Hoosiers continues to prove doubters wrong
When Indiana beat then-No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 10, a lot of experts were surprised, but they were hesitant to declare that the Hoosiers deserved a spot among the elite in college basketball.
IU's ensuing win over Notre Dame came on a neutral court, giving critics the chance to say the Hoosiers still hadn't really proven anything, and Indiana's 80-65 loss at Michigan State Dec. 28 gave those same critics a chance to say, "See. We told you."
Indiana's naysayers, however, will have a tougher time ignoring the Hoosiers' win over Ohio State on New Year's Eve. Sure, IU was once again at home, but the Hoosiers stood toe-to-toe with the No. 2-ranked team in the country, a team that knows IU well, and never backed down. The result was another signature victory for Indiana, one that can help IU prove to the critics that they belong.
More importantly, the experience of battling Ohio State to the final buzzer should boost Indiana's confidence even more heading into this week's games vs. Michigan and Penn State. There was some question of how the Hoosiers would respond to their first loss of the season in East Lansing, but Indiana made it clear the bad old days are gone for good.
Next up for Indiana, however, is a quest for respect. Following the OSU win, ESPN's Doug Gottlieb took to the airwaves and said he still didn't believe the Hoosiers were among the top 15 teams in the country. Although his co-hosts on the show questioned his line of thinking, he wasn't alone. Another reporter, this one from CBS Sports, said he still isn't sold on Indiana because of the fact the Hoosiers haven't beaten anyone impressive on the road.
The doubters might actually be a positive for Tom Crean's squad. The lack of respect is keeping the Hoosiers focused on the task at hand, and nobody is getting a swelled head about how far the program has come in a short amount of time. Indiana's next tough road tests come at Ohio State Jan. 15 and at Wisconsin Jan. 26, but until then, the Hoosiers hope to continue their winning ways at home and use the "us-against-them" mentality as motivation.
--The education of freshman Cody Zeller continues. Zeller suffered through an up-and-down week, scoring a season-low four points at Michigan State before posting a 14-point, 4-rebound outing vs. Ohio State. That game vs. OSU featured the first real foul trouble for Zeller, and he eventually fouled out late in the game.
Zeller needs to do a better job of taking the game to his opponents, and he has to set up deeper in the post than he has been. He isn't as strong as some of his opponents, but Zeller has to go to the block at the opening of possessions instead of trying to work his way down once the ball crosses midcourt. Zeller still has been effective, but the Hoosiers need him to be more consistent going forward.
--Junior Jordan Hulls is the Hoosiers' most dependable outside shooter, and his 17 points vs. Ohio State were a big reason IU pulled off the upset. That said, he continues to be a defensive liability, and it is forcing the other Hoosiers to work harder to help Hulls on the perimeter.
The issue is Hulls' lack of quickness, a problem that doesn't figure to be corrected anytime soon. OSU's Aaron Craft repeatedly beat him on the dribble in the first half, and IU eventually was forced to switch to get quicker defenders on Ohio State's guard. Hulls is clearly frustrated by his inability to keep opponents in front of him, and he is working on playing better positional defense to take some of the burden off his teammates.
--Junior Derek Elston has been inconsistent coming off the bench, and although his defense has been solid, he still is making too many mistakes to be considered a dependable bench player. Elston did a good job of containing OSU's Jared Sullinger when he was given the assignment of defending the best big man in the Big Ten. Offensively, however, Elston was far too frantic and occasionally seems to decide to shoot the ball before he ever receives a pass.
Elston is a confident guy and someone who can knock down open jumpers, but the Hoosiers need him to avoid trying to do too much on the court with the ball and simply let the game come to him.
BY THE NUMBERS: 38 -- Heading into IU's battle with Ohio State, most observers expected OSU to dominate the Hoosiers inside. Instead, Indiana outscored the Buckeyes 38-34 in the paint to become just the second team this season to outscore OSU in the lane.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "All that stuff we go through, we can't come out here and get punked. We just went toe-to-toe with them. They've been punking us for the past couple of years, and we realize that. This year, we had to go toe-to-toe with them, and we came out with the victory." -- Sophomore Victor Oladipo on the motivation the team had to take on Ohio State, a team that had blown out the Hoosiers in the past couple of years.
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Michigan, Jan. 5
KEY MATCHUPS: Despite its struggles in recent years, Indiana has had Michigan's number, posting a 3-3 record during the Tom Crean Era. Both teams have improved since last season, and the Hoosiers will need their guards to play suffocating defense on UM's Tim Hardaway, Jr., to keep him on the perimeter and not allow him to get into the lane.
--Sophomore Will Sheehey missed his third straight game with a left leg injury when he sat out IU's upset win over Ohio State. Sheehey is being described as "day-to-day," but the fact he hasn't even been warming up with the team suggests he might be out of action a little longer.
--Senior Verdell Jones III has moved into 28th place on IU's all-time scoring list with 1,248 points, four fewer than the man in 27th place, Tom VanArsdale.
--Junior Christian Watford became IU's second player this season to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career at Michigan State, and his 10 points vs. Ohio State moved him past Jared Jeffries into 42nd on IU's scoring list with 1,015.
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