hoyas captured the outright Big East crown, in a year where it was supposed to be Louisville’s to lose. Thompson is giving the Hoya’s a nice send off before they join the Catholic Seven in the New Big East next season. Since everyone knew Otto Porter’s squad was departing, everybody was ready to get one last lick in on Georgetown, only to see them survive and win. Otto Porter is a name you should get used to, he may very well be on some All-American teams and his 33 point outburst in a road win over Syracuse is right up there with some of the finer performances this season.

    Jim Larranaga has done an excellent job of turning Miami around, especially considering the turmoil the program was in when former coach Frank Haith bolted for Missouri amidst NCAA violations regarding the Shapiro scandal that rocked Coral Gables last summer. Larranaga is one of the all-around best coaches in college basketball, most known for his Cinderella run to the Final Four in 2006 with George Mason. My father told me that when he was in Coral Gables last year for an event for my sister, a Hurricane student, that he was in a bar and sat down next to a man that he had never seen before. The man introduced himself and believe it or not, it was Jim Larranaga, just settling into Coral Gables. He made waves in that tiny bar, and then made waves with an amazing season in Miami, capturing the outright ACC Championship.

    Ben Howland in my opinion should have been showed the door in Westwood last season when the SI report came out, detailing drug use and abuse among other things in the UCLA program, allegations that a man named John Wooden would have never allowed. Yet, Howland let the story come out, fought it, and brought in a top 5 recruiting class to LA, with high hopes of a deep run in March. Led by Shabazz Muhammad, the Bruins started the season rough, losing to Georgetown early on in Brooklyn. Since then, Howland has gotten his team of star recruits to buy into the idea of the team, and that culminated with a Pac-12 regular season championship. UCLA is finally getting it together, and is going to be a scary team to deal with come March, and Howland should be credited with how he handled the situation.

    Finally, I believe that Mark Few has officially cemented his name among some of the better coaches in the country today. The Bulldogs have always been that team out West, that wins some early season games, disappears in conference play and winds up showing up and squeaking out a couple wins in March. This year Few’s team will enter the NCAA Tournament with two losses, zero since the calendar turned to 2013. Gonzaga rose to #1 in the polls late in the season and Few has perhaps his best team since Adam Morrison’s squad made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006. Gonzaga will undoubtedly earn one of the #1 seeds, likely in the West regional, meaning the Bulldogs get to travel down to Los Angeles to play for a chance at the Final Four in Atlanta. In that 2006 season, the Bulldogs got UCLA in Oakland and ended up losing on a last second comeback by the Bruins. Don’t be surprised if you see these two teams wage battle again this March.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Indiana Michigan II

Ben Fishman

    It all comes down to today. And would you have it any other way? At 4:00 p.m. this afternoon, Indiana will tip off at Michigan, with the outright Big Ten Championship on the line. Win and the Hoosiers will win it for the first time since 1993. Lose, and the Hoosiers will enter Championship Week, losers of 3 of their last 4.
    Michigan has looked flawless at home this season. They’ve won 17 in a row at the Crisler Center and will look to make that 18. The Wolverines can earn a share of the Big Ten title for the second straight year, in a season they were expected to contend for it. Before the year began, the Big Ten coaches pegged Indiana and Michigan to finish 1-2 in the conference. Guess they got that one right.

    The Hoosiers squandered away a chance at the outright title on Tuesday when they lost to Ohio State at home, while Michigan almost blew up against Purdue. Yet here we are. Victor Oladipo vs. Trey Burke. Cody Zeller vs. Mitch McGary. This game has all the ingredients to be an instant classic, much like the game on February 2nd in Bloomington, IN.

    For Indiana to win they must forget the last three games. Tom Crean’s squad has looked lackluster since wins at Ohio State and Michigan State and need to regain that groove heading into Chicago. The Hoosiers still have as good a chance as any to win the National Championship, but they need to start that quest today.
    Yogi Ferrell must lead the offense efficiently, the way he did on the road at Michigan State. If Indiana controls the pace against a tenacious Michigan attack, then they will do just fine if they connect on their shots.
    Victor Oladipo must have his biggest game of the year. He will hear it from the Michigan faithful for a dunk as the seconds ticked off in the victory on February 2nd, and no doubt needs to let that go. If Oladipo plays his game, Indiana will steal one. He got into early foul trouble against Ohio State on Tuesday night, and you can look at that as a reason Indiana never really got going, but even in the second half with Oladipo back, the Hoosiers couldn’t muster much of an attack.

