Sometime Monday afternoon, the polls will come out and Indiana will be ranked for the first time since 2008, when Eric Gordon and D.J. White led the charge despite the imminent fall of the Kelvin Sampson era.
The Hoosiers earned it with a pulse-pounding 73-72 victory over No. 1 Kentucky that suggested, far more than the previous eight blow-outs, that the program was regaining its tradition-rich mojo.
The game was won with heart, effort, drama, passion and a bit of luck. It was everything you want in college basketball, which certainly wasn’t the case in the Saturday rivalry game between Xavier and Cincinnati.
So IU is 9-0 with its biggest victory in a decade. It almost certainly will be 12-0 when Big Ten action begins in a couple of weeks.
So what does this say about the team and the program?
“It says we have a lot of good players,” says freshman Cody Zeller, one of the best of them. “As a team we can do a lot of great things.”
Does that greatness mean the Hoosiers are back to the juggernaut they once were?
“I don’t know what ‘back’ means,” Zeller says. “I know we’re playing well. Hopefully it keeps on going.”
Here’s what we do know. IU went toe to toe with an impressively talented team and beat it. The most obvious reason was junior forward Christian Watford, who was huge with a game-high 20 points, stifling defense and the game-winning, buzzer-beating three-pointer that will go down as one of the more remarkable shots in school history.
But it was a lot more than that.
Coach Tom Crean scrapped his play-the-bench philosophy. Every starter played at least 30 minutes. Key reserve Derek Elston didn’t play at all, in part, Crean said, because he’d hurt his back earlier in the week, mostly because of a coach’s decision.
Did the Hoosiers get some breaks? Absolutely. The Wildcats were just 10-for-17 from the free throw line, missing the front end of a bonus, and another free throw, in the final 19 seconds.
Will Sheehey bounced in a three-pointer that hit everything but one of IU’s five championship banners. Kentucky shot-blocking monster Anthony Davis played just 24 minutes because of foul trouble, and some of those fouls might not have been called if the game had been anywhere other than Assembly Hall. UK leading scorer Terrence Jones played so poorly (four points and six turnovers) that coach John Calipari said the Wilcats got “absolutely zero” from him.
And then, most dramatically, the Wildcats’ youth and the pressure of playing their first true road game of the season in one of America’s loudest and most intimidating facilities surfaced when they failed to foul in the final seconds when they had two fouls to give.
Why didn’t they foul?
“I have no idea,” UK guard Doron Lamb said. “I made a mistake.”
Added Calipari, who had ordered his players to foul multiple times during a timeout: “I have no idea what went through their minds. Maybe they thought, ‘I’m not fouling, time is going to run out.’”
In the end, the Hoosiers made their own breaks. They overcame their previous vulnerability by beating the Wildcats at their own offensive rebounding game, totaling 14 to the visitors’ 10. They didn’t blink under pressure, going 14-for-17 from the line and 9-for-15 from three-point range, including 7-for-9 in the second half.
Good teams find ways to win, and these Hoosiers, we’re learning are a very good team.
They just have to keep it up.
As you probably know by now, Indiana lost its quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith when Smith left to join Rich Rodriguez at Arizona. Smith has coached under Rodriguez for years, most recently at Michigan, so the decision wasn’t a surprise.
Here’s what coach Kevin Wilson had to say in a university release:
“We appreciate Rod’s efforts with us this season,” Wilson said. “We’re sorry to see him leave and wish him and his family the very best. Rod has a long-standing relationship with Coach Rodriguez and we understand his decision.
“As we move forward, we’ll take our time to find the fit for our coaching staff that will keep our program headed in a positive direction.”
Matt Weaver of Peegs.com, who is wrong about as often Daniel Moore delivers tomahawk dunks against Kentucky, has reported that IU has picked up its 20th football commitment in Rapheal Green, a 6-5, 325-pound offensive lineman from San Antonio, Texas.
However, Green told Weaver he might end up playing on defense at IU. We’ll got out on a limb and figure he’ll be a run-stuffing inside lineman. The Hoosiers certainly need size and strength up front to stop the running, something they couldn’t do in this past 1-11 season.
Missouri, Colorado, Houston, New Mexico, New Mexico State and North Texas had reportedly offered scholarships, while LSU, Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Baylor were interested. That’s some pretty impressive interest.