As we are less than a month away from the start of the NCAA Tournament, it seems like a good time to revisit my "5 Bold Predictions for Indiana" which I made prior to the start of the season. The Hoosiers have had an up and down year, but are still solidly in the NCAA Tournament at 18-9 (8-6). The Hoosiers have the #34 RPI and are ranked #51 in the Kenpom rankings as of this writing. The latest bracketology on CBSSports has Indiana as a #6 seed which is a little higher than I think most were expecting after another loss to in-state rival Purdue (projected #11 seed). ESPN's Joe Lunardi has the Hoosiers as a #7 seed - but that hasn't been updated since the loss to Purdue which will likely move them down to a #8 or #9. So how am I doing on my 5 bold predictions thus far?
Prediction 1 - James Blackmon Jr. will run away with the Freshman of the Year award within the B1G Conference
Well - I'm not off to a good start am I? While James Blackmon Jr has been good - and even sometimes great - he likely isn't going to receive a single first place vote in this race. D'Angelo Russell of Ohio State, who was the top ranked freshman coming in, has been spectacular. He is leading the Buckeyes in scoring at 19.1 PPG (2nd in the B1G), rebounding at 5.8 RPG, and is second in assists per game at 5.5 (2nd in the B1G). Russell is likely to be a unanimous choice for Freshman of the Year. There is a good race for runner up though - and that is where you will find Blackmon. He is competing with Melo Trimble of Maryland who has put up 16.1 PPG and 3.1 APG thus far which has led Maryland to a surprising 22-5 (10-4) record. That compares to Blackmon who has registered 16.1 PPG and 5.2 RPG which is nothing to sneeze at either. While either Trimble or Blackmon would probably win the award in most years - it just isn't going to happen with Russell doing what he is doing at Ohio State.
Prediction 2 - The Hoosiers will lead the B1G Conference in three point shooting percentage
I took a decent amount of criticism for this one. We all knew the Hoosiers were going to rely on the three point shot this year given the lack of size down low. So how could Indiana lead the conference in three point shooting if they were going to take the most threes? Well - not only are they blowing away the conference at 41.4% (next closest is MSU at 39.8%), they are also 3rd place in the entire country - trailing only UC Davis & Idaho. The Hoosiers had their greatest triumph against Minnesota a week ago shooting 18-32 which set a school record for most made threes in a game. The Hoosiers have taken the most shots from long distance in the conference at 601 (next closest is Michigan at 571), and they will continue to take threes at a high rate if they continue to hit at 41.4%. At that shooting percentage - they might consider taking the VMI approach. The Keydats have taken 954 3pt attempts vs. 865 2pt attempts this season. Maybe that is overkill - but Indiana does need to find a way to free up those shooters if they want to make a run in March.
Prediction 3 - Indiana will have a winning record in the B1G Conference
I'm on a roll now! While this doesn't seem like that bold of a prediction now - just remember back to the doomsday theories in the offseason. No one had any idea what to expect with Hanner Mosquera-Perea as the only legitimate threat down low at 6'9". Most publications and websites had the Hoosiers at 10th place in the conference and on the outside looking in as far as tournament prospects. With four games to go in the season - Indiana stands at 8-6 in conference play with their two easiest road games (Rutgers & Northwestern) and two home games (Iowa & MSU) left on the schedule. They only need to win 2 of those games to clinch a winning record and match my pre-season 10-8 conference prediction. At this point - they might even exceed that, although they have lost 5 of 8 and certainly need to get some deficiencies figured out as we hit the home stretch after another poor performance against Purdue just a few days ago.
Prediction 4 - Indiana will return to the Sweet 16
After what we have seen so far this year from the Hoosiers - this certainly remains a bold prediction. Indiana has beaten some good teams in SMU, Butler, Pittsburgh, Ohio State, and Maryland. They have also lost to Purdue two times, lost at home to Eastern Washington, and been blown out by Louisville and Michigan State. Whether the Hoosiers can return to the Sweet 16 or not is going to be entirely dependent on the matchups they get in March. If they can get into a bracket with smaller teams that consider defense optional - Indiana has a great chance. However, if they get into a bracket with similar teams to Purdue - large and defensive oriented - there is a good chance the Hoosiers will be packing their bags after Game 1. So the jury is still out on this prediction. One thing is for sure though - most in Hoosier Nation are still excited about what this team could possibly do in March if the cookie crumbles the right way.
Prediction 5 - The Hoosiers will send two players to the NBA next offseason
So maybe I was a little over zealous with this prediction. As I wrote back in September - there are really three options on this Hoosier team for NBA consideration - and I believe that is still the case. Those are Kevin Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, and James Blackmon Jr. Ferrell may be the closest right now as he has been bouncing back and forth from a late first rounder to an early second rounder in many mock drafts. Is his stock really going to be any higher than it is right now? He is tied with Blackmon as the scoring leader for Indiana at 16.1 PPG to go along with 5.0 APG and has also been the Hoosiers defensive stopper (even in the post). Troy Williams has been much improved at 13.7 PPG and 6.6 RPG (leading the team), and he has put up more highlight reel dunks than anyone else in the country over the course of the year which shows his raw athleticism. However, he still has a turnover problem at 2.4 per game and he still hasn't figured out how to hit a jump shot which is going to be key at the next level. Blackmon has also been great at 16.1 PPG, but he hasn't shown near the athleticism that I think will be needed to get to the next level. He is more often than not blocked when he drives to the rim and has instead done much of his scoring from long range. Could one of these guys decide to pack their bags and move on? Maybe - but I think odds are all three are going to find their way back to Bloomington next season.
So 2-2 isn't bad for bold predictions right? Whether that number will move to 3-2 or 2-3 will solely depend on Indiana's ability to adapt the rest of the way. Teams are starting to find a way to shut down that three point line and the Hoosiers are going to need to find a way to combat that. A little defense might help and if they can find that - look out in March.