After a tuneup on Sunday against Stetson, the Hoosiers are back in Assembly Hall on Saturday evening for a meeting with No. 1 Kentucky. The game will be shown on ESPN and broadcast on the IU radio network (Sirius 92/XM 190):
The stage is set. 17,000 screaming fans. Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale on the call. And the nation’s most talented team on Branch McCracken Court opposite the Hoosiers.
This is what college basketball is all about.
Indiana has passed all eight of its early season tests with relative ease. They’ve dismantled less talented opponents. They took a punch from Butler in Assembly Hall and responded with a punch of their own to run away late. And they’ve won on the road twice.
But this is different.
This is IU’s first test against an elite team. It’s an opportunity to learn just where the Hoosiers stand in a game that will have the eyes of the nation. Some national experts are already predicting an IU win. Is the basketball Hoosier fans have so desperately craved over the past three plus seasons finally back in Assembly Hall? We’ll know the answer on Saturday.
For 30 minutes or so, the Hoosiers were not just in this thing — they were primed for an upset. Tom Crean paced the sidelines with a fervor we’ve yet to see this season. His offense, one that’s often 3-point heavy, was getting buckets off sharp cuts to the rim and crisp passing. This is called execution.
And IU’s defense, one facing a tough test, had risen to the challenge. Kentucky was out of rhythm and shooting poorly.
When Dick Vitale told us the Hoosiers had come to Lexington believing they could win, believing they were not the underdog, we believed it too.
But when you wilt in the waning moments — and boy did the Hoosiers ever wilt — victory goes from within arm’s reach to out of sight in an instant.
These Hoosiers, as we’re learning, just aren’t there yet.
For those unfamiliar, here’s some background on the four factors to winning: Established by Dean Oliver, the four factors are building blocks for Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency formula. It’s important to mention, as noted by Stat Sheet, that the factors are not weighted equally. The best way to weight the numbers is as follows: shooting (40 percent), taking care of the ball (25 percent), offensive rebounding (20 percent) and getting to the line (15 percent).
Effective field goal percentage (FGM + 0.5*3PM)/FGA): The bright spot here from the IU perspective is that Kentucky had its worst performance of the season in eFG percentage. Credit the Hoosier defense for making that happen. The Wildcats were able to overcome their woeful shooting performance due to offensive rebounding percentage/second chance points and free throw rate, which we’ll dive into later.
Turnover percentage (Turnovers divided by possessions): For as well as IU locked down in its half court defense, the Hoosiers were unable to turn Kentucky over. The Wildcats posted a season-best 8.6 turnover percentage and as of Sunday, are in the top five nationally in this category. In both of IU’s losses, opponents have posted a turnover percentage under 10. Another thing worth mentioning here is that IU’s turnover percentage of 20 is the second-highest for an opponent against Kentucky this season. Only Oklahoma (20.2) fared worse.
1) Kentucky is quite good on both sides of the ball — ranking in the Top 15 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Their turnover percentage (16.4 percent) is impressive as well. If this holds tomorrow, Indiana is going to be in for a tough test.
2) We know the Hoosiers turn the ball over a lot. But Kentucky only ranks 323rd in defensive turnover percentage (17.0 percent), so Indiana might be able to exploit this and keep the turnovers down. Of course, the Hoosiers’ turnovers are often self-inflicted, so this might not matter as much in the end. (In case you missed it, Tom Crean was pretty direct in his comments at yesterday’s press conference: The Hoosiers have to do a better job of taking care of the ball.)
3) The battle of the boards should be an interesting one. Indiana is a strong offensive rebounding team (offensive-rebounding percentage: 38.8 percent), but Kentucky is good on the defensive boards (holding opponents to an offensive-rebounding percentage of 27.7 percent, 35th in the nation) and have superior length. If the Hoosiers can win this battle, it’ll help them to more second-chance opportunities, which will be crucial against a good team on the road.
Zach Osterman returns for another installment of the Inside the Hall Podcast and joining him is Herald-Times men’s basketball columnist Hugh Kellenberger to talk about this Saturday’s game at Kentucky.
To help give us some perspective on this year’s Kentucky Wildcats, Inside the Hall reached out to our good friend — former Indiana Daily Student editor in chief Rick Newkirk — to answer five questions on John Calipari’s squad. (Newkirk now works as a sports copy editor for the Louisville Courier-Journal. He also follows the Wildcats as closely as anyone I know, unfortunately.) With that said, let’s get down to business.
