The Indiana Hoosiers have been a traditional rival of the Kentucky Wildcats for as long as I have lived in the Bluegrass State, and that has been a long time. 53 times these two teams have met on the hardwood, since 1924. 30 times, the Wildcats have emerged victorious, and the 'Cats look to add #31 tomorrow in Rupp Arena.
The 2010 version of the Indiana Hoosiers brings forth the best team that Indiana has had in three years, and they are off to the best start since Kelvin Sampson was freed up for other opportunities. Here is a look at how the Hoosiers are doing this year, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
|Rank and Records||IU||UK|
|Strength of Schedule||#296||#8|
|RPI Top 50||0-1||1-2|
As you can see, the Hoosiers are off to a good start this year, but the only opponent they have played so far inside the Top 100 are the Boston College Eagles on the road, which accounts for their only loss of the season so far.
The Hoosiers had some bad luck with players coming from overseas this year, also. Guy-Marc Michel was a 7'1" center from Martinique who was expected to give the Hoosiers some strength inside, particularly on defense. Unfortunately, the NCAA ruled that Michel was ineligible to play at Indiana, which leaves the Hoosiers, like the Wildcats, very thin in the front line.
But Tom Crean has had great success recruiting for 2011 and 2012, having obtained commitments for no fewer than three Rivals.com 5* recruits. Even though those guys won't matter in this game, the time is coming when Indiana is likely to return to the elite of college basketball. But not this year.
That doesn't mean the Hoosiers aren't any good this year, they are. We'll get further into that after the jump.
First, let's look at the personnel changes. Losses are:
|Tijan Jobe||7-0||255||Senior||Minor reserve|
|Steven Gambles||6-4||220||Senior||Minor reserve|
|Devan Dumes||6-2||188||Senior||Major reserve|
|Brett Finkelmeier||6-1||188||Junior||Minor reserve|
|Muniru Bawa||6-10||260||Freshman||Transfered to Tennessee St.|
As you can see, the Hoosiers didn't lose much, just one major reserve player who averaged around 18 minutes and 7 points/game. Indiana brings back their entire starting lineup and most of their major reserves from last year. The Hoosiers are still young, but not nearly as young as the Wildcats.
Indiana added the following players:
|Will Sheehey||6-6||195||Freshman||Minor reserve|
|Jeff Howard||6-8||225||Freshman||Rarely plays|
|Taylor Wayer||5-11||172||Freshman||Rarely plays|
|Victor Oladipo||6-5||210||Freshman||Impact player, superior athlete
Of the new additions, only Oladipo and Sheehey see significant playing time. Oladipo is a very good athlete who plays above the rim. He doesn't score a lot, but he gets over 3 rebounds game in limited minutes.
Indiana Hoosiers Basketball Roster
|Kory Barnett||00||F||Rarely plays||186||6-6||junior|
|Bobby Capobianco||23||F||Minor reserve||235||6-9||sophomore|
|Maurice Creek||3||G||Starter, injured last year, 3rd leading scorer
|Derek Elston||32||F||Major reserve||235||6-9||sophomore|
|Jeff Howard||24||F||Rarely plays||225||6-8||freshman|
|Jordan Hulls||1||G||Returning starter, 58% 3-pt shooter||175||6-0||sophomore|
|Verdell Jones III||12||G||Returning starter, 2nd leading scorer, assists||185||6-5||junior|
|Daniel Moore||11||G||Minor reserve||170||5-10||junior|
|Victor Oladipo||4||G||Major reserve, impact freshman||210||6-5||freshman|
|Tom Pritchard||25||F||Returning starter, 2nd leading rebounder||250||6-9||junior|
|Jeremiah Rivers||5||G||Major reserve||210||6-5||senior|
|Matt Roth||30||G||Minor reserve||192||6-3||sophomore|
|Will Sheehey||10||G||Minor reserve||195||6-6||freshman|
|Christian Watford||2||F||Returning starter, leading rebounder, leading scorer||230||6-8||sophomore|
|Taylor Wayer||13||G||Rarely plays||172||5-11||freshman|
Indiana, as you can see, doesn't have a lot of size. In fact, they are even smaller than Kentucky, which is a novelty for a major Division I team this year. But they do have talent -- Watford and Creek are very talented players in their own right, and if you'll recall, Creek had a huge game against the 'Cats last year.
