2012-13 Preview: #11 Penn State Nittany Lions

Pat Chambers is back for his second year at the helm and returns the biggest piece of last year’s team in senior point guard Tim Frazier. While Frazier could put together a spectacular season, the key for Penn State is getting good experience for their younger kids.

Last year the Nits struggled on both sides of the ball and they will again this season, but there are areas where they should be able to show at least modest improvement.

Penn State is capable of pulling off a couple impressive victories, but they’ll be near the bottom of the Big Ten again in 2012-13.

Glass Half Full

Solid Core

If Tim Frazier can shoot the ball a bit better, his already high value to the team will increase substantially. Speaking about Frazier at Big Ten Media Day, coach Chambers said, “I think we all know he needs to work on his jump shot and he’s done that. In practice so far he’s shooting his three’s at a high clip, which is great for us, almost makes him un-guardable…”

Even though Frazier only shot an effective field goal percentage of 44.6% (44.0 2FG%; 31.4 3FG%) in 2011-12, he posted an offensive rating of approximately 104 which is quite impressive considering his usage in nearly a third of Penn State’s possessions.

The 6’1” guard was one of the nation’s top assist men and regularly got himself to the free throw line. However, Frazier was the team’s only assist man and created most of his own shots. A little more team creativity on offense should produce higher percentage scoring opportunities for him.

On defense last year he was a big time thief (4.0 steal %) and with the ball cut down his own turnovers significantly after struggling in his first two seasons.

D.J. Newbill sat out last year after transferring from Southern Mississippi and has three years of eligibility remaining. He’s a big, physical but skilled guard that can do it all and will make his presence felt.  One area Penn State needs to improve on is getting guys other than Tim Frazier to the line and Newbill will certainly help in that regard. He’s an impact newcomer to the conference this year.

Ross Travis is a sophomore forward from Minnesota (Chaska HS) who showed some of his rebounding ability as a freshman, but has a lot more to offer including the ability to score and play multiple positions. Travis, who has one cousin at Harvard (sophomore Jonah Travis) and another in the strong 2014 Minnesota high school class (Jonah’s brother Reid) only averaged 17.9 minutes and 4.4 points per game as a freshman, but don’t sleep – he’s a player.

3-Point Shooting

If for no other reason than regression to the mean, the gap in 3-point shooting between Penn State and their opponents will probably decline in 2012-13. Penn State’s 3FG% figures on offense and defense were awful:

Overall Conf Only
Penn State 31.1% 29.8%
Opponents 38.2% 40.5%

Free Throw Rate

Similar to 3-point shooting, the disparity was so great a year ago that it would be tough be much worse.  The Nittany Lions attempted 296 free throws in conference play last year while their opponents earned 417 trips to the line or 41% more than Penn State.

Glass Half Empty

Reality

There are players to like on this team including those discussed above and redshirt junior guard Jermaine Marshall who averaged 27.1 minutes and 10.8 points per game, but the team’s talent just doesn’t match up with most of the Big Ten.

 Other Comments

  • In addition to losing Cammeron Woodyard (25.8 mpg, 8.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg) to graduation, several other players are gone including transfers Matt Glover (23.5 mpg, 2.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Trey Lewis (18.7 mpg, 5.6 ppg). Late last season, then-junior Billy Oliver (24.0 mpg, 6.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg) ended his career early due to recurring concussion symptoms.
  • 2013 Recruiting: Philly stud Brandon Austin de-committed this summer, but Chambers has four pledged to next year’s recruiting class including combo guard Geno Thorpe, wing Payton Banks, local big man Julian Moore and Edina HS (Minn.) point guard Graham Woodward.
  • Area basketball fans can’t complain about ticket prices: lower bowl season tickets between the baselines cost just $200 with the remaining seating options priced at $180.  Season ticket holder benefits include a season parking pass good for all Bryce Jordan Center lots.

