Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
Crystal balls are in full supply every November. We pour through every known statistic to find that overlooked All-American candidate. We criticize the coaches for their preseason picks and condemn the AP poll for overrating Duke. National player of the year rankings are compiled and there’s an inevitable temptation to put some serious coin on that perfect Final Four sleeper at 25/1. It all seems so easy.
Of course, there’s a reason why we don’t all own private islands in the Caribbean. Some of our predictions compare to Nostradamus’ best work while others blow up in our faces. You can’t win them all. For every successful prediction, there’s one you’d like to forget. Here’s a brief rundown of what many considered conventional wisdom before the season and whether those statements turned fall under the category of hits or misses:
Zeller has been spectacular as a freshman
HIT: Cody Zeller is Indiana’s program-changer
The expectations heaped on the broad shoulders of the youngest Zeller were enough to overwhelm even the most talented freshman. His much-publicized pledge was immediately viewed as Tom Crean’s major recruiting breakthrough and a significant step toward Indiana reclaiming old glory. Zeller has exceeded even the most optimistic projections, leading Indiana to two marquee wins over Kentucky and Ohio State and a yearlong spot in the national rankings. The Washington, Ind., native is averaging 15.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and hitting 64 percent of his shots while providing Crean a post presence to counterbalance Indiana’s outside shooters. Zeller’s instant impact has Indiana one year ahead of schedule in their treacherous post-Kelvin Sampson rebuild and, with a star-studded class entering Bloomington for 2012-13, even more national acclaim is in store should Zeller return for a sophomore season.
MISS: Xavier is a final four sleeper
Immediately after Tu Holloway opted for a final year at Xavier over the NBA Draft, the Musketeers were labeled a top-25 shoe-in and popular Final Four pick. After all, Chris Mack’s first two seasons as head coach produced an extraordinary 29-3 conference record and most key contributors were returning for a program that has experienced their fair share of March success in recent years. The story of Xavier’s season hasn’t exactly stayed on course. The Musketeers are 9-9 since that ugly brawl with Cincinnati, Holloway apparently doesn’t enjoy basketball anymore, suspensions and inconsistency have plagued Frease and the once-popular Musketeers may be NIT-bound following their loss Tuesday at UMass.
HIT: Tom Izzo has a team more to his liking
After discarding malcontents from a roster that slipped from number two in the nation to 19-15 overall last season, many prognosticators examined Sparty’s new-look roster and jumped back on the bandwagon. That faith has been rewarded in spades. Draymond Green is a Cleaves-type leader and a surefire All-American. Equally coachable and talented underclassmen Keith Appling and Brendan Dawson are stars in the making. Derrick Nix is finally in shape and Adreian Payne outplayed Jared Sullinger during the team’s statement win over Ohio State. Izzo’s squad is clearly embracing his philosophy of rugged defense, well-executed set plays and an unwavering effort on the boards, ranking second in the nation in defensive efficiency and third in rebound margin. This is a confident team climbing the polls and zeroing in on a Big Ten title and number one seed.
MISS: Andre Drummond is the missing piece to another Connecticut Final Four run
I was covering a high school football game in late August when Andre Drummond stunned the college hoops world and shunned another year of prep school to walk on with the defending national champs. I’ll never forget re-doing my preseason top five on the spot: North Carolina, Kentucky, Connecticut, Ohio State and Syracuse in order. Despite the departure of Kemba Walker, lottery picks Drummond and Jeremy Lamb paired with emerging talents Alex Oriakhi and Shabazz Napier appeared sufficient enough to warrant a spot in the top five. What we neglected to remember was that Drummond was a raw, unseasoned, 18-year old center with no low post moves. It was a considerable step up to the Big East after simply overwhelming all opposition at the high school level. His lackluster 9.9 points per game, 32 percent free throw shooting and on-court chemistry issues with Oriakhi can attest to that. Drummond is still a future lottery pick and defensive menace, but his arrival hasn’t vaulted Connecticut to nearly the heights anticipated on that late summer day he opted to join the Huskies.
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