Hoops preview: A roundup of Indiana's college teams

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Who's going to be hard-to-beat this hardwood season?

We asked Kent Sterling, host of The Kent Sterling Show, the p.m. drive time program on CBS Sports 1430 AM here in Indy, to share his wisdom.

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Indiana

Indiana has put together two disappointing seasons after back-to-back NCAA Sweet Sixteen trips, and the frustration among Hoosier fans is growing.

Tom Crean welcomes back a potent backcourt, but dismissed three front court players with experience in favor of McDonald's All-American Thomas Bryant and Michigan graduate transfer Max Bielfeldt.

Success in Bloomington won't be determined by the offense, which should continue to be prolific, but by the defense. Indiana has had great difficulty over the past two seasons stopping anyone from scoring virtually at will.

The most interesting battle in Bloomington will be between those who pine for Crean to fail so a new chapter can be written and those committed to Crean as the right leader at the right time at IU to lead the Cream & Crimson back to national prominence.

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Purdue

A couple of years ago, coach Matt Painter was in trouble. Having told Missouri officials he would take the Tigers job before backing out to stay at Purdue burned some equity, and a regression in Boilermaker success following the graduation of NBA bound JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, and Robbie Hummel — all part of his great 2007 recruiting class — didn't help. Boilermaker Basketball has risen from the ashes, and the team appears ready to contend for a Big Ten Championship and their first trip to the Final Four since 1980.

Led by seniors Rapheal Davis and A.J. Hammond and freshman (2015 Indiana Mr. Basketball) Caleb Swanigan, Painter might have the most mature and talented group in decades.

The biggest question mark is at point guard where Johnny Hill, a senior transfer from Texas-Arlington, will try to replace Jon Octets, a senior transfer himself last season.

RELATED: College hoops from the trenches — a memoir from the mid-majors

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Notre Dame

Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant are gone, but Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson return for Mike Brey's Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, so all is not lost from the best team in Brey's 16th season at the helm.

ND's Elite Eight loss to Kentucky might have been college basketball's best game last year, and it might have to suffice to remind Irish faithful that greatness is possible under Brey in South Bend.

The ACC is a grind that will likely not allow the Irish to replicate its outstanding 32-6 season, but regressing to the mean isn't too bad for Notre Dame — a team that has regularly won between 20-25 games under Brey.

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Butler

Butler Basketball bounced back last year after second-year coach Brandon Miller stepped aside for reasons that remain mysterious. Chris Holtmann took the reins of the Bulldog program, and regained the mojo that had been absent during Miller's only season as coach.

Butler's race for a Big East Championship last season (despite modest expectations) might turn out to have been more enjoyable than what lies ahead — expectations are very high. The Bulldogs are talented, experienced and have people talking about another memorable ride through one of the best basketball conferences in America.

Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones are very skilled seniors and Kelan Martin and Tyler Wideman have a year under their belts. The new name that will be on the lips of Bulldogs fans is Tyler Lewis, a very athletic point guard who sat out last year after transferring from NC State.

Last year, Butler was a sweet story of underdogs overachieving in the face of adversity. The narrative will be different this year, but the result might ultimately be more satisfying.

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Indiana State

Greg Lansing can flat-out coach, and he's going to have some experienced and talented Sycamores to lead during the 2015-2016 season.

His top three scorers are back, and Indiana All-Star Bronson Kessinger joins the front court to provide matchup problems for the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference.

Khristian Smith and Devonte Brown are seniors who scored 10.5 and 11.9 points per game, and Brenton Scott chipped in 11.4.

There is nothing easy about succeeding in the very balanced MVC, but the alternate losses and wins that marked the last 13 games on the Sycamores' schedule in 2015 from January 21 through the end of the season should feature more wins in 2016.

The question at the end of this season won't be whether the very well respected Lansing is the right guy for the Indiana State job, but whether the Sycamores can find a way to keep him.

RELATED: Our Pacers preview

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IUPUI

Jason Gardner is going to enjoy a better second season than he did during his first leading the Jaguars. Last year's 10-21 record was not an indication of the progress made during the season, nor the improvement made during an off-season of hard work by those returning.

No Jaguar averaged double figures in scoring, but three of the top six scorers are back, and junior transfer Nick Osborne is expected to contribute in the frontcourt. Darell Combs has transferred from Eastern Michigan and will help as well.

It will take time for IUPUI to chip away at the stranglehold the Dakota teams have had in the Summit League, but with every diamond in the rough Gardner finds in area high schools and transfers from other programs, they get closer and closer.

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Ball State

Rebuilding Ball State basketball was not going to be easy, and James Whitford knew that when he agreed to become the head coach two years ago. The consecutive 2-16 records the Cardinals have posted in the MAC under Whitford speak to that difficulty.

But fans can expect better this season with under-recruited Tahjai Teague from Pike High School expected to contribute as a freshman, and sophomores Jeremy Tyler (Tech) and Sean Sellers (Greensburg) back for their sophomore seasons.

To rebuild a long-struggling program like Ball State, Whitford has worked hard to win recruiting battles for Indiana players that bigger programs may have overlooked, and with Tyler, Sellers, Teague and six other players from the Hoosier state, he has shown an ability to get that done.


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