A Look Back at 2011-12 Preseason Preview Quote(s)
“There is no hope of the Nits returning to the tourney this year.”

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2012-13 Preview: #12 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska joined the Big Ten last season and won just four conference games. Since the end of last year’s overall 12-18 performance, the school dismissed head coach Doc Sadler and lost players who accounted for about two-thirds of the team’s minutes.

Most of the player minutes were lost to graduation, but the roster also took a hit over the summer with lesser used players leaving the program for various reasons ranging from medical issues to a dismissal.

The Huskers hope to feel growing pains throughout the upcoming year. While seniors Brandon Ubel, Dylan Talley and perhaps injury-prone Andre Almeida will look to lead this squad, Nebraska needs others on the roster to progress.

This season will be painful for Nebraska, but as long as there are some beneficial growing pains mixed in with the pure frustration of another year in the cellar, new head coach Tim Miles will find things to build on in the future.

Glass Half Full

Brandon Ubel
Ubel is a nice player. The 6’10” senior was forced to be play a bit out of position last year (staying inside more than desired), but should be able to get out on the perimeter more this year. He’s never attempted more than 28 three-pointers in a season, but may get a chance to show his deep range more often in 2012-13. Lots of room to increase his usage and I think he can still be a highly efficient offensive player who shoots for a good percentage even with a big boost to his workload.

As a junior, Ubel showed big improvement on the offensive boards and in cutting down his turnovers.

New Head Coach
Tim Miles came over from Colorado State after five years as their head coach. Coach Miles has a number of Minnesota ties and brings in former Gopher cager Ben Johnson as one of his assistants. Miles is a likable coach and provides an energy boost to a program that needs it.

Glass Half Empty

Reality
There’s no way around it – this team does not have the talent to compete in the Big Ten this year.

Other Comments

  • Realistically, in the near future Nebraska would like to be in the position of feeling like they have a reasonable chance of getting onto the NCAA bubble each year. This is a program that has never won a tournament game and has gone dancing just six times.
  • Walter Pitchford (Florida) and Terran Petteway (Texas Tech) transferred into the program this summer and will be eligible to play in another year. Pitchford is a big 6’10” forward who could wind up being fairly good for the Huskers.
  • The 2013 recruiting class looks promising and the Huskers still have spaces to fill.  Solid combo guard Nathan Hawkins and former Minnesota Gophers target Nick Fuller, a 6’7” wing from Wisconsin, are joined by an interesting wild card in Tai Webster.  Webster is a point guard from New Zealand and has looked good at times in international competition.
  • Nebraska opened the $19 million Hendricks Training Complex one year ago, giving the basketball program an excellent practice facility.
  • Pinnacle Arena is scheduled to open in Lincoln early next fall and will serve as the new (rental) home for Nebraska basketball. The cost of the multi-purpose arena is estimated to be approximately $180 million and will hold events throughout the year.

A Look Back at 2011-12 Preseason Preview Quote(s)
“Up front, junior Brandon Ubel started 10 of the team’s final 12 contests and may get a chance for more minutes this year. His offensive Value Add would say he’s the top returning offensive contributor from a year ago and with a bulked up frame (now 6’10”, 240 pounds) to go along with good shooting range for his size, indications are that he could be a key contributor this season.”

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Recruiting Notes – USA Basketball Mini-Camp for 2015 & 2016 classes [Oct/12]

Earlier this month, LateNightHoops.com attended the USA Basketball Men’s Development National Team mini-camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. There, 44 of the country’s top players from the 2015 and 2016 high school classes were on hand to be introduced to USA Basketball and to be evaluated by the staff, who was led by head coach Don Showalter (Iowa City HS/Iowa City, IA). Coach Showalter has led the USA Developmental National Team to four straight gold medals as head coach from 2009-2012.

If you have questions or comments, including inquiries about other players that attended the camp but are not included in this article, please send us a message via our Contact Us page.

