Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stupid Indiana is Fun to Watch and Should Win It All

My God, those stupid pants.

By Joe Parello

I hate Indiana.

Not the state. Not the university, or its athletic department as a whole, but man do I hate that basketball program.

A few years ago, when Kelvin Sampson illegally phone called them into a nuclear winter, nobody was happier than I was.

I'm a Boilermaker, and hating the Hoosiers is what we do at Purdue.

But now, here's the problem I have… Indiana-with all the fans I hated in college being more obnoxious ever, a used car salesman wanna-be Jim Harbaugh for a coach, and several players on the roster that I absolutely despise- is now the most entertaining, and best, team in college basketball.

Last night's thrilling Hoosier victory at Michigan State, the only win by a visiting team at the Breslin Center this year, virtually clinched the Big Ten regular season title for the Hoosiers, and moved them from Final Four favorite to prohibitive national championship favorite.

Even more annoying than the Hoosiers winning, is them doing it in incredibly entertaining fashion. Tom Crean's free-wheeling offense, ridiculed by many when his teams were getting spanked on a nightly basis, has Indiana scoring 82.5 points per game (2nd in NCAA) and, perhaps more impressively, the Hoosiers are the most efficient offensive team in all the land.

This is not the way teams are supposed to win in the meat grinder that is the 2013 Big Ten. Surely, with scoring way down across college basketball, the Big Ten as good as it's been in decades and great defensive teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State enjoying recent success, you have to win with defense, right?

Not this team, at least not entirely. While much has been made of the overnight stardom of defensive stopper Victor Oladipo, a lightly regarded wing that Crean brought in to defend multiple positions, it's really the fact that Indiana has FIVE different players averaging double figures (Ok, Will Sheehey averages 9.9 PPG and I counted him, deal with it) that makes it so dangerous.

Making the Hoosiers even more difficult to deal with is the versatility and skill of these five players. Leading scorer Cody Zeller is a skilled big with great length and touch around the basket, but he also has a midrange jumper. Oladipo is just a fantastic athlete, and it looks like his offensive game is finally catching up to his unbelievable physical gifts (Not unlike another lightly regarded athlete Crean coached at Marquette, Dwyane Wade).

Christian Watford has gone from a guy who took too many shots on bad teams, to a do-it-all combo forward that shoots nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc. Jordan Hulls may not be an elite athlete, but he provides a lethal outside shooting presence that opens things up for Oladipo's cuts and Zeller on the block. He's also an outstanding passer. Finally, Will Sheehey, who I HATE, is just a tough sumbitch that scores 8-12 a night and leaves you thinking "How the hell did that guy score on us?"

Add in tremendously talented freshman point guard Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell and the capable Remy Abell, and you have the best 7-man rotation in the country.

Now I like Miami and Florida, but both teams have tremendous flaws. The 'Canes, who just keep on winning, have great athletes, but are not a very efficient offense in the half court. They also haven't faced the schedule Indiana has, and are devoid of tournament experience. Florida, who just suffered a tough loss at underrated Missouri, may be the only team in the country that can match Indiana for depth of talent, but is still trying to figure out how to defend on the interior without junior Will Yeguete, who is recovering from a knee injury.

Duke? That loss at Maryland showed their front court isn't as good as people thought, and we've already seen what the Hoosiers have done to Michigan State and Michigan. I don't think anybody actually thinks Gonzaga can match Indiana, though 7-foot forward Kelly Olynyk would be a tough test for Zeller, and Syracuse, Louisville and Kansas have all been too inconsistent for my taste.

That means, oh my God, that Tom Crean has built a team that should win a national championship.

I'm going to go puke now.