Tag Archives: Cody Zeller

NBA’s Top 25 Candidates for 2013-14 All-Rookie First Team

Even though the general consensus on the 2013 NBA draft is that is was a “down” year for talent, the NBA will still honor five players with All-Rookie First Team recognition upon the completion of next season. Lottery picks Anthony Bennett, Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter Jr., Cody Zeller, Alex Len, Ben McLemore and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are among the players with the best chances of being recognized.

Playing time, health and immediate impact are the three main criteria when considering the top candidates for next season’s All-Rookie First Team.

The players with the best chances of being named on of the league’s top rookies are ones who can start (or play significant minutes) for their new teams, who are not battling serious injuries, who performed well in the summer leagues and who have skills that are immediately transferable to the next level.

Here are the top 25 candidates for the 2013-14 All-Rookie First Team.

25. Ryan Kelly

Former Duke forward Ryan Kelly is destined to be a stretch-forward in the NBA. At 6’11”, he has the size to body up with most players in the league, but he also has great outside shooting ability.

As a senior, he averaged 13 points and five rebounds per game. He shot 42 percent from behind the arc. Kelly has the ability to have a big scoring night when he gets hot, as he did when he scored 36 points on 7-of-9 shooting from three-point range against Miami last season.

Ryan Kelly…Put him on a cereal box.

—Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) March 3, 2013

With the aging Laker core and the departure of Metta World Peace, Kelly could be a solid scorer off the Los Angeles bench next season.

24. Trey Burke

Trey Burke, who dazzled in last season’s NCAA tournament, is low on this list after a disappointing Summer League performance.

Via Sean Deveney of Sporting News, who gave Burke an F for his play: “Burke struggled badly this summer, scoring 8.8 points and averaging just 4.0 assists against 2.3 turnovers. He shot 24.1 percent from the field and was an unsightly 1-for-19 from the 3-point line.”

23. Peyton Siva

For being one of the final picks of the 2013 NBA draft, Peyton Siva performed beyond his draft position in the summer league. Siva averaged nearly eight points, six assists and three steals per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio was 4-to-1.

Despite his college resume and solid showing in the summer, Siva is not a lock to make Detroit’s roster. The Pistons also have Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups, Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey to play the point.

Even though Siva is only 6’0″, he is very quick with the ball, which makes it difficult for defenders to stay in front of him.

(Siva) scares some scouts because he can be careless with the ball. But he’s not afraid of the bright lights and the big stage.

—rickbozich (@rickbozich) June 27, 2013

The Pistons have a variety of scoring options (Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith) for their point guards to pass to, so Siva could end of being one of the steals of the draft.

22. Allen Crabbe

The Portland Trail Blazers drafted Allen Crabbe at the tail end of the first round after the California guard posted numbers of 18.4 points on 46 percent shooting and 6.1 rebounds per game in his junior season.

Portland has a roster full of young shooting guards, which means that Crabbe may have to wait his turn before he can regularly be in the Trail Blazers rotation. Portland also has Will Barton, Terrel Harris, Wesley Matthews, C.J. McCollum and Elliot Williams in the mix for playing time at the 2.

21. Tony Snell

Unfortunately for Tony Snell, the Chicago Bulls have two players, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler, who can start at small forward. Deng proved to be injury prone down the stretch of the season, which means that Snell could be his backup if Butler starts at shooting guard.

The 6’7″ former New Mexico Lobo averaged 12.5 points per game as a junior and shot 39 percent from three-point range, which is an area that the Bulls struggled in as a team last season.

CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein tweeted that Snell can be successful in Chicago.

Tony Snell has all the requisites to be a solid piece under Tom Thibodeau. Can guard multiple positions + make 3’s. Solid pick at 20.

—Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) June 28, 2013

20. Gorgui Dieng

Gorgui Dieng is a “project” player who could contribute immediately for the Minnesota Timberwolves with their rebounding and defense. He averaged nearly a double-double in points and rebounds at Louisville. On offense, Dieng shot 53 percent.

If Minnesota re-signs Nikola Pekovic, then Dieng will definitely be a part of the T-Wolves’ second team.

Dieng could come off the bench to replace Pekovic or Kevin Love and help protect the rim for Minnesota.

The most points he scored in a summer league game was 10 and he was limited on the boards. It will take time, but Dieng could be a valuable frontcourt player off the bench for the T-Wolves.

19. Ricky Ledo

Ricky Ledo is one of the biggest question marks from the 2013 draft because he never played in college.

According to Bryan Gutierrez of ESPN Dallas, Ledo is “considered to have big upside.”

There is a reason he was available in the second round. He never played for Providence. After moving from high school to high school, the guard sat out his freshman year as a partial academic qualifier before declaring for this year’s draft.

The 6’7″ shooting guard could be in the mix at the 2-guard for the Mavericks this season. However, he will have to come off the bench, and the most likely scenario for him is to be Dallas’ third-string shooting guard. Monta Ellis, Wayne Ellington and Vince Carter are the leading off-guard options for the Mavs.

18. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo is buried on the Bucks depth chart right now, according to ESPN.
The shooting guard won’t see much time behind new Milwaukee Bucks—but established NBA veterans—O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal.

17. Rudy Gobert

The Utah Jazz have only two centers on their 2013-14 roster, one of whom, Enes Kanter, averaged only seven points and four rebounds per game last season.

That means Rudy Gobert could contend to be a starter or a key player off the bench.

While Gobert could be limited by his athleticism, his length is unparalleled. He has a wingspan of nearly 7’9″ and a standing reach of 9’7″.

Rudy Gobert with a 25 inch standing vertical and a 29″ max vert. Not great numbers.

—Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 17, 2013

Rudy Gobert 7’0.5″ in socks and 7’2″ in shoes with a crazy 7’8.5″ wingspan and insane 9’7″ standing reach.

—Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 17, 2013

Gobert made nearly 74 percent of his shots last season but he clearly needs to refine his game after averaging only eight points and five rebounds per game.

Gobert’s greatest contributions this season may be altering shots and keeping opposing players out of the paint, which won’t be reflected by his stats, but he can be an immediate contributor for Utah this season based on his size.

16. Nerlens Noel

Nerlens Noel‘s health and weight are looming issues for his success in the NBA but he has the makings to potentially be a very good rim protector at the pro level.

An Associated Press article from Noel’s introductory press conference in Philadelphia reported that Noel may not play until 2014, which would all but ruin his chances of earning any rookie honors.

Noel weighed barely over 200 pounds at the combine but is now approaching 230 pounds, which is a much more realistic playing weight for an NBA big man.

