No. 5 Indiana advances past No. 4 Kentucky to reach Crean’s third Sweet 16

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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What a difference three months makes.

Remember when the Indiana Hoosiers went down to Durham and got totally and utterly embarrassed by Duke? They lost 94-74, but the game was never really that close, mainly because Indiana put on one of the worst defensive displays we’ve ever seen. The Indiana that we saw on Saturday afternoon, the one that advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 73-67 win over No. 4 Kentucky, may have had the same players, but that was a totally different basketball team.

107 days ago, Indiana allowed Duke to score 1.52 points-per-possession, the highest number that a high-major team had allowed to another high-major team in five years. On Saturday, against the team that entered the tournament as the nation’s best offense, according to KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, to just 0.93 PPP.

If anyone tells you they saw this coming from the Hoosiers, slap them in the face and call them a liar.

Which is what makes the coaching job that Tom Crean has put together this season so impressive.

Tyler Ulis finished with 27 points while Jamal Murray chipped in with 16, but Kentucky’s dynamic back court finished a combined 17-for-38 from the floor while committing seven turnovers. They made some tough shots throughout the game, but for the most part the Hoosiers held them in check. There was never a point where either of them took the game over. The credit for that has to be given to Indiana’s perimeter players — O.G. Anunoby, Troy Williams, Yogi Ferrell, Nick Zeisloft, Robert Johnson. They did a fabulous job chasing Kentucky’s guards around.

Credit also has to be given to Thomas Bryant, who more than held his own defensively against a team that runs a myriad of ball-screen actions, a drastic improvement from where he was in November. He outplayed Skal Labissiere, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress, finishing with a team-high 19 points and five boards while making five key free throws in the final seconds.

The Hoosiers did a terrific job limiting Kentucky other guys as well. They didn’t help off of guys like Derek Willis and Isaiah Briscoe, instead daring Kentucky’s guards to try and beat their guys 1-on-1.

Crean’s guys were up to the challenge, and when you consider that they were doing it against the nation’s best back court — a pair of all-americans — it’s a performance that really cannot be overstated.

Both from the players and the head coach.

Look, there was no guarantee that Crean was going to get off of that December charter home from Durham with his job intact. There’s no need to rehash the details at this point, but it’s true. There were fans that wanted him gone before the season started, and it didn’t help Crean’s case to lose to Wake Forest and UNLV before allowing Duke to remind the Hoosier faithful that Indiana is no longer one of the nation’s elite basketball programs.

And now look at Crean.

Not only did he win his second Big Ten regular season title in the last four years, but he’s now taken this team to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2013.

And he did it by beating John Calipari and Kentucky, the coach and the program that has been casting the biggest shadow over the Tom Crean era.

“I don’t want to stop coaching this team,” Crean said after the game in an interview on CBS.

There may be a section of the Indiana fan base that still wants Crean fired.

You can go ahead and slap them in the face, too.