It's time again for the border war -- the Kentucky Wildcats head north to challenge the Indiana Hoosiers in one of the longest-running and best rivalries between two schools in the nation.
This game is simply chock full of tradition and great games, from the 1975 classic in the NCAA Mideast Regional Finals to the 1998 overtime game in Freedom Hall, this series has been full of twists, turns, blowouts and close games. I believe this will likely be the last time UK faces Indiana with a prohibitive advantage in talent, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Kentucky has a small advantage in all-time wins versus the Hoosiers, 29-23, with our last loss to the Crimson and Cream back in 2007 at the hands of Cell Phone Kelvin Sampson's second and final Indiana team that included Eric Gordon and D.J. White. IU creamed the 'Cats that day, 70-51.
The Hoosiers are in the process of rebuilding a team decimated after Sampson's firing and subsequent defection of players to the NBA, loss to disciplinary actions and just plain thrown out. What was left wasn't pretty, and the proud Hoosiers suffered through a 6-25 season in 2008-09, the worst I can ever remember at IU.
But with a strong recruiting class and some solid returning players, the Crimson and Cream are playing much better basketball now than last year, just coming off a huge win over the Pittsburgh Panthers in Madison Square Garden. That victory brought the Hoosier's record this year to 4-4, and although they don't figure to challenge for the Big Ten crown or even an NCAA berth this year, they have a good team that will only get better as the younger players get experience. And we know that Tom Crean is a fine coach, having owned UK the last two times he played us while coach at Marquette.
Today, I had a nice long Q&A with Scott at Crimsoncast, which you can find linked here for your listening pleasure. It was a wide-ranging discussion about the rivalry that you may find interesting.
More after the jump.
Four Factors Analysis
As usual, we will begin our pre-game with the analysis of the Four Factors to Winning, compiled in this nice, interactive dashboard by A Sea of Blue member sylvar.
Looking at the offensive efficiency, we see that in all but the very first game, Kentucky has been far more efficient offensively than the Hoosiers. In fact, the Hoosiers have struggled at times this year, and even in their last game, a victory over a good team, they managed to achieve only 97.7 points/100 possessions. UK, on the other hand, had an OE of 110.6 in a tough, low-scoring battle with UConn. You can see the dial pointer well in the red for Indiana (the ranges use last year's top ten for scale), and Kentucky's is just below the green.
Defensively, Indiana is much better than they are offensively. As you can see, IU is allowing only 3.4 points/100 possessions more than Kentucky is, and both teams have been on a very even trend lately. So much like UConn, the Hoosiers are a solid defensive squad. Unlike UConn, the Hoosiers have trouble putting the ball in the basket.
Moving on to the Four Factors themselves, we see that UK is creeping up toward the kind of effective FG% they will need to reach the Great Eight at least in March, well over 50%. The Hoosiers are laboring around 47%, and that is an area they will need to improve to be competitive with the 'Cats.
Turnover-wise, the Hoosiers take better care of the ball, but not by much. Offensive rebounding is a mismatch, and will likely represent the statistic that will get the Crimson and Cream blown out if they allow the kind of disparity represented by the trend so far. Surprisingly, the Hoosiers are good at getting to the free throw line, and that is not a statistic that UK usually loses.
Defensively, the teams are very close to equal (remember lower is better for defensive eFG%). Indiana has been forcing more turnovers lately, but they give up way too many offensive rebounds. The Hoosiers also do not mind sending teams to the line, which could be a blessing or a curse for the Wildcats, depending on who they foul.
In the miscellaneous category, the Hoosiers are shooting 35.5% from three versus UK's 36.8%, and the Wildcats actually take more threes than the Hoosiers do per field goal try, which I find a bit surprising. Also somewhat surprising is that the Hoosiers actually play at a higher tempo, on average, than the Wildcats.
Next, we'll look at the players for the Hoosiers, and their stats:
Indiana Hoosiers Basketball Roster
|Bobby Capobianco||23||F||Spot minutes
|Devan Dumes||33||G||Major reserve
|Derek Elston||32||F||Major reserve
|Jordan Hulls||1||G||Major reserve
|Tijan Jobe||40||C||Spot minutes
|Verdell Jones III||12||G||Starter
|Daniel Moore||11||G||Spot minutes
|Verdell Jones III||8||28.5||4.8||12.1||39.2||0.4||1.6||23.1||2.6||4.3||61.8||1.0||2.8||3.8||3.1||2.3||1.4||0.6||1.6||12.5|
Position Analysis: Point guard
The starting point guard for the Hoosiers is Jeremiah Rivers. Rivers is a transfer from Georgetown, and the son of NBA player and coach Doc Rivers. Rivers is a tall point, even taller than John Wall at 6'5". Rivers is a good ballhandler and passer, and a very good defender, although he is not ultra-athletic. Rivers does not shoot much from outside, and has only attempted a single three-point shot all year. He prefers to use his size and slash to the basket. Rivers leads the team in assists, and doesn't score a lot.