TWIN CITIES & SURROUNDING AREA TALENT
Henry Ellenson
(Rice Lake, WI)
6’9”, 250 | Rice Lake HS | Class of 2015

October 2012 Notes
You may hear Ellenson called a center by some, but that’s selling him short. Physically he looks the part and he can certainly battle on the blocks, but his skill and athletic ability sets him far apart from other kids his size.

Henry is an excellent shooter with plenty of range well past the three-point line, but has also worked on developing his game on the blocks. Over the next few years he should be able to continue adding to his arsenal of offensive weapons, which is a scary thought for teams trying to defend him.

His strength and quickness are not areas of concern, but there is opportunity for him to be elite if these areas progress nicely over the next few years. In college, there is no reason Ellenson can’t be a 3/4 switchable type who can score at multiple levels and defend multiple positions.

Now, at this point in time you wouldn’t have him dribbling the ball all the way up the court on a 3-on-1 fast break, but there’s not a lot I’d give him a red light on doing.

At a minimum, he’s a very good college prospect. With hard work, I can see Henry winding up as a top 10 player in the 2015 class.

Other potential factors such as good coaches, supportive family and older brothers who also play basketball (the oldest brother, Wally, is a freshman at Minnesota and will be able to share his D1 experience and Henry’s father played college ball for Marquette and Wisconsin) all seem to favor the likelihood of success for Henry Ellenson. He’s legit and the sky is the limit.

Amir Coffey (New Hope, MN)
6’3”, 160 | Hopkins HS | 2016

Amir Coffey
2016 Amir Coffey

October 2012 Notes

The first thing that stands out about Amir is his length and how well he uses it. With the ball, he’s able to create passing lanes and make plays that others can’t. On defense, his instincts combined with long arms result in frequent steals and deflections.

He’s a good scorer, but with more consistency and aggressiveness he could become excellent.

Coffey can play off the ball or at point and his ball handling, passing and feel for the game is especially propitious considering he’ll likely wind up standing a solid 6’7”.

I’m very high on the future prospects for Amir and can see him at the college level as a versatile wing and distinguished defender.   Similar to Ellenson, Coffey’s family (father Richard played for the Gophers and his older sisters are excellent basketball players) and other factors should help him along the way.

With Amir now being just a freshman at Minnesota high school basketball powerhouse Hopkins and there being a special class of 2014 in Minnesota, it may be a little while before the masses recognize how good Coffey can be. Nonetheless, we here at LNH are sold and look forward to watching his progression over the next several years.

USA Basketball U16 Mini-camp, Selected October 2012 Notes – Public Version

Diamond Stone (Milwaukee, WI)
6’10”, 252 | Dominican HS | 2015

Stone can be as good as he wants to be. The big man controls space inside, but it’s his hands and seemingly delicate touch when shooting that are most impressive. Elite prospect. Likeable demeanor and court presence, he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. Great voice too – post-playing career as an on-air talent awaits Mr. Stone.

Guys I Want With Me in a Brawl – Horace Spencer (State: PA/Height: 6’8”/Weight: 210/Class: 2015) and Andrew Fleming (TN/6’4”/185/2015).

Spencer had me worried about his safety – unquestionably willing to sacrifice his body to make a big play. It often looks as if his life depends on denying the opposition’s shot. He’s absolutely a full tilt player with good length. Offensively he’ll clean up the glass and put it back, but has a lot of room for improvement with the ball. However, Spencer’s ability to run the floor, block shots and rebound, as well as his borderline-crazy effort earns his game a ton of respect.

Coming off the bench for M33M this summer, we saw Andrew Fleming at several tournaments across the country providing a spark for his team. Sometimes it was relentless defense or a hustle play to save a ball heading out of bounds. Other times it was a deep three or an aggressive drive the bucket where he was able to absorb contact and finish.

Fleming is a good shooter, big time worker and fearless. In Colorado, we saw more of the same – tireless effort from a very competitive kid.

