Maurice Creek

Maurice Creek could return soon for Indiana, what could he bring?

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Tonight, Don Fischer, play-by-play man for Indiana basketball, said on the Indiana/Penn State pregame show that redshirt junior Maurice Creek is only a week away from returning from a right foot injury for the Hoosiers.

Creek’s career in Bloomington has been one collective injury. He’s had every season ended with an injury, with this one being the first that he’ll actually come back to the court, after suffering it in-season.

For his career, Creek, a 6-5 guard swingman who by all means was living up to the hype when he came out of Hargrave Military Academy four years ago, is averaging 9.4 points in 40 games with 25 starts. He’s made the most of his time on the court when he’s been healthy enough to be on it.

I’ll never hold injuries — on the court, anyway — against a player. Giving effort and having your body betray you or an accident put you out isn’t something a player can control most of the time. But it’s really hard to see what Creek will do when he comes back, which, if Fischer is right, will be when the Hoosiers face home games against Minnesota and Wisconsin, consecutively. So if anything, Creek helps the depth.

But, in honor of this being the first time Creek has returned from an injury in a season, let’s look at what Creek could bring that, either Indiana needs or will want more of as they get deeper and deeper into conference play.

Scoring

As a freshman in 2009-10, Creek averaged 16.5 points through the team’s first 12 games, including 31 points against Kentucky. He averaged 8.3 points the next season before that season-ending injury. Then 3.0 points through 10 games this season. I’m going to go out on a whim and predict Creek becomes the Hoosiers fourth scoring option behind Zeller, Oladipo, Watford and Sheehey, edging out Hulls. It may take a week or two, but I could see Creek averaging 10-11 points per game especially on a team that is rife with scorers. And teams doubting his ability with so many injuries.

Experience

Though it feels like we’ve barely been able to see him on the court, Creek has played 40 games and started 25 in his career. He came off the bench for all 10 so far this season, clocking 11.3 minutes per game, but being totally healthy, Creek will be invaluable as a guy on the court in late-game situations. He’s been there and he can assist the elders like Sheehey, Hulls and Watford in settling the team in key situations. In the most talented conference in college basketball, that’s huge.

An additional deep threat

Maurice Creek, shooter? He can hit the outside shot with regularity. Creek was 7-for-20 from three-point range before injury this season. For his career, Creek is 63-for-171, a 36.8-percent clip. Hulls will like that help and in games agaisnt Michigan, he can — try, at least — to keep up with Nik Stauskas.

Good depth

Never be fooled. There’s a difference between “depth” and “good depth”. Pretty simple. Talent separates the two. Creek’s blend of experience, athleticism and talent adds, at the very least, a solid bench threat that coach Tom Crean can rely on when the games get tight.

David Harten is a sportswriter and college basketball blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.