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.
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%
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.
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.