Top 25 Countdown: No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 27-9, 11-7 Big Ten (5th); Lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16

Head Coach: Tom Crean

Key Losses: Verdell Jones III, Matt Roth

Newcomers: Yogi Ferrell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Jeremy Hollowell, Peter Jurkin

Projected Lineup:

G: Jordy Hulls, Sr.
G: Victor Oladipo, Jr.
F: Will Sheehey, Sr.
F: Christian Watford, Sr.
C: Cody Zeller, So.
Bench: Maurice Creek, Jr.; Derek Elston, Sr.; Remy Abell, Sr.; Yogi Ferrell, Fr.; Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Fr.; Jeremy Hollowell, Fr.; Peter Jurkin, Fr.

Outlook: Indiana’s back. It’s official. And it’s a long way from being a secret. After winning their first 12 games of the 2011-2012 season — including a memorable, last-second victory over Kentucky — the Hoosiers cruised to 27 wins, a fifth-place finish in the Big Ten and a trip to the Sweet 16.

Much of that success can be attributed to last year’s freshmen class, which was headlined by none other than Preseason Player of the Year Cody Zeller. Zeller’s impact on this team and this program cannot be understated. Let’s forget, for a second, that he averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds. Let’s forget the 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks he added. Let’s ignore the 62.3% he shot from the field and the 75.5% he hit from the charity stripe. All that is known. He was a monster last year and is expected to be a Monstar this season.

But what hasn’t been discussed as much is something that I propose we start calling ‘the Zeller effect’. As a sophomore, Christian Watford shot 38.1% from three; as a junior he knocked them down at a 43.7% clip. As a sophomore, Jordy Hulls was a 41.4% three-point shooter; as a junior, he shot 49.3%. Will Sheehey went from 30.4% to 38.3%; Matt Roth went from 37.5% to 54.5%; Derek Elston went from 17.6% to 55.2%. Indiana, as a team, shot 34.6% on just over 17 threes per game in 2010-2011. In 2011-2012, the Hoosiers took just under 15 threes per game and hit them at a 43.1% clip.

It’s obvious that having Zeller would reduce Indiana’s need to rely on threes, especially tough threes at the end of a clock, but what those numbers tell you is that the attention Zeller gets on the block means that the Hoosiers that cannot be left open from beyond the arc are being left open. Zeller may have had just 45 assists last season, but his presence makes everyone else on Indiana that much better.

With essentially everyone from last season returning — Roth and Verdell Jones III are the only players Indiana loses — and a loaded recruiting class coming in this year, the offensive end of the floor should be the least of Tom Crean’s concerns.

Defensively, however, it is a different story. The biggest concern I have about the Hoosiers is that when their best offensive team is on the floor it could end up looking very different than their best defensive team. Hulls struggles to defend at the point guard spot, but he’s a lights-out shooter and the most efficient playmaker on Indiana’s team. Freshman Yogi Ferrell is a better defender, although some of that difference could be mitigated if Ferrell comes along offensively thoughout the year. Oladipo is a shut-down defender, but he only hit 20.8% from deep last year. Maurice Creek, who missed last season after suffering his third major injury and undergoing his third major surgery, has always been able to score, but can his body handle the rigors of the Big Ten? Christian Watford’s ability to shoot gives Zeller space in the paint, but he’s a far-cry from what you would consider a good front court defender.

Indiana is going to score a lot of points this season, but whether or not their defense improves will determine just how good this team ends up being.

The good news for Crean is that he’ll have no shortage of lineup options, as Indiana could feasibly go 13 deep if that was at all possible. I haven’t even mentioned guards Remy Abell and Austin Etherington or big men Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Derek Elston or Peter Jurkin yet. Jurkin and Perea have some issues with the NCAA they need worked out still, but all six of those players could end up playing vital roles for the Hoosiers this season.

Predictions?: Naming the Hoosiers the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason means that we believe they are the most likely team to win the national title, but it doesn’t mean Indiana is anywhere near a lock. As much as any season in recent memory, this year is completely wide open. The Hoosiers may be the favorite, but if they can’t fix some of their problems on the defensive end of the floor, they could end up getting picked off in the NCAA tournament by a team that gets hot on the right night.

The other problem that Crean is going to have to deal with is managing egos. There are only going to be so many shots and minutes to go around, which means that someone is going to end up sitting on the bench more than expected and someone else is going to spend a lot of time setting screens or throwing entry passes. Can Crean keep everyone happy even when the rotation tightens in February? What happens if, for example, Ferrell beats out Hulls for the starting point guard spot in the middle of the season?

Crean will have his work cut out for him, but dealing with too much talent is a much better situation than where he was two years ago.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

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Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

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Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

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Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.

Tennessee lands impact graduate transfer James Daniel

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Tennessee and head coach Rick Barnes earned a commitment from one of the top graduate transfers on the market on Monday when Howard guard James Daniel pledged to the Volunteers.

The 6-foot-0 Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer at 27.1 points per game his junior season in 2015-16. Daniel played in only two games last season as a left ankle injury caused him to have surgery.

With nearly 2,000 career points to his name, Daniel gives Tennessee an additional perimeter scorer who should come in and make an immediate impact right away. While Howard has low shooting percentages and a high usage rate during his time at Howard, it’ll be interesting to see how the year off and more talented teammates will alter his game.

If Howard can be a more efficient scorer in his final season, then he has a chance to be one of the better players for the Volunteers this season.

Two workouts this week could alter Caleb Swanigan’s NBA Draft decision

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Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan has the most important decision among any college basketball player who could return next season from the 2017 NBA Draft process. If Swanigan comes back for his junior season, he’s the frontrunner for National Player of the Year. More importantly, Purdue would have a serious chance to repeat as Big Ten regular season champions, especially if Vince Edwards also returns from the same draft process.

Wednesday night is the decision deadline for players to return to college basketball for next season and Swanigan will use two more workouts scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday to help decide his future. According to multiple reports, Swanigan will workout for the Orlando Magic on Tuesday and the New York Knicks on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s workout with the Magic will also reportedly involve Cal big man Ivan Rabb — an important workout for Swanigan since Rabb is listed ahead of Swanigan on a lot of popular mock drafts. The Magic own three picks between No. 25 and No. 35 — which is listed slightly above the No. 40 slot that Draft Express has Swanigan listed. So if Swanigan has a good workout against Rabb for the Magic, then he could get himself some sort of guarantee from a Magic team that desperately needs talent and has a lot of picks in that range.

The Knicks also have Swanigan scheduled for a Wednesday workout as they own the No. 44 overall pick in the second round. Again, the Knicks are a team in win-now mode with current stars like Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis openly feuding with the team’s front-office, so it wouldn’t be out of the question for Swanigan to land some sort of guarantee from New York in the second round.

Of course, guarantees for draft night are nice to have, but things can change quickly on draft night. Swanigan has to consider all of the information he is receiving before he makes his decision on Wednesday. But if Swanigan has two strong workouts and gets the information that he’s looking for this week, then he could easily bolt for a potential guaranteed contract.