Daily Word: Is Indiana Back on Track?
Every weekday, Andy Katz leads a panel of our college hoops experts in a discussion of the biggest issues, trends and themes happening in and around college basketball.
1. Indiana won a regular-season title last year. What's the No. 1 reason why this team will remain successful?
Andy Katz: Tom Crean has built a winning culture that won't collapse. The Hoosiers are recruiting at a high level and still finding potential pros, such as freshman Noah Vonleh. They also have the four-year pieces to ensure consistency in the program. You can book Indiana in the mix from this point forward.
C.L. Brown: Talent is the short answer, although the Hoosiers' roster doesn't have that exceptional-level talent like it had last season with Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. But the Hoosiers will do just fine with freshmen like Vonleh and Troy Williams ready to carve their own niche. It helps that they have a list of solid returnees like Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey to lead the team.
Eamonn Brennan: Offense, plain and simple. Indiana might have a few rocky moments on the defensive end this season. But with Ferrell pushing the pace, a massively talented incoming class (including Vonleh, a potential lottery pick), and a solid group of veterans (Sheehey, Jeremy Hollowell, Arizona State transfer Evan Gordon et al), IU will have no problem putting numbers on the board.
2. Who could end up being the Big Ten's most invaluable player?
Andy Katz: Derrick Walton. Michigan has many quality pieces and stars, but has to replace player of the year Trey Burke. If Walton can be half of what Burke was and at least be the facilitator, the Wolverines can be a legitimate top-two team in the Big Ten. If not, Michigan will have hiccups.
C.L. Brown: Michigan State's Denzel Valentine because he's the epitome of a "glue guy." The Spartans will have other players score or rebound more, but he's the one guy who does a little bit of everything well. He won't get headlines, but he'll be a reason why State gets wins.
Eamonn Brennan: At the risk of spending too much time on Indiana, I think Ferrell has as good a case as any. The Hoosiers have a smattering of disparate parts, yes, but Ferrell will be the key to making the whole thing coalesce -- all while scoring a bunch, defending at the point of attack, and keeping everyone involved. It's hard to imagine this IU team without him.
3. Which new coach may have the toughest opener?
Andy Katz: USC coach Andy Enfield. The Trojans go to Utah State Friday night. The Aggies should be a contender again for a top-three league finish -- this time in the Mountain West -- and playing in Logan is easily one of the most difficult stops in the West.
C.L. Brown: Nick McDevitt played at UNC Asheville from 1997 to 2001 and became an assistant coach for his alma mater when his playing days were done. Now as a head coach, he inherits a team that lost its only two double-figure scorers from last season. And he's taking that team into Rupp Arena to meet No. 1 Kentucky. Good luck with that, Nick.
Eamonn Brennan: McDevitt's trip to Lexington, Ky. If this whole toughest-debut thing is a competition, McDevitt wins.
Season Of Change
Before last season, John Beilein was not a man accustomed to playing with superior talent. Beilein built his career like he builds his offenses: methodically, intelligently and, most of all, uniquely. He has never been an assistant coach; his coaching career has included stops in high school (Newfane), community college (Erie CC), NAIA (Nazareth), Division II (LeMoyne) and the mid-major ranks (Canisius, Richmond). He got to West Virginia, then Michigan, because he found a way to consistently exploit inefficiencies in the talent market. Beilein didn't coach national players of the year and the progeny of household-name NBA veterans. He coached Mike Gansey and Kevin Pittsnogle.
They Said It
ESPNU Basketball Podcast
Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg check in with newsmakers from around college basketball.