Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christian Watford's Three Delivers A Tremendous Win For IU Over UK

Indiana 73, #1 Kentucky 72
I thought last week's North Carolina/Kentucky game was far and away the game of the year thus far. And while that game was played at a higher level than this game, I'd argue that this game was more fun to watch. Indiana hasn't really been relevant since the last time they made the NCAA Tournament, four years ago. This was the year, with basically everybody back from last season and with superfrosh Cody Zeller, that they would return to relevance. They had a big home victory over Butler, and then an impressive road victory at NC State, but none of it was really proof that Indiana was "back". And that was why this game today against #1 ranked Kentucky was the game that Indiana fans had been waiting for. Assembly Hall was rocking, the Indiana players were fired up, and it had a tremendous effect on Kentucky.

Kentucky has an eight man rotation, four of whom were true freshmen. And at times here, they looked scared and flustered. Sophomore Terrence Jones, as well, seemed bothered by the atmosphere. Yes, Indiana got the benefit of the doubt on a few 50-50 referee calls, but most home teams are going to get that and you can't allow that to rattle you. With Jones basically invisible (four points, six turnovers) and Anthony Davis in foul trouble (he only played 24 minutes, and spent many of them very careful about picking up more fouls), Kentucky was left very thin. Throw in some white hot outside shooting from Indiana (9-for-15 three-point shooting) and that gave us a competitive game. And that gave Christian Watford the chance to hit a tremendous buzzer-beating three-pointer.

So what does this game mean? Is Indiana "back"? I would say that it depends on what you mean by "back". They are a competitive team that will be tough for anybody to beat at Assembly Hall, and I expect them to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years. They could even spend some time in the Top 25 this season. But I don't think they're going to finish higher than fourth place in the Big Ten, and they're unlikely to make a Sweet 16 run. This was a game where everything went right that could possibly go right, against a Kentucky team that will be in a much better position to handle this type of game in a couple of months. Let's not pretend that Indiana's going to play this well every game this season.

From Kentucky's perspective, I think this is a good game for them. Not the loss, of course. You always want to win. But I don't this loss is going to matter much. Assuming Kentucky runs away with the SEC and then wins the SEC tournament, they're going to earn a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament anyway. But what they needed was an experience like this - a hostile crowd, some tough calls from the refs, a fired up opponent. This was their first game like this all season, and they failed. But they'll be better prepared for this next time. And they also learned, as if they didn't already realize, that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a special player. While sophomore star Terrence Jones was intimidated, Kidd-Gilchrist was the best player on the floor for either team with 18 points (on 9-for-12 shooting), 9 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks.

The key for Indiana now is avoiding a letdown. They will play Notre Dame next Saturday. After that they have a couple of cupcakes before playing at Michigan State in their Big Ten opener on December 28th. Kentucky gets to return to the comfort of home for a few cupcakes themselves. Their next competitive game will be December 31st against Louisville. They'll open SEC play against South Carolina on January 7th.

Michigan State 74, #22 Gonzaga 67
Draymond Green had what might have been the best game of his entire career in this game. He shot 4-for-5 on threes, 7-for-8 on twos and 8-for-9 at the line, adding up to 34 points. He did this all while facilitating the offense. Green never gets that many assists, though he'd have way more if we calculated assists hockey-style. He's constantly setting up the guy who gets the assist after the defense shifts. On the other side of the court it was David Stockton who had a tremendous game, scoring 19 points with 4-for-6 three-point shooting, and giving the people watching on television somewhere between 200 and 17,000 cuts of John Stockton sitting in the crowd.

This is the second quality win for Michigan State this year (the other was over Florida State). Without any bad losses, it's a very nice start to the season for the Spartans. They shouldn't be too tested throughout the rest of their non-conference slate. They'll open Big Ten play on December 28th against Indiana.

Gonzaga doesn't have any bad losses this season, but they're also struggling to put together quality wins. They have wins over Notre Dame and Washington State, though neither is looking particularly impressive right now. They will play Oral Roberts on Thursday, and then next Saturday will go against Arizona. They also will face Butler and Xavier before beginning WCC play. It's important that Gonzaga win at some some of these upcoming games to keep themselves in a good position for an at-large bid heading into WCC play.

West Virginia 77, Miami (Fl) 66
Two games before this one it was Kevin Jones who had a career night, carrying West Virginia to a nice victory over Kansas State. Here it was Truck Bryant scoring a career-high 27 points (on 9-for-12 shooting). Deniz Kilicli (18 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) had another nice game as well. The Mountaineers also got a strong performance from true freshman Gary Browne (9 points, 6 assists) off the bench. Browne's efficiency can be a big part of this team going forward since offensive turnovers (a 21.9 offensive turnover percentage) have been one of the biggest things holding West Virginia back this season.

Miami actually played fairly well in this game. They've been struggling shooting the ball this season, and this was a better-than-typical game for them. Their 51.8 eFG% here was their second best in a game this season. Their 39.1 3P% was their third best of the season. They just couldn't stop a West Virginia offense that is playing their best ball of the season, and so they fell to a superior team. Miami is now 5-4 without any particularly bad losses, but without any good wins either. They will play Florida Atlantic on Saturday, and then head to Charlotte on December 22nd. None of those would be particularly big wins, though. If Miami's going to get some quality wins this season, they're going to have to get them during ACC play.

West Virginia now has back-to-back wins over Kansas State and Miami. Their two losses this season (Kent State and Mississippi State) are both potentially iffy, so as well as West Virginia has played they still have work to do to get a firm Tournament resume. Their next quality opponent will be Missouri State on December 22nd, and then Baylor on December 23rd.


rgd213 said...

Look like to me your entire piece was from " Kentucky Perspective" An Indiana team that was picked 9th in the BIG preseason...No one expected to win this game...Now 9-0 record..and you say may even spend time in top 25..sweet 16 run? 2 more things no one expected out of this team. You give them zero credit for leading 18 or more mins of a 43-43 second half in a game that has 6 burgerboys against about credit for just winning..Hustle beats talent when talent doesn't hustle

Jeff said...

In no way am I trying to be negative on Indiana here. I bet on them, and if you look at my twitter account I picked them to win yesterday morning.

The reason it's mostly from Kentucky's point of view is because they didn't play well - they simply didn't. I didn't expect them to play well - that's why I picked Indiana to win. Kentucky's a very young and inexperienced team that hadn't played a single road game all year, and was being thrown right into the fire of a frenzied Assmebly Hall crowd. It was natural for them to underperform.

Do you really think that if Kentucky and Indiana played on a neutral floor that Indiana would be favored? I certainly don't.

I picked Indiana to finish 7th, so I was higher on them than the media.

David said...

It might be possible that UK didnt play well because of who they were playing...not just because they had an off game. Same can be said for IU playing poorly the last 7 minutes or so. It makes sense an inexperienced team would play poorly against a team like UK. However, IU controlled the game almost from the start until the last 6 or 7 minutes. No I dont think IU would win at UK or even on a neutral floor....BUT I do think IU is much better than what people are even giving them credit for now. A top 5 Big 10 finish is definitely a possibility.