Jaw Dropper Harry Giles (NC/6’8”/205/2016)

Giles is no longer a slim, wiry young kid. It appears he’ll be able to add a lot of strength by the time he reaches college.  Very athletic, runs the floor well and is everywhere on the court. Would think it may be difficult to get him out of ACC country, but schools should sure try. He’s excellent at this point, but I believe he’ll be ridiculously good in a few years. I’m sold.

Who is That?! – Malik Monk (AR/6’3”/170/2016)

Monk was not a guy I was there to see, but his play dictated that I had to watch him. Time and time again he impressed when finishing at the rim, pulling up for jumpers and passing. His athleticism really stood out on certain plays – had several “woah, he just did that?” moments.

Wise Beyond His YearsJosh Langford (AL/6’5”/200/2016)

Strong all-around player who made smart decisions throughout the weekend. I think he projects more as a 2/3, but I really liked what he did when making decisions with the ball in his hand. Will be interesting to see if he continues to hold an edge in court IQ as time goes on, but right now looks like a guy who you’d want as your team captain.  Tough, strong and smart kid.

Other Selected quick comments:

  • Charles Matthews (IL/6’4”170/2015) – Matthews is 6’4” and a long combo guard who looked great scoring off the dribble. Worked with the point guards at USA basketball mini-camp and has the potential to be a dangerous point guard. May wind up as a wing, but if he becomes a good defender and continues developing his lead guard skills, he could be spectacular. Lots of possibilities for Matthews.
  • Simeon’s “next up” include D.J. Williams (IL/6’7”/186/2015) and Benjamin Coupet (IL/6’6”/180/2016). Both are long wings that can run and score in transition. Two to keep a close on eye.
  • Ivan Rabb (CA/6’8”/191/2015) is legit. Super active and a ton of fun to watch. It’s also obvious he’s having a lot of fun while on the court. Could wind up in conversation of top 5 in his class.
  • The camp’s youngest player Seventh Woods (SC/6’1”/168/2016) is unquestionably a superior athlete. Explosive. Has work to do if he’s going to play point in college, but at a minimum he’ll be one of the most athletic players in his class regardless of position. Head-shaking highlight-maker.
  • Eric Davis (MI/6’3”/161/2015) played a lot of point guard over the weekend, but he’s a combo guard that is always looking to score.  His shot wasn’t consistently dropping this weekend, but he showed no fear in taking the ball to the rim against an impressive collection of lengthy wings and big men who were there to challenge him on defense.  Quite animated and competitive. Lots of Big Ten interest.
  • Josh Jackson (MI/6’6”/175/2016) passes the eye test with his length and athleticism. Sunday morning during a four-on-four fastbreak/transition drill he fired up the entire gym with an impressive two-way display.  First on offense, he drove the lane and slammed home a contested dunk.  Quickly, his team had to turn their attention to defense.   Jackson turned on the jets for a sprint down the length of the floor and leaped high off the ground to block a dunk attempt from behind, drawing cheers from all of the players and setting the tone for the session.Not sold on his jumper, but he was effective slashing to the bucket this weekend.  Length and quickness allows him to come up with blocks, steals and boards in bunches.  Loads of realizable potential; future impact Big Ten player?
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Fact Check! Minnesota’s New AD & VCU’s Practice Facility

October 25, 2012

FACT CHECK: University of Minnesota: New AD Teague Responsible for VCU’s New Basketball Practice Facility

Is this claim factual? No.

How outrageous is this claim? It’s quite ridiculous. At worst it’s intentionally misleading; at best and more likely, it’s a mistake that’s been left uncorrected for a long time.

Without going into further background/private conversations, it’s something the University of Minnesota should finally correct.

According to this Norwood Teague page at www.gophersports.com:
“Known as a visionary leader on many fronts, Teague initiated an extraordinary campaign in the fall of 2011 to construct a $10 million practice facility – the Franklin Street Gym. Today, the practice facility serves both the men’s and women’s basketball programs at VCU, as well as other sports.”

