Potential IU Championship Run Could Include The Ultimate Cathartic Scenario

IMPORTANT NOTE: The following article is drowning in hypotheticals and should be seen not as a prediction of what will happen but as a fun observation that makes for a great story. This is basically a big “What-If” that will likely only be relevant this week before the games start. So please stick around and enjoy if “movie scripts/storybook endings” interest you.


When the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament rolls around, the fans of the remaining 16 teams are allowed to start dreaming  about the possibility of a the national championship. Of course, it’s strictly “dream-only” at the moment as these teams have only completed a third of this three-week marathon. Nevertheless they can still dream, and you can bet Hoosier Nation is daydreaming like crazy.

Despite having a tough matchup with the  top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels, Hoosier fans are on cloud nine after a cathartic second round win over the Kentucky Wildcats. It was cathartic not only because it was the first time the rivals had played in four years, but also because that last matchup ended with Kentucky beating Indiana in the Sweet 16 en route to an eighth national championship.

The Hoosiers hope the same happens for them this postseason but standing in their way is a talented North Carolina team that will be tough to beat. More likely than not, Indiana’s unexpectedly successful season will strike midnight when the clocks in Philadelphia also strike midnight on Friday, but this Indiana team has beaten the odds so many times this season that you can never count them out.

So let’s play the “What-If” game. I’m pretty sure Hoosier Nation would find any possible scenario that ends with a sixth  national championship banner being hung in Assembly Hall to be cathartic (especially after going 29 years since the last one), but the level of how cathartic it can get is so insane that one would think this was a cliché Disney sports movie. IU could potentially win the championship by defeating the three teams that in recent college basketball history have made life difficult for Hoosier Nation. So let’s have fun and take a look at what would be the ultimate “Hoosier Catharsis”:


While there hasn’t been much recent history between Indiana and North Carolina, the two titans of college basketball have met twice before in the NCAA Tournament.

The first one came in 1981, when the Hoosiers defeated the Tar Heels 63-50 in the National Championship game. The Hoosiers were led by Isiah Thomas, a guard who wore #11 and scored a game-high 23 points.

The second time came in the 1984 Sweet 16 as the underdog Hoosiers beat the top-seeded Tar Heels 72-68 in what would be Michael Jordan’s last college game. Guarding MJ was Dan Dakich, a guard who wore #11 and held the AP player of the year to just 13 points on 6 of 14 shooting.

I don’t think I need to remind anyone that this year’s Hoosiers also has a difference-maker in Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell,  a guard who wears #11.


But it’s the regional championship round (or Elite Eight) where things start to get interesting. The opponent of the UNC-IU winner will either be the Notre Dame Fighting Irish or the Wisconsin Badgers. Both teams faced Indiana during the season and both would work as compelling rematches.

Indiana’s 15-point comeback win over the Fighting Irish during the Crossroads Classic turned into a pivotal crossroad for the Hoosiers as ever since that comeback IU has transformed from a terrible defense to one that just allowed 0.94 points per possession to a Kentucky team that ranked second in the country in points per possession. Adding that new defensive intensity with the pre-existing offensive brilliance created a combination that was able to turn around the season and win the Big Ten regular season championship outright.

While it would be cool for Indiana to face the team that provided the game responsible for the turn around, there are two problems with it. The first problem is that this potential matchup could turn into a “revenge game” for Notre Dame; after all it was the Irish that blew a 15-point lead in that game. The second reason is that there’s a better potential matchup that could await the Hoosiers.

No Big Ten team has bullied the Hoosiers as badly and as long as the Wisconsin Badgers. While a couple of recent victories for Indiana at Assembly Hall has relieved some of the psychological hold the Badgers had over IU, there is still the fact that the Hoosiers haven’t beat Wisconsin outside of Assembly Hall since the 2006 Big Ten Tournament but even that game was in Indianapolis. That last time the Hoosiers beat the Badgers outside of the state of Indiana was the 2001 Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.

While this potential game wouldn’t be played in Wisconsin (where IU hasn’t won since 1998), it would still be a huge accomplishment for this Indiana team to reach the Final Four by beating the one team that has been a thorn in its side for so long.


If Indiana was able to make it this far it would be its first Final Four in 14 years (2002). One of the major reasons it took so long to return to the Final Four was because the best Hoosier team during that stretch lost in the Sweet 16 three years ago to the Syracuse Orange. Wouldn’t you know it that not only is Syracuse still alive in this year’s NCAA Tournament, but if both Syracuse and Indiana kept winning they would face each other in this season’s Final Four.

Unfortunately this is the least likely of the things that are needed to go right in this hypothetical. The Orange were a bubble team that was not only graciously granted a 10-seed, but lucked out when 15-seed Middle Tennessee State upset a Michigan State team that would have easily ended Syracuse’s season. Seeing Syracuse beat Gonzaga and then either Virginia or Iowa State seems fairly unrealistic given what we know at the moment.

However, if they did reach Houston it would probably be the single most cathartic win in this championship run scenario. There’s only one other game against one other team that would make a better “revenge game.”


That game would be against Duke.

If the Notre Dame game was the crossroad moment the Hoosiers turned things around, then the Duke game was the moment that forced IU into that crossroad.

How bad was the 94-74 loss on December 2nd? The 1.53 points per possession that Indiana allowed to Duke on that night  are the most allowed by an NCAA basketball team in the last three seasons. I’m not just talking about the “power-five” conferences: none of the 351 teams in the NCAA allowed more points per possession in a game than Indiana did to Duke on that early December night.

Three and a half months later, that same Indiana defense allowed Kentucky to only score 0.94 points per possession. Don’t brush off Indiana’s defensive improvement as hyperbole. This drastic transformation is real and I bet Hoosier fans would love another chance at Duke with their improved defense.

A loss to Duke during the middle of the season was rock bottom. A championship win over that same Duke team would be the ultimate “revenge game.” That is the true definition of catharsis.

