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.

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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.