Christian Watford, Joseph Bertrand

Christian Watford a key figure for No. 3 Indiana this month

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The Indiana Hoosiers have depth and they do have two of the nation’s best players in junior wing Victor Oladipo and sophomore center Cody Zeller. Zeller scored 24 points (9-of-11 FG) and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Hoosiers past Illinois on Friday afternoon by the final score of 80-64, and Oladipo added 12 points and 11 rebounds.

But for as good as those two have been all year for Tom Crean’s team, whether or not the Hoosiers (27-5) can win a national title will also depend on what they get from senior forward Christian Watford.

Watford scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds against the Fighting Illini, a step in the right direction after struggling down the stretch.

In three of Indiana’s final four regular season games Watford failed to reach double figures, averaging 7.0 points per game and shooting 26.7% from the field in those four games. Entering Friday Watford was averaging 12.4 points per contest and shooting 43.2% from the field (48.6% 3PT), and he shot 50% from the field (3-of-6) while also getting to the foul line (7-of-8) against Illinois.

As a team the Hoosiers shot 54% from the field on Friday and outscored the Illini 40-24 in the paint. With the number of options at Crean’s disposal the Hoosiers are going to be tough for any team to slow down, but that doesn’t mean their road to Atlanta will be an easy one to navigate.

There will be a game during the NCAA tournament in which either Oladipo or Zeller struggle offensively, and that’s where a player like Watford, Jordan Hulls (seven assists) or Will Sheehey (11 points off the bench) comes into play.

“It takes our whole team to win,” said Oladipo following the win. “When guys off the bench step up and when Christian and Jordan step up, it’s huge for us. They’re very capable of that. Without them, we can’t win.”

Watford’s been consistent for much of the season, but in the aftermath of that rough stretch to end the regular season he needed a game like this one to get back on the right track.

And if Watford’s playing well, a Hoosier squad that’s one of the pre-tournament favorites to win it all becomes even tougher to beat.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?