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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.

USC’s Nikola Jovanovic not expected to return to USC

Southern California forward Nikola Jovanovic pauses on the court during an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Nikola Jovanovic’s college career has come to a close.

The USC center will not withdraw his name from NBA Draft consideration by Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m., a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Jovanovic, a 6-foot-11 Serbian, averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 boards as a junior with the Trojans.

Jovanovic is not expected to be drafted, which means that Andy Enfield’s club will be losing two players to the professional ranks with eligibility to spare that likely won’t end up on an NBA roster next season. Julian Jacobs, who averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards, signed with an agent back in April.

The Trojans were a top 25 team last season despite many considering them to still be “a year away”. But with two starters departing, the Trojans will be a borderline preseason top 25 team as opposed to a top 15 team.

Marcus Lee withdrawing from the draft, transferring from Kentucky

Kentucky forward Marcus Lee dunks during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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For the second time this season and just the sixth time in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats are losing a player to transfer.

Marcus Lee announced on Wednesday that he will be withdrawing from the NBA Draft, but the 6-foot-9 forward will not be returning to Kentucky. He will be transferring out of the program to a new school.

“I want to thank the University of Kentucky, the basketball staff and the Big Blue Nation for supporting me over the years,” Lee said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to this decision, but I’m trying to do what’s right for me and my family. I’ll always think fondly of my time at Kentucky.”

Lee averaged 6.4 points and 6.0 boards this season, seeing his first major minutes as a member of the Wildcats. But he seemed destined for a bench role if he had opted to return to Kentucky this season as John Calipari has landed a recruiting class that includes five-star freshmen Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

The tough part?

It does not appear that Lee will be able to finish his degree and be eligible to play immediately next season. He’ll have to sit a year at whatever school he opts to transfer to.

“Marcus Lee informed us today that he is pulling his name out of the draft but has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision. I also told him he was a semester away from graduating. With that said, he was still adamant that, after the combine experience, a year off and regrouping would be the best thing. As always I support my players and their decisions.”

Lee joins Charles Matthews as members of last year’s Wildcats that are transferring out of the program. Darnell Dodson (Southern Miss), Stacey Poole (Georgia Tech) , Ryan Harrow (Georgia State) and Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) are the other four players that have transferred.

Isaiah Briscoe to return to Kentucky

Eric Johnson, Isaiah Briscoe
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Isaiah Briscoe announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season.

The 6-foot-3 guard had one of the more difficult decisions to make for players in this year’s draft class. On the one hand, there was a very real chance that he would go through this draft without getting picked. He was a role-playing guard on last year’s team that isn’t a point guard, isn’t big enough to be a two-guard and was a total liability shooting the ball.

But he’s returning to a team that is as loaded as the group that won their first 38 games two years ago, particularly in the back court. He’ll be playing behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk who both play essentially the same role that Briscoe does: playmaking guards that thrive with the ball in their hands. And since Briscoe can’t shoot, he may not be the best option at the three, where Derek Willis will likely see minutes.

In other words, Briscoe returning to school is essentially a two-year decision.

Kentucky now awaits an announcement from Marcus Lee on whether or not he will be returning to school.

James Blackmon Jr. to return to Indiana, Troy Williams to remain in draft

James Blackmon Jr.
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James Blackmon Jr. will be returning to Indiana for his junior season, the school announced on Wednesday morning.

Blackmon missed the final 22 games of his sophomore season following surgery on his knee in December. As a freshman, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and shot 46 percent from beyond the arc.

Indiana now awaits word on the decision that will be made by Troy Williams. A junior swingman, Williams has a shot to be an early second round pick if he opts to stay in the draft. There is a report from the Indy Star that he will keep his name in the draft, but the program has yet to confirm that news.

Losing Williams would hurt, but it’s a loss that Indiana can overcome. The emergence of O.G. Anunoby as a versatile defender means that the Hoosiers have a guy that can be a defensive stopper and can allow them to play small and fast. Anunoby also has not proven to be prone to bouts of poor decision-making, which arguably may make him a better fit.

