Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls Can Add to Their Hoosier Legacies This Weekend

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 28th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g. 

It is no secret that the Hoosiers won the Big Ten title and secured a #1 seed because of their two star players, Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. Oladipo proved to any casual hoops fan last weekend that he is arguably the best player in the country by drilling a three to push the Hoosiers past an inspired Temple team. Tonight, the legendary Syracuse 2-3 zone defense will focus on preventing Zeller from receiving the ball in the high post and Oladipo from getting past the initial layer of defense to split the zone. It is almost insulting to call Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls as “X-factors” against Syracuse but if they can combine for close to 25 points, the Hoosiers shouldn’t have any trouble beating the Orange.

Jordan Hulls (center) and Christian Watford (right) will play a big role for the Hoosiers this weekend. (Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE)

Jordan Hulls (center) and Christian Watford (right) will play a big role for the Hoosiers this weekend. (Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE)

Watford’s block of Anthony Lee’s dunk attempt last weekend was overshadowed by Oladipo’s subsequent three but it set the stage for the final possession against Temple. There aren’t many “stretch” power forwards in the game who can challenge the zone like Watford. Tom Crean may use Watford to feed the ball into the high post from the wing because he has the size and length to pass over Michael Carter-Williams, and if the zone collapses on the catch, then Watford is open to drill a three (48% 3FG). The 2-3 zone also lets opposing teams dominate the offensive glass as Syracuse ranked 13th in the Big East in opponents’ offensive rebounding (36.2%). Watford will have plenty of opportunities to crash the boards through the backdoor and pick up some easy buckets there as well. The key to beating the zone is to be patient and smart with shot selection and this is the time when Watford’s combination of tools and experience should pay off.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Indiana 58, #9 Temple 52

Posted by IRenko on March 24th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Dayton after Sunday’s Third Round game between #1 Indiana and #9 Temple. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

Victor Oladipo Did What NPOYs Do...

Victor Oladipo Did What NPOY Candidates Do…

  1. Victor Oladipo Won This Game – The stat sheet won’t tell you what Victor Oladipo means to Indiana, because it offers no metrics, advanced or otherwise, for heart and soul. Oladipo took this game over down the stretch at both ends of the floor. Indiana had used a number of defenders to try to slow Khalif Wyatt (more on him later), but it was Oladipo’s shut-down, ball-denial, in-your-grill defense in the closing minutes that prevented Wyatt from carrying his team across the finish line. With the game tied at 52 and under two minutes to play, Oladipo harassed Wyatt into a missed three, grabbed the rebound, and drew a Wyatt foul while pushing the ball up the floor. On the next possession, Oladipo denied Wyatt the chance to even get the ball, forcing Temple to burn a timeout and the entire shot clock before Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson missed a jumper. Oladipo then promptly ran down to the other end of the floor and drained his one and only three-pointer of the game to clinch the win for Indiana.
  2. Indiana Scored 58 Points — And Won – Indiana scores north of 1.15 points per possession, but they looked largely ineffective against Temple for two reasons. First, Temple’s tough interior defense. The best way to slow the Hoosiers is with physicality, and the Owls brought plenty today. They bodied Cody Zeller and Christian Watford in the post, swarmed Oladipo on his drives, and pushed the Hoosiers around on the glass. Zeller and Watford combined to shoot 6-of-17, Zeller committed six turnovers, and the Hoosiers rebounded less than 20 percent of their own misses. Second, the Hoosiers went cold from three-point range, missing eight of their first nine long-distance attempts. They got hot late just in time to push themselves over the top, but credit Temple for nearly stopping the nation’s most efficient offense in its tracks.
  3. A One-Man Offensive Band — This game was an almost comical display of the extent to which Temple relies on Khalif Wyatt offensively. The confident point guard has a tendency to rise to the occasion against the best of competition, and today was no exception. Relishing the role of the villain, taking on not just the quiet and unassuming Oladipo but a boisterous crowd full of Hoosier fans, Wyatt did his best to carry the Owls to the upset. Despite being the obvious focal point of Indiana’s defense, he managed to pour in 31 points — 60 percent of Temple’s total — on 12-of-24 shooting.  The rest of the Owls’ offense was dreadful, shooting 9-of-38 from the floor. Scootie Randall was the worst offender with an atrocious 0-of-12 night, and the team as a whole missed several makeable shots.

