The Hoosiers are not in our conference. They are not even on our schedule. But they could very well become a threat come tournament time. Like coaches always say, “Keep your conference close, keep your non-conference closer”or something like that.
This season, Indiana University coach Tom Crean plans to start ahead of where he left off. And as preseason number one stat, he is doing just that. Who could forget IU’s season last year? The team put themselves back on the basketball radar, defeating No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Ohio State during the regular season.
The team who accomplished those feats will be returning, except for last year’s seniors ,Verdell Jones III and Tom Pritchard. One returning player, “the Big Handsome,” whom IU fans were scared they would lose to the draft, is back, sophomore Cody Zeller. This guy is definitely someone to watch for. The seven-foot-tall center shot 62 percent last year. Zeller has since been called the best college player in the country by ESPN and the best center in college basketball by NBC Sports. He has received all but one vote for the AP’s preseason All-American team.
“We’re aiming to be No. 1 at the end of the season, not just at the beginning,” Zeller said to ESPN. This is a charming goal, but unless IU produces consistently better road results — five of their eight regular season losses on the road were by ten or more points — it is not realistic.
Those losses escalated to that point because of the team’s defending. Defense, or rather, lack thereof, was also the reason the team’s NCAA tournament trip ended at the Sweet Sixteen against UK. But this year, forward Victor Oladipo might be able to lead his team out of the defensive darkness.
Oladipo was number five — two below our very own Gorgui Dieng who stands at third — on ESPN’s Myron Medcalf’s “Top 10 Scariest Defenders” list. Oladipo was also on the conference’s all-defensive team. Crean has also spoken this summer about switching up defense styles and strategies.
“We have a chance to pressure the ball more. We definitely have more length. We can do more switching,” said Crean in July. Interestingly enough, he has referenced Louisville in the defensive conversation.
“That’s why I’m so interested in looking at the old Louisville teams of Denny Crum and how they did that. There’s so many more opportunities we have defensively right now because of our length and versatility.”
Because Indiana University belongs to a neighboring state, last year’s and this year’s hype around them is exciting. But, should we see them at the Big Dance, we can only hope the Hoosiers would be learning a lot more in March from Louisville than defense.