Well that was fast.
Not even four years ago Indiana was dismantled due to the infractions committed by Kelvin Sampson, which left the program in shambles. The team was in such disarray, in fact, that it won a total of eight conference games over three seasons and had quickly joined Iowa as the Big Ten punching bag. With Tom Crean aboard, however, a turnaround seemed imminent, but no one was really sure how quick it would take.
Apparently three years.
If the first 11 games of this season are any indication then the Hoosiers are completely back to respectability. Their non-conference schedule has included wins over Butler, North Carolina State, Notre Dame and the one-point instant-classic victory at home over then-#1 Kentucky. This season has quickly elevated the Hoosiers to the national scene where they find themselves at #18 in the nation and essentially the talk of the town.
Allow me to get bitter for a second. As a Gopher fan, it’s incredibly frustrating to see a team essentially derailed and turn itself back into a nationally-respected program in less than four years. Here is a team that was left with very little after the Sampson scandal and is now taking down #1 teams on its home court merely three seasons later. How is this possible! Meanwhile, the Gophers continue to toil in mediocrity with all of the proper resources at its disposal, playing Saint Peter’s in front of a lazy-afternoon crowd of 848 people. Someone in Dinkytown needs to take a page from the Indiana handbook in terms of how to build a program.
What they’ve done so far:
After a 12-20 (3-15 B1G) season last year, the Hoosiers have only found themselves at 11-0 with a signature win over one of the top teams in the country and a top-25 national ranking. Indiana is currently scoring the 7th-most points in the nation at 84.5 points per game and has five players averaging in double figures. Are they this good? Probably not. But this type of performance doesn’t just happen by accident. Bloomington is a tough place to play for anyone, and taking down a team like Kentucky takes some serious skill. But again, it’s only the non-conference season and strange things tend to happen outside of conference play. Chaminade beats Virginia, the Gophers beat North Carolina, Murray State gets ranked, etc. Indiana looks really good right now, but can they keep it up throughout the whole season? Color me skeptical.
Who to watch:
Skeptical or not, the Hoosiers employ some serious young talent. Case in point, they are currently being led by freshman Cody Zeller, who is averaging a cool 15 points and seven boards per game. Last year’s Mr. Indiana Basketball and brother of North Carolina standout Tyler Zeller, Cody is showing skills that freshman don’t ordinarily exhibit. In fact, Zeller leads the team in points, rebounds, steals AND blocks. A scary prospect for Big Ten counterparts who may be facing him for a long time to come.
If you like guys who can fill up a highlight reel then check out some YouTube clips of Victor Oladipo, who could give Rodney Williams a run for his money in a dunk competition. Only a sophomore, Oladipo doesn’t just dunk anymore; he actually fills up a stat sheet and is second on the team in scoring at 12.5 ppg.
The Hoosiers have also seen a key uptick in performance from Christian Watford and Verdell Jones III – players who could make or break a game for Indiana last year. Jones is a senior (finally) and a player who has a knack for the hoop in crunch time. A knock on him in past seasons has been his lack of ball control, committing a team-high in turnovers last year and being a bit small. After adding a fair amount of size in the offseason (up 24 lbs) Jones has the opportunity to take his offensive game to a different level.
Another story to follow this season will be senior PG Jordan Hulls’ ability to become a de factor leader for a young team like Indiana. Having a veteran presence heading into conference play could go a long ways for several untested players. So far this season Hulls is the third-leading scorer on the team at 11.7 ppg.
What to watch for:
The question on everyone’s minds is this: are the Indiana Hoosiers for real this year? A team that goes from 12-20 to 11-0 with a win over Kentucky doesn’t really pass the smell test for most people, so the biggest story entering the Big Ten conference season is whether or not Indiana can keep up the type of play they’ve exhibited so far this season. They’ve certainly been playing out of their minds and at first glance it seems like they may be overachieving. But a deeper dig reveals that they have senior leadership to fall back on, several solid scorers and a serious freshman talent. It’s not like Indiana has gotten to 11-0 by accident.
However, something about all this just doesn’t feel right. Teams just don’t go from the bottom of a conference to the top in one offseason. Indiana has certainly made great strides in terms of personnel, and Tom Crean has a solid base to build around for the foreseeable future, but it’s hard to see Indiana staying near the top of the conference all season. The win over Kentucky was great, but seeing a fairly young team face high-caliber competition night in and night out (well, except for Iowa) will certainly show us what the the Hoosiers are made of.
How they’ll do:
The success of the Hoosiers hinges on whether or not they can keep up this level of play for an entire season. Is Cody Zeller this good? Has Oladipo already matured into a legitimate scoring threat? Is Hulls a leader? The jury is still completely out on whether or not Indiana is for real, solely because this type of performance is such a 180 from what we’ve seen the past three years. Naturally we’re all a little skeptical. My gut tells me that they’ll fall somewhere in the middle between the awful Indiana of last year and the 11-0 redux of 2011.