Star of the Game: So maybe the stat sheet does tell you a bit about how good Oladipo is. He led Indiana with 16 points on 7-of-12 field goal shooting and added eight rebounds and an assist.

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Big Ten M5: 03.05.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 5th, 2013

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  1. Here’s an inspiring story from Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg about Nebraska assistant coach Chris Harriman and his son Avery, who suffers from leukemia and recently had a relapse after the family thought it was in the clear. When the Harrimans received the call about Avery’s relapse, it had been about three years since his initial diagnosis, and the survival rate in child patients who relapse drops significantly. The family draws inspiration from each other and elsewhere, confident that they can help Avery battle through the difficulty. 
  2. By now, would anyone be surprised to see Michigan State go a “long, long way” in the NCAA Tournament, like Tom Izzo believes his team can? Probably not. We know what any Izzo-coached team is capable of and, despite the Spartans’ current three-game losing streak, this group has shown it has what it takes to compete at the highest level. But if we’ve learned anything over the last two weeks or so, it’s that MSU also has plenty of flaws, so in order to make a serious March run, more things will have to click than have been lately. In the three losses, there have been problems with turnovers, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson, interior defense, closing games down the stretch and allowing lesser role players to have season-high games at inopportune times. If the Spartans are to make that run Izzo’s talking about, some of those issues will have to be shored up soon.
  3. If you didn’t get a good idea of how nasty a hit Nik Stauskas took on Sunday, this photo from the Associated Press will give you a better idea. But 12 stitches later, John Beilein says Stauskas seemed OK when he left the arena and could be back playing for the Wolverines soon, who managed to beat Michigan State without their sharpshooter in the lineup and without making a single three-pointer as a team. “All I can tell you is we had three doctors at the game, and the three doctors did a lot of examination on him,” Beilein said on the Big Ten coaches conference call Monday morning.
  4. Jordan Hulls has seen the entire spectrum of Indiana basketball over the last few years. Indiana, still reeling from sanctions put in place from Kelvin Sampson’s tenure as head coach, suffered losing seasons of 6-25, 10-21 and 12-20. But as Tom Crean helped rebuild the program, Hulls — a former Indiana Mr. Basketball with an unbeaten state championship at Bloomington South High School under his belt — was along for the entire ride. There was a time when conference championships at Indiana were an expectation, and it wasn’t that long ago when it seemed the program was never getting back to that level. Now the Hoosiers are back at that elite level and Hulls’ unlikely path has followed that arc.
  5. To stay on the floor in the Big Ten when you’re not contributing on the offensive end, you have to do a lot of other things right. Austin Hollins is that kind of player for Minnesota, doing his part on defense as the Gopher manage to keep winning without his scoring. Hollins is in a slump, shooting just 27 percent over the last two games while missing all eight of his three-point attempts. In his last seven games overall, he’s shot just under 35 percent from the field and 11.7 percent from long distance. The Minnesota coaches are doing their best to assure Hollins that every shooter goes through lulls like this, hoping it’s not something that will wear on his confidence as the team opens up its most important stretch of the year.
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Why Indiana Lost: Badgers Defensive Game Plan Was to Allow Zeller to Do His Thing

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 16th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

You may consider Wisconsin basketball boring as they make it their primary objective to slow the game game. You may even consider them boring because they don’t wow you with their athleticism. But if you are a basketball fan, you have to appreciate the Badgers’ Tuesday night effort in Bloomington leading to a big upset over the Hoosiers. Bo Ryan’s team executed a solid game plan to beat Tom Crean’s squad by five points and are standing tall in the early Big Ten race with a 4-0 record. It was very clear from the tip-off that the Badgers weren’t going to let the Hoosiers beat them from long range, instead preferring to let Cody Zeller get his shots in the paint. After trailing by one at the half, Ryan told ESPN sideline reporter Samantha Ponder that they were trying to contain the Hoosiers’ other weapons around Zeller such as Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford. Zeller toyed with Jared Berggren in the paint to end up with 23 points but the rest of the Hoosiers were held to a relatively quiet night.

