As soon as the brackets were released, many UK fans begged for a rematch with Indiana in the Sweet 16. Well, after the Hoosiers squeaked one out against VCU last Saturday, they get their wish.
The Wildcats and the Hoosiers will go at it on the national stage with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.
Before we start previewing the matchup on Friday night, let’s take a look at the prequel that took place on December 10th. Both teams were 8-0. The Hoosier fan base’s anticipation for the game was at an all-time high. They made “Beat Kentucky” shirts for a game in early December. Anthony Davis played just 24 minutes after suffering through foul trouble. Terrence Jones was nonexistent. The Hoosiers shot 9-for-15 from three. And it still took a three-point miracle at the buzzer from Christian Watford for IU to record the win.
It was disappointing. You never want to lose to your rival.
The next morning as we hosted the Sunday Morning Hangover with StraitPinkie.com on ESPN 680, our phone lines blew up like never before. Some were UK fans frustrated with the loss. Some were IU fans quick to rub it in.
But, that is all in the past. After Friday night, no one will even think about that Saturday night in early December. A trip to the Elite Eight is on the line. Both teams are two wins away from the Final Four. It’s go time.
The Hoosiers enter the game winners of seven of their last eight. Their lone loss a 79-71 defeat at the hands of Wisconsin in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. They handled New Mexico State rather easily in the second round of the Big Dance, but it took a late comeback to down VCU and keep the Rams from making back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16.
Tom Crean deserves a lot of credit for the job that he has done at IU. He has the Hoosiers back on the national stage.
The biggest reason for their improvement this year is their addition of freshman Cody Zeller (6-11, 220). Zeller is a legit lottery NBA prospect that immediately upon his arrival in Bloomington provided them with that guy. A guy that is 6-11 and has an advanced skill set. He has an array of post moves and can score the basketball at the rim. He can step out and knock down the 18-footer. He has a tremendous set of hands. And for his size, he has the ability to get out and run the floor.
If forced to find a weakness in his game, it has to be his overall strength. On the offensive end he is talented enough to overcome his lack of muscle, but on the other end of the court it comes into play against bigger defenders. Fortunately, for the Hoosiers there aren’t many of those guys out there.
He leads the team in scoring with 15.5 points-per-game and is shooting 62-percent from the floor. Overall, the team is shooting 49-percent from the floor, which is one of the best in the country. He is also pulling down 6.5 rebounds, while recording 1.2 blocks and 1.4 steals. In their first round win over NMSU, he put up 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, and six steals. He followed that with 16 points and 13 rebounds in the win over VCU.
The kid is a stud.
The three-ball played a huge role in Indiana’s first win, so UK must continue their strong defense of the arc. Iowa State was a really good three-point shooting team and UK held them to 3-for-22 shooting. I am of the belief that three-point defense is a little bit of skill and a little bit of luck, but if they can prevent the Hoosiers from getting it going from deep, I don’t see IU being in the game late with a chance.
Junior forward Christian Watford (6-9, 226) is IU’s second leading scorer with 12.2 points-per-game and he is second on the team with 49 threes made. At 6-9, he has the ability to bring bigger guys out and take them off of the bounce. But, at times he does a little too much prancing around the perimter and relying on the three. He is second on the team in rebounding with 5.8 board.
Their best overall shooter is junior guard Jordan Hulls (6-0, 181). Hulls has connected on 70 threes this year and is shooting nearly 50-percent from deep. Half of his made field goal makes have come from beyond the arc and he is third on the team in scoring at 11.7 per game. He leads the team in assists with 3.2 per game, but this is an area where UK can exploit because IU lacks a true point guard. Hulls is a shooter that is forced to handle the basketball.
The final Hoosier averaging double figures with 10.7 per game is sophomore guard Victor Oladipo (6-5, 214). Athletically this kid a strait freak. He can jump out of the gym. He is also their second leading rebounder with 5.4 boards per game.
In the Big Ten tournament the Hoosiers lost senior guard Verdell Jones to a season-ending ACL injury. Jones is not a tremendous scorer, but he did have the ball in his hands a lot and often got the Hoosiers into their sets. He is also a senior on a team that doesn’t have a ton of experience. At 6-5, he also gave IU some length at the top of their defense. I think this is what they will miss most without Jones.
Despite the absence of Jones, this is a team that gets at it defensively. They live off of forcing turnovers and are one of the nation’s leaders in deflections. It is imperative that Marquis Teague and the rest of the Wildcats protect the basketball.
This is also a team that has had a ton of success scoring in the paint and the majority of that success can be credited strictly to Zeller. The kid is really talented and at this point in his career is better than both of his brothers.
Against the Wildcats, expect Indiana to slow things down. They want to limit possessions on both ends. Just because they aren’t going to pressure the Wildcats full court doesn’t mean they won’t try to live off of turnovers. In the half court, expect the Hoosiers to be extremely active, with hands in passing lanes, in an attempt to turn UK over.
Everything went the Hoosiers way on December 10th and it still took a last second miracle to win it. I think Friday night will be different. I am not of the mindset that Kentucky is going to absolutely roll the Hoosiers, but I would not be surprised by a double-digit victory at all.
The Wildcats have too much talent and I expect Terrence Jones to continue his strong play and really make up for his lackluster performance last time out against the Hoosiers. UK marches on to the Elite Eight.
Kentucky 78, Indiana 69
Filed Under: Basketball
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