The NBC Sports 2016-17 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25

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Putting together the Preseason Top 25 was more difficult than in past seasons because of the new NBA Draft rule that allows players to test the waters. We won’t know for another month and a half whether these guys are going to stay in the draft. 

To battle with this problem, we put a ‘*’ next to every potential draft pick that we think is returning to school. If a potential pro is not listed, it’s because we think he’s going to stay in the draft. 

The other part is the elite freshmen that have not yet committed to a school. We are not making predictions on where they end up, but we will update the rankings when the decision gets made, just like we will update the rankings when as the transfer market spins. 

So here it is: The NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25. If you see any mistakes in the rosters, please let us know.

1. Duke

  • Returning: Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones, Amile Jefferson, Chase Jeter
  • Newcomers: Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, Javin DeLaurier, Marques Bolden
  • Why they’re here: With Grayson Allen returning to school, Duke should be the consensus No. 1 team in the country. Allen and Kennard will fit perfectly on the perimeter with Jackson and Tatum while Jefferson will slide in nicely alongside Giles, giving Coach K what may be the most explosive offensive team that he’s ever coached. The x-factor here is, obviously, the health of Giles’ knees. He’s now had both knees surgically repaired and will have not played basketball for a year by the time Duke’s season kicks off.

2. Kentucky

  • Returning: Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Isaac Humphries, Isaiah Briscoe
  • Newcomers: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Tai Wynyard
  • Why they’re here: Kentucky is No. 2 — more like No. 1b — because we were concerned about where they would get perimeter shooting from to space the floor. Fox, Monk and Adebayo will let Coach Cal return to his dribble-drive motion past, but the question is just how good of a shooter Gabriel and Killeya-Jones will be at the four and whether or not Willis can slide in and play small forward for a team at this level.

3. Kansas

  • Returning: Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Carlton Bragg, Landen Lucas, Lagerald Vick
  • Newcomers: Josh Jackson, Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot
  • Why they’re here: That back court of Mason and Graham will be bolstered by Jackson, a supremely talented recruit that has the dog in him to fit in well with that group. If Svi and Bragg can take a step forward, Lucas, Azubuike and Lightfoot should be able to handle the pivot for a team that will be the favorite to win the Big 12.

4. Villanova

  • Returning: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges. Newcomers: Eric Paschall, Dylan Painter, Omari Spellman
  • Why they’re here: Losing Ryan Arcidiacono’s leadership is really going to hurt these Wildcats, but Brunson should be able to step into those shoes and have a major impact as the primary ball-handler immediately. Getting Hart back for his senior season is the difference-maker here, as the trio of Hart, Jenkins and Bridges will be a nightmare for anyone to deal with.

5. Oregon

  • Returning: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Casey Benson
  • Newcomers: Dylan Ennis*, M.J. Cage, Keith Smith, Payton Pritchard, Kavell Bigby Williams
  • Why they’re here: The Ducks were one of the best teams in this country this past season and not only will they return the majority of their key pieces, but they add Villanova transfer Ennis and a solid three-man recruiting class. The key is going to be whether or not Brooks opts to return to school for his junior season.

6. Michigan State

  • Returning: Eron Harris, Gavin Schilling, Matt McQuaid, Tum Tum Nairn
  • Newcomers: Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston, Nick Ward, Ben Carter
  • Why they’re here: The Spartans lose a ton — Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello — but they also add a ton, bringing in a class headlined by Miles Bridges that is as talented as any that Tom Izzo has brought in in recent years. Their ceiling is high, but the question that needs to be answered is just how well they fit together and just how effective Winston and Nairn will be running the point.

7. Virginia

  • Returning: London Perrantes, Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall, Marial Shayok, Darius Thompson, Jarred Rueter
  • Newcomers: Austin Nichols, Kyle Guy, Jay Huff, Mamade Diakite, DeAndre Hunter, Ty Jerome
  • Why they’re here: Losing Anthony Gill and Malcolm Brogdon is a tough blow to overcome, but the Cavaliers now have a program that can survive personnel losses like that. Nichols will shine in that system, and we’re expecting one of Perrrantes, Hall, Shayok or Thompson to take a step forward offensively.

