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Top 25 Countdown: No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers

Nov 2, 2012, 9:00 AM EDT

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 27-9, 11-7 Big Ten (5th); Lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16

Head Coach: Tom Crean

Key Losses: Verdell Jones III, Matt Roth

Newcomers: Yogi Ferrell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Jeremy Hollowell, Peter Jurkin

Projected Lineup:

- G: Jordy Hulls, Sr.
G: Victor Oladipo, Jr.
F: Will Sheehey, Sr.
F: Christian Watford, Sr.
C: Cody Zeller, So.
Bench: Maurice Creek, Jr.; Derek Elston, Sr.; Remy Abell, Sr.; Yogi Ferrell, Fr.; Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Fr.; Jeremy Hollowell, Fr.; Peter Jurkin, Fr.

Outlook: Indiana’s back. It’s official. And it’s a long way from being a secret. After winning their first 12 games of the 2011-2012 season — including a memorable, last-second victory over Kentucky — the Hoosiers cruised to 27 wins, a fifth-place finish in the Big Ten and a trip to the Sweet 16.

Much of that success can be attributed to last year’s freshmen class, which was headlined by none other than Preseason Player of the Year Cody Zeller. Zeller’s impact on this team and this program cannot be understated. Let’s forget, for a second, that he averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds. Let’s forget the 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks he added. Let’s ignore the 62.3% he shot from the field and the 75.5% he hit from the charity stripe. All that is known. He was a monster last year and is expected to be a Monstar this season.

But what hasn’t been discussed as much is something that I propose we start calling ‘the Zeller effect’. As a sophomore, Christian Watford shot 38.1% from three; as a junior he knocked them down at a 43.7% clip. As a sophomore, Jordy Hulls was a 41.4% three-point shooter; as a junior, he shot 49.3%. Will Sheehey went from 30.4% to 38.3%; Matt Roth went from 37.5% to 54.5%; Derek Elston went from 17.6% to 55.2%. Indiana, as a team, shot 34.6% on just over 17 threes per game in 2010-2011. In 2011-2012, the Hoosiers took just under 15 threes per game and hit them at a 43.1% clip.

It’s obvious that having Zeller would reduce Indiana’s need to rely on threes, especially tough threes at the end of a clock, but what those numbers tell you is that the attention Zeller gets on the block means that the Hoosiers that cannot be left open from beyond the arc are being left open. Zeller may have had just 45 assists last season, but his presence makes everyone else on Indiana that much better.

With essentially everyone from last season returning — Roth and Verdell Jones III are the only players Indiana loses — and a loaded recruiting class coming in this year, the offensive end of the floor should be the least of Tom Crean’s concerns.

Defensively, however, it is a different story. The biggest concern I have about the Hoosiers is that when their best offensive team is on the floor it could end up looking very different than their best defensive team. Hulls struggles to defend at the point guard spot, but he’s a lights-out shooter and the most efficient playmaker on Indiana’s team. Freshman Yogi Ferrell is a better defender, although some of that difference could be mitigated if Ferrell comes along offensively thoughout the year. Oladipo is a shut-down defender, but he only hit 20.8% from deep last year. Maurice Creek, who missed last season after suffering his third major injury and undergoing his third major surgery, has always been able to score, but can his body handle the rigors of the Big Ten? Christian Watford’s ability to shoot gives Zeller space in the paint, but he’s a far-cry from what you would consider a good front court defender.

Indiana is going to score a lot of points this season, but whether or not their defense improves will determine just how good this team ends up being.

The good news for Crean is that he’ll have no shortage of lineup options, as Indiana could feasibly go 13 deep if that was at all possible. I haven’t even mentioned guards Remy Abell and Austin Etherington or big men Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Derek Elston or Peter Jurkin yet. Jurkin and Perea have some issues with the NCAA they need worked out still, but all six of those players could end up playing vital roles for the Hoosiers this season.

Predictions?: Naming the Hoosiers the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason means that we believe they are the most likely team to win the national title, but it doesn’t mean Indiana is anywhere near a lock. As much as any season in recent memory, this year is completely wide open. The Hoosiers may be the favorite, but if they can’t fix some of their problems on the defensive end of the floor, they could end up getting picked off in the NCAA tournament by a team that gets hot on the right night.

The other problem that Crean is going to have to deal with is managing egos. There are only going to be so many shots and minutes to go around, which means that someone is going to end up sitting on the bench more than expected and someone else is going to spend a lot of time setting screens or throwing entry passes. Can Crean keep everyone happy even when the rotation tightens in February? What happens if, for example, Ferrell beats out Hulls for the starting point guard spot in the middle of the season?

Crean will have his work cut out for him, but dealing with too much talent is a much better situation than where he was two years ago.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

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