    For Michigan to win, the Wolverines need to continue doing what they do at home, win. Tim Hardaway Jr. had 18 points on 8-16 shooting in the first matchup and will need to have another kind of night today.
    Trey Burke won’t be hoisting 24 shots today. The guard played right into the Indiana mindset in the first game, going 9-24 and getting to the free throw line just 3 times. Michigan can’t beat Indiana using just these two guys, as seen in the game on February 2nd.
    If Michigan really insists on winning today, they must figure out how to beat Indiana down low. Jon Horford strugled in the first game, only playing 10 minutes after an injury, and finishing with 4 points. Glenn Robinson wasn’t much better, going 1-6 for 2 points, all while not missing a single minute of action.
    The only thing going right in game one was Mitch McGary who had 10 points and 7 rebounds down low and made some key shots to keep Michigan in the game. He and Nik Stauskas need to be big today, as Stauskas had only one 3-point field goal in the 81-73 loss.

    I can’t wait for this game. Indiana needs this win to get back on track after three lackluster showings against MInnesota, Iowa and OSU. If they win today, they have all the momentum heading into Chicago, and would likely wrap up a #1 seed in the Midwest if they made it to the Big Ten Championship game.
    Michigan can move up in the Big Ten standings and depending on what Michigan State does, could be the #2 seed and avoid Indiana until the finals. Playing at home is huge for the Wolverines and John Beilein’s squad would love another share of that Big Ten title. If Michigan wins, they’d enter the Big Ten tournament with all the momentum, and would be a team nobody wants to see.
    What do I wanna see, though? 4:00 p.m. on my TV. This is going to be an instant classic.

Indiana 80 Michigan 76

Friday, March 8, 2013

Looking at the Bubble and this Weekend

Ben Fishman

    In lieu of our weekly contender or pretender article, today we will discuss the bubble teams that need to win this weekend, as well as look ahead to what is going to be an amazing weekend of college basketball.
    Boy is this weekend going to be awesome.

    First off, let’s talk about the bubble.
    The bubble doesn’t get any bigger than it is right now for the Kentucky Wildcats, last years champions. Since the Nerlens Noel injury in a loss at Florida, the Wildcats are 3-3. The thing is, they weren’t exactly world beaters with Noel in the lineup. Against Louisville, you got the idea that maybe this team was finally putting it together. Then the SEC started and it was clear that this team hadn’t improved very much and the Cats weren’t playing as a cohesive unit. Now they find themselves at 20-10, after a disappointing road loss at Georgia. Not to take anything away from Georgia, they’re a solid team, but Coach Cal doesn’t expect to lose to many games to Georgia.
    The Wildcats need to win this weekend against Florida in Lexington or they will be ordering the NIT shirts in Kentucky, because Kentucky isn’t winning the SEC Tournament.

    For Virginia, their NCAA tournament hopes took a hit last night as well. Virginia couldn’t afford a loss to Florida State ahead of a close out game at home this weekend against Maryland. Instead the Cavaliers dropped their second in a row to teams that won’t be playing very much longer this year. Virginia is still in the tournament, but they can’t afford another slip up.
Currently they are 5th in the conference, a game back of N.C. State whom they beat earlier this year. They lost their chance at a first round bye and now need to deliver in the ACC Tournament to solidify their place in the bracket.

    How about the SEC this year? We already talked about Kentucky, but does any team in that conference really wanna play in March? I mean, seriously. Tennessee did a pretty good job to get in contention for an at-large bid, then lost at Georgia. At the moment, the Vols are probably in, but like Virginia, they need a strong showing in their conference tournament to get in for the first time under Cuonzo Martin.
    Ole Miss found themselves in the top 25 heading into a showdown with Kentucky in late January, coming into that game at 17-2. Since then? Well, that’s a different story. The Rebels have folded like a cheap suit lately, but picked up a big win over Alabama on Tuesday. If they beat LSU this weekend, then steal a couple in the SEC Tournament, preferrably over a Tennessee or Kentucky, then maybe Ole Miss can win its way back into the Dance.

