As is the case immediately following every Final Four nowadays, analysts and talking heads have shifted focus to next season by releasing their super-early 2012-13 top 25 polls. Several of the polls, by the way, feature a Big Ten team in the No. 1 spot. The team: Indiana. Yes, the Hoosiers, the same program that is fresh off its first NCAA tourney berth since 2008 and the same one that hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2002.
Thing is, these analysts might be right — even though it’s ridiculous to release top 25 polls the week before a season tips, let alone the day after a national champion is crowned. Heck, the deadline to enter the NBA draft hasn’t even arrived, so no one has a clue what these teams will look like next season.
Clearly, there’s nothing scientific about these polls. But you know what? They’re fun, they’re interesting, and they’re great debate starters.
So about Indiana atop these polls…
There’s this one from ESPN.com’s Andy Katz:
This one from USA Today:
This one from TheBigLead.com:
And, finally, this one from SI.com’s Luke Winn:
There are more out there, to be sure, but these are just a few examples.
The case for Indiana as a possible No. 1:
- Top-tier talent. Regardless of junior Christian Watford’s decision on the NBA, Tom Crean will have a bevy of talent at his disposal. Consider this: Jordan Hulls and one or both of the Sheeladipo duo could come off the bench next year. That’s how good Indiana’s prized recruits are and how little the team loses from the 2011-12 unit.
- Depth. A lot of teams, Kentucky included, go six- or seven-deep. Assuming everyone returns, Indiana could have as many as 11-12 guys worthy of minutes.
- Offense. Few teams will feature the scoring power of Indiana, which put up 90 points in the Sweet 16 against Kentucky, the nation’s top defense, and torched Iowa for 103 in late January. If there are no early NBA departures, the Hoosiers return their top five scorers.
- Getting a hang of this road thing. The road woes are still there on some nights, but Indiana went 5-6 in true road games in 2011-12. Among the five road wins: North Carolina State, an eventual Sweet 16 team, Purdue, which almost upset eventual national runner-up Kansas in the Round of 32, and Minnesota, which advanced to the NIT title game.
- Maurice Creek. Who knows what to expect from Creek, the oft-injured wing player who was as good as any freshman in 2009 before he suffered his first of three serious injuries, but his return gives Indiana yet another body and even more experience.
The case against Indiana as a possible No. 1:
- Chemistry. How does Tom Crean mesh all this talent, massage all of the egos? The first few guys off Indiana’s bench could be good enough to start for a lot of teams, so everyone will have to buy in and accept their specific role.
- Life as a favorite. These Hoosiers have no experience being the hunted at the college level. They did well when expectations weren’t high, but how will they handle getting the opponent’s best shot on a nightly basis?
- Defense. While Indiana boasts the offensive firepower to make up for what it lacks on defense, there comes a time when you have to stop the other team. Otherwise, Indiana will continue to put way too much pressure on its offense.
- Struggles away from Assembly Hall. It’s hard to win on an opponent’s court in the Big Ten, however the Hoosiers often look like a completely different team away from Assembly Hall. Remember the loss at Nebraska? Ouch. Yes, the Hoosiers were better on the road in 2011-12, but they need to get well above .500 if they want to be in the No. 1 discussion