With a sense of anticipation not seen in years, the hoops season tips off Friday. It’s unfair to Purdue, Butler, Notre Dame and others but, to quote Tom Crean, “It’s Indiana.” When the Hoosiers are preseason No. 1 for the first time in decades, people pay attention.
So, what will 2012-13 have in store for us as college basketball fanatics? Let’s see if I can wipe the freezing fog off of the crystal ball and offer some predictions.
Let’s talk about the immediate news first. Barring a reduction in penalty given by the NCAA to Peter Jurkin and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, the two raw freshman are sitting the first nine games, which would make them eligible for the Butler game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The sheer lack of size when compounded with Derek Elston’s absence until Big Ten play will hurt against Georgia, UCLA/Georgetown, and North Carolina. Cody Zeller, for all of his skills, is a foul magnet. There’s no margin for error against those teams at the center spot. Zeller has to play 30 minutes in those games or the Hoosiers could be in trouble.
It will slow the development of both Perea and Jurkin, because there would have been plenty of opportunity against the Bryants and Coppin States of the world to get those guys extended minutes and let them learn on the job. Perea is more of a polished product at this point, but is more of a four than a true five, which is what Jurkin hopes to grow into. The suspensions will hurt the two players, but will only be a small blip on the radar for the team.
Without three players from the top 12, that allows more minutes for Jeremy Hollowell off of the bench, and means that you’ll get to see more of Mo Creek, hoping he can handle 15-20 minutes on a night-in, night-out basis. This team won’t have the size early, but they’ll still have a tremendous amount of depth. And, they can maintain an up-tempo speed knowing their only true big in Zeller can run like a guard, his biggest asset.
Once Big Ten play settles in, that’s where a veteran big backup like Elston will make his presence felt. It’s also where having so many key pieces returning that have been through the wars before makes this team so dangerous. While freshman stars come into college more ready to play than ever, there’s nothing that replicates the physical play of the Big Ten. Expect dips during Big Ten play from Yogi Ferrell and Hollowell at times, but expect them to be ready for post-season play once the calendar turns to March.
Then again, this team has more than March on their mind. They’re thinking about playing in April. Barring any key injuries, this team has Final Four written all over it. Depth at every position, experience at every position, and length at every spot but point guard. This Hoosier team will come at you in waves. Not to mention the wave of emotion Hoosier Nation will provide this program. A national championship is possible. I think a Final Four bid is more likely.
Regular season projection: 26-5
There will be some hiccups and stumbles early with this team. Remember an early loss to Wofford a few years ago? There could be a moment or two like this with this bunch this year. There are simply too many new faces, too few old faces, and so much being asked of freshmen.
The non-conference schedule is tough. Villanova, Oregon State/Alabama, and Notre Dame all on neutral courts, plus a home date with Xavier and the road Big Ten/ACC challenge game at Clemson will have the young Boilers more seasoned for Big Ten play. Then, they’ll take a break from Big Ten action to host West Virginia in mid-January.
Big Ten play is always a physical grind, but this season it’s back to being a murderer’s row of competition. The Boilers get a break in only playing Ohio State and Wisconsin once. They still have to play Michigan, Michigan State, and Indiana twice. Add up the league and non-league schedule, Purdue might finish with one of the top 10 schedules in the country this season.
Which is why I think an NCAA tournament bid is a great year. I have no doubt DJ Byrd will be a great leader for this team. Can he be their leading scorer? Can Terone Johnson make the next step in his Purdue career? A lot of folks thought he could be a similar player to E’Twaun Moore. Haven’t seen that from him yet. Can Ronnie Johnson have a similar impact as Yogi Ferrell in his first year in college hoops? Two years removed from high school, will Donnie Hale be a valuable contributor in West Lafayette?
There are a lot more questions than answers at this point for most teams. That’s especially true for Purdue. It’s going to be a tough learning curve, and the payoff might not be this year. But, I like the group Matt Painter has put together. Boiler fans, give them time.
Regular-season projection: 18-13
What was said about Purdue’s tough schedule can also be applied to Butler. Only difference is that this team went through it’s growing process a season ago. There will still be some growing pains this season, as Kellen Dunham will need to learn on the fly to be a valuable contributor for Brad Stevens. We chronicled earlier this week what Rotnei Clarke will need to do from a point-guard standpoint for the Bulldogs to be successful.
Other than that, this team has depth, and has depth of size with Andrew Smith, Khyle Marshall, Kameron Woods, and Erik Fromm. This is an amazing statement to make about a Butler team: I’m not worried about the frontcourt, it’s the guard play that concerns me.
Butler will play Xavier in a non-conference game next Tuesday, with Marquette, potentially North Carolina, Indiana, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and Gonzaga all on the docket. Then add 16 more games against teams who would like to welcome you as rudely as possible to the Atlantic 10. Temple, St. Louis (twice), Xavier (again), VCU all loom as games where this team’s mettle will be tested.
Regular-season projection 21-10
BEST OF THE REST
Won’t do full season projections, but just some thoughts on the other seven D1 programs in the state. Notre Dame returns a ton from last year’s surprise team that lost Tim Abromaitis two games into the season. Their schedule is always tough in the Big East, and by their own weak standards, tough in non-conference play. Jumping into the Crossroads Classic each year, and playing Kentucky in the Big East/SEC challenge will do that to you. Notre Dame seemingly makes the tournament, then flames out in the first or second round each season. They are loaded with size and experience. If there’s a year where they can get back to the Sweet 16, this is it.
IUPUI is coming off their first losing season in 11 years. Head coach Todd Howard is now in his second season after spending 16 years as a Jags assistant coach. He also has to try and figure out how to replace the school’s leading Div. I era scorer in Alex Young. All told, three seniors graduated who accumulated over 3700 points in their college careers. The Jags get to play the first game of the season on Friday, playing host to Utah Valley State in a 2p matinee in the Jungle.
Valpo hosted the Horizon League tournament for the first time last year, and is hoping to do it again this season with a different result in the championship game. Bryce Drew’s team returns seniors like Ryan Broekhoff, Kevin Van Wijk, and Mat Kenney, then adds Bobby Capobianco (formerly of Indiana) to add even more size to a large team.
Evansville will play year number two in the Ford Center led by senior Colt Ryan. His 20.5 points per game last year was good for 11th in the nation and second in the Valley. Indiana State graduated four of their top five scorers off of last year’s 18-win team. Former Indiana All-Star Jake Odum is the lone returning double-figure scorer. Ball State hopes to surpass last year’s .500 record without it’s leading scorer and rebounder from last season in Jarrod Jones. IPFW will be led by perhaps the best player you haven’t heard of: Frank Gaines. The fifth-year senior averaged 21 points and six rebounds a game last senior as a 6’3″ wing player. The ‘Dons hope to improve on last year’s 11-win total.