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

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