    Southern Mississippi is an interesting team as well. When Larry Eustachy headed for greener pastures at Colorado State, not as funny as you think considering the job he’s done there, USM was left in a tricky situation. New head coach Donnie Tyndall came in with several JUCO transfers and was able to keep the Golden Eagles afloat in Conference USA. USM found themselves at 18-5 before a loss to league leading Memphis, then lost to the same Tigers team two weeks later. Coupled in with bad losses to Marshall and Louisiana Tech and it’s probably safe to say that the only way Southern Miss gets into the tournament is by winning the conference tournament next weekend in Tulsa. But with Memphis putting the finishing touches on a 16-0 season, it’s looking like an NIT berth for the Golden eagles.

    How about the action this weekend? When the Big Ten schedule was released, everyone and their Mama circled the last day of the regular season.
    Michigan vs. Indiana II in Ann Arbor, a rematch of their classic battle on February 2nd, a game in which Indiana regained its perch atop of the Big Ten. Since then the Big Ten has gotten even more exciting. Indiana had a chance to end it all and take some meaning away from this Sunday’s game on Tuesday night, but lost to Ohio State at home.
Should Michigan win at home they would force a four-way tie atop the standings with Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State. Indiana is already the #1 seed thanks to a Michigan State victory over Wisconsin on Thursday night but the Hoosiers don't want to share the title.
For Indiana, all the Hoosiers need to do is win this weekend to clinch their first outright Big Ten title since 1993 and have a great chance at going to Dayton, then up 37 to Indianapolis for the Sweet Sixteen and Elite EIght. If they lose, they would have to quickly regroup for the Big Ten Tournament.

    UNC-Duke II is going to be special. Since going to a small lineup, UNC hasn’t looked better. This is an entirely different team than the one we saw get run out of Maui and Assembly Hall earlier this year, and this is a team that wants to avenge the loss at Duke a couple weeks ago, a game the Tar Heels believe they should have won.
    It’s not exactly the same Duke team either. Ryan Kelly being back is huge and Duke has probably moved into the spot of favorite for the title in the wake of Indiana’s play in the last week. The Hoosiers have dropped 2 of 3 and looked rough against Iowa. Ryan Kelly has been on a tear since returning against Miami last weekend, and look for him to continue that tear in Chapel Hill.

    These two games are going to be big for all four teams involved, as well as the bubble teams mentioned above. March Madness is three weeks long, but in reality it starts during the conference championship week. Expect an amazing week with the Big Ten tournament, the Pac-12 Tournament and the Big East Tournament taking the spotlight next week.
    I can’t wait.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It Took Time, but Don't All Great Things?

Ben Fishman

    What if I told you, it could’ve been much worse? Would you believe me?
Bob Knight’s last game at Indiana was a 77-57 loss to 11th seeded Pepperdine. After the tumultuous tenure of Mike Davis, Indiana hired Kelvin Sampson, an embattled coach from Oklahoma who got the Sooners placed on three years probation. Yet there Indiana was, in the top 25 again and led by star Eric Gordon and senior D.J. White, prepped up for a deep run in March in the 2007-2008 season.
    Now if you answered yes to the first question, you were right. Following Sampson from Oklahoma, came with him his unethical recruiting background. In February of 2008, the NCAA officially informed Indiana University of major violations committed by Kelvin Sampson. On February 23rd, Sampson resigned his position as head basketball coach at Indiana University.

    In late February of that year, Marquette men’s basketball coach Tom Crean, fresh off a victory at Villanova to improve to 21-6, likely turned on ESPN. Crean likely saw the news of Kelvin Sampson and his resignation from Indiana following recruiting violations. Crean wouldn’t admit it publicly, but it was a job that intruiged him and likely many other available coaches, even though the rebuilding process would be tough. But Crean had more important things on his mind, namely his team’s run in March.

    For Indiana, the Hoosiers now needed a coach. A 10-member search committee was put together to find the Hoosiers next coach, and names such as Tony Bennett and Sean Miller were popping up all over Bloomington as teams began to lose in the NCAA Tournament. Indiana had already exited the Big Dance, losing 4 of their last 5 to end a disappointing season which was also Eric Gordon’s first and last in Bloomington.

    Meanwhile, Marquette head coach Tom Crean had just guided the Golden Eagles back to the NCAA Tournament. After a strong first round win over Kentucky,  Marquette dropped an 82-81 overtime game to Stanford, ending Crean’s 9th year at the school. Since the 2003 Final Four appearance, Crean hadn’t created many waves for the Golden Eagles in the Big East and perhaps was seeking a new challenge. He’d get that and much more just over a week later, on April Fools Day.

