Cody Zeller (19 points, nine rebounds), Will Sheehey (career-high 22 points) and Christian Watford (14 points) met with the media following Indiana’s 83-55 win over Purdue on Saturday at Assembly Hall.
Watch and listen to the press conference in the embedded media player below:
Sometimes he gets lost in the box score because of the seasons Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller are having, but it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore Christian Watford.
A look at the numbers: Watford has scored in double figures in all 12 Big Ten games, and in 15 straight games overall. During that stretch, he’s pulled down at least eight rebounds on eight occasions, and he has two double-doubles. Dating back to last season, Watford has scored in double figures in 17 straight Big Ten games.
In Wednesday night’s 76-47 win over Nebraska, it was more of the same from the senior forward. Watford had 13 points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes.
There are many reasons why the Hoosiers have returned to the No. 1 spot in the rankings, but Watford’s prowess on the defensive glass and acceptance of his role is one of the primary ones.
“He has been playing with a lot of confidence,” junior forward Will Sheehey said. “I think it comes off of his defensive rebounding. You get a couple of boards, a couple of assists, you get a good feel for the game from the start, and that’s when I think shots are going in for him.”
Earlier in the season, I criticized Watford for too often being a ball stopper. The Hoosiers displayed good movement on offense, but the ball would hit Watford’s hands and the movement would stop as he jab-stepped and contemplated which one-on-one move he wanted to go to.
That isn’t happening anymore.
“He’s come a long, long way,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “When he’s consistent, he’s really, really good. What he’s learned is he has really good teammates that he can make better and they can make him better. When they’re locked in defensively, great things happen.”
Along the same lines, Watford isn’t forcing shots. He’s making strong moves in the post and shooting open 3-pointers off the trail or on a swing. Watford made the biggest shot during the Crean era, but if he wants to be part of the ultimate prize, he had to make personal sacrifices.
If Watford keeps playing like he has recently, it’s hard to see Indiana losing anytime soon.
“He has high personal goals, and he’s a part of very high team goals,” Crean said. “And I think it’s coming in his play.”
It’s been a month since our last examination of the NBA Draft outlook for this year’s Indiana team and the key takeaway from the last month is the steady rise of junior Victor Oladipo toward the lottery. Let’s get to it:
· Analysis: Zeller’s stock has remained as a high lottery pick, but the talk of him going No. 1 overall has cooled considerably since the initial 2013 mock drafts were revealed. But when you take a closer look, it’s hard to pinpoint a legitimate reason for much, if any, change in his stock. In one of the nation’s most balanced and efficient offenses, Zeller is the key cog. His recent play has him right back in the thick of things in the national player of the year and Big Ten player of the year discussion. He won co-Big Ten player of the week honors after Indiana beat Purdue and Michigan last week and through nine conference games, Zeller is averaging 16.1 points and 8.8 rebounds. Perhaps NBA scouts want to see more Zeller dominant games more frequently, but on a team with six guys who are capable of going out and scoring 20, that’s unlikely to happen.
· Expert opinion: “Zeller played with extraordinary energy and toughness against Michigan. When he plays like that, there isn’t a better offensive big man in the country. He doesn’t give that effort every night, but he does it enough that it’s hard to argue that anyone else in college basketball is obviously better.” – ESPN.com’s Chad Ford
Victor Oladipo ESPN: (15) Draft Express: (21) NBADraft.net: (32)
· Analysis: ESPN.com draft guru Chad Ford has been leading the charge to promote Oladipo’s candidacy as a lottery pick and it’s hard to argue his point. The major hole in Oladipo’s game entering the season was his perimeter shot and he’s shooting 51.4 percent on threes as a junior. He’s also been ridiculously efficient on twos this season (67.8 percent) and his defense has also improved tremendously (5.1 steal percentage, 2.8 block percentage). His prowess as a lockdown defender was on full display Saturday night as Oladipo guarded four different Michigan players (Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr.) effectively in IU’s 81-73 win. Oladipo has shined all season on the biggest stages and as a result, his draft stock has skyrocketed.
· Expert opinion: “Given his trajectory and Zeller’s fall, I don’t think it’s out of the question that Oladipo goes ahead of Zeller on draft night.” – ESPN.com’s Chad Ford