Rushed Reactions: #3 Indiana 80, Illinois 64Posted by WCarey on March 15th, 2013
Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center following Friday’s matchup between Indiana and Illinois. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.
Three Key Takeaways:
- Cody Zeller was dominant. The All-American big man picked up where he left off after a sensational performance in Sunday’s victory over Michigan. Once again, Zeller was the go-to guy for the Indiana offense against Illinois, as he finished the afternoon with 24 points and nine rebounds. With the ball in his hands on the low block, the talented sophomore was able to do pretty much whatever he wanted against the Illini interior for the duration of the game. Zeller’s presence on the defensive end of the court was also quite notable as he anchored a Hoosiers’defense that did not let anything come easy for the Illinois offensive attack. There have been instances this season where Zeller’s production has not matched his level of talent, but if he can continue to put forth performances like he has in his last two games, there will be no ceiling on Indiana’s postseason hopes.
- Indiana’s defensive effort in the first half was phenomenal. ESPN analyst Dan Dakich tweeted at halftime that he and legendary Indiana radio announcer Don Fischer believed that the first half against Illinois was the best defensive half that the Hoosiers had played all year. The two men had a point as the Hoosiers were just suffocating on that end of the court for the first 20 minutes. The Illini were held to just 25.9% shooting in the first half and had to settle for many difficult looks due to the intense defensive pressure. The Hoosiers also forced Illinois into eight first half turnovers – many of which resulted in great transition opportunities. Illinois guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson were a combined 3-of-13 from the field and by containing the Illini’s two best scorers, Indiana was able to open up a 14-point halftime lead. Victor Oladipo rightfully gets most of the credit for Indiana’s strong defensive performances, but the Hoosiers have really made strides as a team in-terms of their defensive effort.
- Indiana’s win is half the makings for an epic semi-final matchup. With Indiana’s victory, it advanced to the semifinals where it will meet the winner of the Michigan/Wisconsin game. If the Hoosiers play Michigan, it will be their third meeting of the year. Indiana has won the first two meetings, but both games were hotly contested and well-played. It is also worth noting that after the last Indiana/Michigan match-up this past Sunday, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean and Wolverines assistant coach Jeff Meyer were involved in a bit of a verbal kerfuffle that grabbed the full attention of the college basketball world. The lone time Indiana played Wisconsin this season was on January 15 in Bloomington and the Hoosiers were upset by the Badgers by a score of 64-59. Wisconsin’s strong defensive effort and its deliberate offensive attack frustrated Indiana all game and the Hoosiers never once got into a rhythm. The Badgers have won their last 11 games against Indiana, so if they are able to get past Michigan, it will be interesting to see if they can notch their 12th straight in the series.
Star of the Game. Cody Zeller, Indiana. The All-American big man was outstanding for Indiana all afternoon. He finished with 24 points on a very impressive 9-of-11 shooting from the field. Zeller also anchored an impressive defensive performance by the Hoosiers, as Illinois was held to just a 34.5% shooting performance from the field.
- “We thought we defended at a really high level.” — Indiana coach Tom Crean referencing his team’s strong defensive performance in the victory.
- “I hope we have done enough.” — Crean talking about Indiana’s prospects as a #1 seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Sights and Sounds. The United Center was taken over by the Indiana faithful as droves of crimson clad fans made their way to Chicago for the conference tournament. They arrived early and brought the noise throughout the Indiana victory. One can only assume their presence will be even greater as the weekend moves on. An intriguing sight was that the aforementioned Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer was seated courtside, gathering information on his team’s potential semifinal opponent. Meyer was just doing his job, but it was definitely interesting to see him watching an Indiana game.
Wild Card. With less than two minutes to play, Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell intercepted an Illinois pass and flipped it ahead to guard Victor Oladipo who then exploded ahead and threw down a 360-dunk that brought the entire United Center crowd to its feet. This was a dunk that will certainly make all the highlight reels, so you will definitely see it.
What’s Next. Indiana advances to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament where it will face the winner of the Wisconsin/Michigan game on Saturday afternoon.