Noel nearly averaged a double-double at Kentucky and blocked as many as 12 shots in a single game. When healthy, he can be similar to Larry Sanders—an athletic rim protector who grabs rebounds and also contributes some on offense.

Noel is a different breed of center than Spencer Hawes, who is a capable outside shooter, which means both players could be on the court at the same time for Philadelphia and it wouldn’t ruin the team’s offensive spacing.

15. Jamaal Franklin

The Memphis Grizzlies have two shooting guards on their roster and their starter, All-NBA First Team defender is known more for his defensive prowess than his shooting. Allen plays an important defensive role for Memphis, which means Franklin could be very valuable if he proves to be a better offensive player.

Recently signed forward Mike Miller will also be an option for the shooting guard spot for Memphis, but Miller is a one-dimensional spot-up shooter.

In his junior year at San Diego State, Franklin averaged 17 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game.

He needs to improve on his shooting if he is going to play a prominent role for the Grizzlies. He shot just 41 percent from the field and 28 percent from three-point range last season.

14. Steven Adams

Steven Adams joins an Oklahoma City squad that has three centers, Kendrick Perkins, Daniel Orton and Hasheem Thabeet, but none of them are offensive weapons. Adams only averaged seven points per game at Pittsburgh but if he can develop an offensive game then he immediately becomes very valuable for the Thunder.

He scored in double figures only six times in his freshman season, which means that he has a long way to go to develop a consistent offensive prowess.

Adams is considered to be a “project” player and with four centers on the Thunder’s roster, Adams’ production could very well be minimal next season.

With two All-Stars in OKC’s starting lineup, the focus won’t be on Adams, and he won’t be expected to put up big numbers from the start of the season.

Low expectations could be beneficial to his development.

13. Tim Hardaway Jr.

J.R. Smith was named the Sixth Man of the Year last season but fell apart in theplayoffs, where he made only 33 percent of his shots. Smith was also suspended for one game for elbowing Boston’s Jason Terry in the chin.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is the only other shooting guard on the Knicks roster. Whether the former Michigan standout starts or is Smith’s backup, Hardaway should get a good amount of playing time. Smith has proven to be just as much of a risk as he is a contributor, which is why Hardaway could get an opportunity to contribute to New York’s offense.

Great pick by the Knicks…Tim Hardaway JR doesn’t take a drill off in practice much less games . issue is he’s 2 hard on himself..good issue

— Dan Dakich (@dandakich) June 28, 2013

Hardaway averaged 14.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game as a junior. If he improves his shooting, Hardaway will be in the Knicks rotation.

12. Jeff Withey

Jeff Withey was overshadowed in the draft by the likes of Nerlens Noel, Alex Len, Cody Zeller and Kelly Olynyk, but he could prove to be as good a pro as any of them.

As a senior, Withey averaged 13.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and just under four blocks per game. He was also a 58 percent shooter.

Withey was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers then dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans have just two centers on their roster, so Withey could possibly contend for a starting role. He would only have to beat out Greg Stiemsma, who has averaged three points and three rebounds per game in his NBA career.

The Pelicans have talented guards in Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans. Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson are productive power forwards. Withey can be an immediate contributor as a defender and rebounder. He wouldn’t have to carry a major load offensively, but he is a very efficient player when he does have the ball.

For a guy selected with the No. 39 pick, Withey is a high-value prospect for New Orleans.

11. Michael Carter-Williams

The Philadelphia 76ers are rebuilding and Michael Carter-Williams is currently the only point guard listed on their depth chart on ESPN.

Carter-Williams could be the starter for the Sixers next season, and by playing that many minutes, MCW could potentially put up big numbers.

However, The former Syracuse point guard will be limited by the rest of Philadelphia’s roster. Jason Richardson could potentially miss the entire season with a knee injury, and Nerlens Noel will miss the beginning of the season.

Carter-Williams played very little in his freshman year with Syracuse and skyrocketed up draft boards after his sophomore season. There are concerns on both ends of the floor about Carter-Williams—he played in a 2-3 zone defense at Syracuse, and he shot only 39 percent last season.

Those concerns about his shooting only intensified after he was drafted; he shot just 27 percent in the summer league.

However, as a playmaker at Syracuse, he distributed the ball well, averaging 7.3 assists per game last season, and at 6’6″ he will have a size advantage against opposing point guards.

Success for Carter-Williams will most likely depend on how many minutes he plays, but he could be in store for a rough start to his NBA career in Philadelphia.

10. Dennis Schroeder

Some observers compare German point guard Dennis Schroeder to Rajon Rondo.

Schroeder compared to Rajon Rondo, which means Atlanta won’t be trading the pick to the Clippers.

— rickbozich (@rickbozich) June 28, 2013

And CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein sees a bit of Darren Collison:

Loved Dennis Schroeder in Hoops Summit. Has some Darren Collison to his game. Great pick for the Hawks.

— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) June 28, 2013

The 19-year-old will have to compete with Jeff Teague and Shelvin Mack for playing time, but if he gets on the court for the Hawks and lives up to the hype, he could be one of the best point guards from the 2013 draft.

Schroeder will have scorers around him in Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap. In the summer league, he averaged nearly 11 points and six assists per game but shot just 34 percent from the floor. His shooting will need to improve, but he has the tools to be successful in the NBA.

9. C.J. McCollum

The Portland Trail Blazers have many guard options for next season. C.J. McCollum is in the mix with Damian Lillard, Earl Watson, Terrel Harris, Mo Williams, Wesley Matthews and Allen Crabbe. Lillard was the NBA Rookie of the Year last season, and Williams brings a lot of experience to the point guard position.

That means that McCollum may need to adapt to a role as a combo guard.

Based on his college stats (23.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game as a senior), McCollum can play. Watch any interview with him and it’s obvious that he is very thoughtful and intelligent.

The Canton, Ohio native can be successful in the NBA. His early development will be contingent on how much playing time he can get since Portland has a nunber of guards, especially talented point guards.

CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein tweeted that McCollum will be a scorer off the bench for the Trail Blazers, which isn’t a bad role to be in for a rookie.

C.J. McCollum gives Portland a reserve scorer. Should be an asset to the Blazers second unit.

—Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) June 28, 2013

8. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope likes to shoot.

He won the SEC Player of the Year Award by carrying Georgia offensively last season. As a sophomore, KCP averaged 18.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and made 43 percent of his shots, including 37 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. Last year, Caldwell-Pope attempted 207 more shots than his teammate with the second-most attempts.

While the 6’5″ shooting guard will need to work on his shot selection and offensive efficiency, he could still be immediately effective in terms of spreading the floor for Detroit. The Pistons have a pair of talented players in the frontcourt in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. With Brandon Jennings running the offense and Josh Smith getting his share of touches at forward, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can complement the pieces already in place on the Pistons.