    When Tom Crean accepted the Indiana job on that day in April, he was quickly seen as the right guy for a troubling situation. Crean told Indiana that “this is gonna take some time,” amidst the worst scandal in Indiana basketball history.
    In the coming months Crean would lose Eric Gordon and D.J. White to the NBA Draft, and dismiss two more of his players, all on top of three members choosing to transfer. Star freshman Devin Ebanks would leave for West Virginia and the only returning player would be oft used forward Kyle Taber. Athletic Director Rick Greenspan announced he was stepping down and the future for Indiana didn’t look bright. But none of that seemed to matter when you listened to Tom Crean talk.

    Pat Forde, a former ESPN columnist and now Yahoo Sports writer, wrote on April Fools day, “Athletic director Rick Greenspan, his credibility facing an 0-2 count, suddenly got one grooved down the middle and knocked it out.”
    Indiana had hired Tom Crean, and the excitement was back. Over the next two years, nobody could have imagined it would continue to get, you guessed it, worse. In Crean’s first year, Indiana went 6-25 and didn’t win a game in the Big Ten until a 68-60 victory over Iowa on February 4th. It was the worst year in Indiana basketball history. The following year didn’t get much better as IU went 10-21, finishing with a disappointing 73-58 loss to Northwestern.

    Indiana fans knew it would take time to rebuild the program, but they didn’t expect it to be this bad. 16 wins over two years? The Hoosiers were in unprecedented territory and nobody was taking it easy on them. What made things worse is that Purdue was in the top 10 during both wins during Crean’s second season.
    Year three came around and Indiana went 12-20, another disappointing year in which boosters would finally begin to be a little antsy over Tom Crean and his rebuilding process. Indiana began the year 9-2, and had a relatively simple path to the Big Ten opener against Penn State. Yet the Hoosiers squandered opportunities against Northern Iowa, Colorado and Penn State.

    As Crean’s teams struggled in the regular season, Crean and his staff seemed to have very little problem on the recruiting trail. The 2008 class wasn’t national respected, but it included 7 players, 6 of which were 3-star recruits. In 2009, three four-star recruits enrolled at Indiana, including Christian Watford and the following year, two players which are very familiar to Indiana this year, Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo, came to town. The main piece however came in 2011when five-star All-American Cody Zeller enrolled from nearby Washington, IN.

    The story from there on out is well known throughout the college basketball world. You can simply use the words, “Zeller. Watford. Kentucky. Ohio State. Michigan State. And VCU,” simply as bookmarks of sort in the final year of rebuilding. Cody Zeller became the savior that the program expected him to be, and Indiana made the Sweet Sixteen last season. Following their loss to eventual champion Kentucky, John Calipari said, “If you told me the team we're playing today, Indiana, was going to score 90 points and shoot 52 percent from the floor, I was going to have to tell you, 'Wow, it's been a nice season. Hate to end it that way, but it's been a nice season.”
    At Hoosier Hysteria, a quote from Tom Crean showed on the big screen. It read, “It took a nation, to rebuild a program.” Crean had delivered on his promise from four years earlier. He asked for time from a program that didn’t know how to give it, from a program that was stunned by the events leading up to Kelvin Sampson’s departure. But all it took was that first Tom Crean press conference, and Hoosier Nation was sold.
    On Sunday night, with a little help from our friends from the North and Michigan, Indiana clinched at least a share of its first Big Ten title since 2002. With a win over Ohio State tonight, the Hoosiers can clinch their first out right title since 1993.

    The story is amazing isn’t it? It was one that everybody loved to see happen unless of course you bleed Indiana red. There’s an old German word, Schadenfreude, from the German words Schaden and Freude which mean damage and joy. It means to take a hateful and spiteful look and delight towards the misfortune of others.
    The college basketball world watched, as Indiana basketball, royalty in the basketball world, struggled to 6 win and 10 win seasons, much the same way fans are enjoying watching Kentucky play this year. There was no design, no guide or how to for the situation Tom Crean found himself in. But nearly five years later, Crean finds himself in position to bring the first National Championship to Bloomington since 1987.
    It took a nation, it took time. And man, wasn’t it worth it?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Recap of This Weekends Action

Ben Fishman

    Whew. We’re three days into March and we’ve already seen some amazing basketball action. Just think about this for a second though, in two weeks, we will be filling out our first brackets and turning them into our office pools. Of course I’ll be switching that bracket out with my “other” bracket in an attempt to steal the $50 pot. 
    Anyways, on to this weekends action.

