Great Expectations

Fans aren't the only ones that have lofty expectations for this year's Hoosier basketball team.

Got expectations?

So do the Hoosiers.

With the start of basketball practice now only about three weeks away, Indiana basketball and its coach figure to spend the next six months under the microscope. After back-to-back seasons without NCAA Tournament invitations, 2005-06 is a campaign that figures to determine the immediate future of Mike Davis in Bloomington.

His players know that, and they aren't shying away from setting lofty goals.

"Sweet 16 is the least we should do," says A.J. Ratliff.

D.J. White sets the bar even higher.

"We're ready to show people that we can compete for a national title," says White.

These are bold words and even bigger goals for a team that is 29-29 over the course of the last two years, an afterthought on the national college basketball radar. But such proclamations are more than just idle chatter. The talent pool in Bloomington is as deep as it's been in a decade.

On the frontcourt, there are proven commodities like D.J. White, Marco Killingsworth and Robert Vaden, and promising newcomers like Ben Allen and Cem Dinc. The backcourt, meanwhile, is loaded with talent and experience with players such as Ratliff, Marshall Strickland and Lewis Monroe.

While it's all but unheard of to go from a blip on the nation's radar to the focal point, it's not out of the question this season in Bloomington.

"Talent-wise, we're loaded," says Ratliff. "We have incredible guards that can get up and down, press for 40 minutes."

White thinks the frontcourt is equally as talented and deep.

"With me and Marco (Killingsworth) and Robert Vaden on the frontcourt, Ben Allen and Gem Dinc, Sean Kline, we have a nice front court. I think we can be one of the best (frontcourts) in the country."

All of that talent adds up to a plethora of possibilities for the Hoosier coaching staff not only with its starting lineup, but with what sort of wrinkle it wants to throw at opposing teams throughout the course of a game.

"We have a mixture of different players, different styles," said White. "You can see a lot of different looks from this team this year – I think that's what the coaches are looking for, to give teams a lot of different looks and a lot of different lineups. We're very versatile."

Even with all of that talent, though, comes other questions. Issues of chemistry and leadership are legitimate, with so many players seemingly talented enough to help the Hoosiers in their quest for a return to prominence.

Some have wondered about how well White and Killingsworth will work together, by way of example. Both are loaded with talent, but some question if two go-to caliber forwards can co-exist.

"We can be great together," says White. "A lot of people might think it might not work for whatever reason, but we have a good relationship – we love playing together. That's what a lot of people don't understand, it's not going to be any problem sharing the ball. We like getting each other open and getting each other the ball."

Ratliff echoes White's sentiments, saying that the players know what's on the line this year, and are more than willing to sacrifice individual accomplishments for the greater good of the team.

"If I have to go in and play two minutes per game that's cool, as long as we get to Indianapolis (for the Final Four) at the end of the season - I'm wiling to sacrifice that," said Ratliff, who averaged 23.3 minutes per game a year ago. "I know guys on our team are willing to sacrifice minutes. I don't think that's going to be a factor."

If the players are able to do that and the staff is able to put the pieces in place, it's not out of the realm of possibility that this team could be one of the biggest stories of the upcoming season.

"There's no doubt we're good enough to compete for a national title," says White. "That's our goal – to play on Monday night (in the national championship game). That's what coach stresses right now, and we're capable of doing it." Top Stories