At Georgia, Caldwell-Pope averaged nearly 20 points per game, even though opposing teams knew that he was the Bulldogs’ only real scoring option. With Detroit, defenses will focus on Jennings and the Pistons’ frontcourt, which means an aggressive wing shooter like Caldwell-Pope is likely to get plenty of scoring opportunities.

7. Otto Porter Jr.

The Washington Wizards have many small forwards on their roster but Otto Porter Jr., who has be described as a “complete” player, could be a regular in the Wizards’ rotation.

Porter averaged 16.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He shot 48 percent from the field and 42 percent from behind the arc.

According to Draft Express, Porter is nearly 6’9″ and has a wingspan longer than 7’1″. And he’s versatile on both ends of the court.

Washington has a very talented backcourt with John Wall and Bradley Beal, which will take some of the pressure off of Porter.

The former Georgetown forward will be part of a young core for the Wizards. Expect Porter to contribute enough in various facets of the game that he makes an impact for Washington next season.

6. Alex Len

The Phoenix Suns only have two centers on their roster, one of whom is rookie Alex Len. Len averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore at Maryland.

The 7’1″ center has recently undergone surgeries on both ankles, which could put his jeopardize his timetable, according to NBC Sports’ Brett Pollakoff.

Due to his injuries, Len did not participate in the NBA summer league.

While Len is at a disadvantage because of surgeries and missed summer league action, he still proved his worth against other NBA prospects last season. He scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against Nerlens Noel, and he nearly averaged a double-double against Mason Plumlee in Maryland’s three games against Duke.

There are several talented centers in this year’s rookie class, and each comes with his own health issues or questions about his talent level. But, if healthy Len should be among the best from June’s draft.

5. Kelly Olynyk

The Boston Celtics are clearly rebuilding, which was evident by their deals with the Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets this offseason. Boston has four centers on its roster who have played a combined six minutes in the NBA. In other words, the starting center position is up for grabs.

Kelly Olynyk, who was drafted 13th by the Celtics, was ranked the number one player in NBA.com’s rookie ladder based on his play in the summer league. He averaged 19.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Olynyk shot nearly 58 percent from the field.

Wow, Mavericks. Wow, Boston. Great. Pick. If Kelly Olynyk were French and had some grainy YouTube footage, he would have been a top-10 pick.

—Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) June 28, 2013

Olynyk is no stranger to putting up big numbers. In his junior year at Gonzaga, he averaged 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He shot 63 percent from the field and 30 percent from behind the arc.

There is a very good chance that Olynyk will start for the Celtics, and he will have lots of opportunities to score playing alongside Rajon Rondo.

4. Anthony Bennett

Anthony Bennett was a bit of a shocker to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, especially after Nerlens Noel and Alex Len dominated the conversation in the weeks leading up to the draft.

Been through a bunch of drafts. This is one of the weirdest. Anthony Bennett? Really?

—Bob Kravitz (@bkravitz) June 28, 2013

Bennett has an NBA body and his 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season indicate that he is ready for the next level.

However, due to the talent on Cleveland’s rosterKyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack and Anderson Varejao—Bennett won’t be featured as much as he would on a worse team.

While Bennett’s natural position is power forward, his 6’8″ size and the defensive struggles he had in summer play will present challenges for him as he attempts to find his role on the Cavs this season.

3. Cody Zeller

Even though Charlotte Bobcats fans were not too pleased about the team drafting Cody Zeller with the fourth overall pick in the NBA draft, the former Hoosier could very easily end up winning over their hearts.

NBA.com’s Drew Packham ranked Zeller second on his “Rookie Ladder,” a scale which rates how rookies perform in the NBA summer league.

The 7-footer averaged 16.3 points on 52 percent shooting and 9.3 rebounds per game this summer. Zeller could potentially start at power forward alongside Al Jefferson or he’ll be one of the leaders of Charlotte’s second team.

Even though he played center in college, Zeller is a great athlete who can run the floor. ESPN’s Chad Ford reported that Zeller had the fastest sprint at the combine among bigs.

Cody Zeller with the fastest sprint time among bigs 3.15 sec

— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 17, 2013

Cody Zeller tied Joakim Noah for the highest max vertical jump by a 7-footer (in shoes) in the last 10 NBA Draft Combines.

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 17, 2013

It also doesn’t hurt that he will be coached by one of the game’s all-time great big men, Patrick Ewing.

With Charlotte’s weak roster, Zeller can play and potentially put up big numbers immediately.

2. Ben McLemore

Ben McLemore is one of two shooting guards on the Sacramento Kings roster and he joins a team that was 28-54 last season.

For those reasons, he will have a lot of opportunity to play significant minutes in his rookie campaign.

He scored at least 26 points on two occasions during the summer league. While his consistency was an issue last season and again this summer, McLemore has proven to be a tremendous athlete and a great scorer when he’s at his best.

McLemore had his share of poor shooting performances in college, but he also showed that he can go off for 30 points when he gets hot.

He is potentially the best scorer in the 2013-14 rookie class.

1. Victor Oladipo

Victor Oladipo was drafted second overall by the Orlando Magic.  (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Victor Oladipo was drafted second overall by the Orlando Magic.
(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Victor Oladipo was named to the Southwest Airlines All-Summer League First Team after averaging 19.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. The former Indiana University guard was 7-for-13 from behind the arc and 33-for-40 from the charity stripe.

The Magic tested the No. 2 overall draft pick at point guard in the summer league, but he will be successful no matter which position he plays when the regular season rolls around. As his college coach, Tom Crean, mentioned on Twitter, Oladipo entered college ranked as the 144th best prospect in his class yet ended up as the second overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft.

The 6’5″ guard’s development is still trending upward and he made a name for himself in the summer league with his offensedefense and late-game heroics.

Victor Oladipo led Orlando Summer League in isolation points (21). He was the only player w/ 10 iso plays to score more than 1 pt per play.

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 12, 2013

Victor Oladipo allowed fewest points per play as on-ball defender in Orlando Summer League (min. 25 plays). Allowed 0.53 PPP, 28.6 FG pct.

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 12, 2013

Oladipo can potentially start for Orlando next season, and he is ready to contribute immediately on both ends of the floor at a high level. Oladipo’s chances of making the All-Rookie First Team increased because he will likely play at both guard positions instead of being limited to one role.

Click here to read this article on BleacherReport.com. 

Xavier Basketball: 5 Storylines for the Musketeers in 2013-14

Click here to read this article on BleacherReport.com.