Bo Ryan's Badgers played great defense to upset the Hoosiers in Bloomington.

Bo Ryan’s Badgers played great defense to upset the Hoosiers in Bloomington.

Assembly Hall serves as a huge advantage for the Hoosiers by making it very tough for opponents to dig themselves out of a rut once IU makes a run. Most of the big runs begin in transition or consecutive long-range shots from Indiana’s sharpshooters: Hulls, Watford, and Will Sheehey. But together this trio was held to just 1-of-5 shooting by the Badgers’ backcourt of Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson. Brust must have studied every one of Hulls’ jumpers this season because he knew his tendencies and stepped into Hulls’ favorite spots on the floor immediately before he got there. Hulls loves to shoot the deep ball in transition and is very efficient as he goes left towards the top of the key to use his quick release on the jumper. Someone who averages five shot attempts per game from beyond the arc was held to just one shot from the perimeter last night! That statistic proves that Brust played him so tightly that he couldn’t even free himself up to take a shot during the second half. Brust’s backcourt mate Traevon Jackson was just as effective on defensive rotations and helped lock down Sheehey to an 0-of-6 performance. Not only was IU’s long-range threat neutralized by the Badgers, but the Hoosiers couldn’t get anything going in transition either. Victor Oladipo couldn’t find a rhythm offensively because he wasn’t able to lead transition like he usually does because the Badgers pulled back immediately after missed shots and also covered Watford at the perimeter to prevent transition threes.

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Night Line: Indiana Displays Just Some Of Its Potential In 24-Point Blowout of UNC

Posted by EJacoby on November 28th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that evening’s games.

So this is why Indiana garnered the #1 preseason ranking for the 2012-13 season. Despite coming into Tuesday night’s game with a 6-0 record and 32-point average margin of victory, the AP poll’s top-ranked Hoosiers had yet to produce a statement performance to legitimize their candidacy as the best squad in all of college hoops. It took overtime to dispose of previously unranked Georgetown last week, and Tom Crean’s team faced another tough test with the Tar Heels coming to town for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Indiana did not fool around this time, easily disposing of North Carolina, 83-59, in a game that showcased a tantalizing display of offensive basketball by the Hoosiers from start to finish. All doubts about IU’s true “top-seed upside” are quelled for the time being after it ran a young-but-explosive UNC team off the floor in Bloomington by out-executing and out-smarting the Tar Heels; even in an imperfect shooting night.

Cody Zeller and Indiana soared past North Carolina on Tuesday night (AP Photo)

For long stretches of Tuesday night’s game, the Hoosiers – ranked #2 in this week’s RTC Top 25 – played a completely flawless brand of unselfish basketball. Crisp passes flew around the Assembly Hall floor at seemingly light speed, leaving the Carolina defense with no chance to rotate quick enough to challenge IU’s knockdown outside shooters or strong post finishers. Strong outlet passes from forwards reached lead guards Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls before UNC could catch up, and the Hoosiers converted time and time again in transition. Indiana totaled 21 assists on 33 made field goals through its balanced attack. The game film of this 24-point blowout ought to become its own best-selling clinic video in ball movement, as IU converted at 1.12 points per possession against the #14-ranked team in the country. Tonight’s IU assist total (21) outpaced that of the leading team in that category nationally (Maryland, 19.3 per game), and the performance boosted IU up to the top offensive efficiency rating (125.5) in the nation.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Indiana 66, Georgia 53

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 19th, 2012

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Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. He filed this report from Indiana’s victory over Georgia on Monday night at the Barclays Center. Follow him on Twitter @botskey.

Three thoughts from Indiana’s closer-than-expected victory over Georgia in Brooklyn tonight.

