Saturday, January 15, 2011
Hope Lives -- Indiana Beats Up Michigan
Are you like us? Did you bet the kids’ college fund that Indiana would beat Michigan thanks to defense?
Okay, we might be stretching the borders of truthfulness about our betting habits -- we don’t bet because losing hurts too much -- but not the fact IU has finally figured out how to win.
Now there is hope.
The Hoosiers are no longer winless in the Big Ten. They have momentum entering their grueling road week, first at Wisconsin (oh no), then at Iowa (looking good).
All thanks to Saturday night’s 80-61 win over Michigan at Assembly Hall.
So where has this defense been all season? Suddenly the Hoosiers were communicating and rotating and, yes, helping. The paint was no longer a visitor-friendly zone. Granted, the Wolverines weren’t Ohio State, but they had nearly upset the No. 2 Buckeyes and No. 3 Kansas in the last week. They had weapons and a three-point happy offense, and the Hoosiers neutralized them.
Okay, maybe Michigan choked on a few layups, but let’s not down play IU’s effort. It swarmed everywhere, disrupting Michigan’s offense into a 36.4-percent shooting mess, 29.2 percent on three-pointers. Given that the Hoosiers had been allowing Big Ten teams to shoot over 50 percent from the field, over 51 percent from three-point range, this is heady stuff.
“Our players understood that it began with what our defensive transition was going to be like because of how well (Michigan) pushes the ball up the court,” coach Tom Crean said. “They did an excellent job with that.”
Suddenly IU is 10-8 and -- yes, we’ll say it -- six wins away from postseason eligibility.
“It was really important because they earned the victory,” Crean said. “We were close in some of the other (games) as of late, especially at Minnesota. We know we squandered a tremendous opportunity at home with Penn State. We didn’t play well last Sunday against Northwestern, and it’s a week to either sit and stew about it, or a week to get better. That’s exactly what we did.
“They were very confident going into the game. I know I was. I told the coaches, if we don’t make defensive mistakes and really get the ball where we think we can get it in this game, obviously you have to make shots, I didn’t feel we were going to lose the game. The players are the ones who carry that out, and they did an excellent job.”
Excellence started with Christian Watford, who had his third double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Verdell Jones had a game-high 24 points on 9-for-10 shooting. Jordan Hulls had 13 points and never missed a shot – he was 4-for-4 from the field, 3-for-3 from three-point range and 2-for-2 from the line.
There was a brief scare when Maurice Creek banged his right knee (not his surgically repaired left knee) after making a layup in the final two minutes. He sat on the floor for a couple of minutes while the medical staff checked him out. He walked off the court with a slight limp, but seemed fine. Coach Tom Crean gave no post-game indication there was a problem.
Michigan gave its best Savvanh State impression. It couldn’t do anything right, mostly because Indiana wouldn’t let it.
“It’s tough on the road playing a team that was very, very hungry,” coach John Beilein said. “Indiana played really well. We couldn’t stop them.”
Maybe thank the students who returned from semester break and brought their rowdy cheers with them. Yes, they might offend a few sensibilities with some of their chants, but you can’t fault their energy.
So what does this mean? Understand the win came against a team that has lost five of its last six games. Michigan (11-7 overall, 1-4 in the Big Ten) is not the second coming of Ohio State, although even the unbeaten Buckeyes are finding themselves on the edge these days. See what Penn State nearly did to them on Saturday.
Still, it’s a reward for all the Hoosiers’ hard work. It offers hope that maybe, just maybe, they are ready for a big roll to really jumpstart the rebuilding effort.
All they need to do to prove it is win Thurday night at Wisconsin.