Despite not making the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2005, the future looks bright for the Xavier Musketeers. The 2013-14 season will usher in Xavier’s transition to the Big East, the addition of Western Michigan transfer Matt Stainbrook to the starting lineup and the development of reigning Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year Semaj Christon.

With head coach Chris Mack at the helm, the Muskies will look to improve upon their 17-14 record and seventh-place finish in the A-10 last season. Xavier is in its second year of rebuilding the program.

The Musketeers will rely on a lot of youth next season with five freshmen and two sophomores on scholarship. Xavier can expect a lot of competition for playing time as well as depth on the bench—something the Musketeers lacked last season—as it enters a new era in the Big East.

Semaj Christon earned Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors last season.  (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Semaj Christon earned Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors last season.
(Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

1. Playing in the Big East

In the midst of conference re-alignment, the Big East became a revolving door as the “Catholic 7” of Georgetown, Villanova, DePaul, Marquette, St. John’s, Providence and Seton Hall separated from the rest of their conference; the Catholic 7 then added Xavier and Butler from the Atlantic 10 in addition to Creighton from the Missouri Valley Conference to form a 10-team conference.

Despite sending five teams to the tournament last year, the A-10 has historically been regarded as a second-tier conference full of mid-majors. Xavier has achieved sustained success in the postseason that has exceeded the expectations for most mid-majors.

Xavier has 11 NCAA tournament berths in the past 13 seasons; the Musketeers have had three Sweet 16 and two Elite Eight appearances in that stretch. The Muskies will get the opportunity to take their program to the next level in the Big East.

The Big East is still one of the better basketball conferences, regardless if many fans add the qualifier “new” in front of it.

Butler has proven that it’s a program capable of making deep runs in the tournament.

Georgetown returns the majority of its roster from a Hoya team that had a 25-7 record and tied for a Big East Championship last year.

Creighton’s senior forward Doug McDermott will be one of the preseason National Player of the Year favorites after averaging more than 23 points and nearly eight rebounds per game last season.

Plus, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi projects for five Big East teams to make next season’s tournament in his first 2013-14 bracket.

The Big East Tournament will be held in Madison Square Garden, and ESPN New York reporter Kieran Darcy reported that the Big East agreed to a 12-year deal with Fox Sports.

The combination of star players, tournament-bound teams, major venues and multi-year television deals means that Xavier will have more national exposure than ever before.

2. Playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis

On Thanksgiving weekend, the Musketeers will play in the Bahamas in the Battle 4 Atlantis along with Kansas, Iowa, Tennessee, USC, Vilanova, UTEP and Wake Forest.

While the matchups have not been announced for the tournament, Xavier has the opportunity to play a potential Top Five team in Kansas, who recently added the class of 2013’s No. 1 recruit, Andrew Wiggins, and a fringe Top 25 team in Iowa, who returns its top five scorers from last year’s Hawkeye squad that lost in the NIT Championship and finished the season with a 25-13 record.

It could also face USC and the Trojans’ new head coach Andy Enfield, who led No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 last year, and Tennessee, who CBS College Basketball Insider Gary Parrish said should be considered a Top 25 team after the announcement of Antonio Barton’s transfer from Memphis.

The Musketeers could potentially face challenging competition in the Bahamas, which would help the strength of their nonconference schedule, and the tournament can only help Xavier’s case to make the NCAA tournament in March.

Xavier has not faced a Top 10 team in its nonconference schedule since 2008, and playing multiple ranked teams in consecutive days would prepare the Muskies for the challenges that lie ahead in the Big East.

3. The Development of Semaj Christon

Xavier’s point guard won A-10 Freshman of the Year honors last season after averaging 15.2 points and more than four assists per game.

Christon suffered his share of growing pains; he turned the ball over 10 times against VCU, made just one of his nine shots before fouling out in a four-point loss to Tennessee and he was 3-of-11 from the field against Wake Forest, to name a few of his less-than-stellar performances.

However, the Cincinnati native was one of the bright spots on an inexperienced team that lost its top five scorers from the 2011-12 season. Christon led Xavier in points, assists, steals and free throws attempted last year.

His best statistical game of the season was a 20-point, seven-assist and seven-rebound effort in an overtime win against No. 16 Saint Louis as Xavier made one final push for an at-large bid to the tournament.

Xavier coach Chris Mack tweeted this spring that Christon will be one of the team’s captains as a sophomore, so he will have a larger leadership role next season.

Just as the point guard will have an opportunity to improve in the locker room, he has room to get better on the court as well. Christon made just 25 percent of his 28 three-point shots and connected on only 67 percent of his free throws. While he averaged nearly five assists per game, he turned the ball over almost four times per game.

Xavier’s success in the inaugural season of the “new” Big East starts and ends with Christon.

If he can make strides upon the promising foundation he laid in his freshman year, he could become one of the premier point guards in the country and even be in the discussion for Big East Player of the Year.

4. The Fab 5

Xavier coach Chris Mack put together an impressive five-man freshman class for next season that has flown under the radar.

Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds were both given a grade of 92 by ESPN.

Davis and Reynolds were supposed to play last season for the Musketeers, but the NCAA denied the eligibility of both players, according to former CBS Sports college basketball writer Jeff Goodman. Goodman wrote that both players paid for their first year of school at Xavier University and could not practice with the team.

Reynolds is a 6’9″ forward who was originally a 2011 commit before he attended prep school at Brewster Academy in New Jersey for one year. He will be two years older than most freshmen.

Davis is a 6’2″ guard from Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass.

In addition, Xavier will have Brandon Randolph, a point guard out of Inglewood, Calif. who is ranked No. 86 on ESPN’s 2013 Top 100 players list.

Kamall Richards is the fourth member of Xavier’s freshman class. The 6’6″ small forward is a 3-star recruit, according to Rivals.com.

The Musketeers’ most recent commitment was from Aleksandar Vezenkov, a 6’8″ Bulgarian forward who has experience playing on the Bulgarian junior national team and the Greek professional team Aris, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s Shannon Russell.

With half of Xavier’s 2012 recruiting class, which was ranked 14th in the country by ESPN, beginning their college careers next season, in addition to the three 2013 commits, the Musketeers’ freshman class has a bright future.

5. The Impact of Transfer Players

After sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules, Western Michigan transfer Matt Stainbrook, a junior center, will provide the Musketeers a big body in the middle. At 6’9″ and 275 pounds, Stainbrook averaged more than 11 points and nearly seven rebounds per game as a sophomore for the Broncos.

In two seasons at Western Michigan, Stainbrook registered 10 double-doubles and scored a career-high 32 points against South Dakota State as a sophomore.