Hoosiers In The NBA: Breaking Down Oladipo’s 45-Point Game Vs Cleveland

NOTE: Hello everyone and welcome to a new edition of Hoosiers In The NBA on its new site! Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy this latest edition and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:


It was just your average week for the former Hoosiers playing in the NBA. Eric Gordon didn’t play because he’s injured, Noah Vonleh is playing a little better but not well enough to warrant minutes for a playoff-caliber team, Cody Zeller recorded a double-double then got injured but was good enough to start the next game, and Victor Oladipo set a new career-high for points against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Wait a second, what did Oladipo do?

Almost as if trying to inspire his alma mater on the night before they faced the Kentucky Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Oladipo played against the NBA’s equivalent of the Wildcats (LeBron James’ Cavs) and although his Orlando Magic lost he did finish with a career-high 45 points against the Eastern Conference leaders.

Because this is such a monumental performance, I really wanted to go in-depth on how Oladipo caught fire this past Friday night. So this week’s edition of Hoosiers In The NBA will be all about that one game. I’ll still have the players’ game logs for all who are still interested as well as their season stats. Now let’s break down Oladipo’s best scoring performance of his basketball career:

 


March 18th, 2016: Cleveland 109, Orlando 103

Oladipo’s Boxscore: 45 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 3 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 39 minutes.

Oladipo’s 45-point game is awesome enough if all you knew was that he scored 45 points in an NBA game. However once you start dissecting all the details, it becomes more and more impressive.

Take the opponent for instance. Scoring 45 points against an abysmal team like the Philadelphia 76ers, who have a record of 9-61, would still be cool but would feel inflated because of the level of completion. Yet in this instance Oladipo went off on the Cavaliers, who have an Eastern Conference best 49-20 record and are one of four teams who have already clinched a playoff spot. Also, it’s not like their best players took the night off as James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love all played and James and Irving played 35+ minutes each.

Now there are a couple of ways to score 45 points. There’s the James Harden-way where you get to the free throw line 20+ times and make 80% of them, then you combine that with a regular 20-point game. There’s the Stephen Curry-way where you make 10 three-pointers and add in some free throws and two-point baskets. Then there’s the “hero ball” way where you take an exuberant amount of field goal attempts (I’m talking about in the high 30s and maybe the 40s) and you make about half of those plus some three-pointers and a couple of free throws.

Yet Oladipo’s path to 45 points doesn’t categorize into any of those. To put it simply, he fits into a different category, one where a player just can’t miss and so they keep shooting. By the time the final buzzer went off, Oladipo had attempted 22 field goals and had made 16 of them (72.7%).

These weren’t all just layups either. Here is a breakdown of all 22 shots attempts:

  • 6 layup attempts, of which he made 5 (83.3%)
  • 9 two-point jump shot attempts, of which he made 5 (55.6%)
  • 7 three-point jump shot attempts, of which he made 6 (85.7%)

The three-pointers really stand out, especially for someone who’s a career 33.8% three-point shooter. The reason he was able to effectively hit from behind the arc was due to his confidence. Oladipo only attempted two deep balls in the first half (he made both), but after going 8 for 11 on field goal attempts before halftime he decided to let it fly and was rewarded by going 3 of 4 in the third quarter. It’s worth noting he made his first five three-pointers before his first miss from deep.

If you’re wondering why the math isn’t adding up, it’s because I haven’t gotten to the free throws. Sometimes being forced to be stationary can throw off a player’s rhythm because most of their baskets have come while they’ve been on the move. Well it didn’t affect Oladipo as he made 7 of his 8 foul shots.

By the end of the game, Oladipo may not have been able to help his Magic  beat the Cavaliers (they did lead a few times during the game thanks to his efforts), but he did join elusive company by becoming the second Magic player ever to score 45 points, grab five rebounds, and make at least five three-pointers in a loss. The other was Magic-great Tracy McGrady.

 


Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:

Vs Denver (W 116-110): 23 points (9-16 FG)(5-6 FT), 4 rebounds, 6 assists, steal, 2 blocks, turnover, 4 personal fouls, 39 minutes.

@ Charlotte (L 107-99): 25 points (10-18 FG)(3-4 FT), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, steal, 3 blocks, turnover, personal foul, 42 minutes.

Vs Cleveland (L 109-103): See Breakdown Above

@ Toronto (L 105-100): 21 points (9-19 FG)(2-2 FT), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 42 minutes.

 


Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:

@ San Antonio (L 118-110): 8 points (4-7 FG), 4 rebounds, turnover, personal foul, 11 minutes.

@ New Orleans (W 117-112): 6 points (2-2 FG)(1-1 FT), rebound, turnover, 4 personal fouls, 12 minutes.

@ Dallas (L 132-120 OT): 0 points (0-1 FG), 3 rebounds, 2 personal fouls, 14 minutes.

 


Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

Vs Orlando (W 107-99): 13 points (5-7 FG)(3-4 FT), 13 rebounds, block, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 29 minutes.

@ Miami (W 109-106): 6 points (3-6 FG), 3 rebounds, personal foul, 14 minutes.

Vs Denver (L 101-93): 10 points (3-6 FG)(4-6 FT), 2 rebounds, 5 blocks, 3 personal fouls, 29 minutes.

 


Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:

@ Golden State (L 125-107): DNP – injury

@ Sacramento (W 123-108): DNP – injury

Vs Portland (L 117-112): DNP – injury

Vs Los Angeles Clippers (W 109-105): DNP – injury

 


Season averages:

Victor Oladipo: 15.9ppg, 4.8rpg, 3.9apg, 1.47spg, 0.67bpg, 2.1tpg, 2.3fpg, 43.7% FG, 34.8% 3FG, 82.6% FT, 32.7mpg.

Noah Vonleh: 3.7ppg, 4.0rpg, 0.4apg, 0.35spg, 0.28bpg, 0.6tpg, 2.1fpg, 40.7% FG, 23.8% 3FG, 74.4% FT, 15.8mpg.

