Tom Crean is ready for this. Well, that's my guess, and I'm pretty sure the maniacal Indiana coach (and Jim Harbaugh brother-in-law) will scream at anybody who thinks otherwise—and probably will scream at many of us who do think that, too.
Hoosiers center Cody Zeller is ready for this. And I think wing Victor Olapido is really ready for all the pressure, the surviving, the advancing, and the moment-by-moment play-making it takes to win a national championship.
So yeah, I'm taking Indiana to win the national title for the first time since 1987, when a guy named Bobby Knight was the coach and current New Mexico coach Steve Alford was the Hoosier superhero. (And I was still in college!)
Quick run-down of the statistical stuff that's easy to love about the Hoosiers:
* Indiana can score efficiently (7th-best FG% in the nation).
* Indiana is a very good rebounding team (9th-best rebound-differential).
* And Indiana can definitely play defense (ranked 21st in defensive efficiency).
By the way, the previous 11 national champions have ranked in the top-22 in either FG% or rebounding that regular season, including Kentucky last year, which was 6th in FG% and tied for 9th in
And six of the last 11 champions have been top-22 in both FG% AND rebounding margin that year... just as Indiana is this season.
The only other team to be top-10 in both categories this season: Gonzaga, and voila, there's my national-title game match-up. Indiana vs. Gonzaga.
OK, back to Indiana and the long list of reasons I'm picking the Hoosiers to win this thing...
National champions always have major NBA talent on their rosters and the Hoosiers have multiple future NBA players. Oladipo should be a top-10 pick and Zeller might sneak in there, too.
And while Crean isn't quite a proven tournament monster, he certainly isn't a coaching weak link, either.
In fact, if you drew up a list of next-in-line coaches to join the ranks of bracket kings Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, Mike Kryzewski, Billy Donovan, John Calipari, Brad Stevens, Roy Williams and Shaka Smart... Crean would absolutely be on that list. (Others would include Alford, Gonzaga's Mark Few, Georgetown's John Thompson III, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan and Arizona's Sean Miller.)
Crean could be due, what he has built in Bloomington seems worthy of the jump, and he's pretty nutty, which doesn't hurt the title-projection at all, especially in the shadow of Knight.
Lastly, I think Indiana received a fairly sweet path—it's the No. 1 seed in the East, without a major potential problem team in its bracket until and unless it gets to the regional final against No. 2 Miami. I think 4th-seed Syracuse and 3rd-seed Marquette are on the weaker side of the seeding ledger and I think Indiana can handle Miami because Indiana has Oladipo—who can change a game in a lot of ways—and Miami doesn't.
So.... Add that all up, and that's the profile of a very, very tough NCAA nut. I'm not saying Indiana's unbeatable, but it will take somebody's best game to beat the Hoosiers and the Hoosiers can still win even if they get somebody's best game.
Of course, this is predicated on the Hoosers not meeting Wisconsin, which is safely away on the other side of the bracket in the West region. Wisconsin has beaten Indiana 11 times in a row, but wouldn't get a chance to make it 12 until the NCAA championship game, and I have Wisconsin going out long before then.