Indiana Basketball: Big Ten Resume Makes Hoosiers Final Four Favorite
The major argument against the Indiana Hoosiers with respect to the 2013 NCAA tournament is simple—this team has too many losses against good teams to survive March Madness.
Upon further examination, don't buy in to that line of thinking.
Tom Crean's team has legitimate NBA prospects, has experience at key positions and has one of the toughest conference schedules (the Big Ten) all in their favor when tournament play kicks off on Tuesday.
It's extremely hard to survive the gauntlet of the college basketball season without a loss. That would explain why it's been over 35 years since a team went undefeated and won the NCAA National Championship.
Incidentally, the 1976 Hoosiers were the last team to accomplish that feat.
This year's team hasn't been that lucky, going 27-6 so far this season after suffering a defeat at the hands of Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
Led by Wooden Player of the Year finalists Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, the Hoosiers rank third in the nation in scoring and have the wins (Georgetown, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio State) to cement a tournament resume that features a strong strength of schedule.
In fact, as long as the Hoosier don't draw Wisconsin in their bracket before the Final Four, there's a very good chance these guys won't be going home early.
As noted by ESPN's college basketball Twitter account, the Badgers have beaten the Hoosiers 12 straight times—a streak that stayed alive after Saturday's win:
Badgers streak continues! Wisconsin has now won 12 straight over Indiana. They await the winner of Ohio St/Mich St in the #BigTen finals.— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 16, 2013
Crean's team will certainly want to avoid Wisconsin early on, but no matter the draw, this team is dangerous and a true candidate for a No. 1 seed (we'll see what happens later on in the 2013 Selection Show on CBS at 6 p.m., where you can watch the seeds while printing out your tournament bracket).
Zeller, the big man who has captivated us all since his stellar freshman season, leads the Hoosiers in scoring and rebounding at 16.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
The big man tends to fade at times (see losses) but has the potential to take over games at time with his superb athleticism and guard skills in a big man's body.
Oladipo is the spark that makes the club tick. His stats are relatively average (13.6 points, 6.4 rebounds on 59.9 percent shooting), but his impact on the game is far-reaching and the Hoosiers wouldn't be a title candidate without him.
The wild cards to this group include freshman Yogi Ferrell and seniors Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls, the latter two of which have struggled mightily shooting the ball in the second half of the season.
However, when both are clicking off of Oladipo and Ferrell penetration—look out.
Will Sheehey and Remy Abell round out the most dangerous players for the Hoosiers, and that seven-man rotation will go toe-to-toe with any team that it draws in the NCAA tournament.
There have been some hiccups, no doubt.
Losses to Minnesota and Illinois have hurt this team. Another to Butler in December and Ohio State in March make the case that Indiana isn't battle-tested enough to make a deep run in the tournament, but that certainly isn't the case.
How deep will Indiana travel in March/April?
The team has two wins over Michigan, two more against Michigan State and completely dominated opponents at times this season. If you exclude Ohio State and Wisconsin on Saturday and combine the point differential from the four losses Indiana suffered to start the season, the number is just 13.
As a No. 1 or at worst No. 2 seed, the Hoosiers should be a favorite to make the Final Four in your bracket. Instead of ragging on them for a bad matchup schematically with Wisconsin or looking at the December loss to Butler, respect this team for what it is—a true title contender.
It won't be easy (it never is in March), but at the conclusion of the tournament, the Hoosiers have a chance to capture the school's first championship since 1987.
It all starts on Tuesday, but the Big Ten gauntlet has provided us with enough evidence to know just how hard it is going to be to leave Indiana out of the following round all the way to the championship game.
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