Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Previewing Big Ten Basketball: Indiana

My Big Ten basketball previews began a long time ago, but we're finally getting to the teams that are going to play the biggest roles in the 2012-2013 season.  Teams like Minnesota should be improved, but many of the teams that we've looked at such as Illinois, Nebraska, and Penn State shouldn't be major factors next year.  This time we're looking at Indiana, who is probably the hottest and most hyped team in the country right now.  They raced back to relevance last season, return a very talented bunch, and are bringing in a great recruiting class.  These factors are the primary reasons that they are currently projected as the #1 team in the nation by ESPN and as the favorite to win the Big Ten.


Most will point to last season as Indiana's return to relevance, but in reality, it began a lot earlier.  Since Tom Crean was hired on April 1, 2008 to be Indiana's head coach, he has really done a good job on the recruiting trail.  He's brought in great recruits in each one of his classes so far, despite bad performances in each of his first three seasons.  Getting in big-time names, even to a program like Indiana, is very difficult under those circumstances.  However, if you look at Indiana's projected 2012 starting lineup, they're well dispersed in Crean's recruiting classes.
  • Jordan Hulls - 2009 class
  • Christian Watford - 2009 class
  • Victor Oladipo - 2010 class
  • Will Sheehey - 2010 class
  • Cody Zeller - 2011 class

Most of the experienced and successful teams are dispersed over several recruiting classes, but what makes this and Indiana's 2011-2012 season so impressive was the radical transformation for the Hoosiers.  Over Crean's first three seasons, Indiana beat only three teams that finished 6th or better in the Big Ten and recorded a 2-24 record against ranked teams.  Not many would have predicted that Indiana would have a great 2011-2012 season, which really shows the talent in Crean's recruiting classes.


Indiana began the 2011-2012 season with an incredible 12-0 start, going undefeated in non-conference play, beating rival Notre Dame, and being one of only two teams to defeat eventual national champions Kentucky.  They did follow this with a loss to MSU in the Breslin Center, but they ended up with a 15-1 record, were 3-1 in Big Ten play and had victories over eventual Big Ten Champions Michigan and Ohio State to begin the season.  I don't think many would argue that any team started last season hotter than Indiana.  However, they followed this amazing start by losing 5 of their next 7 games and pretty much giving up any chance to win the Big Ten.  They eventually finished with a 25-8 record, 5th in the Big Ten, and with a Sweet Sixteen run, where they lost in a rematch with Kentucky.  You can see their impressive performance from the stats:





Record
Big Ten
PPG
PPG Rank
Points Allowed
Points Allowed Rk
3pt%
3pt% Rk
MSU
29-8
13-5
72.3
3
59.3
2
36.2
6
OSU
31-8
13-5
75.1
2
59.8
3
33.3
9
Michigan
24-10
13-5
66.5
8
61.5
4
35.0
8
Wisconsin
26-10
12-6
63.9
10
53.2
1
36.8
5
Indiana
27-9
11-7
77.3
1
66.4
10
43.1
1
22-13
10-8
72.2
4
66.0
9
37.7
3
19-14
8-10
69.5
6
68.2
11
38.6
2
18-17
8-10
71.9
5
72.5
12
37.3
4
23-15
6-12
67.4
7
64.8
6
35.6
7
17-15
6-12
65.6
9
64.2
5
30.4
12
12-18
4-14
60.9
12
65.6
7
32.4
10
12-20
4-14
61.8
11
65.8
8
31.1
11
*Stats From DonBest


As one could probably guess from their preseason #1 ranking, Indiana is set-up to have a pretty good season.  They return four of their five starters even though they return all five players that ended the season as starters, including Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, and Victor Oladipo, who all received All-Big Ten honors.  Zeller made the 2nd team on both the coaches and media poll and Watford and Oladipo received honorable mention in the media poll.  Oladipo was also named to the All-Big Ten defensive team.  They did lose some bench players like Daniel Moore and Tom Pritchard, but the return of five starters should more than make up for this, especially considering all the experience that will be coming back.  The five starters have a combined 11 seasons with at least one game started, which makes an average of 2.2 per player.  To give you a comparison, if Michigan replicates my predicted starters, they will have a combined 5 seasons with at least one start, which averages to exactly 1 per player, well below Indiana's marks of 11 combined and a 2.2 average.  This is not a perfect gauge for experience, but it does give us a sense of the concept.


Indiana also has a tremendous incoming recruiting class that should be able to fill some of the team's needs off the bench and may even challenge some of the starters for playing time.  ESPN has their 2012 class ranked as #11 in the nation and highlighted by three ESPN100 players including Yogi Ferrell, who is ranked #24 in the nation by ESPN.  Ferrell is an outstanding player and someone that could make a tremendous impact on any team.  However, as I pointed out in my post on the Big Ten's 2012 recruiting, Ferrell and Indiana's 2012 recruits will be somewhat limited in their potential impact next year.  They may come in and hit the ground running, but think about it for a second and look at the situation of the Fab Five.  Those were insanely talented players, but they didn't all start until deep in the season.  Even if some of the guys like Ferrell, who has a chance to crack the starting lineup over someone like Will Sheehey, end up getting seriously playing time, they probably will be closer to splitting time than having a true starter role.  They're going to be great down the line, but I just question their impact for next year only.


Indiana's squad for next season has perplexed me for a long time.  I'm just having a lot of trouble putting my finger on what kind of team they will be next year.  Just about every reliable measure (returning starters, returning depth, recruiting, past success) all point to a monster year for the Hoosiers, yet for some reason I keep finding myself doubting Indiana's ability to turn the corner from good to great.  Last year, they played horrible on the road, played extremely inconsistent, and would often not show up for big games.  To me, picking a team for #1 in the country that did these types of things is challenging, even with their depth.


With this thought process, I decided to go back and look at some of the closer details of last season for Indiana and I realized what was really causing my anxiety.  Indiana's inconsistent play, especially on the road, left some doubts in my mind, but it was the way they won games that has made me shy away from their hype.  They really didn't play as well against top competition as most assume.  They beat some great teams, but out of their nine games against ranked teams before the NCAA Tournament, they had just a 4-5 record, in which three of their four wins were won by 4 pts or lessss and their average amount of defeat was 11.8 pts.  Essentially, when they faced top teams, they were beaten handily most of the time and when they did happen to win, it was close.


Along with this, Indiana relied on an astounding offensive performance to be able to compile its record.  They ranked 1st in points in the Big Ten and 1st in three point shooting percentage.  However, they ranked just 10th in points allowed in the Big Ten.  If they truly want to turn the corner and avoid their poor performances against top competition, they are going to have to get better on defense and rely less on a high-scoring three point offense.  I know this argument may sound weak, but look at Michigan.  Our offense relies on the three point shot, but we back it up with tough defense (4th in the Big Ten).  A team's shooting percentage often goes up and down for no reason between seasons.  This is what should be the fear for Hoosier fans.  If Indiana doesn't play better defense and their shooting isn't quite as good, they are going to have a tough time living up to their sky-high expectations.  I know many people will think I just want to pick against Indiana for next year because it would help Michigan, but I think they are a lot riskier than a lot of people think because of the way they play.  They have depth, experience, and talent, but teams like Michigan and MSU should be well prepared for the Hoosiers and that's why I have to bump them down a bit.


Indiana Predictions:
Big Ten Finish: 1st (tied)
Ability To Compete With Top Teams: Good
Upset Status: Non-Existent (Too Good For An Upset)
NCAA Tournament Status: Good NCAA Bid

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