College Basketball Nation: Christian Watford

WASHINGTON -- One year later, you can see it. You can sense it. You can hear it -- in their voices.

The confidence from one Sweet 16 to the next is so glaringly obvious with these Indiana Hoosiers.

A year ago in Atlanta, while watching this team against Kentucky, it was as if they were the newbies in school. They were trying to get everyone to notice but still sheepishly shy and unaware of what was to come.

Kentucky won a high-scoring game. Indiana played well, but the Hoosiers weren’t ready for the moment.

They are now.

“We were excited for the opportunity," Indiana senior Jordan Hulls said. “It was a new experience for us. This year, we’ve got higher expectations for ourselves and have high standards."

[+] EnlargeVictor Oladipo
AP Photo/Skip PetersonVictor Oladipo and the Indiana Hoosiers aren't running short on confidence heading into their Sweet 16 matchup with Syracuse.
Indiana has embraced being the top seed. The Hoosiers welcomed the attention on day one. They'll welcome it again Thursday night against Syracuse in the Sweet 16.

This isn’t an Indiana team loaded with can’t-miss NBA talent like last season’s Kentucky squad. Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller are lottery picks, but neither was a lock to be in that category when he arrived at Indiana.

They've had no issue with other coaching stars being around the team, from Tom Crean’s brother-in-law (the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh) being at a practice to his Super Bowl-winning brother-in-law (Ravens coach John Harbaugh) taking away the media's attention in the hallway of the Verizon Center on Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ve embraced it," Oladipo said. “It’s fun. It’s fun being the hunted. And it was fun being the underdog. At the same time we know what we’ve got to do at a high level and apply that to every game we play."

The Hoosiers haven’t lost two games in a row all season. They haven’t looked bad in any game, save maybe a home loss to Ohio State and the two Wisconsin games in which they struggled to score. Still, Indiana has never been out of a game.

“This is different," Christian Watford said. “Last year, we had already played the team one time and knew what we were going to do and knew we would be in a dogfight. I feel like this is a confident group this time around and we’re not just satisfied to be here."

But, much like Kentucky, Syracuse is a dicey opponent for Indiana. The Orange may not be as intimidating as the Wildcats were a year ago, but the combination of the unknown factor of the zone defense, their ability to make 3s and frustrate an opponent with their length could cause problems.

Indiana squeezed out a win over Temple in the round of 32 with an Oladipo 3-pointer with 15 seconds remaining.

Syracuse impressed in the first two rounds, crushing Montana and then handling Cal in San Jose, Calif.

The Orange are familiar with the Verizon Center -- and figure to have a semi-home-court advantage with their passionate fan base here.

“Our offense has been flowing, and the defense is working hard," Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams said. “We’re not breaking down on the defensive end. We’re moving the ball, and we’re patient. If we do things, we’ll be fine."

Much like the Hoosiers, the Orange are welcoming their role as an underdog. But they know -- everyone knows -- this isn't a No. 1- vs. No. 9-seed matchup. Syracuse has a chance to win this bracket and play in Atlanta if it performs like it has for the past two weeks, save for the second half against Louisville in the Big East tournament title game.

“We like it because it does take some pressure off our back," Carter-Williams said. “We’re the underdog but at the same time we don’t feel like the underdog. We think we’re one of the best teams in the country. We’ve got great players, veteran players [who] have helped us down the stretch."

This is a rematch of the 1987 NCAA title game in name only. Indiana and Syracuse were Goliaths in 1987. They have been two of the nation's top-10 teams for most of this season, but they're not dominant. Indiana is the favorite, but it's not an overwhelming one -- which makes this round of 16 game an intriguing matchup.

CHICAGO -- Quick reaction to Indiana's 80-64 win over Illinois on Friday.

Overview: When Indiana's offense is clicking, when it is breaking opponents down with spacing and fluid ball movement, there is no more entertaining and (for opposing defenses, at least) fearsome sight in basketball.

That was the state of the Hoosiers' attack for almost all of Indiana's second-round Big Ten win over Illinois, but especially in the first half, when IU opened up a 22-7 lead in the first 12 minutes and went into the locker room leading 35-21. The Hoosiers were doing what they do: flipping the ball around the perimeter, finding easy shots and lanes to the bucket and creating turnovers and long rebounds on the other end, which they quickly turned into fast-break points.

