So now that the college basketball season is over, what do we know of Indiana and it’s prospects for the future.
Potential is there, but so are the challenges. Kentucky with its ruthlessly effective style of landing superstar talent that blasts away the advantage of experience and maturity has set a standard few can match.
It takes great coaching to do that way, by the way, as well as getting guys to buy into the team-over-individual mindset. Love or hate John Calipari, the guy can coach as well as recruit.
We saw the blueprint for winning NCAA championships for the second decade of the 21st Century. You win with talent, breath-taking talent. You win with toughness and tenacity and fearlessness.
But in the end, it’s still about defense. You attack with defense, you punish and exploit and sustain.
Both Kentucky and Kansas did that.
IU went racehorse to racehorse with Kentucky in Atlanta, thrived on offense, buckled on defense. Yes, the Wildcats went an unheard of 35-for-37 from the free throw line, a pace it couldn’t match the rest of the tournament, but the bottom line is, it did what it had to do. The Hoosiers have to find another level of defense where it harasses, yet still holds. Experience will help. Improved strength will, too.
But mostly it’s about will and pride. It’s the thou-shall-not pass, draw-a-line-in-the-sand approach.
As far as talent, you need NBA caliber guys, the more the better. Kansas had three of them and it wasn’t enough because Kentucky had twice as many. You can talk about coaching and strategy, and that’s important, but you’ve got to have guys who are big and fast and oh so athletic.
IU this season had one NBA-caliber player in Cody Zeller, and another with pro potential in Christian Watford. It needs at least one more, perhaps a couple more, to really be a national title contender.
Will this incoming freshman class provide it? There’s certainly the potential, especially with Yogie Ferrell, Hanner Perea and Jeremy Hollowell, but we won’t know for sure until they get on campus and start performing.
As talented as this group is, and it’s considered the nation’s second best behind Arizona AT THE MOMENT, it likely will not match Kentucky. Calipari isn’t done with his Class of 2012 group. He figures to bring in Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett and Nerlens Noel to the already committed Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley and Alex Poythress. Plus, he has North Carolina State transfer Ryan Harrow, who will be eligible next season.
In other words, the Wildcats will again set the standard for talent.
Yeah, it’s not fair.
Like we said early, the Hoosiers will have challenges in their national title quest, but that’s true every year.
Tom Crean has the program back. He knows how to beat Kentucky, and if it came with the Assembly Hall advantage this season, so what. His key for next season will be getting everybody to not worry about minutes but productivity, chemistry over individual glory. The players have to maximize the off-season as they did last summer. If they do, and the hunger remains and the experience from this season’s Sweet 16 run is exploited, look out.
As for Watford, all signs point that he’s gone. It’s almost certain the NBA won’t be an option next year, but international opportunity will, and he seems focused on that, willing to start his career rather than return for a national title shot.
That will solve the scholarship crunch -– at the moment IU has 14 players and 13 scholarships next season –- and provide instant opportunity for Perea and Hollowell.
If those guys can thrive with it, look out.
So what do we know of the Hoosiers’ basketball prospects?
They remain very, very bright.