And that’s before you consider how talented Kentucky is, how well they have been playing this season and the fact that UCLA was playing their first road game of the season against them in front of 23,000 screaming members of Big Blue Nation.
With all that in mind, really consider what the Bruins did on Saturday, overcoming a sluggish start and an early Kentucky run to more-or-less manhandle the Wildcats for a solid 25 minutes. UCLA was up double-figures for the majority of the second half and would have won by that amount if it wasn’t for a late flurry of buckets from Kentucky.
And they did all of that despite the fact that Lonzo Ball really only played about 20 good minutes on Saturday. T.J. Leaf was terrific, Ike Anigbogu opened quite a few eyes and Aaron Holiday completely changed the course of the game when he entered in the first half.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers certainly made a statement on Saturday, as they went into Charlottesville and knocked off No. 6 Virginia. They did so despite not having anyone on the roster score more than 11 points and while forcing just 14 turnovers. West Virginia really needed this win after falling against Temple earlier in the season.
Indiana: The Hoosiers landed their second elite win of the season as they knocked off No. 3 North Carolina in Assembly Hall on Wednesday night. This comes three weeks after they beat Kansas on a neutral court, giving them the best pair of wins in the country. The bad news? O.G. Anunoby sprained his ankle and will have to miss some time, but that’s neither here nor there. That injury isn’t going to take either of those wins off the board.
Middle Tennessee State: Kermit Davis may have a better team this season than the one that he had last season, when the Blue Raiders beat No. 2 seed Michigan State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The Blue Raiders obliterated Ole Miss on the road on Wednesday, following that up with a win at South Alabama.
Illinois: Coming off of a three-game losing streak that seemingly had Illinois fans ready to fire John Groce on the spot, Malcolm Hill and the Illini responded with a pair of quality wins. They knocked off Dennis Smith Jr. and N.C. State on Tuesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and followed that up by beating VCU, 64-46.
TCU: The Horned Frogs are one of just two teams in the Big 12 that remain undefeated after a 2-0 week. TCU not only knocked off potential No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz at the Washington Huskies for the second straight time, they also manhandled a good Arkansas State team, 77-54. Jamie Dixon and company will head to SMU and raucous Moody Coliseum on Wednesday. We’ll know more about them by then.
No. 13 Indiana impresses again in dominant win over No. 3 North Carolina
O.G. Anunoby led five players in double-figures with 16 points and James Blackmon Jr. added 14 points, nine boards and three assists coming off of a knee injury as No. 13 Indiana landed another impressive win as they picked off No. 3 North Carolina, 76-67.
This is the second elite win for the Hoosiers in the first three weeks of the season. On opening night, they beat No. 4 Kansas in overtime in the Armed Forces Classic out in Hawai’i. Both of those teams look destined to finish the season in or around the top five, meaning that regardless of what transpires throughout the rest of the season, the Hoosiers are going to end up with, potentially, the best pair of wins on their résumé of anyone in the country.
If they can string together enough wins to take home the Big Ten regular season title – something that looks quite doable with Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State looking very beatable early on this season – the Hoosiers have already put themselves into contention to be a No. 1 seed.
Even with that pesky loss to Fort Wayne.
Which begs the question that ESPN announcer Dick Vitale asked late in Wednesday night’s broadcast:
“Which is the real Indiana? The team that beat North Carolina and Kansas, or the team that lost to Fort Wayne?”
And, frankly, the answer is both.
Look, with the way this Indiana team plays, they are going to be inconsistent. They’re going to be streaky. They’re very much reliant on the three-ball and their transition game simply because they don’t have enough creators on the floor to get consistently get them good looks in the half-court. Their offense gets bogged down when defenses tighten up and they don’t have a guy that can make a play out of nothing. They don’t have a guy they can give the rock to and know that they’ll somehow get a good look at the rim or fouled in the process.
Anunoby is a terrific basketball player, but what makes him so good is his versatility. He can guard all five positions at the college level, he can make spot-up threes, he can rebound, he can attack a close-out. But he’s a complimentary piece, not your go-to guy. Thomas Bryant is similar, and while he’s a more well-rounded offensive weapon this season, he’s still a guy whose most valuable skill is his effort level. He makes things happen in transition and on the glass, not when he’s iso’d on the block or the perimeter.
Blackmon is the x-factor. He was the guy against Kansas and hit a critical, late three on Wednesday night, but he struggled against Fort Wayne. How much of that was due to his knee issue, which caused him to miss IU’s next game? Who knows, but if Blackmon is the missing piece, it’s still worrisome to rely that heavily on a guy who’s had three knee surgeries and had to sit out a game two weeks into the season.