  1. Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo provided Indiana with the lift it needed in the second half. After the game, Tom Crean said his team had a lot of energy sources tonight. Of those, nobody provided a bigger lift to the Hoosiers than Hulls and Oladipo. Hulls looked hesitant to shoot early in the game but got himself into a rhythm after halftime. The senior gunner from Bloomington knocked down four of six triples and sparked Indiana in transition. Oladipo, who blossomed into a major contributor for the Hoosiers last season, was a high flyer around the rim with a couple of athletic dunks and was a force defensively. Crean said his team had a tough time amping up the pace and getting out in transition, but Indiana was able to do that over the final 10-12 minutes of the game.
  2. Cody Zeller wasn’t Cody Zeller but Indiana was able to overcome it. Zeller struggled all night after being saddled with early foul trouble and wound up taking only four shots. Without the Big Handsome in the middle, it’s clear that Indiana is a different team. The Hoosiers struggled mightily in the first half in running their offense and not having their seven-footer in the middle to run things through was the primary reason why. Zeller scored only six points, the second-lowest point total of his Indiana career. Indiana needs him on the floor to run its offense at the level Crean expects, but Zeller also has to demand the ball more. That was an issue at times last season. Bank on a better night for the sophomore stud tomorrow against Georgetown.
  3. Georgia slowed the game successfully in the first half but couldn’t keep it up. While it wasn’t pretty to watch, Georgia did a great job slowing the pace and turning it into a half-court game. Unfortunately for Mark Fox and the Bulldogs, Hulls and Oladipo were able to fuel Indiana’s transition game in the second half. One key reason why the pace quickened was Georgia’s awful shot selection. Fox admitted in the post-game press conference that his guys had some “immature possessions,” but that’s putting it mildly. Georgia’s shot selection, particularly those of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, got worse as the game progressed. Fox said Caldwell-Pope was “a little wound up” and it showed. He’s clearly Georgia’s prime offensive threat, but taking 15 shots, most of them highly inefficient, is not the way to win games.

Bonus thought: Indiana fans turned Barclays Center into Assembly Hall East. IU loves Brooklyn? It sure seemed like it as droves of Hoosier fans made their way to New York for this game. Expect them to be back in even stronger numbers tomorrow evening for the championship game of the Legends Classic. A job well done by the folks in red, one of the very best fan bases in the entire country.

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Who’s Got Next? Indiana Scores With Noah Vonleh; Nigel Hayes Becomes A Badger…

Posted by CLykins on November 13th, 2012

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account @CLykinsBlog for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: ESPN Recruiting used for all player rankings

Indiana Adds Noah Vonleh To Loaded Class

As Saturday night concluded, the Indiana Hoosiers landed a significant piece to its 2013 recruiting class that quickly vaulted them up the class rankings to join the likes of Kentucky and Memphis. Five-star forward Noah Vonleh, who reclassified back into his original class of 2013 in September, ended his college recruitment quicker than expected by giving the Hoosiers a verbal pledge after his official visit during Indiana’s season opener. Vonleh, the No. 8 ranked prospect in the class of 2013, was also considering Connecticut, Georgetown, North Carolina, Ohio State and Syracuse.

While visiting, 2013 No. 8 prospect Noah Vonleh chose the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday night

“From Day One, Indiana has been recruiting me the hardest,” Vonleh told Adam Finkelstein of ESPN.com. “They were just letting me know how they could develop me into the player I want to be at the next level. Their academics are good, they’re the No. 1 team in the country and they’ve got another great class coming in next year.” With the addition of Vonleh, head coach Tom Crean has landed his highest-ranked prospect since taking the Indiana job in 2008. At 6’9″ and 220 lbs., the Massachusetts native is best described as a freak athlete. He uses his great length especially well rebounding the basketball on both ends of the floor, as he is arguably one of the best rebounders in the class, and altering shots with his shot-blocking. For a combo forward, he also has excellent ball-handling ability with an ever-improving jump shot. As his body continues to mature, with added strength to his 6’9″ frame he will be more efficient from the low post with his endless potential.

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Big Ten Team Previews: Indiana Hoosiers

Posted by jnowak on November 5th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out the featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Indiana Hoosiers.