Rivers' defensive prowess will be severely tested against John Wall. Rivers does have good size to work with, but he is not even in the same universe with Wall when it comes to speed with the ball and the ability to finish at the rim. But Rivers is a very smart player, a coach's son, and he knows how to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. This will be a very interesting matchup.
Position Analysis: Shooting guard
You may remember the name Verdell Jones from back during the Billy Gillispie days. Kentucky recruited Jones, although somewhat indifferently, and he was on the UK recruiting board right up to the very end, when he chose Indiana.
Jones is another tall guard at 6'5", but at only 176#, he is very slight of build. Jones is a very hard-working and intelligent player. He is reasonably athletic and shoots a solid percentage from three, even though he doesn't put the three-point shot up all that much. Jones is also a very good passer at over 3 assists/game, against just over two turnovers.
The matchup between Jones and Eric Bledsoe is one of length versus athleticism. Defensively, I think Jones has a slight advantage on Bledsoe due to his very long arms and size. Defensively, I think Bledsoe comes out on top. Overall, Bledsoe is the more talented player.
Position Analysis: Small Forward
Freshman Maurice Creek starts at the wing for the Crimson and Cream. Creek is actually an off-guard rather than a true wing, so Indiana, in effect, is starting three guards.
Creek is a skilled player, a Rivals 4*, and quite dangerous offensively. Creek is leading the Hoosiers in scoring at over 15 points/contest and is a 40% shooter from deep. Creek is also a good passer, leads the team in steals, and is a very good athlete.
Darius Miller is significantly taller than Creek, but Creek is quicker off the bounce and will challenge Miller's defensive skills. Defensively, Creek will have to contend with a much taller and longer player, and if Miller can regain his shooting form after a poor offensive outing against UConn, Creek will be hard pressed to contain him. Overall, this is a fairly close matchup, but Miller's extra year of experience and solid fundamentals give him the edge.
Position analysis: Power Forward
Christian Watford is the power forward for the Hoosiers and the star of Tom Crean's excellent 2009 recruiting class. I saw Watford play in the Derby Festival Classic game, and even though he is highly unconventional, he is extremely fast and athletic, can really get up in the air, and seems to invent new ways to get the ball in the basket every single time out.
Watford is second on the team in scoring at 13+ points per game, and leads Indiana in rebounding at 6.5/game. Watford is also a respectable 3-point shooter, and is capable of taking bigger players off the dribble.
Against Patrick Patterson, Watford will struggle in the role of post player. Patterson is bigger, stronger, and just as athletic, but unlike UConn's more ponderous power forwards, Patterson will have to make his living closer to the basket. He is not quick enough to take Watford off the bounce, and Watford is a long, tough matchup on the perimeter.
But Watford cannot match Patterson's experience, skill, and versatility. Patterson is also the superior defensive player and rebounder.
Position Analysis: Center
Tom Pritchard starts at center for the Hoosiers, and he is a big body at 6'9"/240#. Pritchard is not a particularly good rebounder for a man his size, nor is he a scorer at just under 5 points per game. Pritchard is slow-footed and not very athletic, but he does take up space down low.
Pritchard, unfortunately, is over-matched by the bigger, stronger, longer and quicker DeMarcus Cousins. Pritchard plays good, tough defense as evidenced by his tendency to get into foul trouble, but Cousins is a very tough matchup for him. If Indiana tries to stay man-to-man (which I doubt they will), the 'Cats should try to get Cousins the ball every time in the post. He will force IU to double-team, and an open shot should be the result.
Indiana has a couple of solid bench players in freshmen Derek Elston and Jordan Hulls, as well as senior Devan Dumes. These men are all nice players that can shoot, but IU has little bench size and their depth is as painfully young as Kentucky's
The Indiana Hoosiers are a young group, but their young talent is just not as good as UK's this year. Tom Crean has the nucleus of a very nice team, but he is one or two recruiting classes away from getting the Hoosiers back into contention in the Big Ten, let alone nationally.
Indiana plays very good, fundamental basketball and Kentucky will need to be aware of their length and athleticism, which is better than many think. They are a good defensive team who will force UK to beat them with better offense. Even though the Hoosiers are young, they are not the type of team who beats themselves.
UK's size, talent and athleticism will prove too much for Indiana. Crean will not be able to send his big guards to the glass for fear of a John Wall-lead runout, and that's likely to happen anyway. Defensively, the Hoosiers are going to be forced into a zone, and since they are already a poor rebounding team, second-chance points and putbacks are likely to be a frequent occurrence on missed UK shots.
The Hooisers are getting their groove back, but this year, they are no match for the young 'Cats.
Projected score: Kentucky 78, Indiana 63