That’s where Indiana struggles.
But when they get going?
They remind me of a pressing team in the way their runs just keep building and building. As the saying goes, shooting is contagious, and once that team sees one or two go down, once their confidence starts to grow and their energy level reaches its peak – particularly when they’re playing at home in front of 17,000 screaming Hoosier fans – they start hunting threes and getting loose in transition. It builds and it builds and, suddenly, the No. 3 team in the country is down 26-9 before they have a chance to really grow into the game.
That’s what Indiana can do.
But if you can run them off the three-point line, run good enough offense to work clock, avoid letting them get out in transition, do the kind of things that good team do?
Then you can slow the system down.
So to answer your question, Dickie, Indiana is all of the above.
They’re going to be thrilling at times.
But as dangerous as anyone in the country when they get that thing rolling.
Tom Crean ‘fully expects’ James Blackmon Jr. to play Wednesday
Hoosier Nation can breathe a sigh of relief today, as it appears that their star guard James Blackmon Jr. will be ready to play against North Carolina on Wednesday night.
“We fully expect that, if James continues to progress the way that he has, that he’ll be available to us tomorrow night,” head coach Tom Crean said, addressing the media on Tuesday evening.
Blackmon had missed Sunday’s game against Mississippi Valley State due to an undisclosed knee injury. That’s concerning because, in addition to having to miss much of the 2015-16 season following a knee injury, Blackmon has already had three surgeries on his knees. He tore an ACL as a sophomore in high school, he had surgery to repair his meniscus after his freshman season at Indiana and the injury that cost him last season was reportedly a partial tear of his ACL.
ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Previews, picks and what to watch for
No. 3 North Carolina at No. 13 Indiana, Weds. 9:15 p.m.
Easily the biggest game of the event, the streaking Tar Heels will make their way to Bloomington to face-off with an Indiana team that has been knocked back after a perfect start to the season. The Hoosiers not only lost to Fort Wayne on the road last week, but they may have lost James Blackmon Jr., the hero in the win over Kansas, to a knee injury. Tom Crean said the injury isn’t serious, but for a team that lacks weapons in the half court, not having Blackmon against the Tar Heels would be a major blow.
Because North Carolina is playing as well as anyone in college basketball right now. Joel Berry II looks like an all-american, the trio of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley are averaging 39.0 points and 22.4 boards and the Tar Heels are hitting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. Playing in Bloomington will be by far their biggest test of the season. The Hoosiers are lethal when their threes are going down, and when Assembly Hall is packed to the gills, those threes tend to go down.
Prediction: It sounds like Blackmon has a good chance of playing, so I’ll go with Indiana (+4.5) at home.
Michigan State at No. 5 Duke, Tues. 9:30 p.m.
Michigan State has been playing better of late, but this is still a dreadfully young team missing key players and at the end of a long, long three weeks. they’ve been to Hawai’i, New York and the Bahamas already this season, and they will be heading back out to Durham for this one at some point on Monday.
Miles Bridges is playing much better after the trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis than he did against Kentucky at the Garden and Duke, frankly, does not have anyone that can guard him. That said, I think the Blue Devils will be too much, even with Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles III out and Grayson Allen limited.
Prediction: Duke (-11.5) coasts, but keep an eye on the status of Grayson Allen’s toe.
No. 22 Syracuse at No. 17 Wisconsin, Tues. 7:30 p.m.
Two teams trending in the wrong direction. Let’s start with Syracuse, who couldn’t find a way to run offense against South Carolina’s half court pressure. It was not a promising performance from the Orange, who mustered all of 50 points as the issues with their point guard play – Franklin Howard and John Gillon – rose to the surface.
On the other hands, the Badgers are still trying to figure out how they are going to be able to turn Nigel Hayes back into an efficient basketball player. A year after getting criticized for settling for too many threes, Hayes is shooting more three per game at a worse clip than he did last season, just 29.0 percent. Someone’s streak has to snap on Tuesday.
Prediction: I think Syracuse wins so of course I’ll take the Orange (+7.5).
No. 15 Purdue at No. 14 Louisville, Weds. 7:15 p.m.
This is a matchup of two very different teams. The Boilermakers want to pound the ball inside, to take advantage of the fact that they have Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan and you don’t. Louisville? They press, they try to force turnovers, they want to speed the game up and take advantage of the talent and athleticism on their perimeter.