Minnesota wants to talk up their new athletic director. The U stating that Norwood Teague had an “ultra-successful” run as director of athletics at Virginia Commonwealth University doesn’t bother me. Is “ultra-successful” going a bit overboard? Probably, but it’s subjective.

However, when the Gophers claim that there is a new practice facility being used by the VCU basketball programs, it’s either factual or it’s not. In this case, that claim is untrue.

A hot topic that has surrounded Gopher basketball has been the need for a new practice facility. In fact, the former AD at Minnesota took a lot of heat for not getting anywhere with a new facility.

Now, Teague takes over and receives praise for his experience in successfully doing exactly what Minnesota has needed – having a new basketball practice facility built.

The facts are that there is no new practice facility and VCU basketball is still in “a gym commonly known as being musty, old and tattered.”

Now it’s late October 2012 and the new AD at VCU has been trying to lock down a lead gift for the project to get the fundraising started. Two nice gifts are rumored to be close to being pledged, but it could be many years before VCU has a new basketball practice facility.

There have been a number of questionable attributions to Teague by the U of M and some of the press, but let’s stay away from most of those for now and let him do his job. We’ll soon see if he can get some things done in the Twin Cities that are truly deserving of praise.

But please, Minnesota, how about a quick edit on Mr. Teague’s biography page?

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Fact Check! Fran McCaffery’s new contract with Iowa

FACT CHECK: Iowa says men’s head basketball coach Fran McCaffery’s new deal puts him in the upper half of Big Ten Conference with regard to guaranteed compensation.

Is this claim factual? No.

How outrageous is this claim? Not very. Whether a simple mistake or a white lie, we’re talking about Iowa and a coaching contract we actually like. Let’s give them a break (especially after Licklighter).

“The seven-year agreement guarantees McCaffery a minimum average of $1.66 million annually over the length of the contract, beginning with a base salary of $1.3 million in 2012-13. The base salary moves McCaffery to the upper half of the Big Ten Conference in comparison to his colleagues.”

The University of Iowa said in July 2012 that a new deal between the school and head coach Fran McCaffery moves his base salary into the upper half of the Big Ten Conference in comparison to other head coaches. In this context the school is using “base salary” to mean guaranteed pay, but the comparison does not include various incentives that could be earned.

Overall, I like the contract. The school is providing a significant financial incentive for McCaffery to get the team into the NCAA tournament and to do so quickly. However, the claim of their head coach’s guaranteed compensation being in the upper half of the conference is simply untrue.

Specifically, let’s consider the six Big Ten teams who are likely to be preseason picks to finish higher than Iowa this season: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin. The head coach of each of those programs earns more guaranteed compensation than McCaffery’s new deal. We could go on (by looking at Purdue’s Matt Painter, for example), but we’re already comfortable stating that McCaffery’s guaranteed compensation remains in the bottom half of the conference and not in the top half as the University of Iowa has claimed.

Original article being fact checked:
Coach’s teams have revitalized the Hawkeye fan base

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Mbakwe Reaches Civil Settlement With Victim, Avoids Jail

October 19, 2012

This morning in Miami, a court handed down penalties to University of Minnesota basketball player Trevor Mbakwe after he violated terms of his probation in a felony battery case. Mbakwe, 23, had been found guilty of felony battery this past February and was facing a wide range of potential punishments in the case after a DUI arrest this summer.

While Mbakwe’s legal cases appear to be sorted out now, whether the NCAA had all relevant information provided to them when they approved a Five-Year Waiver Rule for the star forward remains a question for some.

The most significant development this morning was that prior to criminal court going into session, the civil attorney for the victim of the felony battery was present and met with Mbakwe’s criminal defense attorney.

During the meeting, a confidential civil settlement was reached but the terms were not disclosed to the prosecutor or the criminal court. In return for the promise of what may be a substantial retribution payment to the victim if Mbakwe is an NBA first round draft pick, the victim’s attorney requested that the criminal court limit Mbakwe’s punishment to additional probation.