Where We Left Off: The Hoosiers had what many figured would be this year, last year. (That confusing enough for ya?) Meaning, Indiana overreached moderate expectations for a young squad that was expected to round into a Top-10 squad this season with a more mature Cody Zeller and a highly-touted recruiting class to be mixed in with a couple veterans. But when Zeller and Tom Crean revived Assembly Hall with thrilling home victories against then-No. 1 Kentucky and then-No. 2 Ohio State (not to mention a victory against Crean’s mentor, Tom Izzo, and No. 5 Michigan State), the basketball world realized that Indiana is finally back. And they are here to stay. The Hoosiers are the consensus No. 1 team in the country, with Zeller a near unanimous preseason All-America selection and a favorite for college basketball’s player of the year. Then, couple seniors Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford with Rivals.com’s fifth-ranked incoming freshman class, and this team is loaded from top to bottom. The Hoosiers ended last season with a Sweet Sixteen loss to eventual champion Kentucky, but Indiana has its sights set on much more this year.

Cody Zeller is the face of the Hoosiers this season. And for good reason.

Positives: When talking about the positives, you have to start with Zeller. He’s the best big man in the country heading into his sophomore campaign, after averaging 15.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG as a freshman. He has good footwork, runs the floor exceptionally well, and has a great nose for the ball. There’s no reason the Indiana offense shouldn’t move through him on every possession. And that brings us to the roles of Hulls and Watford. As seniors on team that will get a lot of its scoring from underclassmen — namely Zeller and freshman Yogi Ferrell, and though Victor Oladipo is a junior, he doesn’t exactly have three years of solid game experience — Watford and Hulls should have the know-how and the presence of mind to get the ball in and out of the post and through Zeller every trip downcourt. This depth and balance of scoring talent and Big Ten experience will do wonders for the Hoosiers this season.

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Three Thoughts From Indiana’s Televised Practice on ESPNU

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 15th, 2012

Indiana head coach Tom Crean did not enter the Assembly Hall on a motorcycle. He neither dressed up as a superhero nor did he set up the first official practice with thousands of fans in the arena. He did, however, have the TV cameras rolling as he held the first practice with arguably the best college basketball team in the nation last Friday. ESPN’s Brian Weinstein, Jay Williams and Dan Dakich were present in Bloomington for Indiana’s practice and it was aired on ESPNU. You can catch the replay of the practice on ESPN3 right now if you’re so inclined.

Tom Crean opened up Indiana’s first practice to ESPN on the eve of Midnight Madness.

Crean was his usual self marching up and down the court, brimming with energy, a sight that Hoosier fans have been accustomed to for four years. He had a microphone attached and went through several drills while the ESPN crew discussed Indiana basketball for the upcoming season. The following are a few observations/thoughts from the practice:

  1. Maurice Creek: Every Hoosier fan and even Big Ten fans are eager to see guard Maurice Creek back in action this season. Creek couldn’t play much over the past two seasons due to knee injuries and he practiced with pads on both of his knees. Creek was supposed to help Verdell Jones III during Crean’s earlier seasons to revive IU basketball but he has been consistently sidelined with injuries. Creek was shown on the telecast running some pick-and-pop situations to display the quick release on his jumper. Along with returning guard Will Sheehey (8.6 PPG), Creek will be one of the primary scoring options off the bench. His conditioning may take some time to get up to par but there is enough depth on this squad for him to catch up by the middle of the conference season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Breaking Down a Potential UCLA-Indiana Final in the Legends Classic

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 7th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Playing formidable competition in early season invitational tournaments is the best way to build a solid RPI foundation upon which to base the rest of your non-conference schedule. In recent years, as teams have adjusted to the notion that non-league scheduling does, in fact, have an appreciable affect on the bubble cut line come Selection Sunday, these tournaments have provided some intriguing matchups featuring national title contenders. The Legends Classic, one of the more anticipated tournaments in the early season college hoops calendar, released its bracket Monday. The 12-team field, on the whole, is a bit underwhelming, but tournament organizers did do us the favor of setting up a potentially epic finale on November 20 at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Indiana and UCLA, after staging two regional round games on their respective home courts, will need to win only one game against a power conference team before meeting in the tournament’s final game. If UCLA can sneak by Georgetown and Indiana takes care of business against Georgia, the two surefire preseason top-five outfits will put it all on the line for the Legends Classic crown.

Joshua Smith, UCLA

The Legends Classic bracket features two national championship contenders in Indiana and UCLA (Credit: Associated Press).

