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.

Creighton lands 2016 combo guard

Greg McDermott
Associated Press
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Sunday evening Creighton got on the board in the Class of 2016, as 6-foor-4 combo guard Davion Mintz made his pledge to Greg McDermott’s program. Mintz made the decision on the tail end of his official visit to Creighton, picking the Bluejays over Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Tulsa and Wichita State.

News of Mintz’s commitment was first reported by Rick Lewis of the Phenom Hoop Report, with Mintz confirming the news via Twitter shortly thereafter.

Creighton has just two seniors on its current roster in guard Jams Milliken and forward Geoffrey Groselle, but that doesn’t mean they lack for experience. Among the guards on the roster who will be around when Mintz arrives on campus are redshirt juniors Maurice Watson Jr., Malik Albert, and Isaiah Zierden, and Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster will be eligible in 2016-17.

Mintz, who attends North Mecklenberg HS just outside of Charlotte, can play either on or off the basketball. Creighton’s veteran guards should help Mintz with his transition to the college game when he arrives in Omaha in 2016. Mintz played for the Charlotte Nets grassroots program this summer.

Three-star power forward commits to WVU

Bob Huggins
Associated Press
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Three days after landing one power forward in Sagaba Konate, West Virginia received a verbal commitment from another big man Sunday evening.

6-foot-11 Mountain Mission School (Gurndy, Virginia) power forward Maciej Bender became the Mountaineers’ fourth commitment in the Class of 2016 on Sunday, with the Mountain Mission program announcing the news via Twitter. Bender is a native of Poland, and in addition to Konate he joins guards Brandon Knapper and Chase Harler in West Virginia’s 2016 recruiting class.

West Virginia will lose two forwards in TyQuane Goard and Jonathan Holton at the end of the 2015-16 season, and the additions of Konate and Bender will help the Mountaineers account for those departures from a depth standpoint. Bender can score around the basket, but he’s also capable of facing up and scoring in pick-and-pop situations out beyond the three-point line.

Bender officially visited West Virginia last weekend, and he was a player the WVU coaching staff wanted to get in the fold. Other programs to offer Bender included Arizona State (teammate Jethro Tshisumpa is an ASU commit), Georgia, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss and Providence. Bender played his grassroots basketball for the West Virginia Wildcats program this summer.