Enough of Christian Watford as the human roller coaster.
Indiana’s senior forward is good. When he’s on, he’s one of the best players in the country. When he’s not, he’s the invisible man.
Watford, the guy who will forever be remembered for his Kentucky-beating three-pointer, had just six points and four rebounds against North Dakota State, two points and five rebounds against North Carolina. He had zero rebounds against Florida Atlantic, although he did offset that with 17 points.
Let’s be blunt -- that can’t happen.
The 6-9 Watford is the Big Ten’s best free throw shooter (89.2 percent). He’s a potential double-double guy every time he steps on the court (he averages 12.7 points and 6.5 rebounds). He can guard every position.
Maybe Watford needs an A.J. McCarron-Barrett Jones kind of moment before each game, where a teammate gets in his face during the game and so ticks him off that a shoving match ensues.
Then, all riled up, he takes it out on the opposition.
McCarron, in case you’ve forgotten, is the Alabama stud quarterback with the really hot girlfriend (just ask Brent Musberger) who, in the heat of the moment in the closing minutes against Notre Dame, got into it with his occasional roommate, stud center Jones.
Anyway, IU needs Watford at his full-court best, which he was at the start in Monday’s win at Penn State. He had 13 points in the first 14 minutes to jump start the Hoosiers to a 37-21 lead.
He finished with 16 points (on 5-for-8 shooting) and eight rebounds as the Hoosiers won by 23 points, it’s biggest conference road victory in a decade.
This was no accident. Coach Tom Crean said the Hoosiers made getting Watford off to a good start a priority.
“We wanted to get him going and we went to him right off the bat. We felt that was a big part of our game plan and he responded.
“We want him to hunt (for his offense). We don’t want him to make up his mind early and say, ‘I need to shoot this’ or ‘I need to go here.’ We want him to hunt offense by movement and reading what’s there. I think he did a great job of that, whether it was getting to the rim, whether it was making threes, the post-up game. He did an extremely good job. He was one of our catalysts defensively.”
The No. 5 Hoosiers (14-1) will need all the catalysts they can get Saturday when No. 8 Minneosta (15-1) comes to Assembly Hall. Both teams are unbeaten in Big Ten play, with IU at 2-0 and the Gophers at 3-0.
Minnesota has the best Big Ten road win so far, winning at Illinois by 17 points. A few days earlier the Illini had beaten Ohio State there by 17 points.
IU has lost only one game at Assembly Hall in the last two years – that was to Minnesota by a 77-74 score. In other words, it has won 28 of its last 29 home games.
The Hoosiers appear unbeatable at Assembly Hall, especially with students back with all their loud, intimidating passion.
IU MIGHT beat Minnesota with a sluggish Watford. It will beat the Gophers if Watford is on his offensive and defensive game.
Sophomore forward Cody Zeller has made the Wooden Award’s top 25 list. That means he’s still in the running to win the award, which goes annually to the nation’s best player.
Is Zeller deserving of that honor? Before the season started he was projected as the nation’s best and a strong contender to be the No. 1 pick in next summer’s NBA Draft if he chooses to leave school early.
But he’s taken a dip in some national experts’ eyes, although he leads IU in scoring (16.5 points), rebounding (7.9) and blocks (20).
And, remember, the Hoosiers are a strong national contender.
In ESPN.com’s first Player of the Year straw poll Zeller came in fourth behind Duke’s Mason Plumblee, Michigan’s Trey Burke and Creighton’s Doug McDermott. Zeller was the preseason leader in the poll.
For the record, I vote in the poll and did list Zeller in my top three.
Also for the record, last year’s eventual national player of the year, Anthony Davis of Kentucky, was fourth in the first poll.
Indiana might need a perfect month of January to win a Big Ten championship.
Glad you asked.
The Hoosiers have an absolutely brutal February -- road games at No. 12 Illinois (14-3), No. 15 Ohio State (12-3), No. 22 Michigan State (12-3) and Minnesota, plus a home game against No. 2 Michigan (16-0). That overshadows a home game with arch-rival Purdue (7-8).
Oh. Don’t forget the regular season ending finale on March 10 at Michigan.
If Indiana can get to February unbeaten in Big Ten play at 8-0, it could afford some February losses. That means beating Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan State and Purdue.
As far as what kind of record will win the conference title, who knows? The Big Ten is ridiculously strong. A 13-5 record won last year. That’s probably a good goal to shoot for, then if a team goes, say, 15-3, it probably wins in a landslide.
Is any team good enough to win 15 games against this kind of competition?
All we can say is, it will be fun to watch.
You never know where Indiana’s basketball recruiting will go.
Take, for instance, Australia. That’s the homeland for one Dante Exum, a 6-5 shooting guard rated No. 17 in the Class of 2014 even though he doesn’t play high school ball in the United States. He plays for the Australian Institute of Sport, but impressed a lot of people last summer in Las Vegas. He’s good enough to have offers from the Hoosiers, Georgetown and LSU, among others. North Carolina is giving him a strong look. His father, Cecil, played on the Tar Heels 1982 national title team. Cecil played pro ball in Australia.
Exum is making his first official visit this weekend at IU, which means he’ll be front and center for the Minnesota game. He’s already made an unofficial one to North Carolina. Those are presumed to be his two favorites.
Exum is in the same class as Fort Wayne Bishop Luers’ James Blackmon, who committed to IU before he even reached high school.
Another big IU target in the Class of 2014 is Indianapolis Park Tudor small forward Trevion Bluiett, who has offers from IU, Purdue, Michigan, Louisville and Virginia. He’s rated No. 46 nationally in the Class of 2014.
The Hoosiers also are in the running for forward Cliff Alexander (ranked No. 4), Evansville Bosse’s Jaquan Lyle (No. 16), Baltimore small forward Dwayne Morgan (No. 18), North Carolina forward Theo Pinson (No. 11) and Georgia shooting guard Ahmed Hill (No. 25)
Crean got IU back into the national spotlight because of his strong recruiting. As you can tell, he hasn’t forgotten.
I have not posted in a while. The reason is very personal, and very emotionally painful. Part of me wants to keep it personal, part wants to make it public. I'm not sure which direction I will go.