Well, there are darn few song references about Indiana, them most famous being "Indiana wants me" by R. Dean Taylor. But since this is IU vs. Kentucky, I thought I would use the song by Rosemary Clooney entitled "Sweet Kentucky Ham." Seems a lot more apropos to the occasion.
Today, the Hoosiers from South Bend Bloomington roll into Rupp Arena, not at suppertime, but at 4:00 PM for a tilt with the Kentucky Wildcats. We all know that the Hoosiers have suffered mightily for the depredations of Kelvin Sampson and his now-immortal cell phone shenannigans. NCAA sanctions, however, have long been a fixture of the college basketball landscape, and something UK is certainly familiar with. So Tom Crean and his young charges come into the temple of UK basketball having suffered two beatings at the hands of Wake Forest and Gonzaga, but fresh off a narrow victory against TCU. For more on the Hoosiers, visit Cannot Falter and Inside the Hall, two outstanding Indiana University blogs.
After the 19 point thumping that wasn't that close UK took at the hands of a much different Hoosier team last year, UK will be looking to get a measure of revenge in similar fashion, because the personnel and fortunes of the teams have almost undergone a 180-degree flip-flop. As usual, we'll be taking a look at both teams from a statistical point of view (all statistics courtesy of Statsheet.com):
Player statistics and evaluations:
|Indiana Player Stats|
|V. Jones III||6'5"/176#||G||Fr||6||5||20.3||8.2||42.5||77.8||11.1||1.8||0.3||1.5||2.5||1.8||1||0.5||1.7|
|Kentucky Player Stats|
As usual, I have highlighted the likely starters in yellow (and yes, I am fuming at the likelihood of Michael Porter starting at point guard again).
Not surprisingly, since IU only returned three players from last year's team, the starting lineup is loaded with freshmen. As we have seen in the development of our own freshmen, players just out of high school take time to get used to the speed and power of the college game, and even though IU's freshman class has some talent, they are not nearly talented enough to be forced to play as many minutes as they have and hope to be successful.
You will note at least one familiar name on the Hoosier's roster -- Verdell Jones III, whom UK was recruiting for a long time but wound up selecting Indiana over UK. Jones has started 5 games so far this year, and it will be interesting to see what we are missing.
Size-wise, this year's version of the Hoosiers is very small with no starter taller than 6'9", and he is a freshman. Kyle Taber provides a bit of size off the bench, but in general, the 'Cats will be taller and more athletic than Indiana at every position except point guard, if Michael Porter starts as expected.
Indiana will be forced to play a lot of zone, or double team to prevent UK from getting the ball into Patrick Patterson, and if the 'Cats fail to at least try to do that every time down the floor, I will know that it is the team and not Gillispie to blame. That's because with the kind of size and strength advantage we'll have inside in this game, anything else is basketball malpractice. The front court for UK in this game severely overmatches Indiana, and we must take full advantage to avoid giving the Hoosers hope.
In the back court, the advantage is also pronounced. There is nobody on the Hoosier team experienced enough to guard and stop Jodie Meeks, and if Meeks will quit settling for the three-pointer and get into the lane, he could have another huge game. Porter will find the Hoosier point guards quicker and more athletic than he is, and if he does indeed start, it is likely that he will soon be replaced by Liggins. Liggins is too big for the IU guards, and has far to many skills for them to handle when he's at his best.
From the IU perspective, their best hope to win this game is to zone Kentucky and hope they are cold from the perimeter, and that strategy certainly has merit. UK has steadily been improving in the turnover area as Liggins gets more and more time, and I don't think the Hoosiers are talented enough to try to pressure UK man-to-man a lot. They may try it, but UK has gotten better and better at handling pressure from facing so many in-your-face teams, and I doubt IU is going to find that strategy effective.
But UK has yet to prove that they can beat a well-played zone defense. Miami proved that they could roll up a 20+ point lead by just zoning the 'Cats, denying the wing pass and forcing difficult entries into the post. The result was a fusillade of long-range bombs by Meeks that missed, and but for a furious comeback in the second half, an easy victory for Miami.