    Kentucky is in trouble. And when I say trouble, I mean big trouble. The Wildcats dropped a big game Saturday to Arkansas, a loss which now forces them to win out against Georgia and Florida this week. The SEC Tournament could also be another opportunity for John Calipari’s squad, but Big Blue needs to be able to play their first game in the SEC Tournament knowing it isn’t win or NIT. A victory over Florida at home on Saturday, would go a long way towards getting off the bubble and into the field of 68.

    Ryan Kelly is back and boy did he make a splash. This past week I was talking hoops with some guys and the idea of Kelly coming back came up. The question really focused on whether or not Kelly returning would help or hurt the Blue Devils. I figured it’d hurt them, in the way Kyrie Irving returning two years ago hurt Duke. After missing most of the year, the eventual #1 in the draft came back only to exit in the Sweet Sixteen as top seeded Duke was blown out by Arizona. But seeing Kelly return last night was huge. He tossed in 30 points in his first game since January 8th, and with him back, Duke is suddenly just as good as any team in America.

    Indiana fans can add a little feather to their cap on this Sunday night. With Wisconsin’s loss to Purdue today at home, and Michigan State’s loss just a couple hours later at Michigan, Indiana clinched at least a share of the the Big Ten regular season title for the first time since 2002. Indiana hosts Ohio State on Tuesday on Senior Night and if they win that one, Indiana will be the top seed the following week in Chicago. Tom Crean also picked up his first regular season conference title since 2003, when his Dwyane Wade squad went on to the Final Four.

    Gonzaga will be the top ranked team in America this week for the first time in school history. The Zags have never been on the mountain top of the college basketball world, but Mark Few has finally guided his squad there this season, with a 29-2 record. The Bulldogs season is over and they get a week off before they start preparations for the WCC tournament, but don’t be surprised if a team like Indiana is bumped up from #2 to #1 next week, should they beat Ohio State and Michigan this week. The Zags are in contention for the #1 seed out West, and are a team to watch in March.
    The conference tournaments this year are going to be simply amazing, and the last week of the regular season is usually just as good. Indiana gets Ohio State and Michigan, Duke goes to UNC, and Kentucky hosts Florida. This week is going to be fun as we crown the champions in the major leagues. Don’t sleep on Louisville or Georgetown, two teams that will challenge for the #1 seed out East should Duke get beat in the ACC Tournament.

    No team picked up a bigger win than UCLA this weekend. Ben Howland in my opinion should have been fired this past summer following the Sports Illustrated report that came out regarding his program. Then he kept his job, due to the stunning recruiting class he brought in. Yet, the season hasn’t lived up to its expectations, but UCLA is finally putting it together and appear to be peaking just in time. Following a big win over Arizona this weekend, Coach Howland said that Shabazz Muhammad is gone after this season. Expect him to have a lot to say about how far his Bruins go in March.

    I was pretty shocked that Miami played Duke as close as they did in Cameron this Saturday. One could very easily argue that without Ryan Kelly, Duke loses that game. I hope they get to play one more time on a neutral court in March, because I still think that if these teams play ten times, they would likely split.

    The SEC has been so disappointing that you’re probably wondering if everyone is just packing it up and getting ready for spring practice. Kentucky lost a big one this weekend,  Tennessee dropped one at Georgia and Ole Miss lost perhaps the worst game of the season, getting dropped at rival Mississippi State. That one was bad. The SEC needs Florida to carry it this March, and even the Gators aren’t a team being mentioned in the top tier contenders anymore.
    Finally, the team of the week is a tie between Minnesota and Virginia. No teams solidified their spots in the bracket more than these two did. Minnesota upset Indiana 77-73 on Tuesday night and Virginia downed Duke, 73-68. Virginia is now tied with N.C. State for 4th place in the ACC standings and could very easily win out this week to grab a bye in the tournament. Minnesota has two winnable games left, against Purdue and Nebraska, though both on the road. These two teams will be dark horses and tough outs when the conference tournaments begin.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Contender or Pretender? Indiana

Ben Fishman

    Happy March my basketball fans! You know what this means? In three weeks we will be in the midst of the greatest sporting event on the planet. 68 teams, one winner. I can’t wait. I wish it would start now. Until then, let’s play another round of contender or pretender. I’d say at the moment we’re 1-1. Memphis has fallen off a bit, and so has Miami. Let’s see if I can’t call this one right. 

