On November 22nd in the 2K Sports Classic, the UConn Huskies will play either Washington, or the Indiana Hoosiers who are coming off of a season in which the program had been ranked #1 for most of the year. Indiana has lost their two biggest players in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo to the NBA Draft, but if they do get their shot at them, Connecticut could make an early statement this season.
The 2013-2013 campaign was a rejuvenate one for Tom Crean's Hoosiers, as Indiana began the year ranked #3 in the pre-season polls and became the #1 team in the country just one week into the season. With seven footer Cody Zeller, dynamic guard Victor Oladipo and other young, talented players, the Hoosiers went the entire season being ranked at #3 or above.
After dominating the regular season with a 26-5 record, Indiana looked towards the Big Ten Conference Tournament, entering as the #1 overall seed. After beating Illinois handily in the first round, the Hoosiers' conference tournament run was short lived when they were upset by Wisconsin, 68-56.
Still though, along with teams like Louisville and Duke, Indiana entered NCAA Tournament play as one of the big favorites to win it all. After thrashing James Madison in the Round of 64 and just getting by Temple and their budding star in Khalif Wyatt, Indiana's title hopes were dashed by the Syracuse Orange in the Sweet Sixteen where they lost by a score of 61-50, ending their extremely successful 2012-2013 campaign.
How they look
Now then, just because Zeller, Oladipo and even Christian Watford are no longer college students doesn't mean this will be a lay-up for UConn should they play them early in the season. USA Today's pre-season poll has Indiana ranked at 24th overall, five spots behind the Huskies. This team has one of the best coaches in all of college basketball—with Brad Stevens leaving Butler for the Boston Celtics, he may even fall into the Top Five. Indiana has eight freshman on their roster this season, but with players like Will Sheehey and Yogi Farrell returning, this team still knows how to win.
Last season's team shot 40.3 percent from three, although this trend may not continue as Indiana has their four top scorers from last season to either graduation or the NBA. As a freshman last season, Yogi Farrell finished third in the Big Ten in assists at 4.1 per game, and you expect that number to only go up as he matures as a player. One year into his system, expect Farrell to have a much better understanding and comfort level with Tom Crean's offense. Zeller and Oladipo were notorious last year for being able to create their own offense. With those two gone, the Hoosiers are going to rely on their point guard that much more this season.
Evan Gordon is expected to start and with him replacing Jordan Hulls, he has a lot on his plate. As a senior in high school Gordon shot 44 percent from beyond-the-arc. Last season, however, Gordon shot 35 percent. Now shooting close to 50 percent is a completely unrealistic expectation for anyone, but if Gordon can raise that percentage just a bit, he will be another valuable asset for Tom Crean.
Perhaps the biggest key to Indiana's 2013-2014 season is five-star recruit Noah Vonleh. As one of the top recruits in the entire nation, Vonleh has big expectations to live up to, and if he can live up to the hype, the Hoosiers may be that much more of a dangerous team this season. As a 6'10, 240 lbs freshman forward, expect this kid to have an impact. ESPN graded Vonleh at 93 out of 100 and ranks him as the 13th best recruit in the country. Not only will this kid provide size and rebounding ability, but he can create his own shot and at times has even been known to be a pretty good facilitator. All he has to do now is live up to the hype.
Should UConn and Indiana face off early in November, this won't be a lay-up for either team. While they've improved a bit in this area since last season, UConn will still be at a disadvantage when it comes to size. Indiana's front-court features a 6'7 small forward, 6'10 power forward and 6'11 center.
That all being said, it's no question that the Huskies have one of the most dangerous back courts in the entire country with experienced guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, not to mention sophomore guard Omar Calhoun. With DeAndre Daniels likely being matched up with players either his size or larger, the key for Connecticut coming through with a victory will most certainly be their guard play.
This game features two teams with two different strengths: One with speed, one with size. Another thing that shouldn't be forgotten is Indiana's three-point shooting. As mentioned earlier, shooting from three last season was a strength for the Hoosiers and defending from three has been an issue for the Huskies in the past few seasons. It will be interesting to see how this match-up materializes, but if I were to make a prediction, I would say that UConn has the slight edge in that their starting line-up is more experienced and has played together longer.
Husky fans everywhere should be rooting for UConn to face off against Indiana in the 2K Sports Classic, because that could be one heck of an early season match-up.