1. Indiana is scary good when they try. The Hoosiers shrugged off a slow start to win a big home game and avenge a road loss last season in a 76-47 rout of Nebraska. When the Hoosiers run in transition they are the best team in America. Cody Zeller came down with two early fouls and the Hoosiers could’ve easily folded and mounted an offensive when he returned in the second half, but instead went on a 10-0 run. Christian Watford keeps on keeping on and the Hoosiers looked every bit the part of the #1 team in America.
To win a National Title you must win all sorts of games. In the 2007-2008 season, John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers met up with a USC team led by future lottery pick OJ Mayo. The Tigers had a gem of their own in Derrick Rose. Analysts predicted a high scoring matchup. The final? 62-58 in overtime. The Trojans cramped things up with a triangle and two defense, matching up with Rose and fellow lottery pick Chris Douglas-Roberts.
Last night it was Nebraska milking the clock down under ten seconds each possession, slowing the pace to a grind it out game, the type of stye Wisconsin used to upset the Hoosiers last month. But Indiana didn’t panic or rush anything. They settled down and waited for their opening and attacked. The true mark of a championship team.
2. Duke just isn’t the same team as they were in December. To start the year Duke rattled off wins against Minnesota, Louisville and Ohio State, making an argument to be #1, a ranking held by the Indiana Hoosiers. Then forward Ryan Kelly came down with a foot injury and has missed the last nine games. Granted the Blue Devils haven’t struggled, going 7-2, but the team isn’t the same defensively without the 6’11 bruiser from Raleigh. When he went down Kelly was averaging 13.4 points per game while shooting a red hot 52% from beyond the arc.
But the most noticeable gap with Kelly sitting comes on defense. It was apparent in a twenty seven point blowout loss to league leading Miami and it was apparent again last night against North Carolina. Duke probably should have lost at home. The Tar Heels shot 13-23 from the free throw line in a game they lost by five. Do the math. The fact of the matter is that the game wouldn’t have been close had Kelly been available. The Blue Devils need him back if they intend to cut down the nets in Atlanta on April 8th.
3. Don’t sleep on Memphis. The Tigers were in the top 15 to start the season and dropped out of the polls after losses to VCU and Minnesota in the Bahamas. Then they lost to Louisville at home on December 15th and have been an afterthought ever since. Until last week of course.
The Tigers, winners of fifteen straight, have picked up six top 100 RPI wins against Tennessee, Northern Iowa, UCF, Harvard, Oral Roberts and Ohio, and finally got a top 50 RPI win under their belt last weekend at Southern Miss, a team that many consider to be second best in C-USA. Last night they routed UCF 93-71, a team considered to be third best in the conference but ineligible for the postseason. They climbed back into both polls this past Monday and even though they play in what is perceived to be a weak conference, they have not lost in two months, and haven’t lost on the road all year. Their best player is arguably Geron Johnson, a JUCO transfer who did not play in the loss to VCU and played his first college game against Minnesota. This is a team that if it gets a good seed and the right match ups, could make some noise in March.
3a. Our prayers go out to Nerlens Noel. Like Robbie Hummel and Kenyon Martin before him, Noel will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. It’s a shame to see such a talented player go down, but let’s be honest, he never should have been wearing a Kentucky jersey anyways. He should be getting paid to play the game this year, and now his potential spot as a top pick in this year’s NBA Draft is gone. This is just another prime example of why the NBA and college basketball must do away with the one and done rule. It was only a matter of time before a guy like Noel, who had no business being in college, jeopardized his career in an instant. We hope for a speedy recovery for the big guy.