Cody Zeller: 9.0ppg, 6.2rpg, 1.0apg, 0.74spg, 0.80bpg, 1.0tpg, 3.0fpg, 51.3% FG, 10.0% 3FG, 74.5% FT, 24.7mpg.

Eric Gordon: 15.2ppg, 2.2rpg, 2.7apg, 0.96spg, 0.31bpg, 1.6tpg, 2.2fpg, 41.8% FG, 38.4% 3FG, 88.8% FT, 32.9mpg.

The Top 5 Subplots Heading Into Indiana Vs Kentucky

We all know the main plot of Saturday’s second round NCAA Tournament matchup between Indiana and Kentucky: two longtime college basketball rivals who not only share a border but also share a history of winning championships, who haven’t played each other since the 2011-2012 season when Indiana upset Kentucky on Christian Watford’s buzzer-beater in the regular season and the Wildcats outlasted the Hoosiers 102-90 in the Sweet 16. Four years later, the NCAA Selection Committee intervened by placing both as the four and five seed of the same region. Now two teams have been thrusted into an old rivalry that no player on either team has ever experienced and on the line is a trip to Philadelphia to play on the second weekend of the tournament.

Honestly, that’s enough of a reason to get anyone to watch this game, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The amount of subplots underlying the main plot is staggering and cover not only the game but the aftereffects of the game. Here are what I consider the top five subplots (in no particular order) of Saturday’s Indiana-Kentucky matchup.

1) Ferrell vs Ulis: Even if the main plot didn’t exist, this matchup between two of the five best point guards in all of college basketball would be enough to hype this game. Both Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and Tyler Ulis are the textbook definition of a “floor general” as both are responsible for scoring as well as helping their teammates score (Ferrell averages 17.1 points and 5.7 assists per game while Ulis averages 17.0 points and 7.1 assists). Both also average around 35 minutes a game so it’s entirely possible neither one leaves the floor unless they get in foul trouble. It will also be interesting to see if they guard each other.

2) Will Players Treat This Like A Rivalry Game?: No doubt both teams will play very hard because this is the NCAA Tournament, but will it go any farther than that? Remember that not a single player on either roster has played against each other so unless any of them were fans of the school before attending, they don’t really know what they are getting into. If one team goes up big, will they coast the rest of the way (how a team may play against someone they have nothing against in the NCAA Tournament), or will they step on the opponent’s throat and try to humiliate them (how one rival would play against another rival in the NCAA Tournament)? Neither team will likely get that big of a lead, but the way the teams treat each other will still be a great indicator of whether or not they see it as a rivalry game.

3) IU’s Turnover Problem Vs UK’s Defensive Rebounding Problem: Both teams are really good at a lot of different things, but both also have one weakness that ranks in the bottom 100 of all NCAA teams. For Indiana it’s turnovers as the Hoosiers turn it over on 16.6% of their possessions (254th in the NCAA). For Kentucky it’s defensive rebounding as the Wildcats allow opponents to grab 30.2% of their misses (274th in the NCAA). At first glace it looks like the Hoosiers can take advantage of the Wildcats’ weaknesses easier, as IU ranks as the 13th best offensive rebounding team (grabbing 36.5% of its misses). Yet while Kentucky doesn’t force a lot of turnovers, it does have a top 10 shooting defense (allowing an effective field goal percentage of just 44.3%) that can make those inevitable turnovers even more devastating. Whichever team does more to exploit the other’s weakness should win.

4) The Outcome May Determine If This Becomes An Annual Rivalry Again: A lot of media members have talked about this possibly sparking a renewal of the yearly rivalry game between the two programs. While some may brush it off as wishful thinking, I do think this game will hold weight in any possible decision. Unfortunately, I think it will require a specific outcome to get the ball rolling on a possible series revival. The Wildcats’ non-conference scheduling approach has been to find teams that can challenge them so they can test their freshmen and make them battle-tested for the SEC and hopefully a long NCAA run. If Kentucky were to handedly beat Indiana on Saturday, would they really bother with trying to get the series with Indiana going again? As weird as it may sound, getting the yearly series back may require an Indiana win or an overtime classic to get talks going again. That scenario also makes sense for IU, as even though the Hoosiers did beat the Wildcats in their last regular season meeting the wins in the series have been few and far between for a long time. When two potential rivals don’t play in the same conference it takes a little extra to keep that rivalry going and competitiveness is the big thing that can get this one going again.

5) Does Loss = Failed Season?: This game feels like an Elite Eight or Final Four matchup because both teams are that good, but the reality is that one of them will see their season end before the Sweet 16. Despite both teams exceeding expectations and winning their conferences, the fans of Saturday’s loser will feel like this season was a failure because they were bounced in the first weekend. But should they? You’d think an exception would be made for the talent level of the opponent, but I doubt either fanbase would accept that as an excuse. An Indiana loss would mean Tom Crean has still not led an Indiana team past the Sweet 16, and a Kentucky loss would mean John Calipari would miss the Sweet 16 for the first time (during years Kentucky made the NCAA Tournament) and would come a year after they fell short of an undefeated season with 10 McDonald’s All-Americans. It’s unfair on a lot of levels, but one team will treat this season as failure after the final buzzer sounds on Saturday night.

Three Reasons Indiana Will Get To Face Kentucky And Three Reasons It Won’t

The Indiana Hoosiers’ quest for a sixth national championship was already going to be a difficult one as they are one of many who have a legit shot of cutting down the nets in Houston, but the road to the Final Four got exponentially tougher when then the NCAA Selection Committee decided to place the Hoosiers in the East Region (or what FIFA fans would call “The Group Of Death”)

North Carolina, Xavier, West Virginia, and Kentucky are all national championship contenders, just like Indiana. Unfortunately, through a sick twist of fate, only one at most will even make the trip to Houston at the beginning of April. In fact, at least one title hopeful won’t even make it to the Sweet 16.  Indiana vs Kentucky could have made an entertaining Elite Eight or Final Four matchup, but instead it may be a critical Round 2 game with the loser feeling like it’s season was a disappointment.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, both team’s still need to win their round one matchups.  IU drew a very tough opponent in Southern Conference regular season and tournament champion Chattanooga. Can the Hoosiers avoid the infamous 5-12 upset and face off with Kentucky in the second round? Here are three reasons why we will finally get IU-UK and three reasons we won’t.

