Indiana is back in the NCAA Tournament, and so I kick off my six Big Ten previews with the Hoosiers leading up to the opening first-round games on Thursday. No. 4 seed Indiana plays No. 13 seed New Mexico State at 9:45 p.m. ET on Thursday in the South Region. My BTN.com colleague Brent Yarina took a closer look at Indiana’s first opponent today. Now I’m rolling up my sleeves and breaking down Indiana. Im working my way through all six Big Ten teams, so all of my Big Ten team previews will be archived over here.
No. 4 INDIANA’S RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 8-5
Tom Crean’s NCAA record: 0-0 with Indiana; 5-5 overall. Advanced to Final Four in 2003 with Marquette.
Indiana’s NCAA tourney appearances: 36
How far can it go? The Hoosiers—in their first Big Dance since 2007–have to be wary of their first-round game with New Mexico State of the WAC. The Aggies are a solid and athletic team that has won nine of its last 10 games and are led by Wendell McKines, a dynamic player who eats the glass. That athletic ability could bother IU. Don’t look for New Mexico State to shoot many three-pointers, but it’s an aggressive team that attacks the glass, gobbling up offensive rebounds and getting to the free-throw line. NMSU also is good at defending the three-point line. But the Aggies are spotty from the charity stripe and commit a lot of turnovers. Still, even if Indiana survives the first weekend, it’s difficult to envision the Hoosiers getting beyond the Sweet 16. Still, that would have to be considered a nice feat for a program with lots of momentum under Tom Crean. The future is bright.
Best second-round matchup: Honestly, no matter who Indiana plays in the next round, it won’t be a picnic. If I had to choose, I would pick No. 12 VCU. Yes, the Rams reached the Final Four last year, but they aren’t the same team. No. 5 Wichita State? The Shockers could be this year’s VCU, as some feel they are a dark horse. Yes, the Rams are good, able to turn up the defensive pressure and led by sharpshooting Bradford Burgess. But they are not as talented offensively, nor as veteran of a bunch. The Hoosiers could overwhelm VCU with their size inside—and Indiana can shoot as well as Shaka Smart’s team. If Indiana does end up facing Wichita State, it may be a fun matchup that could feature a lot of points. The Shockers are a team that likes to push the tempo and can shoot the three-pointer but can be spotty on defense. And it would be fun to watch their 7-footer Garrett Stutz battle Cody Zeller in what could be a great game.
Chance to advance to Sweet 16: As a No. 4 seed, they would appear to be good. But are they? Some think Indiana is on upset alert vs. New Mexico State, but I think the Hoosiers will take care of business vs. the Aggies in the first round. The real test will come in the next round, where Indiana will have to contend with either No. 5 Wichita State or No. 12 VCU, too good programs led by good coaches in Gregg Marshall and Shaka Smart—respectively. A game with Shockers may be especially troubling for the Hoosiers.
Who needs to shine: Cody Zeller. Few schools in the nation have a weapon like the 7-foot Zeller. He has a basketball IQ that belies his freshman status, as Zeller never hit the proverbial freshman wall during a sensational debut season. Zeller’s ability to run the floor and underrated strength make him a potential mismatch for most teams, as he averages 15.5 points and 6.4 rebounds. He’s a future lottery pick.
X-factor: Christian Watford. He can be a dominant force who can take over a game. And remember his huge game-winning shot vs. Kentucky? But Watford also can disappear for extended stretches. The 6-9 junior needs to shoot well and also crash the glass. If he’s dialed in, Indiana will be very difficult to stop. And Watford has gone off for 17, 13 and 19 points in his last three games. But he also has had games of 1 and 2 points in the last month. What’s it gonna be, Christian?
Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com Find Dienhart’s work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow him on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his overall RSS feed.