There are two keys to this game. 1. Can Louisville’s bigs stay out of foul trouble? The sheer size of Haas and Swanigan got Georgia State into foul trouble and cost them a win in Mackey Arena, and it nearly cost Villanova their win at Purdue. 2. Will Louisville make perimeter shots? Deng Adel and Quentin Snider are shooting under 30 percent from the floor this season. Donovan Mitchell is under 40 percent. That’s not good.
Prediction: I’m on Louisville (-5.5) as I think Louisville’s guards overwhel Purdue’s back court and nullify the advantage the Boilermakers have inside.
Ohio State at No. 6 Virginia, Weds. 7:15 p.m.
Virginia is giving up an average of 41.3 points per game through six games. Their opponents are shooting 31.7 percent from the floor and averaging just 0.708 points-per-possession, which is an insane number. The question here is: Can Ohio State break 50 points on the evening?
Prediction: I’m going to say take the under (119.5) here. Virginia is a 12-point favorite, meaning the predicted final score is 66-54. The Wahoos haven’t given up more than 52 points this season and are allowing an average of just 41.3 points. Iowa, who put up 92 on Memphis and 78 on Notre Dame, scored 41 points against Virginia. Ohio State, however, has also been pretty good defensively on the season, and the only proven scored Virginia has on their roster is London Perrantes, who isn’t really a scorer. And all that is before you consider Virginia is the slowest team in the country and Ohio State is 185th in pace. If you’re only into betting lines, I’d say take Ohio State (+12).
Virginia Tech at Michigan, Weds. 9:15 p.m.
This is a win the Hokies badly need after they blew a 16-point second half lead to Texas A&M, missing out on their chance to take a swing at UCLA in the Wooden Legacy title game. Buzz Williams has a good team in Blacksburg, one that will improve their NCAA tournament candidacy with a win at Michigan. The Wolverines looked good at the 2K Classic in New York two weeks ago, but took a beating on the road against South Carolina over the weekend.
Prediction: I like Virginia Tech (+5), mainly because I’m not convinced Michigan isn’t overrated and I love the Hokies this season.
Monday, Nov. 28
Minnesota at Florida State, 7:00 p.m.: This is going to be a nice gauge game for both of these teams. The Seminoles should, in theory, be able to take care of Minnesota at home, but Richard Pitino’s team is sitting at 6-0 on the year with a 14-point win over Arkansas.
Wake Forest at Northwestern, 9:00 p.m.: Is this the year that Northwestern makes the tournament? It looked like it in their 19-point win over Texas. Not so much against Butler and Notre Dame. Wake Forest is 5-1 on the year with a couple of decent mid-major wins.
Tuesday, Nov. 29
Pittsburgh at Maryland, 7:00 p.m.: Maryland is 7-0 on the season, but five of those seven wins have come by single digits, including late comebacks against Georgetown and Kansas State. What happens when the Terps face off with a good Pitt team?
Georgia Tech at Penn State, 7:00 p.m.: Penn State has struggled early on this season while Georgia Tech is … still Georgia Tech under Josh Pastner.
Iowa at Notre Dame, 9:00 p.m.: Iowa scored 41 points against Virginia and lost. They got 42 points from Peter Jok the next night … and lost to Memphis. The Irish, coming off of a
win in the Legends Classic, have looked good this year.
N.C. State at Illinois, 9:00 p.m.: Dennis Smith Jr. has been phenomenal of late, but his team is still missing Maverick Rowan (concussion) and Omer Yurtseven (suspension). This is a win they should be able to get.
Wednesday, Nov. 30
Rutgers at Miami (Fla.), 7:15 p.m.: Don’t look now but Rutgers is undefeated. This will be their stiffest test of the season to date.
Nebraska at Clemson, 9:15 p.m.: I’m still unsure of what to make of either of these teams. Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame is a first round pick.
No. 3 Indiana bounced back from an upset loss to Fort Wayne by blowing out an overmatched Mississippi Valley State team at home on Sunday night, 85-52.
And while there’s not much to take away from a game like that, we did learn that Indiana’s loss on Tuesday may have been more costly than anyone realized at the time.
Star guard James Blackmon Jr. did not play on Sunday night. He sat out with an unspecified knee injury, which is concerning for Indiana fans. Not only did Blackmon end up missing the second half of the 2015-16 season after undergoing surgery to repair a partially torn ACL in his right knee, he had surgery on his left knee in the summer of 2015 to repair a torn meniscus. Blackmon also tore the ACL in his left knee as a sophomore in high school.