8. North Carolina

  • Returning: Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt, Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams
  • Newcomers: Tony Bradley, Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods
  • Why they’re here: Assuming that the Tar Heels get the guys back that they’re supposed to get back, they should actually have a better team next season than some may realize. Might they actually be able to repeat as ACC regular season champions?

9. Arizona

  • Returning: Allonzo Trier, Kadeem Allen, Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright
  • Newcomers: Ray Smith, Rawle Alkins, Terrence Ferguson, Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons
  • Why they’re here: There are some very valid questions about how Arizona’s roster is going to fit together next season. With Trier, Alkins, Ferguson and Simmons all on the roster, will there be enough shots to go around? I’ll trust Sean Miller to get the most out of these guys, but there’s a chance that this No. 9 ranking could end up looking silly next March.

10. Louisville

  • Returning: Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchell, Mangok Mathiang, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel, Anas Mahmoud
  • Newcomers: Tony Hicks, V.J. King
  • Why they’re here: The Cardinals are another team that are going to be better than I realized next season. They lose Damion Lee, but expect Mitchell, Adel, Spalding and Mahmoud to all take significant steps forward.

11. Wisconsin

  • Returning: Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown, Zak Showalter, Jordan Hill, Khalil Iverson, Charlie Thomas, Alex Illikainen
  • Newcomers: Andy Van Vliet, Brevin Pritzl
  • Why they’re here: The Badgers return literally everyone from this season, barring a surprise transfer or a player jumping to the NBA. We know about Hayes and Koenig, but don’t be surprised to see Ethan Happ turn into the best player on the roster by next season.

12. Gonzaga

  • Returning: Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Przemek Karnowski
  • Newcomers: Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams III, Zach Collins, Zach Norvell, Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura
  • Why they’re here: The Zags may end up being better next season than they were last season, as Williams-Goss, Williams III and Collins may all end up being all-WCC players. They need Karnowski to decide to return for a fifth-year to anchor their defense.

13. Xavier

  • Returning: Trevon Bluiett, Edmond Sumner, Myles Davis, J.P. Macura, Kaiser Gates
  • Newcomers: Quentin Goodin, Tyrique Jones, RaShid Gaston
  • Why they’re here: We all saw how good Xavier can be this season, and they return the majority of their pieces. The big question with them next season will be in the front court, which is why we have them sitting at 13th.

14. West Virginia

  • Returning: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Tarik Phillip, Esa Ahmad, Nathan Adrian, Elijan Macon
  • Newcomers: Maciej Bender, Chase Harler, Brandon Knapper, Sagaba Konate
  • Why they’re here: Losing Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams is really going to hurt, but this group has enough of a program mentality at this point that they should be able to remain competitive without them.

15. Indiana

  • Returning: Thomas Bryant, James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson, O.G. Anunoby, Juwan Morgan
  • Newcomers: Josh Newkirk, De’Ron Davis, Grant Gelon, Devonte Green, Curtis Jones
  • Why they’re here: The Hoosiers are another team that is very up in the air at this point, even with Thomas Bryant back in the fold. Blackmon and Anunoby should be key, but Williams’ loss hurts and Yogi’s graduation is a massive void.

16. USC

  • Returning: Jordan McLaughlin, Bennie Boatwright, Elijah Stewart, Chimezie Metu, Nikola Jovanovic
  • Newcomers: Shaqquan Aaron, Harrison Henderson, Jonah Mathews, De’Anthony Melton
  • Why they’re here: USC loses Julian Jacobs but still brings back the majority of their important pieces while adding Louisville transfer Shaqquan Aaron to the mix. They were supposed to be a year away last season when they reached the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed.

17. UCLA

  • Returning: Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford, Thomas Welsh, Aaron Holiday, Jonah Bolden
  • Newcomers: Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Kobe Paras, Ike Anigbogu
  • Why they’re here: UCLA is the ultimate wildcard. If Ball has the impact that he’s expected to have, they’ll be a top five team. I could also see them being a .500 team. Your guess is as good as mine.

