The No. 1 team in the land opens the 2012-13 season at home tonight, as the Indiana Hoosiers entertain the Bryant Bulldogs.
Bryant had an absolutely dreadful season in 2011-12, going just 2-28 overall and 1-17 in the Northeast Conference. With nowhere to go from up, the Bulldogs welcome back all five starters, and a couple of transfers who will hopefully make coach Tim O'Shea's job a bit easier this winter. In addition to the monumental task of taking on the top team in the country right out of the chute, Bryant will also face Big East foe Providence, ACC member Boston College, as well as a couple of Ivy League schools in Brown and Yale, and 2012 NCAA Tournament qualifier Lehigh before kicking off NEC play at Robert Morris on Jan. 3.
The Hoosiers open the season as the No. 1 team in the country, their first such distinction since ending the 1993 campaign the same way. Like Bryant, Indiana has the good fortune of returning all five starters from last year's team that advanced to the Sweet 16 and finished with a 27-9 overall record. The Hoosiers, who posted better than a 15-game improvement from 2010-11 to 2011-12 which was the seventh-largest turnaround in NCAA history, have won 14 of their last 17 season openers, and 27 consecutive home lidlifters. Indiana has much tougher games coming against Georgia, UCLA or Georgetown, North Carolina and Butler, before getting Big Ten Conference play underway at Iowa on New Year's Eve.
Indiana won the only previous meeting between these two teams, whipping the Bulldogs in a 90-42 decision on Dec. 28, 2009.
As mentioned, Bryant won only two games last season as it had trouble at both ends of the floor. The Bulldogs averaged just 61.7 ppg, while at the same time allowing the opposition to rack up 75.4 ppg. The key to this year's club will be finding someone, or several someones, to take some of the pressure off leading scorer Alex Francis (17 ppg). The 6-6 junior is far-and-away the best player on the Bryant roster, as he added 7.4 rpg to his stat line last season. Other double-digit scorers back for another go-around include Frankie Dobbs (13.3 ppg, 138 assists) and Corey Maynard (11.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg). Additional help could come in the form of transfers Dyami Starks (Columbia) and Joe O'Shea (College of the Holy Cross). Starks scored 20 points and Francis tallied 19 in Bryant's rout of Salve Regina in exhibition play last week.
A dangerous team any way you look at it, Indiana can run with the best in the country, but is coming off a year in which it drained 43.1 percent of its 3- point shots as well. The team is led by Tom Crean, now entering his fifth year at the helm, and he has one of the top players in country at his disposal in 6-11 sophomore Cody Zeller. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year as selected by the league's coaches last season, Zeller averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, but he isn't the only talented player who will be wearing the crimson and cream this year as he is joined up front by senior Christian Watford (12.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and junior Will Sheehy (8.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg). The IU backcourt is expected to consist of seniors Jordan Hulls (11.7 ppg, 3.3 apg) and Victor Oladipo (10.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg), as well as the return of junior Maurice Cheek, who missed all of last season with a ruptured Achilles. Add a highly-touted recruiting class to the mix, which includes standout point guard Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell, and anything but a Big Ten title and deep run in the NCAA Tournament will be a huge disappointment.