Friday nights rematch between Indiana and Kentucky will be the highlight of the Sweet 16.
The first game was so good that Big Ten Network plays the game over at least once a day and ESPNU plays it at least once a week. Christian Watford’s buzzer-beating three point shot shocked the nation and announce Indiana’s return to the national stage. Pandaemonium occurred within seconds of the ball falling through the nylon net as fans stormed the court.
Tom Crean’s reaction to the shot falling summed it best. The nauseating-”who farted” expression was a look disbelief. The look of someone pinch me or get a trash. This was Crean’s biggest win in his coaching career; he had taken a program left for dead and rebuilt it into the blue chip program college basketball fans remember.
Friday night’s game will have a different feeling to it. Atlanta will be an electric environment, but probably not nearly as good or crimson as the environment in Bloomington.
Kentucky has had to deal with the bitter taste of that loss for three and a half months and are constantly reminded of it thanks to the ESPN mobile app commercial.
Indiana is playing with house money at this point. No one expected them to make it this far back in November and a number of analysts didn’t even having reaching this point following Selection Sunday.
Indiana will have to be prepared for the early run that Kentucky will almost surely go on. Expect the opening five minutes to be extremely emotional and intense.
With revenge on their minds, Kentucky will look to land the knock-out punch early. Indiana will need to weather the early storm because by the time the second media timeout ends, the feel of the game will settle down a bit.
Keys to the Game
Who Guards Who
This will be the most intriguing aspect to the game Friday night. Jordan Hulls is easily the worst defender on the court, but he is Indiana’s primary ball handler now that Verdell Jones is out. Hulls was exposed in the final 10 minutes against Kentucky back in December and you know Calipari will look to take advantage of Hulls defensive deficiencies. Expect for Hulls to defend Doron Lamb this time around because Marquis Teague was clearly too fast for Hulls.
In the teams’ first meeting, Indiana was able to force 17 turnovers against Kentucky. While that probably won’t happen Friday, Victor Oladipo could force a few turnovers, especially if he guards Marquis Teague. Teague has been on a tear of late, scoring 24 points and racking up seven assists in the game against Iowa St. Teague has been able to cut down on the number of turnovers that plagued him for much of November and December, but he is still turnover prone. Victor’s on-ball ability is one of the best in the country. He has the speed to keep up with Teague and the length to disrupt Teague from driving to the basket. Oladipo could also be put on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but with Will Sheehey now starting, look for Sheehey to guard Kidd-Gilchrist.
As for Kentucky, they will need to defend the pick and roll better. Indiana’s go to offense in the first meeting was the pick and roll. Indiana will try to pull Davis away from the basket by setting screens with his man. Doing so moves the shot blocker away from the basket creating greater opportunities for easy baskets. The most underrated aspect to this Indiana team is their shot selection. They simply do not take bad shots and with the number of shooters that are on that roster, Kentucky will have to do a much better job of defending the screen, closing out on shooters and not allowing a lot of dribble penetration.
Don’t be surprised to see Terrence Jones guard Cody Zeller a little more, especially early in the game. Zeller’s size presented a problem for Anthony Davis last game. Zeller continuously established deep position on Davis, which led to Davis’ early foul trouble. Jones has the size to prevent Zeller from establishing low position. Zeller does not have the great post-game and has yet to develop a hook shot.Putting Jones on Zeller would allow more opportunities for weak-side blocks.
Go Jones Go
Speaking of Terrance Jones. Jones was a no-show in the team’s first meeting and drew heavy criticism from media and fans following the game. Recently Jones has been on a tear and appears to be the player that was selected preseason All-America. Jones has been more aggressive attacking the basket. Jones’ game feeds off of his emotion. and if his intensity level is not established early on, he has been known to check out of games. Kentucky can still win this game if Jones does not show, but IU will certainly lose if he does show up.
As good as Kentucky is defensively in the half-court, they have been exposed some in transition. While Florida lost all three meetings with Kentucky, they proved in their last two meetings with the Wildcats that you can beat them down the court. Pushing tempo can be a risky move, considering how athletic Kentucky is, but they do have a shallow bench. By pushing tempo on offense and compacting the paint, Indiana could tire Kentucky out some and force them to shoot more outside shots.
When it is all said and done, Kentucky wins this game keeping the lead between 6-15 for most of the game. Kentucky is just too talented. Indiana just does not match up well with this team, especially losing one of the key players in their thrilling upset back in December. Kentucky is just too balance offensively to shut one guy down while Indiana’s defense has regressed tremendously since Big Ten play started. Indiana has the offense to keep up with Kentucky and will add some drama to this game, but in the end this Kentucky team will do what they have done all year. Own the final 10 minutes of the game and shut Indiana out.
Kentucky 84, Indiana 72