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Victor Oladipo’s poetic milestone gives Indiana the Big Ten lead

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First, it was Duke’s rise to No. 1 after their terrific run through the non-conference schedule.

Then, it was the cavalcade of suitors for the top spot — Louisville, Duke again, Kansas, even Florida tossed themselves in the mix — that took turns using a few first-place votes as motivation for a losing streak.

Next came Michigan, as their ascendence to the top of the Big Ten standings, mowing through the weaker part of their Big Ten schedule, was halted when the Wolverines were knocked off in Bloomington.

And finally, it was Michigan State, who one writer (ahem, me) called the best team in the Big Ten after their deconstruction of Michigan last Tuesday night.

Through it all, Indiana has been there, winning games, producing two players worthy of all-american consideration and, after a thrilling, 72-68 win over No. 4 Michigan State in East Lansing, proving themselves quite worthy of their current No. 1 ranking while taking over sole possession of first-place in the Big Ten.

It hasn’t quite happened how we all predicted it would.

Cody Zeller, the consensus Preseason Player of the Year, has been excellent. But he’s also been overshadowed by Victor Oladipo, Indiana’s hyper-active defensive stopper who just so happens to show out in the biggest games of the season. On Tuesday night, Oladipo finished with 19 points, nine boards and five steals while playing a major role in Keith Appling’s devolvement into ‘overwhelmed freshmen’ mode and scoring the game-winning bucket — his 1,000th point as an Indiana Hoosier — on a tip-in with less than a minute left that gave the Hoosiers a 68-67 lead.

It’s fitting, really.

Poetic, even.

Oladipo was never supposed to be this good. He’d spent the last two seasons making a name for himself as a good defender that threw down some great dunks and couldn’t be trusted to shoot outside four feet. This season, he’s not only become Indiana’s best player and one of the team’s emotional leaders, but he’s developed a knack for making big plays in big moments and playing his best basketball in the games with the most on the line.

So of course, the guy that turned himself from a 20.8% three-point shooter into a 52.4% three-point shooter — a player who should have been complimented if he was even considered an NBA Draft afterthought that is now a virtual lock for the lottery — reached a scoring milestone on a hustle play that gave Indiana the lead for good in a game that puts them on the inside track for a Big Ten title.

And that’s precisely where Indiana sits right now.

They have a one-game lead over Michigan State in the Big Ten standings that, essentially, doubles as a two-game lead when it comes to seeding. The Hoosiers swept the Spartans meaning they have the tie-breaker for the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. And if things go as expected, it would mean that Indiana would avoid having to play Michigan or Michigan State until the Big Ten title game.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

What matters right now is that Indiana went on the road and beat the latest Flavor of the Week.

Any doubt about the Hoosiers that had crept into your mind after the Illinois, or after the Wisconsin loss, or the Butler loss, or at any point during the season can be put to rest.

It may not be how they drew it up, but who are we to argue with the results?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.