The 6’8″, 245 power forward figures to get some consideration from NBA teams despite a history of injuries and criminal offenses. LateNightHoops.com projects Mbakwe as a potential second-round draft pick in the 2013 draft.

Probation for Mbakwe was extended and is now scheduled to end in two years instead of this spring and the type of probation was enhanced to require regular reporting.  He is also currently on probation for two Minnesota cases in different counties.

After his September DUI conviction and hearing for a probation violation on a harassment conviction, Mbakwe has been required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and see a sports psychologist. The judge in Miami instructed him to continue with both of these requirements and directed Mbakwe to attend at least three AA meetings per week.

In addition, 480 hours of community service were ordered to be performed over the next two years.

The University of Minnesota had not issued a public statement as of the time of this release. It is unclear whether they intend to do so.

Copyright 2012 | PAA, Inc. | All Rights Reserved

LateNightHoops.com

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Minnesota’s Largest Exposure in Mbakwe Mess Still Looming?

Minnesota’s Largest Exposure in Mbakwe Mess Still Looming?
October 18, 2012

University of Minnesota star forward Trevor Mbakwe may receive additional punishment on Friday from a Miami-Dade court related to his felony battery due to a summer probation violation. While the punishment could include jail time and further negatively affect the Minnesota Gophers basketball team, there may be an exposure outside of the courts for the university that is more significant than anything the judge will hand down this week.

My reporting on the felony issue over the years has been met with denial and attacks, but this week, after LateNightHoops.com broke the news of the latest troubles in Miami, people are beginning to understand the history and severity of this matter.

It can be difficult to determine the reasoning of the NCAA when they decide to grant a sixth year of eligibility to a student-athlete, especially when it doesn’t appear that any of the listed criteria for a Five-Year Rule Waiver are met.

With regard to Mbakwe, I had put his chances of being granted a waiver at 2% when he went down at the Old Spice Classic last November. The reasoning for this was that I firmly believed that the felony battery case, which continues to be misreported by most media outlets, would likely end in a plea agreement and a finding of guilt by the court.  It did.

Still, the waiver was granted.

If the felony charge had been dismissed, my view would have been completely different.  Imagine an argument that could have been made by the University:

Mbakwe was falsely accused. It was a case of mistaken identity. We held him out for a year because it was the right thing to do for the school and for him. He was never convicted. Surely this legal issue was no fault of his own and therefore the NCAA should grant him an additional year of eligibility.

This argument may be compelling to a third party such as the NCAA. Technically, this is an argument that could have been made and while misleading, might not contain any blatant lies.

In the state of Florida, a plea of no contest is available and that is what Mbakwe pled in February of this year. A no contest plea is frequently used by defendants in Florida and simply means the defendant does not wish to contest the charges. Before accepting the plea, the court would have made certain Mbakwe knew he was accused of assaulting a young woman and would be found guilty by the court of a second degree felony.

Another practice that is not rare in Florida is for a judge to “withhold adjudication”. This means that while the court finds an individual guilty, he is not “convicted”. This can be beneficial for the defendant in that certain civil rights may be preserved (i.e. voting, right to bear arms. Editor’s Note: Our understanding is that Mbakwe is registered to vote in Minnesota and is considered to be a “convicted felon” under state statutes that cover voter eligibility despite the withhold as long as he remains on probation; therefore, it appears he’s currently unable to legally vote, so the withhold doesn’t have the same benefit as it may if he lived in Florida).

So, was Mbakwe convicted of the felony? No (although he may be this Friday). Was he found guilty? Absolutely.

Now let’s reconsider a possible Minnesota argument if the facts are more clearly laid out to the NCAA:

We held him out for a year because it was the right thing to do for the school and for him. He was later found guilty of felony battery. You should grant him another year since we decided to sit him because of a felony charge that he was ultimately found guilty of.