The native of Bay Village, Ohio also had the chance to prove himself against some of the country’s top teams. He made seven of his eight shots against No. 19 Illinois in his freshman season in a 16-point effort. In his sophomore year, Stainbrook scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds against No. 5 Duke.

With the loss of Travis Taylor (11.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game) and Jeff Robinson (6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game) due to graduation, Stainbrook will have the opportunity to start immediately in Xavier’s frontcourt.

Similarly to Christon, Stainbrook was selected as a team captain by his teammates for the upcoming season, so he has earned his teammates’ respect despite not playing in a Xavier uniform yet in his college career.

On May 17, Xavier added a second transfer, former Indiana guard Remy Abell, to its roster. While the sophomore will have to sit out the 2013-14 season, he will be able to practice with the Musketeers and make his teammates even better.

Abell will bring the experience of practicing with two All-Americans, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, to Xavier, so he has seen firsthand what it takes to play at the highest level in college basketball.

Reactions to college basketball conference awards

Where I agree:

  • ACC Coach of the Year-Jim Larrañaga-University of Miami: The U was projected fourth in the ACC preseason coaches poll and the Hurricanes did not receive a single first place vote. Larrañaga led a Miami team with four fifth-year seniors and a flashy sophomore point guard to the school’s first ACC Championship. The Hurricanes were ranked as high as second in the country and will likely be a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. 
  • Big Ten Player of the Year-Trey Burke-University of Michigan: The Big Ten POY race came down to two players–Burke and Indiana guard Victor Oladipo. There wasn’t a wrong choice but I think that the Michigan sophomore was more deserving. Trey Burke averaged 19.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game this season and had a strong finish to Michigan’s Big Ten schedule by scoring at least 20 points in five of the team’s final six games. He won the game against Michigan State by picking Keith Appling’s pocket in the final 30 seconds and giving Michigan a two-point advantage with a dunk at the other end; he makes Michigan go. While Burke’s efficiency isn’t ideal (20 points on 20 shots and 25 points on 24 shots against Indiana, 19 points on 21 shots against Wisconsin, 19 points on 19 shots against Illinois, etc.), he gets the job done. Both Oladipo and Burke have talented running mates but Indiana has more depth and offensive weapons, including the preseason national player of the year in sophomore center Cody Zeller.
Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke sealed a victory for the Wolverines when he stole the ball from Keith Appling on March 3. (Image courtesy of www.freep.com)
Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke sealed a victory for the Wolverines when he stole the ball from Keith Appling on March 3. (Image courtesy of http://www.freep.com)
  • Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year-Victor Oladipo-Indiana University: Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft is probably the best on-the-ball defender in the country and he showed the Hoosiers his peskiness on March 5 when he led the Buckeye defensive effort that resulted in 12 Indiana turnovers. However, Oladipo is a more versatile defender. Oladipo can lock down almost any player from a point guard to a power forward. He has had multiple 20+ deflection games this season and has 69 steals (Craft has 60, for a point of comparison). There was no way that Victor Oladipo was going to go home empty handed on both the Big Ten POY and DPOY awards.

Where I disagree:

  • ACC Player of the Year-Erick Green-Virginia Technical Institute: It’s time to dust off the files containing the arguments about whether or not Alex Rodriguez should have won A.L. MVP in 2003 when the Texas Rangers finished 71-91 and were 25 games out of first place in the A.L. West. This is a similar situation in a different sport but this time there is no discussion. This is blatantly wrong. Green’s Hokies finished dead last in the ACC with a 13-18 (4-14) record. Three of Virginia Tech’s conference wins came against the three teams that are immediately ahead of them in the league’s standings–Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson, whose cumulative record is six games below .500. Yes, Green leads the country in scoring at 25.4 points per game but  VT hasn’t accomplished much this season besides knocking off then-No. 15 Oklahoma State on Dec. 1. What’s wrong with Miami’s Shane Larkin, who led the ACC Champion Hurricanes in points, assists, steals and three-point percentage? What’s wrong with Mason Plumlee, who averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game for the No. 2 Blue Devils? The ACC voters were way off in their POY vote. 
  • SEC Player of the Year-Kentavious Caldwell-Pope-University of Georgia: I have a similar beef with the SEC voters that I do with the ACC voters. The Georgia Bulldogs finished 9-9 in the SEC. They tied for eighth place in a power 6 conference that barely has three teams in the current projection of the 68-team NCAA Tournament field that will be released on Sunday. There’s no doubt that Caldwell-Pope is a good player–he is in the top 10 in the SEC in nine of the 13 statistical categories. Plus, he is projected to be a future first round draft pick in the NBA. However, the combination of his occasional struggles with inefficiency and inability to excel against ranked opponents do not make him deserving of the honor. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had difficulties with inefficiency in the beginning (17 points on 21 shots against Souther Mississippi on 11/15), the middle (16 points on 18 shots against Georgia Tech on 12/4 and 19 points on 19 shots against Ole Miss on 2/16) and the end (14 points on 15 shots against Alabama on 3/9) of the season. Coincidentally, Georgia lost all of those games. Also, Caldwell-Pope scored below his 18 ppg average in all five of UGA’s games against ranked opponents. In fact, he averaged nearly four fewer points. Star players step up in big games instead of backing down. Maybe I should just accept the SEC’s POY award as a sign of how bad the conference is this season but I think that Tennessee’s Jordan McRae was robbed. The Vols tied for fifth in the SEC and are only a win or two from making the tournament. McRae led UT in scoring with a 16.2 points per game average but he averaged over 24 in the team’s final seven games. In that stretch, Tennessee went 6-1, demolished No. 25 Kentucky by 30 points, defeated No. 8 Florida and McRae scored over 34 points on two occasions.

The rebuilding of Indiana’s women’s basketball program

This news feature was written for my JOUR-H 200 Reporting, Writing and Editing course. I would like to thank IU Coach Curt Miller for being honest about the IU women’s basketball program when I talked to him in January as well as Jeremy Gray and Robby Howard for their insight on the Hoosiers.

Indiana University is rich in basketball tradition and success. Five men’s national championship banners hang from the rafters in Assembly Hall.

However, the Lady Hoosiers have recently experienced some dark years with a 29-60 record over the past three seasons. Indiana hired Curt Miller, who won six Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year awards and advanced to the NCAA Tournament five times at Bowling Green State University, to replace former IU Coach Felisha Legette-Jack, who was fired after the Hoosiers went 6-24 last season.

IU Coach Miller won MAC Coach of the Year six times in his tenure at Bowling Green State University.
IU Coach Miller won MAC Coach of the Year six times in his tenure at Bowling Green State University.