18. Florida State

  • Returning: Dwayne Bacon, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Terance Mann
  • Newcomers: Jonathan Isaac, Trent Forrest, Mfiondu Kabevgele, C.J. Walker
  • Why they’re here: There are talented pieces on this roster, and they should fit together better than the pieces on last year’s roster. Isaac is the wildcard here.

19. Maryland

  • Returning: Melo Trimble*, Jared Nickens, Dion Wiley, Michal Cekovsky
  • Newcomers: Anthony Cowan, Kevin Hurter, Micah Thomas
  • Why they’re here: Because we’re assuming that Trimble is coming back to school. Cowan is going to be good, but if Trimble isn’t there, this team is going to be in full rebuilding mode, and even if he is, this ranking may still be somewhat high.

20. Dayton

  • Returning: Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard, Kyle Davis, Darrell Davis, Sam Miller
  • Newcomers: Josh Cunningham, Trey Landers
  • Why they’re here: They return basically everyone from last year’s team, including head coach Archie Miller, and add a former top 100 recruit in Josh Cunningham.

21. Rhode Island

  • Returning: E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Hassan Martin, Kuran Iverson, Jarvis Garrett, Danny Hurley
  • Newcomers: Stanford Robinson, Mike Layssard, Jeff Dowtin, Cyril Langevine, Michael Tertsea
  • Why they’re here: The Rams are as talented as any team in the Atlantic 10 in recent memory. Can Danny Hurley put the pieces together?

22. Virginia Tech

  • Returning: Zach LeDay, Seth Allen, Justin Bibbs, Chris Clarke, Justin Robinson, Kerry Blackshear Jr., Devin Wilson, Ahmed Hill, Ty Outlaw
  • Newcomers: Khadeem Sy
  • Why they’re here: Because this.

23. Cincinnati

  • Returning: Troy Caupain, Gary Clark, Jacob Evans, Kevin Johnson, Justin Jenifer
  • Newcomers: Jaron Cumberland, Kyle Washington, Nysier Brooks
  • Why they’re here: We know how good their guards are. The key for them is going to be how much of an impact Washington has in the front court.

24. Creighton

  • Returning: Mo Watson, Cole Huff, Isaiah Zierden, Khyri Thomas
  • Newcomers: Justin Patton, Marcus Foster
  • Why they’re here: Watson and Foster will headline the Bluejays one of the nation’s best back courts. Their ceiling will be determined by just how good Cole Huff and Justin Patton end up being on their front line.

25. Saint Mary’s

  • Returning: Emmett Naar, Dane Pineau, Calvin Hermanson, Joe Rahon, Evan Fitzneg, Jock Landale
  • Newcomers: Jordan Ford, Elijah Thomas
  • Why they’re here: The Gaels were a year away last season, when they won 29 games and a share of the WCC regular season title. They return everyone from that team, which was top 25 in offensive efficiency.

ALSO CONSIDERED

  • Syracuse (Returning: Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson, Franklin Howard; Newcomers: Paschal Chukwu, Tyus Battle, Matthew Moyer, John Gillion)
  • Texas (Returning: Kerwin Roach Jr., Eric Davis Jr., Tevin Mack, Shaquille Cleare; Newcomers: Andrew Jones, Jacob Young, James Banks)
  • Purdue (Returning: Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline, P.J. Thompson, Basil Smotherman; Newcomers: Carsen Edwards)
  • Texas A&M (Returning: Tyler Davis, Tonny Trocha-Morelos, Admon Gilder, D.J. Hogg, Kobie Eubanks; Newcomers: J.J. Caldwell, Robert Williams)
  • Wichita State (Retuning: Landry Shamet, Markis McDuffie, Conner Frankamp, Rashard Kelly, Zach Brown, Shaquille Morris; Newcomers: Peyton Allen, C.J. Keyser)
  • Miami (Returning: Davon Reed, Ja’Quan Newton, Anthony Lawrence Jr.; Newcomers: Bruce Brown, Dewan Huell, Rodney Miller, Dejan Vasilijevic, Rashad Muhammad)
  • UConn (Returning: Rodney Purvis, Jalen Adams, Amida Brimah, Steve Enoch; Newcomers: Terry Larrier, Juwan Durham, Alterique Gilbert, Vance Jackson, Mamadou Diarra)