Friday’s rematch of December’s classic between No. 1 seed Kentucky and No. 4 seed Indiana is about a lot more than just a single personnel matchup.
Marquis Teague is a different player than he was back in December. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is as well, although that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Indiana will be without Verdell Jones III. Victor Oladipo and Jordy Hulls have had their roles in the back court some what reversed. And while this is far from a guarantee, based on his play of late, Terrence Jones should be able to be more competitive with Christian Watford this time around.
With all that said, there is no doubt that the most intriguing individual battle in this game will be between the two freshmen big men: Cody Zeller and Anthony Davis.
The first time around, Zeller got Davis in foul trouble in the first half. How? Zeller is one of the best in the country at drawing fouls, earning 6.3 whistles per game, which is 44th in the country according to Kenpom. Despite being a bit slender, Zeller is terrific at earning position in the post, knows how to get his defender in the air with pump fakes and understands the concept of leverage on the block.
Here is how Zeller drew those fouls, both of which are plays that Indiana often uses to get him touches on the block.
Twice in the possessions leading up to this play, Jones had run off of a high-ball screen from Zeller:
Instead of setting the screen, however, Zeller steps in front of Davis and seals as Jones dribbles to the foul line area and dumps the ball into him:
Zeller uses on dribble and a drop step, getting his body into Davis and drawing the foul:
Three minutes later, IU ran a pretty similar play to get Zeller in position to score. Jones runs off of a double ball-screen from Hulls and Will Sheehy while Zeller stands out of the play under the basket:
As Jones comes off the screen, Zeller “ducks in”, sealing hard in the paint very close to the rim. Jones dumps the ball down to him:
Zeller is terrific as staying low while he posts, which takes away Davis’ legs. Zeller uses a pump-fake to get Davis off balance and leaning, going up through his body and drawing foul No. 2:
Davis picked up two more fouls fairly early in the second half, but neither were due to Zeller. One was on Victor Oladipo when the guard grabbed an offensive rebound, and the other came against Jones as Davis ran out to try and block a three.
Despite all the hype that it gets, Kentucky’s defense is actually not as efficient as their offense, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Wildcats are winning because they are able to get stops when they need to. Davis is a huge part of that because of his ability to block shots — perimeter defenders can feel more comfortable pressuring and gambling know they have an eraser at the rim — which is why getting him in foul trouble early would be important for Indiana.
Not only do they get Davis out of the game, they set up a situation where either Eloy Vargas will be guarding Zeller or Kyle Wiltjer will be covering Christian Watford. Both of those matchups greatly favor Indiana.
Anthony Davis doesn’t foul. Like, ever.
He commits just 2.4 fouls per 40 minutes despite being involved in 25% of Kentucky’s defensive possessions. To put that in perspective, think about it like this: Anthony Davis has committed four or more fouls just three times this season. Two came in the first four games of the season. The third was against Indiana on December 10th. He hasn’t committed more than three fouls in a game in more than three months.
In the 27 games since the loss to the Hoosiers, Davis has committed three fouls just four times. He’s had three games where he hasn’t committed a single foul.
That’s astounding, especially for a freshman.
If Zeller wants to get Davis in foul trouble, he’s going to have his work cut out for him.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.