The Four Factors to Winning
The Four Factors for this game look like this:
As you can see, the Hoosiers have been outshooting, outrebounding and getting to the line more often than Kentucky, but don't expect that to happen on Saturday. The difference between the level of competition Kentucky has played and the schedule of the Hoosiers so far could not be more divergent. Kentucky has played amongst the toughest schedules in all of Division I, and Indiana one of the weakest. In fact, Ken Pomeroy has Kentucky's schedule ranked 3rd hardest, and Indana at 298th out of 345 teams.
What Indiana is doing very well, regardless of competition, is shooting the basketball. Indiana has an eFG% of around 57%, very good by any measure. They are also a good 3-point shooting team, clocking in at 38.7%, and they do a good job of getting to the line.
However, Indiana is not a particularly good defensive team, as their lousy steals % will attest. Their defensive efficiency is not horrible at an adjusted 93.2 points/100 possessions, but I am skeptical that reflects the true ability of their defense, or that Ken Pomeroy's model sufficiently adjusts for their schedule's true weakness. Boston College, the best team they have played to date, shreded the Hoosier defense like tissue paper, producing an OE of over 145 points/100 possessions.
Indiana also has a major turnover problem. They are averaging over 24% turnovers, and against the strong ballhandlers of the Wildcats, who average only 16.5% turnovers, that is not a good thing for the Hoosiers.
Kentucky is a much stronger team on paper than the Hoosiers, but Indiana showed us last year in Bloomington that they don't have an ounce of quit in them. They are more experienced and better overall than last year's team, albeit smaller, and if UK gives them open shots, the Hoosiers can definitely make them.
What Indiana has to worry about is matchups. Kentucky is much more athletic at most positions, and at the critical power forward position, they have no answer whatsoever for Terrence Jones. If the Jones of the Notre Dame and Washington games shows up, the Hoosiers will be in a bad place.
They also really don't have an answer for DeAndre Liggins on defense. Liggins is likely going to be put on Maurice Creek, and Creek, who has not quite recovered full confidence in his repaired knee, is going to be in tough in that matchup. Of course, Liggins has had some off games defensively, notably against Kemba Walker of the Connecticut Huskies, so you never know for sure. But Liggins has been very hard on good offensive players. His length, quickness, and ability to go from offense to defense are tough to handle.
Brandon Knight is another matchup problem for the Hoosiers. Jordan Hulls is a hustle guy, and a decent defender, but he figures to be overmatched against the polished and much quicker Brandon Knight. Never underestimate Hulls -- he is the kind of player who lives for the name on the front of the jersey, and doesn't even want a name on the back. That's something that makes a difference. But Knight is a far superior athlete, and nearly as good a shooter.
In the final analysis, Kentucky has an advantage in talent, size, and the home court. That ought to be enough. But ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, this is not last year's Indiana team. They are tougher, more experienced, and better. They are not great, but they just might be good enough. Kentucky cannot take them for granted, even if they weren't a major rival. Which they are.
This is a much bigger game to them than us. That's what makes it so dangerous.
For the Hoosier perspective, check out SB Nation's The Crimson Quarry, who are outstanding at covering the Hoosiers.
Also, be sure to check out CrimsonCast.com, with whom I have done an interview and talked about the Kentucky game for the last two seasons running. Scott at CrimsonCast is a wonderful host and kindred spirt, and he and I share a lot of the same views about the Kentucky-Indiana rivalry, including a desire to see it returned to neutral sites. As Scott has pointed out to me both times we have had our talks, the spectacle of seeing one half Crimson and Cream, and the other Blue and White, is one of the all-time most compelling contrasts in college basketball, and should be renewed.
Consider this a plea to Coach Cal, Coach Crean, and the UK and IU athletics department -- Lets return this game to neutral sites, perhaps the Yum Center in Louisville and Lucas Oil Arena in Indianapolis. It would make a spectacle that no college basketball fan would want to miss.