That’s must-see viewing for any college hoops fan, a tantalizing early season matchup of Final Four-worthy opponents. With more than three months remaining before the bracket kicks off, there’s plenty of time to salivate over this enticing showdown. But in these news-bereft late summer months, where Midnight Madness can’t come soon enough, I’m bringing you a way-too-early positional breakdown of what figures to be one of the best non-league fixtures in the upcoming season. To take this a step further, I’ll provide a prediction, score included, as a way of sparking the debate for which team is better positioned to make good on their considerable preseason hype. Remember, Georgetown or Georgia could knock off UCLA and/or Indiana in the semifinals and thus prevent the more favorable and altogether more entertaining finals matchup. But if the Hoosiers and Bruins are indeed what most preseason prognosticators are making them out to be, they should both advance to the championship round. Still, there’s no guarantee, so take this predictive exercise at face value.

Point guard: Yogi Ferrell/Jordan Hulls vs. Kyle Anderson/Larry Drew II

If Ferrell outplays hulls in preseason practice, Crean likely will insert him into the starting lineup in time for this highly-touted matchup. Ferrell is a true point guard who penetrates and finishes at the rim, but scoring won’t be his primary responsibility this season; facilitating the group of talented finishers around him—guys like Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Christian Watford and Cody Zeller—is the first order of business. Hulls has been around long enough to remember discernibly darker days in Bloomington, the pre-Kentucky upset era—faraway as it may seem—and can make up for his deficiencies on defense with experience, leadership and pinpoint three-point marksmanship. He may ultimately start alongside Ferrell at the two. Countering the Hoosiers’ duo is Anderson, one of the more intriguing skills-to-size prospects in the 2012 class. At 6’7″, Anderson poses a major athletic and size advantage over most every point guard, yet he also boasts the shrewd ball handling, court vision and mid-range touch to excel at the position. He functions efficiently on the low block, posting up defenders and finding open shooters on the perimeter. Drew II, a year after transferring from North Carolina, will challenge Anderson for the starting job. Both players should see significant floor time this season, and they could split minutes in this early nonleague tournament.

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A Closer Roundtable Look: Indiana vs. Kentucky

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 23rd, 2012

Indiana will face Kentucky Friday night in what is one of the most interesting Sweet Sixteen games in the NCAA tournament.  The Hoosiers handed the Wildcats their only regular season loss back on December 10 thanks to a last-second three by Christian Watford.  In the rematch, the stakes are higher, with a spot in the Elite Eight awaiting the winner.  Who will that winner be?  Big Ten micrositers Joey Nowak (@joeynowak) and Ryan Terpstra (@terphimself) debate.

Indiana and Kentucky collide for the second time this year in the Sweet Sixteen (photo: College Sports Madness)

1.  Anthony Davis versus Cody Zeller.  Can Indiana come out on top of this matchup again?

  • Ryan:  In the first matchup of the freshman big men, Cody Zeller clearly came out on top.  He logged 37 minutes, scored 11 points, and grabbed seven rebounds.  Davis, meanwhile, was saddled with foul trouble for most of the game, and finished with just six points in 24 minutes.  IU will certainly try to attack Davis, because removing his defensive impact from the game opens up opportunities for Zeller to find success inside, and guards like Victor Oladipo to take the ball to the basket.  However, Davis seems to have quickly learned his lesson, having not even committed four fouls in a game since that loss to Indiana.  He only has picked up two personal fouls all tournament, and has played 76 minutes in the two games.  Odds are that he’ll be on the floor, and if he is, advantage Kentucky.
  • Joey: What’s so remarkable about Anthony Davis is how he impacts the game in both small and large sample sizes. He’ll alter a shot on the defensive end or register a block, then run the floor and get a put-back or an easy alley-oop. Or, he might not fill the stat sheet that way, but can neutralize almost any big man in the country, alters shots from all over the floor and changes the way teams have to approach games on both ends. Zeller is fantastic because he’s just as polished, and runs the floor like a three or a four for Indiana. Davis has advantage in the half-court setting, so if Indiana is going to want to exploit the Kentucky big man and utilize their own freshman star, it’s gotta be on the break.

