There is a new number one team in college basketball. Yet the new number one team is the old number one team. With the losses by Kansas and Michigan over the weekend, Indiana is back in the top spot. The Hoosiers are on top of the AP College basketball polls after they beat the Wolverines Saturday night.
Meanwhile Kansas lost earlier in the day to Oklahoma State, ending their 18 game winning streak. Not only did that run end for the Jayhawks, but also their 33-game home winning streak. Saturday was the first loss in Lawrenceville, Kansas since Feb. 8, 1989, also to Oklahoma State. Even though Louisville, Michigan, Duke and Syracuse have been on top this season, there is really no doubt who the top team is.
Tom Crean has rebuilt an Indiana basketball program that Kelvin Sampson left in shambles. On December 15th in Indianapolis the Hoosiers fell in double overtime to state rival Butler 88-86. At the time Indiana was the number one team in the country, and dropped to sixth after that game. Even then and now, Indiana has the most talent of anyone and is the best bet to win the title at this point in time.
Crean, if he wanted, could go 13 players deep. A far cry from his first year in 2008. Crean inherited a thoroughly depleted squad. He began his Indiana coaching career with a roster consisting only 8 players, including two walk-ons who had scored a combined 36 points in their careers. That season was the worst in the Hoosiers history at 6-25, but Crean saw promise in the future.
That future is now. Indiana is now 20-2 overall and 8-1 in the Big Ten. Tuesday night they square off at Illinois. The Illini are 15-8 while only 2-7 in the conference.
One reason Indiana is leading the Big Ten and the second ranked team in the nation is their bench. Crean’s biggest problem night after night is finding enough time for all his players.
Indiana’s bench players average 26 points per game, second-best in the Big Ten. Will Sheehey is one of the leaders off the bench, averaging 11 points, which is second best among all Big Ten non-starters. Sheehey is also grabbing 4 rebounds and shooting 52 percent from the field in 22.5 minutes per game.
The AP poll is a dying breed among college sports fans. Just look at the recently completed football season. Alabama was the top ranked team until losing to Texas A & M, and they dropped to fourth. Despite the loss, Alabama still had the most talent and best team, as proven by their performance in the BCS title game last month.
One loss doesn’t mean a team is suddenly bad. Not even two losses. Sometimes a loss can do a team good. Alabama knew another loss was the end of their championship quest. The mark of a good or great team is the way they overcome adversity, how they bounce back from a loss. One loss can bring a team back to earth and that’s why at times you hear coaches say a loss might do a team good.
Saturday night also doesn’t mean Michigan has dropped from the top tier of basketball elite. The loss was not unexpected, being the game was in Bloomington. March 10th is the rematch in Ann Arbor, and the added cherry is that will be the last regular season game for each team. The conference title, along with it the number one seed in the Big Ten tournament could be at stake.
Indiana has the best starting five in Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Yogi Ferrell. If Indiana goes all the way, the belief is Zeller will enter the NBA draft and could be the number one pick. Oladipo might have the most NBA talent of anyone as his game fits perfectly into the league. Watford can be serviceable as a pro. Hulls appears to the odd man out when it comes to the NBA as his game just doesn’t translate.
The Hoosiers are a team on a mission, and playing with a purpose. They are second in the country with 84 points per game, 6th in FG percentage of 51%, 16th in rebounds and 26th in assists. They are as complete a team as there is not only in the Big Ten, but in the country.
If they have an achilles heel it might be on the defensive end. After the Michigan game, Indiana is giving up 61 points per game, which is a six point improvement from one year ago. Yet if the Hoosiers don’t clamp down on the defensive end of the floor, they could get beat. Still it will be hard to outscore them in a shootout.
March will come soon enough, and the madness will begin. It will be then the Hoosiers will have the same chance Alabama had. Winning the National Championship where it counts.
On the floor.
Dave Mitchell co-hosts with Mark Donahue the UST talk show “Ohio Baseball Weekly,” highlighting the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds. The Show returns on March 4th, at 9pm with a two-hour special.