Conference season approaching

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With each passing day, college basketball’s conference season nears. No more Samford. (Looking at you, Indiana). No more Central Connecticut State. (Looking at you, Purdue). But before Big Ten, Big East and ACC play commence, Daily Reporter sportswriter Grant Freking checks in with the four teams that played in the Crossroads Classic Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse: Indiana, Purdue, Butler and Notre Dame.


Record: 8-3

Highlight: Win over Huskies provides hope

The Hoosiers have had a few chances for so-called signature wins — victories that wind up paying dividends on Selection Sunday — but have blown all but one: a 102-84 triumph over Washington at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 21. Granted, the Huskies are presently just 6-4, but U Dub has reached the NCAA tournaments in six of Lorenzo Romar’s 11 seasons as coach.

Lowlight: The Syracuse Nightmare Part II: Same defense, more bricks

The players were different; the result was the same. Much like its 61-50 loss to the Orange in the Sweet 16 last March, coach Tom Cream’s crew failed to crack Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone in a 69-52 loss Dec. 3. In fairness to Indiana, few teams thrive vs. the zone, a scheme Boeheim makes downright frightening by loading his roster with long-limbed ball hawks. But, it sure seemed like a rerun earlier this month. IU shot 33 percent from the field back in March; it made 37 percent of its shots Dec. 3.

Top performer: Yogi Ferrell

It was tempting to pick freshman sensation Noah Vonleh (12 points, 10 rebounds per game), but Ferrell has elevated his game as a sophomore. In the absence of Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls — the team’s top four scorers from 2012-13 — the Park Tudor product has elevated his output (7.6-16.1 ppg) and is getting to the charity stripe more often (2.3-3.8 free-throw attempts per game). Ferrell’s assists (4.1-3.7) are down slightly and his turnovers (2.1-2.5) are up, but given what Crean is asking him to do, that’s acceptable.

Forecast: Sweaty palms aplenty on Selection Sunday

Part of the reason why Ferrell’s assists are down ever so slightly is that he’s not passing to Hulls and Watford — both of whom were lights out from 3 at 44 and 48, respectively — and feeding Zeller (56 percent from the field) and Oladipo (60 percent!), two players who dominated most college competition in the paint. As a team, IU is shooting only two percentage points (48-46) worse than last year’s squad, but as the season rolls along, that number will drop. The Hoosiers are a more athletic team in 2013-14, but don’t instill fear in opponents when they pull up to shoot. I think the Cream and Crimson will be squarely on the tournament bubble come March after Big Ten defenses force Crean’s athletes to shoot instead of soar to the rim.

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