Three Reasons We Will Get To See IU vs UK

  1. While the Chattanooga Mocs have one of the better defenses in all of college basketball, there is one weakness that can be exploited and that is their defensive rebounding. The Mocs have let their opponents rebound 26.5% of their missed shots, which ranks 113th in the country. While still ranking in the top 50% of teams, it becomes a little bit more glaring when you consider that the Hoosiers are the 12th best team in the country at grabbing offensive rebounds, grabbing 36.5% of their missed shots. Against a good defense like Chattanooga’s, it’s important to get second chance points.
  2. A theme in recent in NCAA Tournament history has been that a team has a chance to go far if they have superior guard play. Well, when you have Indiana’s all-time assist leader and the school’s seventh-ranked scorer in Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, I think you can claim to have superior guard play. Ferrell won’t let the Hoosiers lose in the first round because he knows that this is his last chance at a tournament run.
  3. As I said after the Hoosiers’ loss in the Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers actually benefitted from the early exit as banged up players like Juwan Morgan and Collin Hartman should be ready to go for IU’s matchup with Chattanooga. If the Head Coach Tom Crean can get quality minutes out of both of them, the Hoosiers can go back to using their depth as a weapon to tire out the opponent. If Rob Johnson is able to play it only tilts the depth advantage in Indiana’s favor.

Three Reasons We Won’t Get To See IU vs UK
  1. Another reason grabbing offensive rebounds is important for IU is because it will help make up for the team’s lost possessions because of turnovers. And there will be quite a few turnovers as Chattanooga ranks 49th in forcing while Indiana commits a turnover on 16.7% of its possessions (which ranks 257th in the country).
  2. With a record of 29-5, the Mocs were a popular upset pick before the NCAA Bracket was announced. While Indiana is a tough matchup, Chattanooga won’t be intimidated as the Mocs have already beaten a couple of power-five conference schools this season (Georgia and Illinois). Maybe even more impressive is the Mocs’s road win at Dayton, who is a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament. For the record, Indiana’s best true road win is also against a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament (Iowa).
  3. Who says Indiana is the only one that can ruin the IU-UK reunion? Kentucky has its hands full too with a first round game against Stony Brook. Just like the Hoosiers, the Wildcats have a lot of strengths but also have one glaring weakness. While that weakness is turnovers for IU, it’s defensive rebounding for UK. Kentucky allows opponents to rebound 30% of their misses, which ranks 260th in the country. Meanwhile, the Seawolves rank 31st in offensive rebound percentage and have a skilled frontcourt scorer in Jameel Warney (who had 43 points and 10 rebounds in the American East championship game).While an upset is unlikely, the Wildcats still shouldn’t overlook their round one opponent.

Hoosiers In The NBA: Who Can Help Their Team During The NBA’s March Madness?

NOTE: Hello everyone and welcome to a new edition of Hoosiers In The NBA on its new site! Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy this latest edition and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:


Believe it or not, the NBA has its own form of “March Madness”. Although not as unpredictable and dramatic as the NCAA Tournament, March in the NBA is still a time of the year where many teams’ seasons are decided. It’s a time where teams either start punching their tickets to the playoffs or begin tanking for better lottery chances. While one bad game can knock a great college team out of the tournament, one bad week could knock a competitive NBA team out of the playoff race.

So this week I’m going to go over how each former Hoosiers will need to play over the next few weeks to ensure their team stays in the playoff race. Everyone’s roles and situations are different so some may have to do a lot more than others.

 


Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:

@ Dallas (L 121-108): 6 points (3-10 FG), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 personal fouls, 24 minutes.

Vs Chicago (W 102-89): 17 points (6-12 FG)(5-6 FT), 7 rebounds, assist, steal, block, 3 turnovers, personal foul, 36 minutes.

Vs Phoenix (L 102-84): DNP – injury

@ Golden State (L 119-113): 19 points (8-16 FG)(3-3 FT), 9 rebounds, 8 assists, steal, 4 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 39 minutes.

@ Los Angeles Lakers (L 107-98): 26 points (10-17 FG)(4-4 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, steal, block, 2 turnovers, personal foul, 36 minutes.

@ Sacramento (W 107-100): 18 points (6-14 FG)(5-8 FT), 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, block, 5 turnovers, personal foul, 39 minutes.

@ Portland (L 121-84): 18 points (8-14 FG), rebound, assist, 2 steals, block, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 24 minutes.

 

Despite having gone 2-5 so far in the month of March, the Orlando Magic are still in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but time is definitely running out. No former Hoosier is more responsible for his team’s success than Victor Oladipo. That’s been magnified this last week with the absence of Elfrid Payton and Nikola Vucevic. Oladipo is already asked to do a lot (shutdown defender, secondary ball-handler, secondary scoring threat) but even more responsibilities have been placed on him while the Magic’s playoff hopes are hanging on by a thread.

And those playoff hopes really are dimming fast. Despite being only five games out of the final playoff spot, the three teams ahead of the Magic have either split their last 10 games or have a winning record while the Magic are 3-7 in their last 10. That means that not only are the Magic not getting closer to a playoff spot, but other teams are starting to distance themselves from the Magic. It will truly be “March Madness” if the Magic are able to overcome all of this and make the playoffs and will require Oladipo playing on a level he’s yet to play during his NBA career.

 


Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:

@ Indiana (W 111-102): 5 points (2-5 FG), 2 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 18 minutes.

@ Boston (L 116-93): 6 points (3-10 FG)(0-2 FT), 5 rebounds, steal, 3 personal fouls, 20 minutes.

