20 Questions: Who is This Year’s Indiana?Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on November 7th, 2013
Who is this year’s Indiana? Whoa, that is a loaded question that certainly won’t endear me to one particular fan base. This exercise is essentially an educated guess based on unknowns, so remember to take this with a big grain of salt. Before we begin, here is a little refresher for those who may have forgotten some things about last season. The 2012-13 Indiana Hoosiers were the nation’s preseason No. 1 team, an ultra-talented group that went 26-5 in the regular season and won the Big Ten with a 14-4 league record. Despite bowing out to Wisconsin in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers locked up the top seed in the East Region, eventually falling to fourth-seeded Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen as Tom Crean and his club simply had no answer for Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone. In a year where IU fans had dreams of at least another Final Four and possibly a national championship, the Hoosiers’ season ended with a resounding thud – a full two rounds short of the ultimate goal, Atlanta.
So, who fills that unlucky role this season (if anyone)? This question is inherently difficult because of the simple fact that I have to choose a highly-ranked team, all of them capable of making the Final Four, winning a national championship and making this article look incredibly foolish. But I’m going to go with Duke. Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils enter the season ranked No. 4 in the nation in both the AP and USA Today/Coaches polls. However, this is a considerably different Duke team from last year’s 30-6 outfit that advanced to the Elite Eight. Gone are Coach K’s top three scorers: Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee, and Ryan Kelly. Coming in is Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood along with the nation’s seventh-ranked recruiting class, headlined by the player some folks feel is the best incoming freshman in the nation, Jabari Parker. Sharpshooter Andre Dawkins also returns after a year off. Without Plumlee and his terrific inside presence, this Duke team will have a different look in 2013-14. Krzyzewski has admitted as much in many preseason interviews, but adjusting his playing style to fit the talents and skills of his team is not going to be a problem for the Hall of Famer and winningest coach in men’s Division I history.
Expect Duke to play faster, making a concerted effort to get up and down the floor given its personnel. Point guard Quinn Cook showed a lot of promise last year and will be counted on to direct a potent perimeter attack. The Blue Devils have a fantastic two guard in Rasheed Sulaimon and guys like Hood and Parker can do it all given their high degrees of versatility. In fact, you may not find a better combination of 6’8” guys with as much versatility as these two. With no true center in the rotation, Hood and Parker will probably be the most important players on the team. They are going to be counted on to open up the floor and take the pressure off of Cook and Sulaimon. Make no mistake, this will be a strong Duke team that will put plenty of points on the board. But while Hood and Parker should have no problem fulfilling their roles in the regular season, it could become an issue at Tournament time. When the chips are down and you have to win a game against a quality opponent in the Sweet Sixteen, the wrong match-up with a team that can bottle up Duke’s forwards can derail the Blue Devils’ chances.
This is a program that has been in every NCAA Tournament since last missing in 1995. The Blue Devils are going to get there again and will likely win at least a game or two while there. If they are to fall in the Sweet Sixteen, like Indiana last season, the lack of a true center and an elite defense could very well be the reasons why. Duke hasn’t defended at an elite level since the 2010 national championship team, and as the old saying goes, defense wins championships. Hood and Parker have solid reputations on both ends of the floor, but this is a team that ranked No. 31 in defensive efficiency last season and has now lost its best defender (Ryan Kelly) to graduation. Its defense may be better this year but it’s going to take quite a commitment for Coach K to mold his team into a top unit capable of advancing deep into March. You may be surprised to learn that Duke has advanced past the Sweet Sixteen only twice since 2004 (2010 and 2013) and just three times since winning the national championship in 2001. The Blue Devils lost quite a bit from last year’s team, and despite a strong incoming class, it certainly isn’t crazy to see this preseason top five team making a quicker exit from the NCAA Tournament than some people may now expect. Somewhat surprisingly, history and the odds are on the side of the doubters.