IU Coach Miller said that the Hoosiers are building the program by improving team chemistry, being involved in community service work and competing in the classroom.

“The wins—it’s going to take a couple of years,” Miller said. “It’s not going to be as easy to see the building on the court but we’re doing a lot of things to build the program and not just a team. A lot of that is off the floor that people don’t see.”

While IU Coach Miller is focused on improving the team off the court, he said that the Hoosiers are excited about winning because he said wins are hard to come by for his Indiana squad that is limited offensively.

On Wednesday, Feb. 20th, the Indiana women’s basketball team showed signs of growth when it earned its most significant win in the Curt Miller era. IU defeated No. 22 Purdue 62-61 after senior guard Jasmine McGhee hit the game-winning shot as time expired. It was Indiana’s first win over a ranked opponent since Dec. 5, 2010 and it was a promising result for a program eager to rebuild.

A Fierce Rivalry 

Jeremy Gray, IU’s Assistant Athletic Director for Broadcast Services, said that the two Big Ten in-state rivals are on the opposite end of the spectrum in college basketball, which made the Hoosiers’ victory even more impressive.

“Purdue is a tournament team and Indiana is absolutely in a rebuilding effort,” Gray said.

He described Assembly Hall as having one of the two largest crowds for an IU women’s basketball game this season.

“There were a lot of students there for that game, they stayed throughout and they were a factor in the end,” Gray said.

Robby Howard, one of the two Indiana Daily Student women’s basketball beat writers, said that IU Athletics, the Crimson Club and the IU Varsity Club did a very good job marketing the game to students.

“They were really trying to attract students to the game and it obviously worked because it was the first time you had an actual student section at the game,” Howard said. “That obviously played a large role when you actually have audible fans and the team was really able to feed off that energy. You could see them making a lot of hustle plays and the crowd would come to its feet—that’s something that hasn’t happened all season long.”

Jeremy Gray said that the teams traded baskets the entire night, the play was at a high level and that the entire game was exciting. The excitement peaked when McGhee’s shot fell through the net as time expired, which prompted pandemonium on the court.

“As soon as the ball went through, literally as the time expired, her teammates charged her and hugged her,” Gray said. “Some of the men’s basketball players came on the floor and gave her big hugs.”

Indiana’s Assistant Athletic Director for Broadcast Services said that the win was huge for the Lady Hoosiers.

“It made SportsCenter’s top ten plays the following day, it got over 10,000 hits on YouTube and it was one of those games that when the program gets turned around in a couple of years, you can look back on this game as one that helped change everything for Indiana,” Gray said.

IU Coach Miller’s Rebuilding Effort

When asked how he was going to build IU’s women’s basketball program, IU Coach Curt Miller said, “Well a lot of areas, although they are not necessarily going to equate statistically. We believe that you build a championship team in the locker room first.”

He said that he knows statistical success will take a few years to develop but in the mean time, he is trying to change the culture of the program in his first season at IU.

Robby Howard said that Miller has told members of the media all season that Indiana is the worst team in the Big Ten. Despite having limited talent and few scholarship players on his roster, the Hoosiers’ first-year head coach teaches his players to give their best effort every day, whether in games or in practices.

“The big thing with Curt Miller and this program is that he wants his team to play hard and aggressive every single night,” Howard said. “It’s just tough to do when you only have seven scholarship players and eight players who are playing on the roster. It’s tough to play physical in that nature when you just don’t have a lot of bodies on the court.”

Howard cited the transfer of former Hoosier Quaneisha McCurty as an example of Miller making tangible changes on the culture of the program, especially with an emphasis on effort.

“It was simply due to the fact that she wasn’t playing hard in practice,” Howard said. “Miller’s whole philosophy is if you don’t play hard in practice, then you don’t play [in games].”

A Blueprint Right Across the Hall

Indiana’s women’s basketball team isn’t the only program that plays in Assembly Hall that has recently undergone a rebuilding process.

According to an Indiana Daily Student article from May 2008 that was written by Chris Engel, former IU Men’s Basketball Coach Kelvin Sampson’s impermissible phone calls caused the NCAA to put the program on probation.

ESPN’s Andy Katz wrote an article recapping the sanctions against Indiana in November 2008. Katz wrote that Indiana was placed on a three-year probation, the men’s program lost scholarships and that the coaching staff was severely limited in its access to high school players.

As a result of the penalties, IU’s men’s basketball team went 28-66 in IU Coach Tom Crean’s first three seasons. It took Crean three seasons to achieve his first win against a ranked opponent as well as to eclipse 10 wins in a single season.

While IU Coach Miller took over a Hoosier basketball program under different conditions, the Hoosiers’ win against Purdue allowed him to accomplish both of those achievements in his first season at the helm of Indiana’s women’s basketball team.

Robby Howard said that entering the season, a lot of comparisons were being made between IU Coach Crean’s revival of IU’s men’s basketball program and the rebuilding process that IU Coach Miller embarked on when he became the new women’s basketball coach at Indiana University.

Miller said before the season that the blueprint for the women’s program was right across the hall in the men’s program, which has been ranked No. 1 in the country for the majority of the season.

The most iconic element of IU Coach Crean’s rebuilding of IU basketball was the Hoosiers’ 72-71 victory over No. 1 Kentucky at Assembly Hall last season, which was completed by then-junior Christian Watford’s last-second three-pointer.

The Lady Hoosiers followed in a similar suit this season with a buzzer beater of their own, also against a major rival, when Jasmine McGhee’s 18-foot jump shot connected at the buzzer on Feb. 20th.

“Obviously the Indiana men’s team is a lot better than the women’s team but the analogy holds up in that it was a moment that got a lot of notoriety,” Jeremy Gray said as he discussed the comparison between the rebuilding processes of IU’s men’s and women’s basketball programs. “It showed that Indiana can compete in the Big Ten against high quality teams and player for player, Indiana was out-manned in that game. They found a way to get that done and I think that speaks to coaching.”

The Hoosier players have been the ones competing on the court but it has been the relentless preparation and determination of IU Coach Miller that has willed Indiana to two Big Ten victories in a season in which he told the media that “prognosticators said that Indiana wouldn’t even win a game [in the Big Ten] this year.”

Jeremy Gray and Robby Howard agree that IU Coach Miller needs to bring in great recruiting classes in order to elevate Indiana to the top of the Big Ten. Miller may have found his Cody Zeller—his All-American player around whom he can develop a championship program—in 2014 commit Tyra Buss, who Howard said was leading the country in scoring average per game earlier this season at roughly 38 points per contest.

