Midnight Madness is over, and with it went the smoke machines, dunk contests and laser shows that kick off the season. College basketball begins now, and while the excitement still remains it’s time to peel the hype back and see who the nation’s best truly are. That’s why Dime has you covered with individual previews of the nation’s top 15 teams and a few others just outside, all over the course of the next few weeks. Today, Indiana.
When evaluating a potential Final Four team there is no specific “cookie-cutter” formula to get there. Otherwise, we would have more dynasties in college basketball. Some teams build around a perimeter star or around a single force in the paint. With Indiana, they found a way to compile a complete team with greatness in the paint and potential at every position on the court. With last year’s surprising run the expectations are there as the Hoosiers are potentially the best team in college basketball for the first time in nearly 10 years.
Looking at this team from top to bottom they are an elite team on paper, but not elite athletically. That’s important to know up-front. They are not going to physically overwhelm you like a Kentucky team but also are not going to grind the game to a halt like an unathletic Wisconsin team. They stand politely in-between the two with the Hoosiers trying to do a little of both due to their limitations physically. The starters are mixed bag with Jordan Hulls, Will Sheehey, Christian Watford and Cody Zeller not that coast-to-coast athlete primed for a Top 10 play nomination on the night’s highlight shows. They are all good, sound basketball players, but not the athletes that Victor Oladipo, Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Mosquera-Perea are off the bench, options that give the team enough pop to the lineup to play uptempo. Out of 346 Division I teams last season the Hoosiers ranked in the mid-100s in combined steals
and blocks speaking to the average nature of their overall athletic ability.
This is going to be the calling card to this team as a whole all season as well as the linchpin to its success. As mentioned before, this is a team not built around athleticism or just one star (despite Zeller’s greatness and NBA potential), but as a collective unit that can beat you in many ways. The ball funnels through Zeller, and why wouldn’t it after a freshman season last year where he shot 62.3 percent from the field? With a jump in strength and general skill level as a sophomore the sky is the ceiling for this kid. When the Hoosiers play inside-out through Zeller, it makes Hulls a more dangerous shooter, Watford a more lethal play-maker, Oladipo an unguardable slasher and masks the rest of the teams flaws.
Coach Tom Crean runs a system that puts his playmakers in the best position to win. They run when appropriate and pound the ball inside when necessary. If they didn’t run into the buzzsaw that was Kentucky they might have cut down the nets last season.
Building off of last season is very important. Low were the expectations for the Hoosiers coming into last year and they exceeded everyone’s wildest dreams to become a Sweet 16 team. Now the expectations are there for them as they are a consensus Final Four pick. All of the fundamental and athletic positives this team possesses are not the reason they will be very good, however. It is the fact that every non-senior contributor to last year’s success came back willingly that makes this team special. Zeller could have easily been a top-10 NBA Draft pick, Watford was draftable, and others could have left for loftier opportunities; instead they all came back as a collective unit to finish what they started together. Mixing in the freshman shouldn’t be a tough challenge with veterans available at their positions taking the pressure off of them. They are also not bringing in multiple McDonalds All-Americans expecting minutes like other teams do, so everyone already knows their roles coming into this season.