@ Toronto (L 117-115): 3 points (1-1 FG)(1-1 FT), 4 rebounds, assist, turnover, 4 personal fouls, 11 minutes.

@ Detroit (L 123-103): 2 points (1-2 FG), 3 rebounds, assist, 13 minutes.

Vs Washington (W 116-109): 2 points (0-2 FG)(2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 11 minutes.

@ Golden State (L 128-112): 3 points (1-6 FG)(0-2 FT), 5 rebounds, block, 4 personal fouls, 17 minutes.

Vs Orlando (W 121-84): 4 points (2-7 FG), 5 rebounds, block, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 21 minutes.

@ Oklahoma City (L 128-94): 4 points (2-6 FG), 5 rebounds, assist, block, personal foul, 17 minutes.

 

A 9-2 February has neutralized the impact of a 3-5 start to March, but only three games separate the Portland Trail Blazers’ current spot (the sixth seed in the west) from being on the outside looking in. One easy way for the Trail Blazers to hold onto a playoff spot would be if Noah Vonleh finally had his breakout performance, but after months of waiting they shouldn’t hold their breath.

In fact, it really feels like Vonleh’s progress has stagnated ever since the Trail Blazers committed to making the playoffs. I give credit to them for continuing to start Vonleh instead of burying him on the bench like he was in Charlotte, but if I’m being honest I wouldn’t blame the Trail Blazers if they did. Vonleh has shot an ugly 28.6% in March and has only had one game with more than five rebounds since returning from injury (he was averaging 5.6 rebounds for the entire month of January. He was injured at the start of February). If he can at least get back to how he was playing in January it would go a long way.

 


Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

Vs Phoenix (W 126-92): 9 points (4-6 FG)(1-1 FT), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, steal, 4 personal fouls, 21 minutes.

@ Philadelphia (W 119-99): 15 points (3-6 FG)(9-10 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 blocks, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 28 minutes.

Vs Indiana (W 108-101): 4 points (2-7 FG), 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 27 minutes.

Vs Minnesota (W 108-103): 6 points (2-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, steal, block, 3 turnovers, 6 personal fouls, 21 minutes.

Vs New Orleans (W 122-113): 13 points (3-4 FG)(7-9 FT), 8 rebounds, block, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 30 minutes.

Vs Detroit (W 118-103): 10 points (3-4 FG)(4-4 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, personal foul, 24 minutes.

Vs Houston (W 125-109): 7 points (3-4 FG)(1-2 FT), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 15 minutes.

Vs Dallas (L 107-96): 1 point (0-3 FG)(1-2 FT), 9 rebounds, steal, 2 turnovers, 4 personal fouls, 27 minutes.

 

The month of March has been very kind to the Charlotte Hornets. A fringe playoff team when the month began, the Hornets have gone 7-1 and are now closer to the third seed (two games back) than they are to the eighth seed (three and a half games ahead). Cody Zeller has been a big part of this surge as he and Al Jefferson have finally found a rhythm where both are playing effectively despite splitting minutes at center.

Essentially Jefferson has become the offensive center and Zeller has become the defensive center.  While Zeller’s scoring and rebounding are a little down, his assists and blocks have greatly increased. As long as he continues to play like he has over the past few weeks, the Hornets won’t just make the playoffs but might also win their first playoff series since the franchise was revived.

 


Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:

@ Houston (L 100-95): 14 points (5-11 FG), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, steal, 5 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 32 minutes.

Vs San Antonio (L 94-86): 23 points (9-19 FG)(2-2 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, personal foul, 34 minutes.

Vs Utah (L 106-94): 7 points (3-4 FG), 2 assists, 2 blocks, 11 minutes.

Vs Sacramento (W 115-112): DNP – injury

@ Charlotte (L 122-113): DNP – injury

@ Memphis (L 121-114): DNP – injury

@ Milwaukee (L 103-92): DNP – injury

 

I said last time that the one thing Eric Gordon and the New Orleans Pelicans could not afford was for Gordon to get injured again. Well he re-injured the same finger that kept him out six weeks and now he’s out six more weeks, which is right after the Pelicans season ends. Even if they had Gordon, the Pelicans would still not make the playoffs, as the 10 game gap this team needs to climb with 16 games remaining is incredibly too steep and would require three teams to utterly collapse.

 


Season averages:

Victor Oladipo: 15.1ppg, 4.8rpg, 3.9apg, 1.48spg, 0.57bpg, 2.2tpg, 2.3fpg, 42.3% FG, 33.8% 3FG, 82.4% FT, 32.2mpg.

Noah Vonleh: 3.7ppg, 4.1rpg, 0.4apg, 0.38spg, 0.30bpg, 0.6tpg, 2.1fpg, 40.1% FG, 22.0% 3FG, 73.8% FT, 16.0mpg.

Cody Zeller: 9.0ppg, 6.2rpg, 1.0apg, 0.78spg, 0.74bpg, 1.1tpg, 3.0fpg, 51.0% FG, 10.0% 3FG, 74.8% FT, 24.8mpg.

Eric Gordon: 15.2ppg, 2.2rpg, 2.7apg, 0.96spg, 0.31bpg, 1.6tpg, 2.2fpg, 41.8% FG, 38.4% 3FG, 88.8% FT, 32.9mpg.

Michigan State Earns Big Ten Tournament Championship Through Perseverance (B1G Tournament Recap Day 5)

Michigan State 66, Purdue 62

For the second straight day, the Michigan State Spartans took a comfortable lead into halftime only to hold on for dear life. It doesn’t matter though because the Spartans leave Indianapolis as Big Ten Tournament Champs after a 66-62 victory over Purdue on Sunday.

The Spartans led by as many as 13 points but the Boilermakers starting making shots and soon that lead was down to four after an 11-2 run by Purdue. Yet despite Purdue’s best effort, the Boilers could never wrestle away the lead.