    Today we’ve got the Indiana Hoosiers. The Hoosiers, in Tom Crean’s fifth season at the helm, are 24-4 and ranked #1 in the nation. Three of their four losses have come in Big Ten play, two on the road to Illinois and Minnesota. The other came to a Butler team that will make the tournament.
    Indiana is now a squad that needs to win its final three games and ensure itself of the overall number 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.

    The Hoosiers are led by Player of the Year candidate Cody Zeller....The Hoosiers are also led by Player of the Year candidate Victor Oladipo.
    See what I did there? Indiana boasts two of the best players in America, and two guys who are bona fide lottery picks when they come out. The Hoosiers biggest improvement between last year and this year is most noticeable in two areas.
    First, the Hoosiers added McDonald’s All American Yogi Ferrell to the mix and he has been nothing short of sensational.
    Secondly, the Hoosiers found their defensive identity. Indiana used its offense to ride into the Sweet Sixteen last season before losing to eventual champion Kentucky. Indiana was not a great defensive team and needed to improve there in order to contend for a championship.

    Indiana also brings several key contributors off the bench. Remy Abell has continued to improve throughout his sophomore campaign. Derek Elston is back from surgery and should fit into the rotation nicely as the season progresses. And 6th man Will Sheehey may be the best 6th man in America. The Hoosiers all together have a complete team, not to mention a second unit full of guys that would be starting at other schools.

    Let’s take a look at the numbers, now. Indiana is second in the country in points per game, checking in at 82.2 points per game. They’re fifth in America in field goal shooting percentage, coming in at 49.7. They’re the only team in America to rank in the top five of both categories.    
    Ready for more? They’re second in the country in 3-point percentage and continue to shoot the ball at a high clip.
    The Hoosiers rebound the ball exceptionally well, too. Tom Crean’s squad averages just under 40 rebounds a game, checking in at 38.7. The leader, Quinnipiac, averages 42.1.

    Now let’s talk about where the Hoosiers struggle a little bit. Indiana plays at a very fast pace as apparent by their high shooting numbers. The Hoosiers average 13 turnovers a game, good for 137th in the country. They do a good enough job on assists however, checking in the top 50 in that category.

    And finally, we get to the intangibles. Let’s look at N.C. State last year. They’re a team that went to the Sweet Sixteen, and like Indiana, came into this year with high hopes. Yet, today they sit at 20-8, not exactly disappointing, but not living up to preseason hype either.
    N.C. State is a team that overachieved last year. Many people thought Indiana did as well. Upon further review though, Indiana didn’t, instead they played to the level they were supposed to, and very easily could’ve received a higher seed and made it father.
    This season Indiana has to understand that it needs to be Atlanta or bust. Pressure? Yes. But me thinks the Hoosiers can handle it. Tom Crean is a coach who has been to the Final Four before with Dwayne Wade in 2003. He’s a coach who rebuilt the program from the ground up, and a guy whose team is playing some very good basketball.

    Let’s talk about the losses, especially the last two, on the road in the Big Ten. They were disappointing. The Illinois loss was a fluke, as Indiana had it won. How did they respond after? They went to Ohio State and picked up perhaps the most impressive win of the year. After a win over Michigan State, everyone pegged IU as the favorite, and then they laid an egg in Minnesota.     So is it hard to get a read on this team? Not exactly. Indiana is still the favorite, and this shouldn’t be a question of contender or pretender as much as a question of favorite or not.
    And Indiana is.

    The Hoosiers possess all the tools to cut down the nets in Atlanta. They are the most complete team in America and play in the best conference. They still might lose again though. Indiana could lose to Ohio State, Michigan and again in the Big Ten tournament in Chicago, and still win six. That’s just the kind of season we’re in right now.
    As other teams keep falling, Indiana is probably the only team that can say, “We have no bad losses.”
    And on April 8th, they are as good a bet as any to say, “Banner 6.”

Indiana = Contender