I. The first 20 minutes of this one was Indiana at its finest: Finally back behind a raucous student section coupled with the rest of the Assembly Hall faithful, it was a clinic of sharpshooting from distance (7-of-11, including some deep ones from Jordan Hulls), defense into offense (19 points off turnovers) and a defense that didn’t send Minnesota to the line once and allowed just five second-chance points from the best offensive rebounding in the country.
And the tone was set on the first offensive play of the game that Indiana could play Minnesota’s physical game around the rim: A missed Christian Watford shot at the rim was put back up by Cody Zeller. It missed, but there was Watford sticking with the play, rebounding Zeller’s miss and putting it back in for a score. Zeller (18 points, six boards) and Watford (15 points, nine boards) would play strong defense for the remainder of this one. This was especially true in the case of Zeller. He had all three of Indiana’s blocks this afternoon, including a chasedown on a Minnesota fast break in the second half that began because he turned the ball over. Zeller also had a dunk in which he penetrated all the way from the perimeter. It’s plays like these that remind you Zeller, in his 7-foot frame, can do some pretty unique things on the basketball court.
The energy that surged through the team and its fan base in the first 20 was electric and the Hoosiers took a 23-point lead into the break.
II. The second half would tell a different story. Just as they did after half at Penn State, the Hoosiers got sloppy. Minnesota’s full-court press bothered the Hoosiers. They turned the ball over 11 times. And the hot shooting of the first half (66 percent), evaporated in the second (29 percent). The Hoosiers made just six — six! — field goals on 21 attempts, including just 1-of-8 (12 percent) from distance. Minnesota got foul happy in the pressure — the Hoosiers were in the double bonus by the 11:34 mark — but Indiana failed to capitalize on all of its trips. Indiana went to the line a ridiculous 36 times after halftime, but converted on just 64 percent of those attempts (23). Christian Watford missed a pair. Jordan Hulls missed a pair at a crucial juncture, but Zeller found his way into getting a hand on the board, which fell into Hulls’ hands. He would be fouled again and this time he’d make both.
All the fouls made this one drag on and it kept Indiana out of another sort of rhythm or flow, and Minnesota would not go quietly in the Bloomington afternoon. The Golden Gophers would get the lead under 10 at the 1:49 mark on a Rodney Williams 3-pointer. It would cut it to six on an Austin Hollins 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining. It fell to just three with 19 ticks remaining after Andre Hollins hit two of three from the line after Victor Oladipo fouled him on a 3-point attempt, the third time Oladipo committed such an error in an otherwise brilliant performance (20 points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals). It would be Oladipo’s fifth foul and he was done for the afternoon.
If you asked college basketball experts before the season about Minnesota, some may have predicted the Gophers would improve. Getting a player like Trevor Mbakwe back can do that for a team. But few would have believed they could be a top 10 team and a legitimate Big Ten title contender, especially this early in the season.
But Indiana coach Tom Crean isn’t surprised that Minnesota has risen all the way to No. 8 in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll. He actually cited the Gophers prior to the season as a team to watch this year.
“But not like I’m a prophet, you could just tell,” Crean said Friday. “Trevor’s just too good. Trevor Mbakwe is too good a player.”
As Crean and the Indiana players met with the media on Friday afternoon, it was clear they have a great respect for a Minnesota club that enters Saturday’s game riding an 11-game winning streak.
The game between the two games from last year at Assembly Hall was being played in the Indiana locker room on Friday.
“It’s gonna be one of the toughest games we’ve had all year,” sophomore Cody Zeller said. “They’ve already proved themselves. They’re a very tough team. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
“They’ve gotten a lot better,” junior Victor Oladipo added. “Andre Hollins is doing a great job. They’re all capable of scoring and scoring at a high level.”
While the Gophers (15-1, 3-0) have improved across the board, they have benefited greatly by the return of Mbakwe, who missed most of last season after suffering a torn ACL. Mbakwe is a sixth-year senior who Crean recruited and coached when both were at Marquette.
Mbakwe’s numbers are down a bit — he’s averaging 9.3 points and 7.9 rebounds in 20.1 minutes per game — but Crean has seen considerable improvement in the veteran’s game.
Tom Crean, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller met with the media earlier today to preview Saturday’s meeting with No. 8 Minnesota.
Watch and listen to both press conferences in the embedded media player below:
Podcast on the Brink: Previewing IU-Minnesota
To break down the showdown with the Gophers, Podcast on the Brink is joined by Inside The Hall’s Alex Bozich and Justin Albers this week.
With Greg Rosenstein packing up his RGIII jerseys and moving to Connecticut, host Matt Dollinger anchors the podcast and talks to Bozich and Albers about the challenges No. 8 Minnesota will present and the likelihood of No. 5 Indiana pulling out the win.
Among the topics discussed in this week’s show:
· The importance of the battle on the boards Saturday · How Indiana will attempt to neutralize Trevor Mbakwe · Who is the best team in the conference right now? · The sparse usage of Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin · Takeaways from Indiana’s thrashing of Penn State · Which games will be toughest for IU in January?
Cody Zeller was the pick to click winner for Iowa and Christian Watford was the winner for Penn State. Full standings will be posted after five games.
Pool for Penn State: All players are eligible to be picked.
Picks are due by 11:45 AM ET on Saturday.
A few reminders:
·State the name of the player (not a nickname) that you’re picking. If you use a nickname for a player, your pick will not be counted. Also, please state who you are picking as the first thing in your comment. We’re tracking hundreds of picks per game. It’s more difficult to keep track of everyone’s pick if it’s not the first thing in your comment.
· Please make sure you are using a valid e-mail address if you are not registered.
