Indiana passes first test as the hunted
One year ago, this was an Indiana team with virtually no expectations. Now the Hoosiers are the top-ranked team in the land and while Georgetown received most of the props for its performance on Tuesday night, the Hoosiers proved plenty.
|Indiana is a targeted teams this season, and we're thinking all is well right now after winning Wednesday. (US Presswire)|
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- All the talk in the wee hours of Wednesday morning at the Barclays Center centered on Georgetown. The Hoyas came to Brooklyn unranked and left with a capacity-filled bandwagon after their stellar, gutsy performance on Tuesday night.
What about the Indiana Hoosiers? They were the team that left Barclays with the win.
I know IU had the No. 1 ranking bestowed upon it in the preseason by both the writers and coaches, but it's also a group that not all that long ago had far more questions than answers. Tom Crean's boys passed their first significant test as the hunted. Indiana outlasted a dangerous Georgetown team that possesses far more than just Otto Porter. Sure, it took five extra minutes -- but that may aid the Hoosiers down the road more than running away with a comfortable, wire-to-wire victory.
"You can't draw this up any better," Crean said following the 82-72 victory.
Cody Zeller played more like someone recovering from an illness (which he was) over the two days in Brooklyn than the frontrunner for the National Player of the Year. He had six points against Georgia and a quiet 17 points and eight boards in the win over the Hoyas. Crean noted that his sophomore 7-footer is still developing, made certain to remind the media he's still young and remains a work in progress, but we still expect more from the youngest Zeller brother. Christian Watford was, once again, an enigma of sorts. Talented, but almost always leaving you wanting more. He wound up with a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds), but often it was uncertain whether he was even on the court.
There's a reason, beyond Zeller, that this team is ranked numero uno. It's depth. Quality depth. Depth that can withstand a nine-game NCAA suspension for two of its freshman big guys -- and also an injury to Derek Elston, a veteran rotation frontcourt player.
Jordan Hulls' transformation has been incredible throughout his four seasons in Bloomington. He was the MVP of the two-day Legends Classic, averaging 15.5 points -- but doing more than just shoot the basketball. Freshman Yogi Ferrell's numbers were mediocre, but what he brings to the table is an element of speed and he's a threat on the offensive end -- which can't be said about the guy he replaced in the starting lineup. Ferrell also possesses the ability and willingness to pressure the basketball on the other end. Victor Oladipo, when he's locked in, can be just about as affective of an on-ball defender as there is in the country -- and Will Sheehey, Maurice Creek, Remy Abell and Jeremy Hollowell provide that quality depth we've been talking about.
Georgetown isn't Louisville, Kentucky or maybe even Duke, but the Hoyas can play. They will be a factor in the Big East race -- and Indiana did what it was supposed to do and left Brooklyn with a title. It's not the NCAA crown, as Hoosiers fans believe can be the case come April in Atlanta, but it signifies that this team -- which came in with all the hype -- has passed its initial test under the bright lights.
Indiana opened the season with Bryant University. Then came North Dakota State and Sam Houston State. We really had no idea how the Hoosiers would handle all the accolades, the back-slapping on campus. The win against Georgia wasn't anything to write home about, but the victory over the Hoyas meant something.
I'm not still not quite sold on whether Indiana belongs at the top of the polls (CBSSports.com has Louisville at No. 1), but what I'm fairly certain about is that this isn't likely a team to wilt under the pressure and expectations.
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