Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hoosier Hysteria is back on top?

The 2012-13 collegiate basketball season, is still considered to be in its infancy stage but an old power seems to be rising from ashes. Indiana University just six seasons ago was mired in the ugly resignation of Mike Davis despite an overall record of 115-79 in six seasons including a trip to the 2002 NCAA Championship Game. Following Davis, the Kelvin Sampson scandal hit where he was forced to resign due to allegations of serious NCAA violations after just one and half seasons. Most Hoosier fans wanted to see former I.U. great Steve Alford handed the gig but instead the unpopular choice of hiring Tom Crean formerly of Marquette was made. Sometimes the unpopular choice turns out to be the right choice as Crean is proving this season. After graduations, early departures for the NBA and dismissals from the team during his first three seasons at the helm, his recruiting classes have finally come of age. Last year’s squad proved his overall ability posting a record of 27-9 with a trip to the sweet 16 in the tournament. Now, the rebuilding job is complete. Crean had Indiana ranked as a pre-season number one in both the Associated Press and USA Today polls and the Hoosiers have proven to be worthy. Off to a 9-0 start, Indiana has beaten Georgia, Georgetown and North Carolina to date. Keeping home grown talent, 7-footer Cody Zeller in state was arguably Crean’s biggest recruiting success since taking over the program and the sophomore has lived up to his 5-star billing. The center averages 15 points and nine boards per game to lead the Hoosiers. But Indiana is balanced with four others scoring in double-figures including seniors, guard Jordan Hulls and forward Chris Watford. The Hoosiers also sport equal scoring both inside and out. Zeller, Watford and junior Will Sheehey pound the paint and glass, while Watford, Hulls and Remy Abell all shoot the rock at over 50% from beyond the 3-point line. Indiana basketball is once again all the rage in the hoop capital of the country as it should be. So after a trip to the sweet sixteen last year, only a run to the final four will probably keep the I.U. faithful happy with the once again high expectations on the hardwood. With experience, Crean’s leadership and the backing of the Hoosier Nation, a run to Atlanta could be the next stop in Indiana’s return to college basketball prominence. As always though in the competitive world of division one college basketball, there will be challengers, many challengers. Once again, just two seasons removed from Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s fourth NCAA title at Duke, the Blue Devils appear ready to make another run for the final four. Duke is ranked second in the nation and this really should come as no surprise. While losing guard Austin Rivers to the Association draft in June, the Blue Devils have reloaded simply with talent that played behind Rivers in the headlines last year. Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry have been around what seems like for ages. The three seniors were all part of Duke’s last title team but mostly watched the action. Now the time is theirs and so far, the threesome appears to be making the most of it. Like Indiana, the Dukies are 9-0, with signature wins over Kentucky, #2 Louisville and #4 Ohio State. Along with the three seniors, freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon and sophomore Quinn Cook round out the five Blue Devils averaging in double-figures, also like the Hoosiers balanced attack. Like all of Coach K’s teams, this edition of the Blue Devils can shoot the rock from beyond the arc. Only Plumlee out of the starters doesn’t fire from downtown and do so, knocking down at least a 36% clip from the three-point line. Where this Duke team could fall short however is its bench play. Right now they are running basically six deep with spot time for just two others. Once March comes around and tournament games test the defensive ability and depth of all clubs, these Blue Devils might end up a little exposed if foul trouble occurs. Back to the Big-Ten as Michigan joins the 9-0 club, as the 3rd ranked team in college basketball. John Beilein has Wolverine fans reminiscing of the 1988-89 season when Big Blue last started the year with nine victories and went on to its first and only national title under Steve Fischer, who took over for Bill Frieder during the Big Dance after Frieder was named as the future Arizona State coach before the NCAA tournament started. This Michigan team is led by some familiar basketball names. How about Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III