If you’ve seen highlights of Kentucky basketball games on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” this year, chances are you saw a number of breakaway dunks.
With athletes like sophomore Terrence Jones and freshman Anthony Davis, the Wildcats play above the rim more often than most teams.
But it’s what leads to those highlight-reel breakaway dunks that has Indiana coach Tom Crean concerned in anticipation of Saturday afternoon’s game in Assembly Hall against the nation’s No. 1 team.
“I think the thing that separates them right now is their defense,” Crean said. “I’ve always thought [Kentucky coach] John [Calipari] doesn’t get nearly enough credit as a coach for his defense. He’s always got a game plan. He does a great job with getting talent to play really, really hard. This is the best defensive team, in my opinion, that he has had.”
The Wildcats (8-0) have given up more than 70 points only once this season – last Saturday against No. 5 North Carolina.
Crean said Kentucky benefits from its remarkable athleticism defensively, which allows it to make up for mistakes other teams can’t. The defense starts with Davis, a 6-10 freshman who is averaging 4.5 blocked shots per game.
“If there’s a mistake made defensively, he can make up for it like nobody else I’ve seen,” Crean said. “I can’t think of anybody that can make up for mistakes that his teammates might make like he can.”
Indiana freshman Cody Zeller hasn’t been part of the IU-Kentucky rivalry yet, but he’s very familiar with his likely matchup in Davis. Zeller played against him on multiple occasions in the summer of 2010.
“He’s definitely a great player,” Zeller said. “I think each game I’m trying to improve. This is just another step in that.”
To keep it from turning into a Kentucky dunk fest, Crean said the Hoosiers may consider slowing the game down and grinding it out. The most important thing, he said, is taking care of the ball.
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.
Thoughts on a 81-62 loss at Rupp Arena:
Oh, what could have been.
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).
Here’s a recap of the four factors in Saturdays’s 81-62 loss at Kentucky:
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.
Three points of interest:
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.