MIKE LOPRESTI: College basketball in Indiana, by the numbers

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lopresti-mike-sports-2018.jpgIn case you missed it, the college basketball season already started. This is what you call pushing the schedule, when the opening games are two days after daylight saving time ends. But there’s still time to introduce the 10 Division I teams in this state. They’re all here, waiting for us to call them by their numbers.

Is No. 27 present?

That’d be Indiana. To be exact, Romeo Langford, who is the 27th Indiana Mr. Basketball to play for the Hoosiers. It’s been a while, since the last six Mr. Basketballs have gone to six other colleges. Judging by the megabuzz, all he’s expected to do is score, win and leap tall buildings in a single bound—and perhaps help do something about that 330th national ranking in free-throw shooting last season, and 315th in 3-point percentage. Not every day you see a freshman who has never played a second of college basketball put on the preseason all-Big-Ten team with five juniors and four seniors.

Of the previous 26 Mr. Basketballs to become Hoosiers, three are in the top 10 in career scoring—No. 2 Steve Alford, No. 8 Damon Bailey and No. 9 Kent Benson. But it’s doubtful Langford will be around Bloomington long enough to worry about that. Seven were on teams that made it to the Final Four. That’d be asking a lot, too.

Who here has No. 40?

It’s Evansville. Walter McCarty is a native son who played his college ball at Kentucky, wearing No. 40, helping the Wildcats to the 1996 national championship. Then he went to the NBA. Now he’s back in town, hoping to revitalize the Aces program, though losing the Missouri Valley Conference’s top scorer last season (Ryan Taylor transferred to Northwestern with his 21.3-point average) won’t make it easier. He has two old Butler guys—Todd Lickliter and Matthew Graves—on his staff to help.

Here’s an unusual number, 18.5/14.0. Who has that one?

Purdue. Carsen Edwards averaged 18.5 points last season. All the other returning Boilermakers combined averaged 14.0. So, guess who needs a really big season, if Purdue is to continue certain trends? Let’s see, there’s the eight-game winning streak against in-state opponents. And being ranked in 57 of the last 58 Associated Press top-25 polls, a feat matched only by Kansas, North Carolina and Villanova. Not even Kentucky or Duke can say that.

Edwards also put up 20.5 points a game in the postseason, which is one way to get your face on a lot of magazine covers and pile up more votes than any other player on the preseason AP All-American team.

And now, No. 3 step forward.

Welcome, Purdue Fort Wayne, where guard John Konchar has been first-team All Summit League three seasons in a row. He’s back to try for four, something few college players have ever accomplished, in any conference.

Also, the program is on its third name. Remember IPFW? Then Fort Wayne, for simpler branding. Now, it’s officially Purdue Fort Wayne. School officials told the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel it’ll cost $300,000 to change all the uniforms, signage and whatnot. But at least they’re still the Mastodons, which keeps them on the short list of best Division I nicknames.

Next, No. 43. Is No. 43 in the house?

Hello, Butler. As the season began, the Bulldogs had beaten 43 non-conference opponents in a row in Hinkle Fieldhouse. They haven’t lost a non-league game in their beloved barn since 2012, when the coach was some guy named Brad Stevens. Only Duke and Arizona have longer home streaks. Circle Dec. 21. UC Irvine—a veteran team picked to win the Big West—comes to town, maybe the biggest potential trouble-making visitor this season.

Once they’re done with all the non-league stuff, the Bulldogs can turn their attention to the Big East, where only two of last season’s 11 first- or second-team all-conference players return. Kamar Baldwin, your table is ready.

No. 2,496. Raise your hand, No. 2,496.

Indiana State. As in new Sycamore Cooper Neese. His 2,496 points at Cloverdale have him ninth on the all-time Indiana high school list. He spent about 15 minutes at Butler before transferring and now—when he becomes eligible in December—can try to help Indiana State end an unsightly run of four consecutive losing seasons. Talk about your enigmas: In 2017-2018, the Sycamores won on the road at Indiana and Final Four-bound Loyola Chicago, and still managed to go only 13-18. One of Neese’s teammates is Tyreke Key, whose 3,287 points in high school put him in the career top-10 in Tennessee.

They’ll want to have a good game on Jan. 19. Loyola will be in Terre Haute, and so will members of the Larry Bird-driven 1979 national runner-up team, for their 40th reunion. Can that be possible? Forty?

We’re ready now for No. 28.

Notre Dame and its Energizer Bunny, T.J. Gibbs. He rested all of 28 minutes in 21 ACC season and tournament games last season—28 out of 850 minutes. As the top scorer back, he’ll have to be busy again if the Irish are to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season, something they’ve not done in 12 years. But they’ll have a hard time getting noticed much in South Bend until the football season is over.

No. 12 next. Is No. 12 here?

That’s Valparaiso. So how did that move to the Missouri Valley Conference work out the first year? Well … the Crusaders lost 12 league games. They lost nine the previous three years combined in the Horizon League. They’re picked to finish seventh this season.

Now No. 700. Anyone have No. 700?

IUPUI does. Vanderbilt transfer Camron Justice could well be the Jaguars’ leading scorer this season. When IUPUI opened play Nov. 6, it had been 700 days since his last college game. So, he’s an intriguing new Jaguar, and so is 7-1 Manhattan transfer Ahmed Ismail—the tallest IUPUI player in history.

It’s your turn No. 45.

That’s Ball State, where Missouri transfer and Brownsburg product K.J. Walton will be flying this winter. And we do mean flying. He was measured with a 45-inch vertical jump, which would put him eighth on the all-time leaper list—of the NBA. That’s 1 inch below Michael Jordan.

There is one number left. It’s 80/20. Anyone still here to claim 80/20?

Why, it’s the city of Indianapolis. At the Big Ten media days, Commissioner Jim Delany mentioned the new thinking for the conference tournament is to play it 80 percent of the time in the Midwest and 20 percent in the East. As for site selection for those Midwestern tournaments—which have always rotated between Indy and Chicago—”I think it will be more open and more competitive.”

Uh-oh. Sounds as if the commissioner might be planning to spend fewer March weekends in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Or whatever it’s going to be named.•

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Lopresti is a lifelong resident of Richmond and a graduate of Ball State University. He was a columnist for USA Today and Gannett newspapers for 31 years. He can be reached at mjl5853@aol.com.

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