With nearly a quarter of the Big Ten schedule out of the way—and IU going 3-1 in the first four games—things are looking nothing but gravy for the Hoosiers.
Most fans and experts didn’t give Indiana a shot at winning the Big Ten. After the season they have had so far, that goal is not far out of reach.
If Indiana can continue to progress and play basketball as a team like they have been, in March, Coach Crean and his guys could be looking at a really good seed for the big dance.
On my recent visit with Mason in the morning on 1450 The Sports Buzz in Louisville, I proclaimed how well they're playing and how the impact of Cody Zeller has changed the landscape of this team.
There aren’t many guys in the college basketball world who make a coach go, "hmmm." Zeller is one of those guys. He demands attention from the defense, and if you put too much attention on him, then he hits one of his teammates for the open jumper.
I’m here to tell you why IU will bring home the Big Ten Championship this year. I’m already sold, and now I’m going to make you buy a ticket to the IU run to Big Ten glory.
Let's start with this list of players.
P1-12.9 pts per game, 83% FT shooter, 3 reb
P2-10.1 pts per game, 73% FT shooter, 2 reb
P3-15.9 pts per game, 73% FT shooter, 9 reb
P4-8.1 pts per game, 57% FT shooter, 4 reb
P5-7.8 pts per game, 54% FT shooter, 4 reb
P1-11.4 pts per game, 66% FT shooter, 5 reb
P2-10.7 pts per game, 71% FT shooter, 3 reb
P3-12.3 pts per game, 86% FT shooter, 2 reb
P4-14.2 pts per game, 74% FT shooter, 6 reb
P5-13.5 pts per game, 76% FT shooter, 5 reb
P1-15.4 pts per game, 86 % FT shooter, 4 reb
P2-17.4 pts per game, 75% FT shooter, 9 reb
P3-8.1 pts per game, 67% FT shooter, 3 reb
P4-15.3 pts per game, 72% FT shooter, 4 reb
P5-5.2 pts per game, 47% FT shooter, 4 reb
What you have here is the Top Five scoring players for three Big Ten teams. Team one has four guys who are starters and the fifth player who actually averages more minutes then the guy who starts in his position.
Team two has four starters in there, plus a bench player who plays nearly half a game each night out. Team three has all of its starters right there in that list.
So now the question is you’re given a chance to pick a squad to run a game at your local open gym. Who do you take? You think about that one and we will come back to it later in the story.
Most basketball fans have to know that the Big Ten has always been a league where going on the road is tough. Anyone can lose on any given day.
The Big Ten is hard-nosed basketball, where you fight it out almost every game you play. Blowouts are rare, but happen. Scoring isn’t always up there in numbers, but you get some run away games like we seen the other night with Michigan State demolishing Iowa.
Something Indiana does that I think is giving them the edge and will continue to is that that they score points and still play solid defense. They have a scoring margin of +18.6. They average 82.4 points per game while allowing 63.8.
The only team better then them is Ohio State.
IU has already taken one from the Buckeyes. To me, that was a gigantic conference win. In the end, will be part of the reason they win conference. Indiana is the only Big Ten team to be in the Top 25 for scoring offenses—something that will continue to carry them for the rest of the season.
When you can consistently put up big points and play that solid defense, you give yourself some breaking room. There are going to be nights where you just can’t hit the ocean from a battleship. It happens, teams go cold and they can’t find the groove.
Now, in the case of IU, they have that 18 points to play with. If Zeller or Hulls comes out in a game and can’t get it going—but can continue to play the defense they do—IU will find a way to win.
What I’m trying to say is the Hoosiers take care of both ends. A lot of times you see a team that can light up the scoreboard, but can’t play two licks of defense. So, sure, you can put 80 on the board, but you also give up 80, which in turns make you .500 ball club.
Indiana, however, does not and will not fall under that rule this year. They’re too solid on both ends.
Who Did You Take?
Earlier you saw three team lineups that I picked. Who did you take?
If you said you would run with the first team, then you're looking at Michigan State. If you said give the third squad, then you’re a Buckeye. If you said that second team, then put on your candy cane warm-up pants because you're looking at what Indiana does on average.
Indiana is the only team in the Big Ten to have five players averaging at least 10 points.
You can look at that a couple ways: They shoot to much, they are the only guys who score points, they are a balanced offense….and so on.
The answer is they are a balanced offense. Besides the guys listed above, IU also has two guys that average at least eight points a game. I still don’t have Matt Roth or Derek Elston in those seven players. If you remember, Matt Roth just dropped 22 on Penn State.
Sure, he may not average a lot, but he can if needed.
Back to the point of all these numbers. My point is Indiana has depth and they are not afraid to go to the bench to get it. Will Sheehey is a bench player who averages 11 points a game.
In the Big Ten, you’re going to have to gut out some games. Coach Crean knows that in game situations he can call on a lot of those bench guys to step right in. This is a major benefit for this team.
What Indiana is doing—and I’ve stressed this before—is playing team basketball. There is no player on that team that demands the ball. They are unselfish and willing to make the extra pass.
You won’t find that to often in this sport. Guys want the ball and want to be the superstar.
Indiana doesn’t care who hits the shot as long as it goes in. When you're passing the ball and taking care of it late in the games, you wear down your opponent.
When you watch IU you can see that’s part of the plan for them. Run the offense and make the extra pass. Make the defense work!
What Indiana Brings to the Table
Indiana also hits free throws. Remember back a few years when all Memphis had to do was hit free throws and they probably would have won the title?
The importance of being able to grab free points goes beyond just beating into the head of the player. They know they have to shoot and make them.
Indiana is in the Top 15 in attempts as well. They know how to get to the lane. It’s a bit surprising to think they are in the Top 15 considering you see them shoot a lot.
Don’t be fooled though! They are second in the Big Ten, shooting 73 percent as a team and are ranked 50th in the college hoop world. Come crunch time, this team will be ready to get to the line.
They have five guys who averaging getting to the line at least four times a game. That’s 20 possible points that can go on the scoreboard!
Indiana brings a lot to the table each night. These are just a few of the key stats I believe will lead them to a championship.
They may not be the most important stats to some, but they are stats and game situations that are run into every night.
If IU continues to strive in these categories, they should continue to have success in the Big Ten. Come March, the Hoosiers can get those shoes shined 'cause they will be dancing!
Got a question or comment? Chances are I’ll use it down the line. Shoot me a note at Bizzy1450@yahoo.com or on Twitter @ BillBiz22