Kentucky’s schedule early on has been aggressive. Games in Maui against Washington and UConn, at UNC and a neutral court game with Notre Dame. Overall, how is this team responding to the challenge through its first eight games?
The UConn game was the real challenge, and no one aside from Jones really showed up or responded to Connecticut’s early push. Kemba Walker did to the Cats what John Wall and Eric Bledsoe did to everyone last year, and Brandon Knight just laid an egg. DeAndre Liggins hasn’t really shown the lockdown defense he was known for last year, although he’s developed his three-point shot, and he had no success at all guarding a much faster Walker. That game exposed UK’s weaknesses, and the Cats never really showed any fight to get back into it. They’ve shown improvement since, though, and the second half against Notre Dame was the first time I’ve seen UK really respond to a challenge. Ben Hansbrough lit the Cats up for 19 in the first half, including five threes, but he missed all five of his shots in the second half and looked miserable. It wasn’t really a neutral court, though — Freedom Hall now has a permanent UK paint job, and pretty much all of the 17,000 fans there were wearing blue. But if that game was any indication, UK might be figuring out how to play through adversity.
“Well first and foremost, I’m extremely excited along with our coaching staff, to take my team into a game like this. This will be one of the most hostile and enlightening environments our players will see in their time in college basketball. I know our team is excited. It has felt a lot different this week not preparing for numerous games or going from game to game, but it has given us the chance at getting better on both sides of the ball, not only for this game, but also for the season. That is what this week and next week is really all about. There are certain elements about game preparation, but the most important thing for us is to focus on fundamentals. We are not going to have many situations like this the rest of the year where we only have one game a week.
“I think our guys are excited to play. It has been a productive week with one more day of preparation and practice before we go play a team that I think is outstanding. Kentucky’s speed and quickness has not changed. Their players have changed, but they way they attack and get into the lane has not changed. I think they move the ball well and have some very good individual talents who are starting to play much better as a team. So you can see that in a big way as you watch them on tape.”
Raise your hand if you were a bit underwhelmed by Indiana’s non-conference schedule?
Yea, me too, but let’s be honest: After two years November tossing the Hoosiers in well over their heads, and facing as talented a Big Ten as we’ve seen in five years or more, there’s really nothing wrong with taking it a little bit easier before the New Year turns.
Given that IU will still play Kentucky, still has a date in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, (which it had no power in deciding) and will still meet Northern Iowa and, potentially, New Mexico, the pre-Big Ten slate really isn’t as weak as it could be – trust me. To some extent, it probably also looks a lot easier when you consider Indiana’s last two years, with dates against Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Gonzaga and Maryland, among others, on top of the traditional rivalry with the Wildcats.
In truth, it probably still tells us a fair amount about these Hoosiers, who – given their schedule – have more than just an outside shot at postseason basketball for the first time since 2008. No, not the NCAA Tournament, but anything beats staying home, doesn’t it?
Considering its path through the first quarter of the season, there’s ample reason to believe Indiana will be 8-0 when the Hoosiers head to Kentucky on Dec. 11. In fact, it would be rather surprising if Tom Crean’s squad wasn’t 8-0 (certainly nothing below 7-1) on the bus to Lexington.
Which brings me to the primary point of this rambling – can Indiana beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena in mid-December? I’m sure it’s something plenty of you salivate at the thought of. One way or the other, it’s a worthwhile debate to have.
Pete Thamel, The New York Times college sports reporter who is among the best at his trade, published a story late Friday night revealing the NCAA is looking into former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe.
The Times story, which you can read in its entirety at this link, says the NCAA is investigating dramatic changes in Bledsoe’s high school transcript and extra benefits he allegedly received as a senior at Parker High in Birmingham, AL. The Alabama High School Association is also investigating, according to the Times.
Kentucky, meanwhile, is already on the defense. The university issued this statement on Saturday:
Often high profile student-athletes are selected for an extensive prospective student-athlete (PSA) review. Eric Bledsoe participated in the normal academic review process and also an extensive PSA review by the NCAA Eligibility Center and was cleared academically.
While this may be true, it’s also important to remember that it’s not uncommon for the NCAA to retroactively declare a player ineligible following a more extensive investigation. (See Rose, Derrick.)
Bledsoe, Kentucky coach John Calipari, UK President Lee Todd or Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart have yet to comment publicly on the Times story.