“He knows what he has to do and now that he has a name like Indiana behind him, I think he’s just going to do phenomenal things,” Howard said.

IU Coach Miller is ready to turn the women’s program around because there is no job in the country that he would rather have.

At Hoosier Hysteria on Oct. 20th, 2012, in front of 17,472 excited Hoosier fans, IU Coach Miller said, “This is my dream job and I’m living my dream now.”

With his passion for Indiana University and his positive attitude about rebuilding the IU women’s basketball program, Curt Miller may just be the right coach to bring Indiana’s first women’s national championship banner to Assembly Hall.

Preview: No. 1 Indiana v. Nebraska

There’s a new sheriff in town in the Big Ten, even if it’s only momentarily. For the first time of the 2012-13 college basketball season, No. 8 Michigan State (21-4, 10-2) has sole possession of first place after handing No. 4 Michigan a 75-52 loss in East Lansing, Mich. on Tuesday.

In order to keep pace with the Spartans, No. 1 Indiana (21-3, 9-2) will have to defeat Nebraska (12-12, 3-8) at Assembly Hall tonight in Bloomington, Ind. The Cornhuskers are in eleventh place in the Big Ten with two wins against Penn State and one against Northwestern. When at its best, Nebraska has played some of the Big Ten’s best close with a six point loss to Wisconsin, 10 point defeat at No. 22 Michigan State and a seven point loss against No. 11 Ohio State; however, the Cornhuskers have four conference losses by at least 15 points, which is why the Hoosiers enter as a 23.5 point favorite.

The Hoosiers have a bad taste in their mouths after losing 70-69 to Nebraska last season. No. 1 Indiana will hope to avoid another slip-up against the Cornhuskers tonight. (Image courtesy of http://abcnews.go.com/meta/search/imageDetail?format=plain&source=http%3A%2F%2Fabcnews.go.com%2Fimages%2FSports%2F32b8b9e1b1b94913a2f81ac16c578f77)
The Hoosiers have a bad taste in their mouths after losing 70-69 to Nebraska last season. No. 1 Indiana will hope to avoid another slip-up against the Cornhuskers tonight. (Image courtesy of http://abcnews.go.com)

This week is the closest thing to a respite that Indiana will have during its Big Ten schedule with home games against Nebraska on Wednesday night and Purdue on Saturday afternoon. Last week, the Hoosiers were unable to play a full 40 minutes in the front of an orange sea of Illinois fans at Assembly Hall West in Champaign, Ill. when they lost 74-72 on Tyler Griffey’s last second layup. Indiana redeemed itself and held on to its No. 1 ranking with a decisive 81-68 victory against No. 10 Ohio State. The win was Indiana’s first road win against a ranked opponent since November 26, 2002 against No. 21 Gonzaga, which was a major step for the Tom Crean era at Indiana University.

The top-ranked Hoosiers are electric on offense. They ranked second in the country in points per game with an average of 83.2 points per contest. Indiana shoots 50.2% from the field as a team, which is good for fourth in the nation. IU is a nightmare to defend because the Hoosiers have six players who have proven that they can score 15 to 20 points on any given night. Sophomore center Cody Zeller leads the team in scoring and rebounding with averages of 16.5 ppg and 8.3 rpg. However, the pre-season All-American and national player of the year candidate may not even be the best player on the Hoosiers roster. Junior guard Victor Oladipo, who is coming off of a 26 point and 8 rebound performance against Ohio State, does not take any days off. The Upper Marlboro, Md. product averages 14.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.5 apg and 2.3 spg. It is not uncommon for Oladipo to have at least 20 deflections in a single game.

For Nebraska, a trio of upperclassmen leads the way. Junior guard Ray Gallegos leads the time in scoring at 13.3 ppg. Gallegos’ partner in the backcourt, senior Dylan Talley, averages 13.1 points per game and he is the team’s second best rebounder at 5.4 rebounds per game. The third Cornhusker that averages double figures in points scored per game is senior forward Brandon Ubel. Ubel scores 11.9 ppg and grabs a team-best 6.9 rpg.

Nebraska’s biggest woes are on offense. The Cornhuskers average 59 points per game, which ranks 332nd out of 347 Division I men’s basketball programs. The team shoots 41.2% from the field, 68.4% from the free throw line and  just 30% from behind the arc. Only Gallegos and Talley have made more than six three-pointers this season but both players make less than one-third of their shots from long range.

Nebraska has held Big Ten opponents to 71 points or fewer in 10 of their 11 conference games but it’s tough to win games when a team struggles to score.

Key Matchup

Cody Zeller-So.-Center-7’0″-240 lbs. vs. Brandon Ubel-Sr.-Power Forward-6’10”-234 lbs.

Over the past four games, Cody Zeller has averaged 19 points, 9.5 rebounds and seven free throw attempts per game. He will be facing Nebraska’s Brandon Ubel, who is statistically Nebraska’s best offensive weapon because of his 47.8% shooting percentage. Ubel is very inconsistent and Zeller could be a dominant force if Ubel does not show up at Assembly Hall ready to play. He made six of his seven shots for 13 points against Minnesota two weeks ago but was limited to only one rebound and fouled out after 26 minutes of matching up against Trevor Mbakwe. Nebraska’s big man made just two of his 10 shots against Ohio State, 4-13 against Northwestern and 4-11 against Illinois. Brandon Ubel gives up only a two inches and a few pounds to Cody Zeller, which means that the control of the paint will be determined by whether or not Ubel shows up to play and how often Indiana feeds Zeller early in the game.

X-factor

Victor Oladipo-Jr.-Guard-6’5″-214 lbs.

Oladipo is one of the best defenders in the country and has the ability to defend almost every position. Nebraska struggles to break 60 points on a nightly basis and by having him guard Ray Gallegos and Dylan Talley, the Cornhuskers will have even more difficulty establishing their offense than normal. Victor Oladipo is coming off of his career best scoring game and he will have the opportunity to improve his season averages tonight against a struggling Nebraska squad.

Prediction

IU is at its best when the Hoosiers play at Assembly Hall and they will want to seek revenge for last season’s 70-69 loss in Lincoln, Neb. Indiana wins 84-59.

Location: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Coverage: Big Ten Network

Point spread: Indiana -23.5

Over/Under: 133.5

ESPN college basketball writer Dana O’Neil sees two future NBA players on IU’s roster

On Wednesday, I asked ESPN college basketball writer Dana O’Neil how many future NBA players she sees on No. 1 Indiana’s roster and she sees two: sophomore center Cody Zeller and junior guard Victor Oladipo. To view the entire live chat click here.