2.  What’s the key for the Hoosier defense to keep the explosive Wildcat offense in check?

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Friday

Posted by EJacoby on March 23rd, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Kevin Doyle (South) and Evan Jacoby (Midwest) contributed to this preview.

#3 Baylor vs. #10 Xavier – South Regional Semifinal (at Atlanta, GA) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Baylor was supposed to be here, Xavier was not. That is the beauty of March Madness and the NCAA Tournament though: play it out on the floor. One can review all the matchups, crunch the numbers, and look at past tournament history, but sometimes simply getting hot at the right time is a more important factor than anything else. The Xavier Musketeers, an up-and-down team all year following the brawl against Cincinnati back in December, are peaking at just the right time. After a 21 game stretch in the middle of the year that saw Xavier go 10-11, they rebounded by winning five of six; the melee seems like a thing of the distant past right now. What teams should now begin to take notice of: Tu Holloway is back to playing at the level of an All-American. Not to mention, Kenny Frease is looking like one of the most dominant big men in the country after dismantling the Lehigh front line last Sunday. Despite all of this, Baylor is a downright scary team to be playing this weekend, especially with the shooting prowess of Brady Heslip who is a combined 14-22 from downtown. Xavier’s three-point defense is one of the best in the nation as they allow opponents to shoot just 30% from the outside, but can they contain the hot shooting Heslip and the steady Pierre Jackson? Consequently, if Heslip and Jackson are not connecting from distance, the onus will be on Perry Jones III. The Jones-Frease matchup down low is one to keep an eye on, and if we are to take any stock in the first two games, Frease is the one playing better of the two as Jones has combined to score just nine points on 4-14 shooting against South Dakota State and Colorado. A streaky scorer throughout the year, Jones has scored in single digits nine times and double digits 19 times; the Bears will need the latter of Jones’ scoring efforts to keep Xavier honest on defense. Baylor’s only losses this year have come against Big 12 opponents, and I expect this trend to continue as the Bears hold off Holloway and the Musketeers.

The RTC Certified Pick: Baylor

#1 North Carolina vs. #13 Ohio – Midwest Region Semifinals (at St. Louis, MO) – 7:47 PM ET on TBS

The storylines leading up to this game have been completely taken over by Kendall Marshall’s “wrist watch”, but once the ball tips off on Friday night and Marshall is presumably unable to play, then we can finally focus on the matchups in-game. Of course, Marshall’s expected absence will then be the main factor to watch in the game. How will North Carolina distribute minutes at the point guard position against the harassing perimeter defense of D.J. Cooper? Expect Roy Williams to explore several different options, including seldom-used reserves Stilman White and Justin Watts. Both White and Watts average under seven minutes per game and were never expected to be significant factors for the team, but they are the only players with experience at the lead guard spot. But since neither guy is likely to make much of an impact offensively, UNC also could experiment by placing Harrison Barnes at the position in a point-forward role. Barnes has the size to see over any defenders but has never been asked to run an offense. P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock, two primary wing shooters, could help Barnes bring the ball up in a point guard by-committee approach, as well.

Regardless, as long as the point guard replacements or by-committee members don’t turn the ball over at an alarming rate, then Carolina should still have the advantage in this game on both ends because of its tremendous forwards. Ohio’s regular rotation only includes two bangers in the post in Reggie Keely and Jon Smith, and while Keely is a solid post defender with bulk at 265 pounds, neither of those players is taller than 6’8”. It will be an adventure trying to defend the most talented front line in the country. Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and James Michael McAdoo should have a field day in the paint, and the lack of a point guard means that every UNC possession should include an early paint touch. Expect big numbers from this trio. But if Ohio is somehow able to key on the UNC bigs and stop the domination in the paint, then the Bobcats can pull another upset by gaining an advantage on the perimeter. Nick Kellogg and Walter Offutt must hit a high percentage of shots from the outside and D.J. Cooper will need another breakout performance to carry this team. It just seems unlikely that Ohio has enough firepower to hang with Carolina’s athletes on the interior. With or without Marshall, roll with North Carolina in this one.

The RTC Certified Pick: North Carolina

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