With the NBA reaching its halfway point with this weekend’s All-Star break in Houston, some will start to turn their attention to what’s going on with NCAA basketball. March is, after all, just around the corner. A quick recap for those who haven’t been paying attention: Kentucky isn’t all that good (especially now that Nerlens Noel is out for the season), UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad is starting to live up to the preseason hype, and there is no dominant team.
The last few years teams have separated themselves by now (Kentucky in 2012 and 2010, North Carolina in 2009 and Memphis in 2008). This season there has been a far greater amount of parity, and thus, far greater unpredictability when trying to ask: Who’s No. 1? To add context, four teams in the Preseason Top 25 are not ranked in the top 10 currently. To take it even a step further, none of the three Tobacco Road teams sit atop the ACC standings. Could this be another 2011, where a team like Connecticut makes an unheralded run through both their conference and the NCAA Tournament to cut down the nets in Atlanta? Or could it be like 2010, where a strong mid-major team like Butler rises to the top and contends with some of the bigger name programs at a chance of being crowned national champions?
With less than a month remaining in the regular season teams are starting to mold into what we will probably see when March rolls around. As of now there are five teams that stand out the most: Indiana, Michigan, Duke, Miami and Gonzaga. However, this isn’t about the five best teams in college basketball, it’s about who is the one truly best team in the land. Without further ado, let’s jump into the argument.
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The preseason and current No. 1-ranked team in the NCAA is NOT the best team. I repeat: The Indiana Hoosiers are not the best team in college basketball. The talent and depth is there and the Hoosiers have eight players who play more than 10 minutes per game — and Maurice Creek averages 9.5 minutes per game. They also had five players return from a team that made a somewhat surprising trip to the Sweet 16 in last year’s tournament.
Indiana is also an amazing offensive team: they can play inside through Cody Zeller post ups and Victor Oladipo drives, and they have perimeter shooters in Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Yogi Ferrell. This versatility allows the Hoosiers to average 82.9 points per game, good for second best in the nation.
Indiana is good, but they just aren’t the best. They have had trouble closing out games this season, with three losses coming by a combined nine points. Against Butler they battled back in the final two minutes to send the game into overtime and held a four-point lead with 1:49 left to play. The Bulldogs would go on an 8-2 run to end the game and get the win.
In their second loss of the season, to Wisconsin, the two teams played a tightly contested game that, at the under-16 minute media timeout, the Hoosiers trailed by one, 38-37. However, in the next four minutes Wisconsin went on a 9-2 run to bring their lead up to 8 and the Badgers kept the lead for the remainder of the game.
Their latest lost came against an Illinois Illini team that was 2-7 in Big Ten play coming into the matchup. The Hoosiers took a convincing, and expected, 41-29 lead at the half. Illinois came out with a much more valiant effort in the second half, but it seemed that Indiana always seemed to have an answer. At the 2:55 mark Illinois took a timeout trailing by eight. From that point on the Illini closed out the game with a 12-2 run resulting in another upset loss for Indiana. The Illinois loss is the only one that was a true road game, which isn’t the best of signs for the Hoosiers going forward. Zeller is having a good season averaging 16.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg, however the engine that drives Indiana is junior guard Oladipo. The Maryland product is the team’s best all-around player and is the team’s heart and soul. The Hoosiers will go as far as Oladipo can take them when March Madness begins.