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.