for a little basketball pedigree? Hardaway Jr., averages over 15 points a game so far with almost six boards a night. Robinson III, only a freshman, is already playing like his father the former Purdue great Glenn. He averages 12 points and seven rebounds in his early career. Michigan is led by super-sophomore Trey Burke who can do it all! 17 points, three boards and seven assist make him one of the top guards in the entire nation. While the Wolverines can fire away from long range, knocking down 42% of their three point shots as a team, they do have a glaring weakness. Only one Michigan senior on the squad plays double-digit minutes. Matt Vogrich averages just over ten per game. The heavy lifting on this team, done by Burke, Hardaway Jr., Nic Stauskas, Robinson III and Jordan Morgan are all underclassmen. Stauskas, Robinson III, and Mitch McGary, who all log double-digit minutes as a matter of fact are freshman! So far with wins over Pitt, #18 N.C. State and Arkansas, youth has been no issue for the Wolverines, but you have to feel at some point of the season, they young guys will hit the proverbial wall and then this team’s age will show. For 4th ranked Syracuse and Head Coach Jim Boeheim, the 2012-13 season, appears to be a year of milestones. Entering his 37th campaign in charge of the Orangeman, Boeheim has already picked up eight wins, putting him just 12 away from 900 career victories and 15 away from breaking Bobby Knight’s all-time division-one mark of 902! That’s not to say Boeheim’s work will be easy this year, as he’s forced to replace four players from last year’s 34 win team. Three of those names were taken in last June’s NBA draft. But the cupboard is never bare under the Carrier Dome. Back to help Boeheim possibly cap off his record setting season with maybe a second national championship is guard Brandon Triche. The senior was a major player on last year’s squad and has picked up the scoring load dropping in almost 15 points a game to go with four assist and rebounds in 30 minutes a night. The Cuse’s other leader is another senior who played descent minutes last year in James Southerland. He also drops 15 per game with four boards. Sophomore Michael Carter-Williams and junior C.J. Fair, round out the other two Syracuse players scoring in double-digits, early in the season. One advantage come tourney-time that Boeheim is always known for, having deep teams with several players logging minutes night in and night out. This can be seen already in the Orangeman’s wins over #20 San Diego State, Princeton and Arkansas. So far, nine players hit the floor for at least double-digit minutes each game. If The Cuse can come up with a go-to player for crunch-time, possibly Triche, expect another deep run into the NCAA Tournament, which would be fitting in a record setting year for college basketball’s longest tenured division-one head coach. Rounding out our top-five college hoop preview are the long-range bombing Florida Gators. Former sharp-shooter turned very successful coach Billy Donovan has another group of Gators that love to take a bite out of the three-ball. U.F. is off to a flying start of 7-0, signature wins over #22 Wisconsin, Marquette and rival Florida State. In this young season the Gators have hoisted up 151 three-point shots, knocking them down at a 35% clip as a team which probably needs to go up for Donovan’s crew to be real successful over the course of the entire season. The senior trio of guards Kenny Boyton, Mike Rosario and forward-center Erik Murphy lead Florida in the scorebook, all averaging double-figure, while Murphy is the team’s best long-distance specialist dropping 12 of his 28 long range shots. Junior center Patric Young is Donovan’s muscle man on the inside pulling down eight caroms a game to go with 10 points per game. Beyond the three seniors however the Gators are young with the rest of the squad all underclassman. They do run deep however with eight players logging double-digit minutes on the roster. This team is molded in the form of Donovan’s playing style from his days at Providence when he led the Friars to the final-four in 1987. The Gators love to full court press and create an up-tempo atmosphere of transition and total chaos! This is the only style Florida will be successful at over the course of the year. The Gators aren’t manned properly to get into a half-court battle with the likes of senior-laden teams such as Duke or a super-physical squad like Indiana. Pressure defense with a run and gunning offensive style will be how Florida lives and dies during the 2012-13 campaign. The other teams rounding out the top-ten to date, Louisville, Ohio State, Arizona, Kansas and Illinois.