There were multiple chances in the final three minutes when the Spartans made a potentially huge mistake but Purdue couldn’t capitalize. A terrible turnover by Denzel Valentine led to two good looks for the Boilers down by one but they hit neither. Valentine then redeemed himself  by converting on a breath-taking 15-foot jump shot where he adjusted in mid-air to avoid the block attempt. The other one came when Purdue was down two points and Caleb Swanigan took an ill-advised three-point attempt that barely hit the rim.

Yet at the end of the day, it was all about Michigan State persevering. Matt Costello missed a huge free throw with 19 seconds left which Purdue rebounded down two points. Johnny Hill got great penetration for the game-tying layup but at the last moment Costello came from behind and blocked it. Bryn Forbes would then hit two free throws to ice the game.

Valentine won the most outstanding player of the tournament as he finished just one assist short of a triple-double (15 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists).

Maryland Shows Promise And Michigan On The Fence (B1G Tournament Day 4 Recap)

Michigan’s upset win over Indiana on Friday seemed to breathe new life into the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament chances, but a blowout loss to Purdue now has them even more uncertain of their fate. Meanwhile Maryland may have lost but can at least feel good about the fact that the team is back to playing great basketball. Here are the recaps of how the two teams were bounced from the Big Ten Tournament.


#4 Purdue 76, #8 Michigan 59

A.J. Hammons showed why playing four years in college can make you a better basketball player. He’s been considered a 1st round NBA talent ever since his freshman year but he kept coming back to Purdue every year and now in his senior year he has lead his team to the Big Ten Championship Game after the Boilermakers beat the Michigan Wolverines 76-59.

Hammons finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks while causing Michigan Head Coach John Beilein a migrane all day by constantly adjusting to every defensive strategy thrown at him. Hammons dominated this game and showed just how much he has improved when Purdue needed him most. When Michigan narrowed Purdue’s lead to 60-54 with 7:35 left, Hammons scored five straight points to stretch Purdue’s lead to 11 and it never got below single-digits again. This stretch demonstrated his maturity from his first few seasons to becoming a senior leader on a team that has the potnetial to head to the Final Four. But first, there’s the Big Ten Championship Game.

As for the Wolverines, they have to play the waiting game as they hope that their win over Indiana on Friday was enough to convince the NCAA Selection Committee to place them in the field of 68. Michigan has only four top 100 RPI wins but all four are against teams with RPIs in the top 30. It may depend on if any other mid-major regular season champs steal an automatic bid . For now, Michigan can only sit back and hope that the committee favors them.


#2 Michigan State 64, #3 Maryland 61

Unlike Iowa, it seems Maryland has turned things around as they almost beat the red-hot Michigan State Spartans but ultimately fell 64-61.

The Terrapins took a haymaker from the Spartans as they trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half and went into halftime trailing 41-33. Then the Maryland defense took it up a notch, holding the Spartans to 28.6% shooting in the second half and eventually tying the game at 53 with 10:27 left.

That’s when things stalled as over the course of the final 10 minutes of the game, Maryland had nine offensive possessions with a chance to take the lead (with the Terrapins either tied or down one point) and only once during those nine possessions did the Terrapins succeed in taking the lead, when Robert Carter (who finished with a team-high 18 points) hit two free throws to put Maryland up 57-56 with 6:55 left. Yet on the next Spartans possession Deyonta Davis slammed in a pass from Matt Costello to take the lead 15 seconds after losing it.

Denzel Valentine had a magnificent game (18 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists) but missed a crucial free throw with 10 seconds left that gave Maryland a chance to win down 62-61, but Melo Trimble’s contested layup wouldn’t go and didn’t generate a contact foul as the Spartans rebounded the ball and Valentine redeemed himself by sinking both free throws.

Even though they won’t be playing on Sunday for the Big Ten Championship, the Terrapins should be encouraged after going toe-to-toe with possibly the best team in all of college basketball.


Sunday’s Game (Big Ten Championship Game):

#4 Purdue vs #2 Michigan State – 3pm (CBS)

Not only is the final Big Ten game of this college basketball season set to be a great contest between two talented teams, but it may also have big implications for how the NCAA Selection Committee will seed those two teams.

I wrote about in my tournament preview that Michigan State needed to win the Big Ten Tournament to have a shot at a 1-seed, and while they could win on Sunday and still end up a 2-seed, they would have zero chance at a 1-seed if they lost, especially with many other deserving teams not far behind.

Meanwhile Purdue looked to be a lock for a 4 or 5-seed before this week but after two dominant wins, the Boilermakers may be a win over Michigan State away from propelling into a 3-seed, which would help them potentially avoid a 1-seed until the Elite Eight.

Either way, if you are a fan of college basketball you will not want to miss this game.

Clock Strikes Midnight On Illinois and Nebraska (B1G Tournament Recap Day 3)

So far during the Big Ten Tournament, the main story has been the upsets as both Wednesday winners also won on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals. Sadly, #11 Nebraska and #12 Illinois saw their chances at a magical championship run end on Friday. While Michigan is still in the tournament for everyone wanting to root for an underdog, the Wolverines may get into the NCAA Tournament without winning the Big Ten Tournament, which was not the case for the Cornhuskers or the Illini.


#8 Michigan 72, #1 Indiana 69

After playing a mediocre game against Northwestern, Michigan came to play on Friday as a back-and-forth contest (no team led by more than six points) ended with the pendulum swinging in the Wolverines’ favor as a Kameron Chatman corner three-pointer with just 0.2 seconds left gave Michigan a 72-69 win over number one seed Indiana.

Michigan had missed all 10 of its second half three-point attempts, but made its last two when the team needed them most. After Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell split a pair of free throws, Zak Irvin drove the basketball and kicked it out to Duncan Robinson who made a three-pointer to tie the game at 69 with 46 seconds remaining. He was 0 for 5 before he hit the game-tying shot from the right corner.