This argument isn’t so compelling.

Now, I don’t know what the discussions between Minnesota and the NCAA were. I do know that the Five-Year Rule Waiver being granted was very surprising to me and based on the facts at the time (Mbakwe had been found guilty prior to Minnesota’s petition), it brings into question what information was discussed when the NCAA was making their decision.

On course, the argument for a waiver may have been completely unrelated to Minnesota’s decision  to sit Mbakwe in 2009-10.  I doubt it, but I do not know.

If Minnesota’s request for a Five-Year Rule Waiver excluded relevant information, there may be reason for deep concern. The question would then be whether it was a case of ignorance or intentional deception. Neither one would be looked upon favorably.

Copyright 2012 | PAA, Inc. | All Rights Reserved

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Unbridled Optimism at Indiana

Deep talent, a legitimate star and big time PR have pushed the Hoosiers to No. 1

Indiana has a great basketball team and an incredibly supportive fan base. Neither of these facts should come as a surprise. After all, every four year player at Indiana since the 1950s has played for a nationally ranked squad at some point during their career.

Heading into the 2012-13 college basketball season there aren’t many teams that look like a sure shot national title contender. I understand why most of the nation has Indiana ranked number one in the land, but personally I’m unable to rationalize an argument for that expectation.

The Hoosiers’ offense does not have much room to improve and their defense has too much room for improvement.

Prior to the season tipping off, LateNightHoops.com will preview each of the Big Ten teams, highlighting positives, negatives and overall outlook. However, today we’ll get a start on Indiana and offer some thoughts on why they don’t look like a team that will win it all in 2012-13.

How good were they last year?

Indiana’s 27-9 record in 2011-12 looks good, but their non-conference schedule included a lot of awful competition. More than half of the Hoosiers’ 27 wins were 15+ point blowouts.  While the Kentucky game at Assembly Hall stands out, Indiana didn’t play many games that went down to the wire.  More than half of their losses were by double-digits.

Indiana finished conference play in 5th place last season and compiled a road record of 3-6, with none of those wins coming against foes that finished ahead of them.

From an efficiency standpoint (KenPom.com adjusted; Editors note: subscribing to KenPom.com is highly recommended & the small cost is a tiny fraction of the value you’ll receive), the Hoosiers posted an offensive efficiency of 120.6 and a defensive mark of 95.3 for a net of 25.3.

Looking back at the five most recent national champions, their net efficiency numbers were as follows: 34.8, 25.4, 37.6, 34.5, 42.5.  Connecticut, who had an incredible late season run in both the Big East and NCAA tournaments, is the outlier at 25.4 in 2010-11. The average of the second best net efficiency in the last five seasons has been 33.5.

To feel good about Indiana as a No. 1, I’d want to see a believable path to around 34.0.  That said, the Hoosiers need about 9 additional points in 2012-13 and I can’t get there.

Offense

Matching last year’s efficiency won’t be easy and improving it by more than a few points is not a reasonable expectation.

In the past five seasons, just eight teams have reached 123 and only four of those surpassed 125.

Let’s be generous and assume Indiana increases its offensive efficiency by 2.5 points to 123.1.

Below is just a sampling of the road blocks the Hoosiers could encounter when trying to be a better (or even equal) offensive team in 2012-13:

