Athlon Editors Discuss 5 Burning College Hoops Questions.
1. How convinced are you that Tom Crean will return Indiana to national prominence in the next few seasons.
Mitch Light: The Hoosiers have been a disappointment this season, especially of late, but I’m still on the Tom Crean bandwagon. His track record at Marquette is too good — a Final Four in 2003 as a member of C-USA and three straight 10-win seasons in the Big East (’06-08) — for him not to enjoy success at a school like Indiana. Up until this past year, his recruiting at Indiana was good — but not great. That changed in November, when Cody Zeller (No. 20 by Rivals.com) signed with IU, and it will continue next fall when two more top 20 players (forward Hanner Perea and guard Kevin Ferrell) make their commitments official. It might have taken longer than most Hoosier faithful would have liked, but the talent level is getting better in Bloomington.
Braden Gall: “National Prominence” is an interesting term since they have not won a national championship in over 20 years. Yet, they did play in the big game not even 10 years ago, and the entire state of Indiana is basketball crazed. They won’t be national championship good any time soon, but the well-dressed IU coach will be just fine. There is talent on that roster as we speak, so its only a matter of developing it properly. The 10-win total of last season should improve greatly (they are at nine already) from last season and potential tourney berths should be right around the corner.
Nathan Rush: Indiana’s basketball program under Tom Crean will return to national prominence. The question is when? I would ask Marquette’s top Crean recruit Dwyane Wade, who knows how to get to the Final Four by hitting bit-shot after big-shot (against Kentucky). I’ll say the “next few seasons” is a fair expectation. Right, D-Wade?
2. Who is the most important player in the SEC? Not necessarily the best player, but a guy whose team really needs him to play well.
Mitch Light: I’ll go with Vanderbilt point guard Brad Tinsley. The Commodores need Tinsley to play well to compete for an SEC title. He has struggled at times (in an overtime loss at Missouri), but he was very good in Wednesday night’s win over Marquette (15 points, eight assists, one turnover). If he can play that well on a consistent basis, there is no reason Vanderbilt can’t compete for the SEC East crown.
Braden: Braden: You could make an easy case for guys like Tobias Harris of Tennessee, Ravern Johnson of Mississippi State or any of the Vandy big four of Brad Tinsley, Jeff Taylor, John Jenkins or Festus Ezeli. But Chris Warren of Ole Miss is clearly the most important player in the league. He leads his team in minutes at almost 34 per game. He is easily the top scoring option and leads the team in assists as well. The Rebels have okay wins over Murray State and Penn State but need to do most of their work in-conference. Without Warren, they have no chance to make the tourney.
Nathan: Kentucky frosh Doron Lamb is crucial to the Wildcats’ season. He’s already as polished as any player in the conference, having played for Oak Hill (Va.) Academy as a high schooler and the NYC Gauchos as an AAU player before signing with John Calipari at Kentucky. Lamb is basketball royalty — his 32-point, 11-of-12 shooting, 7-of-8 from downtown night is proof enough. Still, all anyone can talk about is Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones or Enes Kanter.
3. What would you place the over-under on the number of ACC wins for North Carolina?
Mitch: I’d say 10.5 wins. My guess is that the Tar Heels will keep improving and take advantage of a down year in the ACC and finish in second place behind Duke with an 11–5 record. UNC has won five of its past six games, with the only loss coming to a very good Texas team in the final seconds.
Braden: Road trips to BC, Florida State and Duke are losses and trips to Clemson and Miami will be tough tests as well. Also, having only one game apiece with Wake Forest and Georgia Tech is unlucky. I think 10 wins would be the high-water mark for this UNC squad. An 8-8 mark will be my pick — and that might be good enough to get into the Big Dance. All four Heels’ non-con losses have been to quality opponents, and the win over Kentucky was huge for the tourney resume.
Nathan: UNC should go 14–2 with two losses to Duke. I’ll go 11–5, with four losses on the slate. A team with as much hand-picked talent as Carolina should not have to worry about any finish other than an ACC title (or national title). But Roy Williams likes to hand-pick soft “Kansas-type” players. So, Dean Smith will have to hide his eyes when he watches. Dean had Rasheed Wallace for two years; Roy’s “problem child” has been whoever his latest strike-zone swing-and-miss McDonald’s All-American is. Not the same tax bracket. … Look away, Dean.
4. It's early, but what seed will UConn be in the NCAA Tournament?
Mitch: I believe the Huskies will settle into the 4-5 range when it’s time to seed the Field of 68. Following the Huskies’ 78–63 loss at Pittsburgh Monday night, many college basketball observers were quick to point out that UConn clearly was not a top-5 team despite its lofty ranking. That might be true, but I would still argue that this team deserved its ranking, even though the roster might be that impressive. You can’t dismiss wins over Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky on a neutral court. Back to the question: I think UConn will enjoy a solid season in the Big East, but this team is too young and too challenged on the offensive end (other than Kemba Walker) to remain in the top 10 throughout the year.
Braden: A 6-seed. Some great early wins and the National Player of the Year (at this point) counts for a lot. But this is a very young team with basically two great, dependable players. The Big East has already proven that it will once again be brutal night-in and night-out. UConn was controlled quite easily by Jamie Dixon’s Pitt bunch on Big Monday. Until those pups grow-up and experience the best conference ever assembled for themselves, UConn will lose many of those close, road tests that count so much in seeding.
Nathan: The Connecticut Huskies will be a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Don’t pick against coach Jim Calhoun’s team, however, because he is 15–1 all-time in the first round of the Big Dance — with a one-point, last-second shot loss to No. 12-seed San Diego as a “dreaded” No. 4 seed in Tampa in the first round in 2008.
5. Notre Dame, fresh off its big win over Georgetown, heads to Syracuse this weekend for a huge Big East battle. Who wins?
Mitch: Notre Dame in the upset. The Irish are far more battle-tested, with wins over Georgia, Cal and Wisconsin on a neutral court and Gonzaga and Georgetown at home. Notre Dame isn’t very deep — Mike Brey played only seven guys vs. Georgetown — but the Irish have a ton of experience, and they have been playing well on the defensive end.
Braden: This is a long, athletic, well-coached Irish squad. Tim Abromaitis and Carlton Scott can do everything on the court and are nightmare matchups for most teams. That being said, Syracuse big man Rick Jackson has played great basketball and is battling for second place behind Kemba Walker for Big East POY honors. Athletic wing Kris Joseph has started to hit his stride (he has topped the 21-point mark in three of his last four), and the Orange’s guards will be too much for the Tory Jackson-less ND backcourt. Cuse by 8.
Nathan: Syracuse is better than Jim Boeheim wants us to think. Then again, Notre Dame’s basketball team is better than their football team. What? Who says? Let Tyler Hansbrough’s little brother quarterback the football team and see what happens. The Cuse lets basketball players (or guys from Duke) take consistent snaps, right? At least the Irish’s Ben Hansbrough has Southeastern Conference experience and is tougher than most signal-callers at ND. Seriously, the Orange have every edge and should win easily against the Fighting Irish.