How No. 1 will fall: Indiana

March, 20, 2013
3/20/13
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Editor’s note: Wednesday morning in the Nation blog, Myron Medcalf is examining the worst-case scenarios for each of the four 1-seeds. Keep in mind: This is not necessarily his prediction -- simply the most likely cause of a loss before the Final Four for these particular teams.

Indiana can win the national title.

Yes, I’ve picked Louisville. Many have.

[+] Enlarge Jordan Hulls
AJ Mast/Icon SMIIndiana is at its best when Jordan Hulls is stretching defenses with his shooting.
But the Hoosiers have every component necessary to win it all. No team in the country possesses their combination of depth, elite talent (Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller will be NBA lottery picks this summer), defensive ability (19th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy), 3-point shooting (42 percent in Big Ten play) and experience.

Coach Tom Crean is under pressure to perform in the postseason for the first time in his tenure because his team is so balanced and skilled.

The Hoosiers’ losses, however, prove there are flaws, too.

In his team’s two losses to Wisconsin and the loss to Butler, Jordan Hulls went 1-for-10 from the 3-point line. He’s a veteran facilitator whose experience and precision certainly will affect Indiana’s finish in the NCAA tournament. His ability to knock down the 3-ball stretches defenses. That is significant when the goal is to pull defenses off one of America’s best big men and isolate Oladipo so he can go to work off the dribble.

There’s a good chance that any team that cracks Indiana in the NCAA tournament will have a knack for contesting shots beyond the arc. That’s just the beginning, though.

What about Zeller and Oladipo?

Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren helped the Badgers limit Zeller’s production because he was defensively aggressive at the rim. That’s why Zeller went 4-for-10 and missed multiple shots in the second half of Indiana’s semifinal loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament.

In that same game, Oladipo went 4-for-12. Ryan Evans was physical against the talented wing. He stayed in his face all afternoon.

A physical big man and a physical perimeter defender (Evans and Berggren were the perfect combo for Wisconsin) will be key for any team that hopes to upset Indiana in the NCAA tournament.

Oladipo is arguably the top defensive player in America. But he can’t guard everyone. Christian Watford and Hulls can be liabilities. A strong, athletic backcourt could be a problem for the Hoosiers based on those weaknesses. Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson recorded a combined 44 points when Illinois upset the Hoosiers in February.

Wisconsin’s 12 consecutive victories against the Hoosiers prove that a team that can reduce the pace can disrupt the flow of the Hoosiers’ offense. That’s not an easy task, though. In most scenarios, they do what they want to do (second in the country with 117.6 points per 100 possessions, per ESPN Stats & Info). They’re that talented.

That’s the statistical assessment of what it will take for a team to send Indiana home in the coming weeks.

But there’s another element that goes beyond the numbers.

This Indiana squad has been outplayed by tougher teams. “Toughness” is a very vague term that’s not quantifiable and occasionally inaccurate. I get that.

Toughness doesn’t always mean that a team has a 6-foot-8 kid in the paint who delivers hard fouls or a guard who talks trash.

Toughness, to me, is just the way that a squad competes. I’ve watched the Hoosiers live multiple times, and I've come away from each effort, whether they’ve won or lost, wondering if they’ll play to their potential during March Madness based on their inconsistent toughness and grit.

There was that lead they nearly squandered in the second half of a win against Minnesota in Bloomington. There was the loss to Minnesota in Minneapolis last month when Zeller (2-for-9) was pushed around the floor by Trevor Mbakwe. There was last weekend’s effort against a Badgers team that played ugly but physical and defeated the Hoosiers again.

Indiana can win six in a row and secure a national title. But the Hoosiers will fall when they fail to execute to their full potential. Any stretches of timidity -- on offense or defense -- could lead to an early exit for a team that might be America’s best team on paper.

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