·Please make sure you are using the same name each time to pick if you are not registered. We are tracking wins by the name you use to submit your pick. If your name changes on a game-to-game basis, credit for your pick will be given to the name used to submit the pick.
Cody Zeller named to Wooden Award midseason top 25
Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller is one of 25 midseason finalists for the John R. Wooden Award, the national advisory board for the award announced on Thursday evening.
Through 15 games, Zeller is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
He’s one of four Big Ten players to be named a finalist, joining Illinois guard Brandon Paul, Michigan’s Trey Burke and Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas.
Current Indiana Director of Basketball Operations Calbert Cheaney was the last Hoosier to win the Wooden Award in 1993. Zeller was one of three freshman finalists last season for the award, joining Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
The complete list of finalists follows after the jump:
After back-to-back road wins to open conference play, No. 5 Indiana returns to Assembly Hall on Saturday afternoon for a meeting with No. 8 Minnesota. It’s the first meeting between two top ten teams in Bloomington since February 19,2000 when the No. 10 Hoosiers hosted No. 7 Ohio State.
The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network with Gus Johnson and Jim Jackson on the call.
Finally, a game that may give us a true measuring stick of just how far Indiana has come since losing to Butler in Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Dec. 15. That’s not to say the wins at Iowa and Penn State weren’t impressive — they were — but those are games everyone expected Indiana to win, despite well-documented woes on the road in the Big Ten.
Minnesota, however, is a different level of challenge for these Hoosiers. The Gophers are a legitimate contender for the conference crown. They boast experience in the front court with Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe, who looks healthier by the game after knee surgery ended his season prematurely last season. And in the backcourt, Andre and Austin Hollins can both fill it up while Joe Coleman can be tough to deal with physically, even by Big Ten standards.
Minnesota’s three wins in the league have all been convincing: 76-63 over Michigan State, 69-51 over Northwestern and most recently, 84-67 at Illinois. The Gophers have won 11 straight games since falling to Duke in the Battle of Atlantis and were the only team to win last season in Bloomington. After five straight guarantee games following IU’s triumph over North Carolina in late November, a major test awaits on Saturday on Branch McCracken Court.
Tubby Smith didn’t build this team with five-star recruits, but he’s assembled a group that can collectively play with any team in the country. Williams has continued the stellar play he exhibited as a junior and is the team’s second leading scorer (12.9) and rebounder (5.9). The senior forward is shooting 58.7 percent on twos, but is shooting just 64.7 percent from the foul line despite a healthy number of attempts (68). Williams continues to be dangerous in the open court and has the potential to stop the opposition’s momentum with any number of high-flying plays around the rim.
Mbakwe played more than 30 minutes for the first time in Wednesday’s win at Illinois and logged his seventh double-digit rebound game of the season in the process. He’s currently the best offensive and defensive rebounder in the Big Ten according to Ken Pomeroy’s stats and keeping him, and Williams to a lesser extent, at bay on the glass will be pivotal for Indiana. Minnesota has used its bench far less frequently since the beginning of league play, which is a sign that Smith may not be as comfortable with guys like Maurice Walker, Eliott Eliason and Oto Osenieks as he was in non-conference play.
IU set to host elite guard Dante Exum for official visit
Dante Exum is coming to America.
The 6-foot-4, 170-pound guard, a native of East Melbourne, Australia, will make an official visit to Bloomington this weekend.
Under new rules enacted by the NCAA, 2014 prospects can begin taking official trips on Jan. 1 and Exum didn’t wait to take advantage of the opportunity.
Exum’s father, Cecil, played on North Carolina’s 1982 NCAA Championship team and was drafted in the ninth round of the 1984 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets.
But a NBA career didn’t pan out, which led him to a stop in Sweden and then to the National Basketball League in Australia, where he played for the North Melbourne Giants. The elder Exum became a citizen of Australia in 1989.
Dante, who turned 17 in July, made his presence known on the international scene with some dominant performances in the FIBA U17 Championships in Kaunas, Lithuania. Exum averaged 17.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in that event, including a 21-point effort against a United States team featuring No. 1 2014 point guard Tyus Jones.
Exum was also a standout in the 2012 adidas Nations Global Challenge in Long Beach, California last August.
Now he’ll look for a college home in the United States with aspirations of one day playing in the NBA. He’s had a significant amount of interest, but chose Indiana, which has recruited him diligently, for his first stop.
He’s scheduled to arrived in Bloomington on Friday and will attend IU’s Big Ten home opener against Minnesota on Saturday.
“Indiana has a very strong reputation around the world,” Ian Stacker, Exum’s coach at the Australian Institute of Sport, told Inside the Hall via e-mail. “It is synonymous with basketball and is all a player would be looking for.”
Exum, who can play either guard position, may slot in best currently at the point guard position.
Oladipo’s improved perimeter shooting — and in particular, his 3-point stroke — coupled with a strong 82 percent on attempts at the rim are the biggest reasons for his high shooting marks. But there are also smaller, subtle things — the junior picking his spots and not forcing things, the technique he’s using around the rim — that are also a factor in just how he’s been so dang efficient.
A quick look at three such smart scores from Monday’s Penn State game in the latest edition of Film Session:
I. THREE BALL
Oladipo starts with the ball up top. Penn State’s defense is a little out of sorts here, as Jordan Hulls is open on the left wing. The Nittany Lion bench notices and points him out:
Hulls gets the pass from Oladipo, but he quickly whips the ball to Will Sheehey:
Sheehey dribbles to the middle and passes to Remy Abell on the weakside:
Penn State’s D is still a little funky here. Sheehey gets the ball from Abell with Oladipo near, but Penn State only has two defenders around the three of them: