Q&A with Indiana writers on Saturday’s game


Freshman guard John Wall soars over Indiana guard Jordan Hulls as he goes for a layup during the first half of the game Assembly Hall on Saturday. The Cats lead 42-41 at the half. Photo by Zach Brake

Saturday’s game is being taken seriously by Indiana fans. Very seriously. Assembly Hall will be a “Red Out,” the Hoosiers are on the fringe of the Top 25 and students chanted “Beat Kentucky” after their last win. So what to make of this game? What do they have going for them? How will Saturday play out?

We invited The Indiana Daily Student basketball columnist

Avi Zaleon: It’s really tough to say. Leading up to the N.C. State game, the Hoosiers really had yet to play anyone. Even nationally recognized Butler is not the team they once were, as Brad Stevens’ squad has now dropped to 4-4 on the season with losses to Evansville and Valparaiso. The win in Raleigh was huge because it showed this IU squad could do two things that previous Tom Crean-coached teams could not: 1) win on the road, and 2) come from behind to win.  That victory against the Wolfpack created a buzz around Bloomington, a buzz that is propelled by heightened expectations the likes of which this program has not seen since Eric Gordon and DJ White.

Now, it depends how you define “for real.” Are they improved from last year? Absolutely. Are they going dancing in March? I think they’re on the bubble, but the optimists think this is the year. This UK game will be the biggest teacher thus far of what this Hoosiers team is made of.

Pete DiPrimio: The Hoosiers are for real because they have far more talent and experience than before. They go at least 10 deep. This is now a veteran team with one NBA-caliber player in forward Cody Zeller, and potential all-conference players in forward Christian Watford, and guards Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls and, maybe, Will Sheehey.

Avi Zaleon: Cody might be a better than his brother right now, if not, sophomore Cody will surpass Tyler next year.  Cody, who has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week three out of a four possible weeks, can do it all:

  • Force turnovers — against Chattanooga he set a freshman record with six steals
  • Run the floor — some have compared the 6-foot-11 center to a gazelle, as Zeller gives the Hoosiers a big man who runs the floor in transition, something that fits perfectly into their up-tempo style of play created from defense.  This season, Zeller has created his own fast break
  • Create opportunities — When Zeller is on the floor, defenses can either choose to double-team him or put him one-on-one in the post. If double-teamed, Zeller has the court vision to dish the ball to his teammates for an easier bucket either on the perimeter or down low. Three-point marksmen like Jordan Hulls have certainly appreciated this addition.  Cody has yet to face a player of Anthony Davis’ caliber, though, with his stiffest competition thus far coming from NC State forwards DeShawn Painter and C.J. Lesile, who each scored 10 points.

However, the big thing Zeller — and the entire team — needs to improve on is rebounding. Zeller is a big, physical forward, but he struggles to consistently dominate the glass. Most recently, Zeller and his teammates failed to outrebound Stetson … yes, Stetson. According to ESPN, the Hoosiers rank 165th overall in rebounds per game — something that will have to improve.

Pete DiPrimio: Cody Zeller has the potential to be the best of the Zellers. He runs well, he’s gotten bigger and stronger in the last five months since arriving at IU, and he has strong post and perimeter skills. He’s smart and aware and deals with double teams very well. He’s far from a finished product, but he still makes other players better.

Avi Zaleon: Hate to do this to you, but it’s hard to pick one player to have a breakout game. That’s the scary thing about this year’s IU team, everybody is getting into the act of scoring on an offense that ranks seventh in the country with 85 ppg. The Hoosiers really have seven starters, the five usual starters (Jones, Oladipo, Zeller, Hulls and Watford), but then have the versatile scoring threat of Will Sheehey and reserve forward Derek Elston, who come off the bench early and often to provide fresh legs.

The numbers don’t lie, IU has five players averaging double-figures, with Jones at 9.3 ppg. The Hoosiers thrive when they are comfortable in their offense, feeding the ball in the post to Zeller, getting to the foul line and using good ball movement to get the easy shots they want.

Against Stetson, Zeller led all IU scorers, at NC State, it was Hulls with 20, against Butler, Will Sheehey led all scorers with 21. Pick your poison, even if one guy is having an off night, there are two more to fill his place.

Avi Zaleon: That deep Wildcat backcourt will challenge IU defenders. The Zeller-Davis matchup is intriguing, but will not be one-sided in either way. As far as guard play is concerned, IU’s big shutdown defender is the energetic Victor Oladipo. This kid has a big-time motor running constantly, and he has traditionally been put on the opposition’s top

scoring threat this season. However, even if Oladipo handles Gilchrist, Lamb or Teague, that leave the Hoosiers needing to cover the other two.  Point guard Jordan Hulls can be taken off the dribble and Verdell Jones’ defense is suspect. Even if IU can limit UK from the perimeter, the Cats’ driving ability could cause problems and put IU in foul trouble if the Hoosiers do a poor job of switching over.

Pete DiPrimio: I don’t think anybody scares them, but Jones, Davis and Lamb in particular will be major problems. The Wildcats have a ton of size, length and athleticism and that is IU’s biggest concern. Can it match up with that? We’ll see.

Avi Zaleon: What should scare UK fans?

At the beginning of this season, the UK game was a loss in my mind and I think in many others. If they were lucky, the Hoosiers would at least lose with dignity, I thought. But this team is really showing me — and the nation — something. They’re making believers out of doubters with the superior play of Zeller and maturity of those who are used to 20-loss seasons.

Realistically, I think IU loses by 10-12 points. The optimist in me has them losing by single digits. And the best-case scenario is the Hoosiers squeak out the upset. It’s not a good possibility, but a possibility nonetheless.

I could lecture you on the factors that IU would have to take advantage of to win, not allowing the game to slow down, getting the ball to Zeller early and often, creating offense from defense — but I think the biggest thing going for the Hoosiers right now is the game being played at Assembly Hall. If this game is at Rupp, forget about it, chalk it up as the first loss for the Hoosiers. But this IU fan base is hungry. They’re hungry to be relevant again, they’re hungry for a tournament birth, they’re hungry to show UK that this rivalry still has life in it and they’re hungry to shock the nation on national television. Unlike years past, fans actually believe IU can win this game and the players do, too. The Hoosiers are playing with confidence, expecting to win and getting those results. The atmosphere in Assembly Hall in primetime on Saturday night will be unmatched. A normally raucous crowd will be so amped up, that I think my seat will be rattling the whole game.

IU feeds on momentum out of timeouts and halftime. If the Hoosiers can feed off the crowd, create momentum with big/timely plays and go on key runs, IU may be in the top 25 for the first time in the Crean era.

Pete DiPrimio: IU has a chance for two main reasons – the game is at Assembly Hall and this is Kentucky’s first true road game. Plus, the Wildcats are basically a freshman-sophomore team, so that lack of experience could be a factor. Finally, after 3 years of basketball misery, the Hoosiers are determined to prove they are ready to return to the national stage. This is their chance.

Pete DiPrimio: Some of IU’s strong shooting is due to its schedule, but a lot is due to its defense, which forces a lot of turnovers. The Hoosiers push the pace at every opportunity and have a lot of good shooters, topped by guard Jordan Hulls. Forward Christian Watford, for instance, is a good 3-point shooter. They attack the basket well, pass well and have good spacing.  Kentucky’s defense will certainly slow them down, but their shooting will be a major factor.