Then Michigan was gifted the ball on an OG Anunoby turnover when he tried to drive to the basket with 21 seconds left. It was the only time Anunoby played like a freshman as the rest of the game he did everything to keep Indiana hanging with the Wolverines, finishing with 13 points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks.

Derrick Walton Jr. again failed to make a field goal but finished with 12 assists, none bigger than his great pass to Chatman in the left corner for the game-winner. Irvin led the Wolverines with 17 points while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added 15 points. The Hoosiers were led by Troy Williams who finished with 16 points. Thomas Bryant scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds while Ferrell added 14 points and eight assists.


#4 Purdue 89, #12 Illinois 58

Having lost to them earlier in the season, Purdue did not take Illinois as lightly as Iowa might have done. Add that with a thirst for revenge and the Boilermakers steamrolled the Illini 89-58 to advance to the Big Ten semifinals.

The Illini won their first two games of the Big Ten Tournament because of their explosive three-point shooting, but the long ball didn’t fall on Friday as Illinois hit only 4 of 18 from deep. Meanwhile the Purdue pounded the Illini into submission by grabbing 42 rebounds to Illinois’ 24.

The Boilkermakers received great contributions from all three of their talented big men. Isaac Haas led the team with 16 points, Caleb Swanigan recorded a double-double (11 points and 12 rebounds) and A.J. Hammons just missed on another double-double (10 points and eight rebounds). The Illini were led by Maverick Morgan (17 points) and Malcolm Hill (16 points).


#2 Michigan State 81 #7 Ohio State 54

Unlike their archrivals (Michigan), the Ohio State Buckeyes saw their NCAA Tournament chances end gruesomely as the Michigan State Spartans destroyed them 81-54. Big Ten Player of the Year Denzel Valentine was his usual magnificent self as he fell just short of a triple-double finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.

The Buckeyes had a lot of things go wrong but probably the biggest was outside shooting the team went 1 of 11 from deep. They also went to the free throw line 11 times after going there 00 times against Penn State.

JaQuan Lyle was the only Buckeye to score in double-figures but only scored 10 points and also had five turnovers. Deyonta Davis had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Spartans as Tom Izzo’s team continues its quest for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.


#3 Maryland 97, #11 Nebraska 86

Nebraska’s quest for five wins in five days ended on Friday when the Cornhuskers lost to Maryland 97-86 but not before they made one last charge. Down by as many as 25 points with 15:46 left in the second half, the Cornhuskers cut it to 92-86 with 1:40 remaining but back-to-back fouls let Maryland end a 18-4 run and hold on to advance to the conference semifinals.

The Terrapins built a huge lead early thanks to pinpoint three-point shooting. Maryland shot 90.0% (9 of 10) from behind the arc and 71.4% overall in the first half. Jake Layman (who scored a game-high 26 points) made 6 of 9 from deep while Melo Trimble made 4 of 8 from long-range.

Trimble finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. Diamond Stone also played well, adding 23 points and eight rebounds. For Nebraska, Andrew White III scored 25 points while Shavon Shields poured in 19 points in his last Big Ten game.


Saturday’s Games:

#8 Michigan vs #4 Purdue – 1pm EST (CBS)

#2 Michigan State vs #3 Maryland – 3:30pm (CBS)

Hoosiers’ Early Exit From Big Ten Tournament Could Be Blessing In Disguise

The Indiana Hoosiers’ struggles in the Big Ten Tournament continued as the Michigan Wolverines pulled off the 72-69 upset to knock the Hoosiers out of the quarterfinals on Friday. The Hoosiers are now 11-19 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament.

Troy Williams led the Hoosiers in scoring with 16 points. Thomas Bryant had 13 points and seven rebounds while Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell added 14 points and eight assists. As a team, the Hoosiers went just 4 for 17 from three-point range and committed 15 turnovers.

Indiana had a three-point lead in the final minute but back-to-back three-pointers, including Kameron Chatman’s game-winner with 0.2 seconds on the clock, gave Michigan a much needed win as the Wolverines try to make a final push for the NCAA Tournament.

Yet even though the Hoosiers went one and done in the Big Ten Tournament and will miss out on a top-2 seed, there is still plenty of room for optimism.

Unlike for a team such as Iowa, an early conference tournament exit isn’t as big of a blow to Indiana because the Hoosiers had nothing to prove. While Iowa needed a good run to erase the bad taste from what has basically been a late-season collapse (five losses in final seven games before Big Ten Tournament), The Hoosiers came into Indianapolis having won five in a row en route to clinching the regular season conference championship. While a loss halts that momentum it doesn’t erase it.

In fact, you could argue that an early exit from the Big Ten Tournament is a blessing in disguise. The Hoosiers have been beaten up the last couple of weeks and the last thing this team needs is to play three games in three days. The time off will help a lot of players such as Juwan Morgan, who finally finshed a game after leaving early during Indiana’s last two regualr season games. It will help players who have continuously taken a beating over the season such as Collin Hartman, who took a tumble against Michigan, and Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, who probably leads the Big Ten in number of drives to the basket that draw contact but don’t draw a foul. It also lets Indiana focus more attention on getting Rob Johnson back from his ankle injury and make him ready for the NCAA Tournament.

With all that being said, this was still a dissapointing performance for a team that will now likely earn a 3/4-seed and will have to face one of the better mid-majors for their first NCAA Tournament game. It also was a shame that this specific Hoosier team, one that has exceeded expectations and has proven to be different than other recent good Indiana teams, couldn’t win the school’s first Big Ten Tournament championship.

But at the end of the day, all that matters is winning in the NCAA Tournament and losing to Michigan during the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament won’t prevent that from happening. Let March Madness begin.

Former Indiana High Schoolers Shine In Indianapolis (B1G Tournament Recap Day 2)

Because there are so many good basketball recruits in the state of Indiana, many of the top colleges scout area and thus players are seen playing with teams all around the country. That is especially true of Big Ten schools as their proximity to the state of Indiana makes the player feel like they are never too far away from home.

