Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Fun, Fun Night Of Hoops. The night began with a top-five match-up of seismic proportions. Indiana-Michigan State didn’t just have conference bragging rights on the line, nor was it just another hard-fought Big Ten game. It was arguably the biggest regular season game in any league this season, and it fully met the wildly attendant expectations. That game, and its crazy finish, will dominate Tuesday night’s headlines, but the schedule was flush with intriguing fixtures. Were there a stat for nightly scheduling intrigue efficiency, Tuesday night – with its stable of appealing match-ups and only 30 total games – would set the bar awfully high.
Your Watercooler Moment. No. 1 Has Arrived, I Think.
Another grand referendum on the nation’s No. 1 team, one of many in a season defined by near-constant alpha-dog flux, took place in East Lansing on Tuesday night. In this year’s revolving door of number ones, over the past two weeks Indiana had looked as sure a thing on top of the polls as Duke, back when the Blue Devils were smiting elite non-conference foes with Ryan Kelly in the lineup and Mason Plumlee leading the NPOY chase. The Hoosiers were good, and no one was going to question that. Whether they could maintain their grip on the top spot through Tuesday night, where a physical, deep, hard-nosed, trademark Izzo MSU stood on the brink of a major national breakthrough, was the ultimate test of No. 1 worthiness. Winning at Ohio State earlier this month was probably Indiana’s best win at that point in time, but because it came three days after a two-point loss at Illinois, no one could be completely sure exactly how the Hoosiers would handle their next huge road challenge. Now we know. The details of the game – Victor Oladipo’s tireless two-way contributions, Jordan Hulls’ three-point shooting, Cody Zeller standing tall against MSU’s bruising bigs – are just as important as the implications, I’d wager, because not only is Indiana now the clear-cut favorite to win the conference title and claim a number-one seed. It also earned itself the inside track on a highly desired spot at the Lucas Oil Stadium NCAA Tournament regional hosting site in Indianapolis. And for as long and as unstable as that fuzzy No. 1 label has felt all season, for as many weeks and words we’ve spent debating the topic, Tuesday night brought some finality to the matter. I’m willing to go ahead and throw it out there (with the caveat that IU could lose their last game of the season at Michigan): Indiana is the best team in the country.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Move Over A-10 Newbies. For much of this confusing and utterly mystifying A-10 season, that would seem like a totally unreasonable claim to make. Butler and VCU had taken the league by storm, each with a unique stylistic strength. VCU had its smothering press and turnover-prying defense, whereas Butler had toughness and Rotnei Clarke and — let’s just be honest — a coach with the prime time chops to elicit the very best from his team against bigger, stronger and more talented opposition. Saint Louis has something else. It has the extra emotive urge to give everything and anything on any given night for fallen coach Rick Majerus. Aside from a two-game losing streak in mid-January, the Billikens are unbeaten since Majerus passed away. But Saint Louis has a lot more than an emotional drive to win in Majerus’ honor. The Billikens have held opponents to fewer points per trip (0.90 PPP) in conference play than any other A-10 squad, and scored more than all but one of them. They stomped VCU at home Tuesday night, nearly three weeks removed from delivering the same brutal treatment upon Butler. This team, who in beating the Rams jumped into first place in the conference standings, is just as good as any shiny new toy the A-10 inherited as part of this past summer’s realignment add-on. Read the rest of this entry »