  • Cody Zeller is absolutely legit.  As a sophomore he’ll showcase an expanded game and be even more fun to watch. However, I project his offensive rating to decline a bit. His total value to the team should improve some, but he won’t provide nearly the same incremental boost as last season.
  • Indiana’s free throw rate (“FTR”) in the Big Ten was the best seen in the conference over the past 5 years. Much like the Indiana defense focused on reducing their own fouling of the opposition last year, others teams will do the same this year when defending the Hoosiers’ attack. The Hoosiers were 0-5 in conference games when they had a FTR of less than 32.7%.
  • The three-pointer wasn’t used a lot, but it did provide a big boost to the team’s overall shooting because of their incredible accuracy from deep.
    – The team shot 43.1% 3FG (41.4% conf; 44.9% nonconf).
    – Jordan Hulls won’t match his 49.3% 3FG (42.1% conf; 57.1% nonconf)
    – Considerable downside risk for Christian Watford’s 43.7% 3FG
    – Matt Roth was effectively cut from the program. His 54.5% 3FG (59.2% in Big Ten) won’t come close to being duplicated by anyone. Ex-Roth, Indiana’s 41.4% 3FG in conference drops to 37.4%.
  • The Hoosiers still must play on the road. Matt Roth nailed 5 of 6 three point field goals during a 22 point performance in a victory at Penn State, a win that broke Indiana’s 16-game Big Ten road losing streak.  Indiana was 2-6 in other conference road games, losing 4 by double digits and dropping a close one at lowly Nebraska.
  • Roth and senior Tom Pritchard were ultra-low usage guys that played with great offensive efficiency in their combined 24+ minutes per Big Ten game last year.  How well will Tom Crean mix in guys with more regular usage tendencies?
  • Giving Indiana some hope, Cody Zeller still needs to prove he can dominate consistently away from home and he could help them to a better road showing this year. In Big Ten play, he was a far better performer at Assembly Hall:

            Points       FG%       FT rate
Home    19.8        71.1%        70%
Away     11.6        51.4%        54%

Defense

A 6.5 defensive efficiency improvement may not sound like a lot, but it is. Remember, Indiana’s 2011-12 was not nearly as bad as the few years prior.  Although there wasn’t anything particularly good about their team defense, it wasn’t awful and improved by 3.8 points last year.

The Hoosiers lowered their defensive free throw rate significantly last year, but won’t realize such a drop again this year.  A place they can improve is forcing turnovers, but at what cost?

Indiana needs a big improvement on defense. Are a talented group of freshmen the answer? I wouldn’t think so. Perhaps having veteran wings Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey start games to set the defensive tone would be wise, but it is possible Coach Crean has Yogi Ferrell and senior Jordan Hulls in the backcourt together a lot.

Ferrell is smart, strong and overall a great player. Nonetheless, he’s also small, a freshman and a kid that played 2-3 zone in high school. Pairing him with Hulls will scare the opposition’s defense, but delight their offense.

Improving their defensive efficiency by 6.5 points would take Indiana to 88.8. That would place them among the top 10 or 15 best defensive teams in the nation. Is that enough to get a national championship done? Sure. Will they get there? I just don’t see it.

Summary

The Hoosiers should have an excellent season, but I just can’t rationalize them as No. 1.

Indiana has tremendous talent and unreal depth, but now it gets down to coaching. Tom Crean is a great PR man, but are there concerns with the X’s and O’s? Having tons of talent is better than having no talent, but optimally balancing this group of players throughout the year could prove to be quite a challenge.

The youngsters are terrific and I’ve watched them in person many times. Ferrell is strong, clever and incredibly agile in the lane. Hanner is an impressive physical specimen that will shock people who haven’t seen him up close with his strength, athleticism and aggressiveness near the rim. Jeremy Hollowell’s combination of skill and size is good enough that if he can consistently work hard, he’s a next level guy. The future is bright, but they are all freshmen.

Their schedule lends itself to high expectations continuing for much of the year. After a weak non-conference portion, the season heads into conference play where Indiana’s most difficult four road games are all on the back half of the calendar.

Indiana will lose road games during the last month of the regular season, pushing them away from the top spot in the polls at year end. In the tournament, their defense makes it highly unlikely that they’ll be able to put together a six-game run.

If I had to select five teams with the goal of naming one that would either finish the regular season ranked No. 1 or win the national championship, Indiana would not be one of those teams. It’s not that there are many teams who are clearly better than Indiana, it’s that there are many teams who have the potential to be a No. 1, whereas I can’t get there when projecting the Hoosiers in 2012-13.

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