College Basketball Nation: james blackmon Jr.

Why do you love college basketball? What is it for? What purpose does it serve in your life? Can you enjoy a game only when your team wins?

Or do you also care about style? About aesthetics? About the pure joy of lightning fast, guards everywhere, relentless running and gunning? Do you unapologetically love offense? Is your enjoyment of a game affected as much by the how of the outcome as the outcome itself? Do you value the journey as much as the destination?

If so, the Indiana Hoosiers -- fresh off Saturday's 82-73 Crossroads Classic win over No. 23 Butler -- have just the team for you.

[+] EnlargeIndiana's Yogi Ferrell
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsYogi Ferrell scored 20 points for the high-flying Hoosiers in a win over Butler on Saturday.
There are many reasons the Hoosiers are America's most watchable college basketball team, and all of them were on display Saturday. Tempo is a good place to start: Against Butler, the Hoosiers, who usually hover around 70 possessions per game, pushed the pace up to 75. The ball never really stops in Indiana's offense; even on made shots, Tom Crean's players sprint to inbound the ball and get it up the floor as quickly as possible. If there are any openings, IU takes them.

The best part? It works, and it's not just about speed. On Saturday, the Hoosiers shot 71 field goals (and made 30 of them), went 8-of-17 from 3 and turned the ball over just 11 times. IU entered Saturday scoring 1.24 points per possession, fourth best in the country behind only Notre Dame, Duke and Gonzaga. They average 56 percent from inside the arc and 42.1 percent beyond it. Crean's team plays fast and makes everything in sight, and the results are often spectacular.

Why play this way? It's not just a coach's preference (though that certainly helps). It's also personnel. Crean landed one of the three or four best freshman guards in the country in James Blackmon, Jr. (who didn't play well Saturday in shooting just 2-of-12 from the field), whom he starts alongside junior guard Yogi Ferrell (who was devastating in Saturday's second half and remains generally underrated), fellow impressive freshman Robert Johnson, slashing "forward" Troy Williams and center Hanner Mosquera-Perea. That five mixes with a steady rotation of shooters and role players, all of whom spread the floor.

Oh, and this designation -- most watchable team -- has as much to do with what the Hoosiers' do poorly: defense. Indiana entered Saturday allowing 1.005 points per possession, 173rd in the country. Butler fell just below that mark Saturday and finished around .97, but only because they clanged a procession of mostly open 3-pointers in the second half (and finished 3-of-16 from 3). Indiana's lack of genuine size creates easy post opportunities, no effective back-line help on penetration and real trouble on the defensive boards. This is the curse of Indiana's offensive gifts. The same things that make them great with the ball make them easy to exploit on the other end.

But hey, that's their problem! For the viewer, it's a bonus. So what if that style doesn't guarantee a win? (See Louisville 94, Indiana 74.) So what if it drives the die-hards a little bit nuts? College basketball has plenty of sloth and plenty of defense already.

If you want to have some fun with your 40 minutes, the Hoosiers' weird combination of pace, efficiency and lackluster defense is the best value proposition this sport has to offer. Win or lose, they are not to be missed.

Class of 2014's best shooters 

May, 6, 2014
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Though the top three prospects in the Class of 2014 are big men who control the paint, there are several outstanding shooters in the class. Let’s examine the five best shooters among the incoming freshmen and one from the Class of 2015.

1. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
He started out as a 3-point shooter but has developed into a master of the mid-range jump shot. Most outstanding shooters are confident and comfortable from a certain spot on the floor, but that’s not the case with Jackson. He is equally effective and productive from a catch-and-shoot scenario as he is putting the ball on the deck and rising up to finish inside the arc or in the paint. A combination of length, balance and extension with a feathery touch will make him hard to defend.

This week ESPN.com will feature a position-by-position look at players to watch for the 2014-15 season.

The term "shooting guard" has never been so meaningless.

[+] EnlargeRon Baker, Jeremy Morgan
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallWichita State guard Ron Baker averaged 13.1 points per game in 2013-14.
This is true of all of the game's positional designations; the traditional responsibilities associated with each spot on the floor have become less and less helpful in describing what players actually do. The old traditional conception of the shooting guard is the most outdated. The Reggie Miller/Rip Hamilton run-off-screens-and-get-open model is gone. The NBA is now a league full of small guards who drive and shoot first; perimeter shooting is considered a must-have tool in a pro guard's total package; off-guards must handle the ball; small forwards are knockdown shooters. The Venn diagram of perimeter skills looks more like an eclipse.

Everything in the NBA trickles down, which makes today's exercise -- an early list of shooting guards to watch in the 2014-15 season -- a difficult one. There might be some slight cheating involved (you'll see). Some of the below are traditional shooting guards; some are just guards. All will be fascinating to watch in 2014-15 for a variety of reasons.

Top returnees to watch

Ron Baker, Wichita State: The Shockers return both members of their starting backcourt from 2013-14, and Baker and Fred VanVleet actually do fit the traditional mold. VanVleet was a masterful pass-first point guard who steadily anchored WSU's offense; Baker attempted 179 3s and 141 2s and finished with a 120.9 offensive rating. If you're wondering why the Shockers can lose Cleanthony Early and still be the subject of huge expectations going forward, look no further.

Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke: It's a bit hard to believe that after a stellar freshman campaign Sulaimon found himself so deep in Mike Krzyzewski's doghouse that, in early December, Coach K buried him on the bench in the equivalent of a DNP-CD. Transfer rumors and status questions abounded. Sulaimon eventually earned his way out of purgatory and back into regular minutes, and when he did he flourished. In his junior season, Sulaimon and Quinn Cook will have to take on leadership roles alongside the most talented Duke class in decades -- one with Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow ready to gobble up perimeter minutes. It's a huge season on deck for Sulaimon.

Michael Frazier II, Florida: Frazier is that rarest of modern college hoops birds: a traditional, almost literal, shooting guard. In 2013-14, Frazier shot 264 3s and made 118 of them, good for 44.7 percent -- a sterling percentage at that volume. He attempted exactly 79 shots from inside the arc. Frazier is an old-school, lights-out catch-and-shoot guy, albeit one who might need to expand his game in a Florida offense that will lose Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young. But he's already the college game's best pure shooter, and that's a hugely valuable skill to have.

Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: Harrison, on the other hand, is a fantastic example of a player for whom the term shooting guard doesn't always quite fit. Despite a torrid postseason pace -- and those big-time clutch shots in Kentucky's surprise runner-up run -- Harrison finished the season having made just 62 of his 174 3s. That's not terrible, but it's not great, either. The presence of Harrison's twin brother, Andrew, as Kentucky's ostensible point guard drives the lack of distinction home. Still, Harrison's fundamental productivity -- and the odds of him improving his shot, and keeping defenders off balance, after a summer spent drilling in Lexington, Kentucky -- makes him as frightening a sophomore prospect as any player in the country.

Caris LeVert, Michigan: Was Nik Stauskas a shooting guard? Not really, which is why NBA scouts love him so much: As a sophomore, Stauskas flashed all of the Stephen Curry-esque tools (lights-out shooting, penetration work, athleticism and great passing) in a 6-foot-6 frame. Stauskas has NBA people all worked up, and understandably so. LeVert is a similar player. He's an excellent shooter whom coach John Beilein loves to run through pick-and-roll sets; according to Synergy an almost identical number of LeVert's possessions came in spot-ups (24.5 percent) as screen-and-roll plays (24.3). LeVert shot 40.8 percent from 3, 46 percent from 2, didn't turn the ball over often, and will get a ton of shots without Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III around this season. He has huge, Big Ten Player of the Year-level potential in his third year in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Top newcomers to watch

[+] EnlargeD'Angelo Russell
Kelly Kline/adidasTop-ranked shooting guard D'Angelo Russell, who is ranked No. 13 in the ESPN 100, could provide instant offense for the Buckeyes.
Rodney Purvis, Connecticut: OK, so this is kind of cheating: Purvis is a transfer, not a recruit. But I had to sneak him in here somewhere, because he might end up being the most important player on the list. With a post-national title Shabazz Napier graduating this spring, a suddenly starry Ryan Boatright can slide over to the point guard spot, allowing plenty of room for Purvis -- whom UConn coach Kevin Ollie called a "Ferrari sitting in the garage" at the Final Four in April -- to get big minutes and lots of touches in his first season in Storrs, Connecticut. How that configuration works may be the difference between another scrappy national title contender and an understandable step back in Ollie's third year.

D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State: The top-ranked shooting guard in the class of 2014 arrives at OSU with a reputation for sweet shooting and deep range. The timing is perfect, because another offense-free season like last season might drive coach Thad Matta over the edge.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The best recruit Seton Hall has signed in … wait, don't answer that … Whitehead is a physical scorer who explodes to the rim and absorbs contact while there. He could make Seton Hall's season really interesting for the first time in a while.

Devin Booker, Kentucky: The return of the Harrisons shrank Booker's minutes by a big margin; the fact that he might be the fourth guy off Kentucky's bench tells you all you need to know about next season's Wildcats.

James Blackmon Jr., Indiana: Indiana's wealth of perimeter talent gets Lannister-esque with the addition of Blackmon; whether the Hoosiers will have anybody to play on the low block is a different and more pertinent question.

Class rankings analysis: Oct. 30 

October, 30, 2013
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As we come down to the wire for basketball's early signing period in November, many of the best players in the nation have finished their visits and are ready to make their decisions. Here’s a look at how some of the recruiting classes are shaping up as we get closer to the signing period:

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Class rankings analysis: Oct. 9 

October, 9, 2013
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In the latest edition of the 2014 recruiting class rankings, UNLV moves in, while last year's title-game participants, Michigan and Louisville, move up. Here's a look at the latest moves and trends in the rankings:

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Who'll end up with 2014's top class? 

October, 8, 2013
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With only eight of the top 20 prospects in the ESPN 100 currently committed and a number of high-profile national programs like Kentucky, Kansas and Duke all still looking to make their mark in the Class of 2014, there is still a huge amount of unpredictability with only five weeks before the early signing period.

With major dominoes like Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner, Cliff Alexander and Tyus Jones all yet to drop, the only certainty is that there will be major movement to our ESPN class rankings before it’s all said and done.

With that in mind, we asked our team of experts to give their take on which team will end up on top when the smoke clears:

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