Well quite a few of those players did return home this weekend and have played an important part in their team’s success in the Big Ten Tournament. Whether it was great play during crunch time or the game-winning shot, former Hoosiers definitely felt at home on Thursday.


#8 Michigan 72, #9 Northwestern 70 (OT)

Even though Michigan was the team fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern looked like the more focused team for the majority of the game. Every time it seemed that the Wolverines had seized control of the game, the Wildcats made a run to make it close. Then Michigan would proceed to go on a run to seemingly put the Wildcats away. It was a constant cycle until the Wildcats finally took a 55-54 lead with 3:30 remaining.

Michigan would retake the lead when Derrick Walton Jr. scored his only points of the game as his two free throws put the Wolverines up 56-55. Again it seemed Michigan had taken control when senior center Alex Olah (who had 20 points and 13 rebounds) hit his fifth three-pointer of the season to make Michgan’s lead just 59-58. Then Michigan burned its last two timeouts trying to inbound the ball and when the Wolverines finally got it in to Duncan Robinson, Northwestern trapped him in the corner and forced him to travel. Yet to Northwestern Head Coach Chris Collins dismay the referees called a foul instead. Robinson, a 92% free throw shooter, proceed to split the pair and an Olah tip-in with 0.1 seconds left sent the game to overtime.

Yet again it looked like Michigan had put the game away up 72-70 after Zak Irvin’s clutch pull-up jumper from the elbow with three seconds left in overtime. Yet what should have been a game-ending steal on the Wildcats’ in-bound pass turned into a turnover when Walton Jr. stepped on the baseline with 0.6 seconds left to give Northwestern one more shot. Nathan Taphorn was able to get open but the three-pointer was short as Michigan survived, but the Wolverines won’t survive against Indiana if they play like they did today.


#12 Illinois 68, #5 Iowa 66

Iowa’s late-season slump didn’t end when it beat Michigan last weekend, it was merely taking a break. The Iowa team that had lost five of its last seven showed up in full force as the Hawkeyes went one and done in the Big Ten Tournament by losing to Illinois 68-66.

The Hawkeyes got major contributions from their stars as Peter Jok scored a game-high 29 points while Jarrod Uthoff added 21 points. It was the rest team that prevented Iowa from winning back-to-back games for the first time since the first week of February. While Uthoff and Jok combined for 50 points on 19/32 (59.4%) shooting, the other seven Hawkeyes to see the court combined for 16 points on 6/30 (20.0%) shooting and were also responsible for 13 of the team’s 18 turnovers. In fact, the Hawkeyes went 22:18 of in-game time between having a Hawkeye other than Jok or Uthoff score a single point.

Meanwhile Illinois is starting to play up to the potential many have been waiting to see from this team. Former Indianapolis native Jalen Coleman-Lands led the Illini with 17 points, 14 of which came in the second half. The Illini got a big boost early from Maverick Morgan, who had 12 of his 14 points in the first half.

Iowa looked dead with 7:02 left in the second half as the Haweyes trailed 63-52. Yet the pressure to closeout became too much for Illinois as the Illini started playing not to lose instead of trying to win. As a result, Iowa went on a 14-3 run to tie the game at 66 with 1:33 left. A Malcolm Hill 18-footer with 1:15 left proved to be the game-winner as it ended up being the last points of the game. Iowa had multiple chances to tie or take the lead, even getting a jump ball in its favor, but a turnover with four seconds left sealed the Hawkeyes’ fate as they head to the NCAA Tournament having lost six of their last eight.


#7 Ohio State 79, #10 Penn State 75

Yet another Indiana High School standout shined in Indianapolis as JaQuan Lyle finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists as Ohio State was able to fend off Penn State 79-75. Marc Loving led the Buckeyes with 24 points, but it was Lyle who helped Ohio State overcome a 37-34 halftime defecit as he scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half.

Shep Garner led all scorers with 25 points as the Nittany Lions took a three-point lead into halftime thanks to excellent three-point shooting. Penn State went 7 of 12 from deep in the first half, but faltered in the second half by going just 2 of 10. The Buckeyes also accumulated a massive free throw advantage, taking 39 fouls shots to Penn State’s 21.

Ohio State now has a must-win matchup on Friday with the Michigan State Spartans if the Buckeyes want to keep their hopes alive for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.


#11 Nebraska 70, #6 Wisconsin 58

I asked during my Big Ten Tournament Preview if a double-digit seed could win multiple games. The answer is yes as Nebraska joined Illinois as a double-digit seed in the quarterfinals. The Cornhuskers advanced after defeating Wisconsin 70-58.

Shavon Shields led the way with 20 points and just like against Rutgers he had help from the role players. Glynn Watson Jr. (8.4ppg) scored 16 points while Benny Parker (4.7ppg) added 12 points for the Cornhuskers. They also stifled the Badgers offense limiting them to 30.2% shooting on the game.

In addition to shooting a terrible 30.2% overall, Wisconsin only hit 4 of 20 (20.0%) three-point attempts. Vitto Brown carried the Badgers in the first half (13 of the team’s 21 points) but only scored three in the second half. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ethan Happ led Wisconsin with 17 points (13 in the second half) but also committed a game-high five turnovers. Even the reliable Nigel Hayes had a disastrous game, hitting only 2 of 15 from the floor.

Unlike Iowa, this loss by Wisconsin looks more like a fluke than a sign of trouble, especially considering that the Badgers had won 11 of their last 13 games. Still, that doesn’t take away the disappointment of trying to defend their title of reigning Big Ten Tournament Champions.


Friday’s Games:

#1 Indiana vs #8 Michigan – 12pm EST (ESPN)

#4 Purdue vs #12 Illinois – 2:30pm EST (ESPN)

#2 Michigan State vs #7 Ohio State – 6:30pm EST (BTN)

#3 Maryland vs #11 Nebraska – 9pm EST (BTN)