Remember back in the day, say in October, when Hoosiers such as Christian Watford talked about making the NCAA Tournament and that seemed, well, overly optimistic given the last three lousy seasons?
Well, Watford might have been dead-on right.
More and more Indiana looks like a team capable of skipping the NIT natural progession and getting NCAA opportunity.
Glad you asked.
The glow of the North Carolina State victory is still bright. The Hoosiers blasted off to a great start, took the Wolfpack’s best shot, then delivered the knockout.
They did because freshman Cody Zeller played to his considerable hype in the second half, when all great players are at their best, and Christian Watford played like one of the Big Ten’s best.
Mostly, though, they won because Jordan Hulls was a stud. He hit TOUGH shots, he made all his free throws (as he always does) and delivered the kind of leadership you need on the road.
This has been the perfect non-conference schedule for Indiana. It opened with some easy games to build confidence and chemistry. The degree of difficulty gradually increased. Now it has two marquee games against No. 1 Kentucky and banged up Notre Dame, then ends with a soft run of Howard and UMBC before a brutal Big Ten opening of at Michigan State (when IU hasn’t won in like a thousand years), then hosting No. 2 Ohio State (which just crushed Duke) and No. 14 Michigan.
The Hoosiers play 13 non-conference games, including one against North Carolina Central in late February which they will win by 60 points. At worst, they will be 11-2, probably 12-1 and possibly 13-0.
Let’s say 11-2. At this point a 9-9 Big Ten record is VERY realistic. So that makes them 20-11, with a chance to win at least one Big Ten tourney game. That makes the NCAA tourney attractive, and given their national TV draw, well, let’s just say things are looking very good.
And if they manage to beat Kentucky and Ohio State, they might be a top-5 team by the end of the month.
Heck, they might even be No. 1 and …
Suddenly, Cream ‘n Crimson fans have reason to love college basketball again.
One last thought. IU has won all seven games by double digits, the first time that’s happened by a Tom Crean-coached Hoosier team. It was won going away, it was won on the road and it was won when on the brink of being blown out. It is competing as it hasn’t since the 2002 national runner-up postseason.
Yeah, there’s a lot to love about IU basketball.