Dana O'Neil Live Chat

Video Highlights: No. 7 Indiana defeats Penn State 72-49

No. 7 Indiana defeats Penn State 72-49 despite Cody Zeller not scoring a basket for the first time in his career at Indiana.

The No. 7 Indiana Hoosiers hosted the Penn State Nittany Lions at Assembly Hall on Wednesday, January 23, 2013.
The No. 7 Indiana Hoosiers hosted the Penn State Nittany Lions at Assembly Hall on Wednesday, January 23, 2013.

Video Highlights: Wisconsin upsets No. 2 Indiana

The Badgers hold the Hoosiers to a season-low 59 points and win their eleventh consecutive game against Indiana.

Mike Bruesewitz came up big down the stretch for Wisconsin by making four free throws in the final minutes of the game. (Image courtesy of http://www.usnews.com/news/sports/articles/2013/01/16/badgers-hold-off-no-2-indiana-for-64-59-upset-2)
Mike Bruesewitz came up big down the stretch for Wisconsin by making four free throws in the final minutes of the game. (Image courtesy of http://www.usnews.com/news/sports/articles/2013/01/16/badgers-hold-off-no-2-indiana-for-64-59-upset-2)

Wisconsin upsets No. 2 Indiana, continues undefeated streak against Crean

Now is not a good time to be a top ranked team in college basketball. In the span of six days, four teams ranked in the top three lost to lower ranked or unranked opponents. Last week, Oregon upset No. 3 Arizona, No. 20 North Carolina State knocked off No. 1 Duke and No. 15 Ohio State was victorious against No. 2 Michigan. With the three losses the No. 5 Indiana Hoosiers moved up three spots to No. 2 but lost to Wisconsin at home 64-59 on Tuesday.

The Badgers were a nightmare matchup for the Hoosiers. Wisconsin prides itself on slowing down the pace of the game and playing tough defense, which go against Indiana’s play style of scoring in transition and racking up over eighty points per game on average.

The first half was different from Indiana’s other home games this season. The Hoosiers typically have no problem scoring at home and distancing themselves from their opponents–even good teams like Minnesota and North Carolina. A combination of easy baskets in transition, effective three-point shooters and multiple scoring options gives Indiana breathing room at halftime. IU was winning by nine points after the first half against North Carolina, 23 points against Minnesota and the rest of their non-conference home games were similar scenarios. However, against the Badgers, Indiana was only leading by one after the first half.

Outside of Cody Zeller’s first half, no Hoosier player had a good performance offensively. Zeller had 18 points on 8-8 shooting against Wisconsin senior center Jared Berggren. In the second half, the sophomore center scored only five points and made just one of his seven shot attempts. Other than Zeller and freshman forward Jeremy Hollowell, who made the one shot that he took and contributed the only two bench points of the night, no Indiana player shot above 43 percent. The other four starters, senior Christian Watford, junior Victor Oladipo, senior Jordan Hulls and freshman Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, were a combined 10-31. Junior Will Sheehey, sophomore Remy Abell and freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea were 0-7 from the field. Indiana’s shooting woes were the result of tight defense from Wisconsin and a team-wide epidemic of a bad shooting night. The quality of a team’s warmups may not have a direct correlation to how the players will perform but I noticed that few shots were falling in the pre-game shooting drills, which may have carried over to the actual games.

The lack of outside shooting options for the Hoosiers made it especially difficult for Indiana when one of its players was able to penetrate into the lane. On two occasions, Jordan Hulls drove to the basket, jumped and looked for an outlet pass but he could not find any open teammates and turned the ball over both times.

While the Badgers connected on less than one-third of their three-point attempts, the ones that they made came at critical points in the game, either to take the lead from Indiana or begin to pull away from the Hoosiers. One of their largest leads of the game came with 12:13 remaining in the second half when Wisconsin went on a 9-0 run that included a pair of three-pointers from freshman Sam Dekker and senior Mike Bruesewitz.

Wisconsin center Jared Berggren dunks on Victor Oladipo.
Wisconsin center Jared Berggren dunks on Victor Oladipo.

Victor Oladipo scored the first three points of the game after halftime to extend Indiana’s lead but the Hoosiers failed to play with the urgency that they needed against a tough opponent. Indiana’s zone defense left gaping holes for Wisconsin to exploit and by the time that IU Coach Tom Crean called for full-court pressure, it was too late for the No. 2 team in the country. Wisconsin made six free throws in the final 71 seconds and the Badgers held off Indiana to complete the upset at Assembly Hall.

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Game Notes

It is irresponsible to declare under most circumstances that the officials decided the game based on their calls. Many Hoosier fans are up in arms over several calls against Indiana.

Were most of the calls justified?

Yes.

Were a couple of the calls absolutely outrageous?

Yes.

The referees did not decide the game but some of the calls certainly made it more difficult for Indiana to surmount Wisconsin in a late comeback. The worst of the calls occurred with 1:11 remaining after Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell made the second free throw after being fouled to bring Indiana within four of Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s Mike Bruesewitz tried to set a screen on Victor Oladipo, held him and the two were tangled up as Oladipo tried to get past him. A foul was called on Oladipo, Brusewitz made a free throw to extend Wisconsin’s lead and Indiana lost seven ticks on the clock when there wasn’t much time to spare.

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The past eight winners of the Big Ten have lost only seven home games, which suggests that Indiana may be out of luck to win the conference. The Hoosiers still have to face Michigan (x2), Michigan State (x2), Ohio State (x2), Minnesota and Illinois.

_____________________

While Will Sheehey and Remy Abell have received national recognition as potentially being the best sixth and seventh men in the country, respectively, the pair has combined for only one point on 0-12 shooting in the past two games. Indiana needs them to step up, especially on offense, if the Hoosiers want to win the Big Ten and battle for a No. 1 seed in March.

However, it is not just Sheehey and Abell who make Indiana’s bench a liability. Jeremy Hollowell has only scored six points in the four games since he sat out during an NCAA investigation. Junior Maurice Creek hasn’t played since the Dec. 15 game against Butler due to an injury and senior Derek Elston has not played in the past three games. Freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea is not yet a scoring option on offense and only plays when Zeller needs a quick breather. Freshman Peter Jurkin has only played in three games after serving a nine-game suspension and has yet to play for more than four minutes in a game.

Currently, Indiana is only seven players deep. Mosquera-Perea and Hollowell will play minor minutes but IU Coach Crean will need to develop the talent on his bench for Indiana to play to its potential in the remainder of the Big Ten schedule and the NCAA Tournament.

_____________________

Indiana has lost 11 consecutive games against Wisconsin and Tom Crean is still searching for his first win against the Badgers as head coach of Indiana.