Friday, November 18, 2011

Few IU Limits – Oladipo Stays Hot; Defend and Score Works

When it comes to defense, Victor Oladipo has his limits.

Bring on the point guards, the shooting guards, the small forwards, even the power forwards. But when it comes to centers …

“I don’t know about that,” he says. “Other than that, I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Oladipo is the 6-5, 215-pound sophomore who has emerged as Indiana’s best early player. That can change in a season in which so many Hoosiers are poised for big-time play, but for now Oladipo is the leading scorer, top defender and best dunker.

The defense isn’t a surprise. He was known for his prowess in that area while thriving at DeMatha High School in Maryland. He dominated then because of his physical skills. Now it takes so much more.

“When you got to college everybody is going to be as strong as you,” he said. “I learned I can’t gamble as much as I used to. I learned I have to stay solid and keep my man in front of me.”

He learned it well enough to get opposing teams’ best scorers. And if during a game somebody else gets hot, he’ll switch to them.

“That’s my job,” he said. “I have to guard the best player from the other team and stop him from scoring.”

Oladipo is a catalyst in IU’s improved defense. The coaches stressed it last year, but the Hoosiers weren’t mature enough to handle it. Now, they are.

“It comes down to our mentality,” Oladipo said. “Every day our first thing is defense. Defense will create out offense. That’s what we’ve been working on in practice.

“Coaches have put great emphasis on that. Not that they hand’t before, but they’ve been putting even more on defense and defense creating offense. That’s what we’ve been trying to do.”

It’s worked. IU is shooting 57.1 percent from the field, which ranks second in the nation. The Hoosiers have four players averaging in double figures in scoring. Three more average at least seven points.

IU scored 94 points against Evansville even though nobody took more than eight shots. Of their 33 baskets, 24 came via assists.

That’s impressive.

“The balancing act of how it’s turning out is really not by design,” coach Tom Crean said. “It’s not where we look at it and say, Let’s hope this guy gets X amount of shots and that guy gets this group of shots. No, it’s, Let’s play. Let’s see what we get out of our defense. Let’s get the ball moving.”

Eventually it moves to forward Cody Zeller in the post and from there, well, it’s anybody’s guess. Which is what it leaves defenses doing because the Hoosiers are evolving into a team that has scoring threats at every position. You lay off someone at your own risk.

“We’re heading there, there’s no doubt,” Crean said.

Last year against Evansville the Aces could pack in their defense because IU didn’t have enough perimeter weapons to loosen them up.

Not anymore.

“We’ve got to continue to improve at that pace for that to happen,” Crean said.

As for that whole better-offense-through-better-defense approach, the players have bought into it.

“It’s becoming more natural in every game we play,” Oladipo said. “We need to keep doing it.”

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