Ever since Tom Crean took over the Indiana program from master-texter, Kelvin Sampson, we have heard the same thing. He’s doing things right over there in Bloomington and that team will be back on the map before you know it. Well, the Hoosiers are getting better, but they aren’t quite there yet.
They’re 7-1 so far this season with their lone loss came at Boston College, their only contest against a school from a top six conference. BC is 7-2 on the year and they finished in 3rd in the Old Spice Classic, but they did lose to Yale in their second game.
Basically, the Hoosiers have spent the first month of the season beating up on schools like Florida Gulf Coast, Wright State, Mississippi Valley State, Evansville, North Carolina Central, Northwestern State, and Savannah State. In those seven wins, their closest victory was a 13-point win over the Purple Aces of Evansville. Their average margin of victory is those games is 22 points. It’s very difficult to tell how good a team is when they are playing teams of this caliber.
I do, however, believe that this is a better Indiana team than last year. I also think that at this point of the season, Kentucky is nowhere near where they were a year ago. Last year the ‘Cats and Hoosiers entered the half with Kentucky leading, 42-41. Then John Wall led the Wildcats on an 18-0 run in the second half and they cruised to a 90-73 victory, their first victory in Blooming since 1981.
The story for the Hoosiers in that game was then-freshman Maurice Creek. He scored a season-high 31 points and hit five threes, single-handedly keeping them in the game in the first half. Nobody else scored more than seven points the entire game.
Another key stat was the play of UK’s bigs. The Wildcats outrebounded the Hoosiers 49-24 overall and 21-8 on the offensive end. DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson had an absolute field day, combining for 33 points and 19 rebounds.
Well, three games after Indiana’s loss to Kentucky, Creek (6-5, 200) went down with a knee injury and missed the remainder of the season. He is back in the lineup this year and has played in all eight games for Indiana, but it doesn’t appear that he is 100-percent back quite yet as his numbers are down in all areas. His scoring has dropped from 16.4 to 11.8, his field goal percentage from 53-percent to 44, and his three-point percentage from 45-percent to 40.
It is often said that it takes two years to completely recover from an injury like Creeks and right now that appears to be the case. Although, it is said that he is playing pain free, he just doesn’t have the same explosiveness or strength in that knee that he had a year ago.
IU was dominated by UK’s big last year. This year this is an area where the Hoosiers could excel. Their bigs aren’t yet as physical as they probably need to be, but sophomore Christian Watford is playing stronger than he did a year ago and could possibly cause the Cats problems underneath.
Watford (6-8, 230) is leading the team in scoring and rebounding with 17.8 and 5.9, respectively. He has scored in double figures in every game this season and put up 23, while shooting 7-for-12 from the floor, in their loss to Boston College. In that game he only pulled down two rebounds. The sophomore out of Birmingham likes to play around the rim, but he is a very effective passer and has the ability to knock down shots from 15 feet or beyond.
Junior Verdell Jones (6-5, 185) is their second leading scorer with 14.3 points-per-game. He fills up the stat sheet every night and is averaging 3.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.8 steals, and 4.8 turnovers, while shooting a very impressive 52-percent from the floor. He is not a huge three-point threat, but has knocked down four on the year.
He is a scoring guard with great court vision. He is extremely effective at penetrating past his defender for midrange jumpers.
It isn’t just Jones who shoots a good percentage for the Hoosiers as they are shooting 51-percent from the floor as a team. They are shooting 39-percent from deep and other than Creek their biggest threat is sophomore Jordan Hulls (6-0, 175), who has knocked down 18 threes and is shooting 58-percent.
Overall, this appears to be a team that has made a lot of improvements from a year ago. They are better defensively and their offense has gotten better because of that defense. They are a disciplined team that doesn’t take a ton of bad shots.
However, turnovers are a bit of an issue, as they are averaging 17 a game. A lot of their turnovers are caused by silly mistakes and simply not taking care of the basketball. This is an area that the Wildcats need to exploit.
The Wildcats are longer and more athletic and need to take advantage of this, much like they did on Wednesday against Notre Dame. The Hoosiers’ talent is improving steadily year-in and year-out, but the Wildcats still enter Saturday’s matchup with an advantage in that department.
Like I mentioned earlier, this IU team is better than they were last year and, at this point in the season, UK is not where they were a year ago. Still, I believe the talent differential is too great for the Hoosiers to overcome, especially in the backcourt. Indiana simply does not have enough guard play to contend with Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, Deandre Liggins, and company.
Watford could have some success against the ‘Cats on the offensive end, but I do not believe that he is physical enough to frustrate and contain Terrence Jones, like North Carolina did.
I also see the Hoosiers committing too many turnovers to stay in the game.
Kentucky 78, Indiana 65