Mutka: Scattered Hoosiers will impact Tournament
March 11, 2012 11:54PM
North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller (44) walks down the court with North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Maryland in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Friday, March 9, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Updated: April 13, 2012 10:35AM
Time to dance! Starting soon in a distant arena, our hoops-crazy state will impact the NCAA waltz in a variety of ways.
After all, next to corn, basketball talent is Indiana’s chief export.
If you’re looking for some Hoosiers to tap-dance through March Madness with besides Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame, may I offer a few home-grown individuals who will be popping up in your man cave in weeks to come:
Start with Cody Zeller’s big brother, Tyler, the one who escaped from Washington, Ind., to North Carolina. Recently crowned the ACC player of the year, the biggest Tar Heel averaged 18.5 points and wielded his 7-foot frame for nearly 10 rebounds. UNC responded by winning the regular-season championship.
Down the road from Chapel Hill to Durham, where Duke resides, the Blue Devils might not be talking title without brothers Mason and Miles Plumlee, who hail from Warsaw. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who grew up on the south side of Chicago, has picked off his share of Hoosiers over the years. The Plumlees, a 6-10 pair of bookends, are his latest imports.
Mason, a junior, carried an 11-point average into the weekend and is Duke’s leading rebounder (9.2 average). Miles shares a starting assignment with Andre Dawkins. The elder Plumlee lacks Mason’s offensive touch, but nearly matches his glitter on the glass (7.2 rebounds).
Leaving the ACC for Big Ten country, let’s pause in Columbus, Ohio, the temporary home of Fort Wayne Luers grad DeShaun Thomas. While Jared Sullinger hogs most of the headlines at Ohio State, Thomas has efficiently produced 15 points and five rebounds from the top-ranked conference. The 6-7 dynamo is one of four sophomores who start for Thad Matta’s perennial conference champions.
Matta’s Butler roots have given him a pipeline to Ohio’s next-door neighbor over the years.
Our final destination is Bluegrass Country, where Indianapolis Pike’s Marquis Teague migrated to play for NBA talent scout John Calipari at Kentucky. One of three freshmen starters, Teague falls a fraction short of giving the top-ranked Wildcats six players in double figures.
He may correct that in the NCAA since Calipari praised him Saturday for responding to his pre-game message with 15 points against Florida.
Occasionally, people’s choices like Butler, Gonzaga and VCU surprise us by cracking the Final Four,. But college basketball’s version of the 1954 Miracle of Milan is mostly a pipe dream. Your odds of winning are better at your favorite casino than picking a longshot.
Nearly every year we’re treated to the usual suspects. You know the basketball factories I’m talking about.
Unless you’re a risk taker, most likely candidates for the Final Four when you agonized over pool picks are:
Syracuse (32-2) — Outscoring opponents by 15 points a game, the Orange crushes with 3-point gunners Kris Joseph and Brandon Tiche. Seven-foot sophomore Fab Melo averages three blocks, but less than six rebounds.
Kansas (27-6) — Losing to Baylor Friday spoiled an anticipated showdown with Missouri, which is defecting to the Southeastern Conference. The Jayhawks are armed with Big 12 player of the year Thomas Robinson, who is averaging 18 points and led the league in rebounding (11.8). Kansas also receives high marks for maturity, carrying three redshirt upperclassmen in its top six. Tyshaun Taylor, a legitimate senior, is scoring at a 17-point clip.
Missouri (30-4) — Second-team All-American Marcus Denmon is averaging 18.2 points. Don’t foul him or Michael Dixon. Both are 90 percenters. Kim English, one of four Tigers in double figures, was hobbling on an injured leg in Friday’s victory over Texas. The Tigers whipped Scott Drew’s highly regarded Baylor team three times and split with Kansas, the loss being a one-pointer in overtime. They run eight deep and start three seniors. I’m grabbing their tail for a title run.
Duke (27-6) — Co-captain Ryan Kelly injured his foot Friday and didn’t play in the ACC tournament semifinals, but the Blue Devils are armed with 3-point marksman Austin Rivers (15.3 ppg) and Seth Curry (13.5 ppg), who misses a free throw about as often as Fridge Perry skipped a meal when he swallowed opposing backs for the Chicago Bears. Dawkins guns 41 percent from the outer limits. Mason Plumlee is one of four Devils scoring in double digits.
Kentucky (32-2) — Led by player of the year Anthony Davis, five Wildcats consistently hit double figures. Even though they’re blowing out opponents by nearly 20 points a game, Calipari seldom plays more than seven. Depth and maturity are the biggest concerns. Five of his top six players are freshmen and sophomores so I’m giving the Blue Grass boys a thumbs down.
Ohio State (27-7) — The Buckeyes start four sophomores. Sullinger was a strong candidate for player of the year, but his stock dropped when OSU settled for a three-way slice of the Big Ten title. They need leadership from William Buford, their only significant senior and their best outside sniper. Bufford, Sullinger and Thomas produce 15 to 18 points a game and guard Aaron Craft is a premier defender. Except for Sullinger, who missed two early games because of back issues, coach Matta’s lineup is as predictable as church on Sunday.
Michigan State (27-7) — Back-to-back losses to Indiana and Ohio State cost the Spartans an undisputed Big Ten title. They also lost rookie rebounding whiz and Lew Wallace grad Branden Dawson to a knee injury, but can lean on conference player of the year Draymond Green (16.2 pts, 10.4 rebounds). Guard Keith Appling and Valparaiso University transfer Brandon Wood, who riddled the Buckeyes Sunday, rank two and three in points scored. MSU’s perimeter defense is limiting opponents to just 29.4 percent from the arc.
Murray State (30-1) is making its 15th trip to the NCAA dance. The Racers turn to All-American Isaiah Canaan for inspiration, scoring (19.2) and assists.
Tournament champs Florida State, Louisville and Vanderbilt.
Odds are stacked against Indiana and Notre Dame going deep into the tournament, but they share the distinction of ruining unbeaten regular seasons. Kentucky’s only loss was at Indiana, and the two could face in the Sweet 16. Notre Dame, which loses at home about as often as a Democrat in Lake County, stunned Syracuse.