Malik Story is one of Indiana's better long-range shooters, and he comes off the bench. He is one of the more talented players on the the roster, and has the size to give the UK back court some problems. But IU will want to try to challenge Patterson and Stevenson on offense by getting the ball to Pritchard, who has been pretty effective despite his lack of help inside.
|Wins & Losses|
|Top 25||0-3||(0.0%)||0-2||(0.0%)||Futility by both teams against top 25|
|Blowout (> 19)||0-3||(0.0%)||4-0||(100.0%)|
|Close (< 6)||2-0||(100.0%)||1-0||(100.0%)|
|Pts Per Game||64.2||78.8||Wow. 180 degrees reversed from last year.|
|FG Pct||43.6||50.3||UK has a big advantage.|
|3pt FG Pct||30.3||31.1||Both teams lousy from the arc.|
|Reb Per Game||35||41.8|
|Off Rebs Per Game||10.8||10.4||UK really needs to improve here.|
|Def Rebs Per Game||22.3||29.1|
|Assists, Steals, & Blocks|
|Assists Per Game||12.3||17||Compared to last year, this is really good for the 'Cats|
|Steals Per Game||8.6||7.1|
|Blocks Per Game||2.2||7.4||Cats #6 in America in blocks/game|
|Turnovers & Fouls|
|TO Per Game||20.1||20.2||First time Kentucky has been close.|
|Fouls Per Game||17.6||19.2|
The team stats clearly favor Kentucky, and the fact that IU doesn't really out-stat UK anywhere speaks volumes about their lack of maturity and experience. IU is also lacking any big-time talent, and although they do have some nice D-1 players, they are all underdeveloped at this stage of their careers to be seeing the kind of minutes they are.
Despite this, IU has played some good competition, having already faced Notre Dame, St. Josephs, Wake Forest and Gonzaga, dropping all four. But so far, the Hoosiers have won all the games they were supposed to win, unlike Kentucky.
This is a down year for the Hoosiers, and it is very much reflected in the statistics. It does take some of the bloom off the rose of this particular game, which has a great tradition and is still remarkably close, the teams having played 51 times with Kentucky winning 28 and Indiana winning 23. It is also much harder to despise Tom Crean than Bob Knight, and although I personally like Bobby Knight the TV personality, I loathed him as head man of the Hoosiers and hated losing to him almost as bad as losing to the evil Cardinals of Louisville. We faced Tom Crean's Marquette team last year in the tournament, and he got the better of us. I am looking very much forward to returning the favor, even under present circumstances.
Indiana is a team playing with nothing to lose. They know they are not talented enough to knock of Kentucky at home on paper, but they also know that the game isn't played on paper, but on the floor. This Hoosier team does not have the feel of the tradition of this game, but because Kentucky has inexplicably proven vulnerable on Rupp Arena's formerly daunting hardwood in the Billy Gillispie era, you can bet that this young IU team will have no fear of the Wildcats when they lace them up today.
Gillispie gave the 'Cats a couple of days off after a long strech of seven games in sixteen days and a trip out West and back in the bargin, and some clearly tired legs have reportedly been rejuvinated. Ramon Harris, the Wildcat's toughest defender, is still out with the neck injury he suffered in the Lamar game, and reports are that he will not be back for a while yet. That means the 'Cats will probably be starting either Miller, Liggins or Galloway in his spot (although you never know with Gillispie, he may start Mark Krebs or Jared Carter for all I know).
This is an opportunity, again, for Kentucky to prove that they are progressing. I look for UK to try to put pressure on the Hoosiers by running the floor at every available opportunity. Kentucky has looked its best when it runs the floor a lot, particularly with Liggins in the game hitting long strikes down the floor to Patterson and Harrellson. I am still hoping against hope for Stevenson to return to last year's pre-season form, something we have seen a glimpse or two of, but nothing to get excited about. I am also anxious to see Miller get his swagger back, and this is a game where he could have a significant impact if he stays at home defensively and plays with more confidence.
Kentucky should be able to win this game, but playing teams with nothing to lose is always a dangerous thing -- they can sometimes rise up and smite the superior team, especially if the 'Cats get off to another one of their interminable slow starts, as has been their wont.