Blackmon is averaging 20.5 points this season. He had 26 points in Indiana’s win over Kansas.
Head coach Tom Crean spoke about the injury after the game and was not overly concerned with Blackmon.
“This was not a situation where […] we don’t expect him back, it’s not like that at all,” Crean said, adding that it was “too early” to predict whether or not Blackmon can suit up for North Carolina on Wednesday. “He’s better every day. He hasn’t practiced. So it — it’s not like it’s anything that anybody’s looking at saying there’s surgery involved here or anything like that. He took a shot in that game and we just got to overcome it.”
Bryson Scott had 18 points, 12 boards, three assists and three steals to lead Fort Wayne to a 71-68 overtime win over No. 3 Indiana in Fort Wayne on Tuesday night.
John Konchar added 15 points, 11 boards and four assists, hitting a free throw with less than a minute left in the game that gave the Mastadons a 69-68 lead. The win was made all the more impressive by the fact that Mo Evans, Fort Wayne’s best player who was averaging 23 points entering the night, was just 4-for-15 from the floor as he battled foul trouble all night.
Indiana was without O.G. Anunoby for much of the night. He was scoreless and sat out for most of the second half and overtime.
Before I get into my full thoughts on this game, a couple of things to note:
1. We need to credit Indiana for actually scheduling this game. It wasn’t a true road environment – the game wasn’t played at Fort Wayne’s on-campus facility and there were more Indiana fans in the building than Fort Wayne fans – but it was a road game. Tom Crean didn’t have to play this game and he usually doesn’t play games like this, but they make college basketball so much better when they are played in November. So a tip of the cap to you, Tom. I hope this doesn’t change your mind on games like this.
“I want to say here, I appreciate Coach Crean for coming. What he did today was unbelievable,” Fort Wayne head coach Jon Coffman said in the postgame interview while holding his son in his arms in a see of Mastadon fans that stormed the court. “It doesn’t happen in college basketball. Taking the challenge, for him to bring his team to Fort Wayne and help our city, not about our win, but they’ll be talking about Indiana coming to Fort Wayne for the next 50 years. He was the reason they did it. No one else in the country will do that.”
“Right now, he’s thinking this was a bad decision. They’ll have growth from this. I really appreciate him just coming. Win or loss, we won the game before it started.”
2. Fort Wayne is good. They are the favorite to win the Summit League, which is always one of the better mid-major leagues in the country. They’re tough defensively, they’re well-coached and they went into this game expecting to win. So we’ll give them a tip of the cap as well.
As far as the Hoosiers are concerned, this game really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to Indiana fans if they were paying attention.
Indiana is a team that relies heavily on the three-ball. That’s more or less been the case for every relevant team that Tom Crean has had with the exception of the team that featured Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. When those threes are going down, when this team gets hot, the Hoosiers can do what we saw them do on the season’s opening night. They can beat a team like Kansas, who just about everyone has had pegged as a top three team since Kris Jenkins buried a buzzer-beating three to end the 2015-16 season.
When those threes are going down the way that they went down against Kansas – on Tuesday, Indiana shot 7-for-24 from three – it can mask the warts on a team.
And this Indiana team has warts.
Well, it’s more of a wart, singular: The don’t have a second option offensively when teams can run them off the three-point line. They don’t have a go-to guy. Look at their roster. Who on that team can create their own shot?Who can create an open look for someone else on the floor? Who on that team can Crean give the rock to and say, ‘clear out, he’s got this’? Who is their Yogi Ferrell?
Against Kansas and during the first two weeks of the season, it looked like it would be James Blackmon Jr., but he played terribly against Fort Wayne. There were stretches where it didn’t look like he was able to put the ball on the floor without dribbling off of his feet. He finished with 13 points on 6-for-14 shooting while going 1-for-5 from three and committing three of Indiana’s 14 turnovers.
Robert Johnson couldn’t be that guy on Tuesday. Neither could Josh Newkirk or Juwan Morgan. When Thomas Bryant actually did get the ball in the most he wasn’t able to score either.
It’s a huge problem for the Hoosiers, one that isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
Indiana is going to get their fair share of wins this season simply because they have enough dangerous shooters and they are a capable-at-worst defensive team, particularly when Anunoby is healthy.
But without a go-to guy, there aren’t going to be answers when a team is able to bog their offense down.