But for a few pushes in the second half, Indiana controlled the game, riding its typically brilliant offense to yet another impressive win.

Turning point: As expected -- because most Big Ten games are apparently incapable of happening without at least some measure of suspense -- the game tightened in the second half. With less than nine minutes to play, Illinois cut IU's lead to just eight points. Anyone who saw Illinois' comeback win in Champaign in February had to assume something similar was in store. Instead, IU got a handful of stops, Victor Oladipo finished a pretty drop-off pass from Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford hit a 3 from the wing, and the Hoosiers were back in charge 65-52. They handled their business the rest of the way.

Key player: Cody Zeller. The Indiana center had 14 points (on 6-of-8 from the field) and six rebounds in the first half Thursday. He dominated Illinois' overmatched bigs in the half court and beat them down the floor in the fast break, something he does better than any big man in the country. Zeller finished with 24 points and nine rebounds on 9-of-11 from the field, and that only scratches the surface of the kind of game he had. Oladipo blew everyone's mind with a late 360-degree dunk, and drew the standing ovation and a long chant when he left the court, but Zeller was just as good.

Key stat: Not only did Indiana finish well above a point per possession, but it held Illinois guards Brandon Paul, Tracy Abrams and D.J. Richardson to a combined 9-of-38 from the field. The Illini were always going to have trouble stopping the Hoosiers, but with their guards stifled, they simply had no chance.

What's next: IU moves on to face the winner of the No. 4/No. 5 game, Wisconsin versus Michigan, at the United Center on Saturday. The Illini will head back to Champaign for rest and recuperation before they gather around the television to discover their NCAA tournament seed Sunday afternoon.

Stats in the Paint: Ohio State-Indiana

March, 4, 2013
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Indiana has scored 245 transition points, tied with Michigan for the most in the conference.

Let's take a stat-based look at tonight's matchup between No. 14 Ohio State and No. 2 Indiana on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET.

What's at stake for Ohio State?

Ohio State is seeking its third-ever true road win over a top-2 opponent, its first since beating Iowa 80-76 on January 24, 1987.

The Buckeyes have not beaten a ranked Indiana team at Assembly Hall since February 19, 2000.

What’s at stake for Indiana?

Indiana is seeking its first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 1992-93. The Hoosiers are trying to beat Ohio State twice in the regular season for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Indiana’s six wins against the top 25 are the most in the nation. They look to improve that record with Sunday’s regular season finale against Michigan.

If Indiana wins both games, it could become the first school since Kansas in 1996-97 to finish the regular season 8-0 against teams ranked in the top 25.

Star Watch: Oladipo rising to the occasion

Indiana’s Victor Oladipo is averaging 20 points, six rebounds and three steals per game against top 25 teams, doing so on 66 percent shooting from the field (45-for-68).

Oladipo poured in a career-high 26 points in the first matchup with Ohio State. Seven of his 10 field goal attempts were around the basket, scoring 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Three of those five makes around the basket were on putbacks after grabbing an offensive rebound. Ohio State is tied for 2nd-worst in the Big Ten in defending offensive rebound putbacks (1.13 PPP allowed) this season.

Due for a bounceback

Indiana seniors Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford will be looking for bounce-back performances after combining to shoot 0-for-15 against Iowa.

Tuesday will be senior night for this duo, who went 22-41 (7-29 in the Big Ten) as freshmen and sophomores, but are 52-13 (24-10) in that past two seasons.

One stat you might not have known about Hulls: The Hoosiers have outscored opponents by 439 points with him on the floor, the best plus-minus rating for an individual player in the nation.

Stat to watch: The easy basket battle

Ohio State allows 23.1 points per game in the paint, tied for the fewest in the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes gave up 28 paint points in their loss against Indiana on Feb. 10. They have allowed 29.1 such points per game in their losses and 21.1 in their wins.

The Buckeyes also allow the third-fewest transition points in the Big Ten. Indiana scores the most such points in the league.


MINNEAPOLIS -- A few quick thoughts on Minnesota’s 77-73 victory over No. 1 Indiana at Williams Arena on Tuesday night. It was Minnesota’s first win over a No. 1 team since 1989 (Illinois on Jan. 26, 1989).

Overview: With NBA scouts in attendance, senior Trevor Mbakwe looked like a pro in the first half. He scored 12 points (shooting 5-for-7) as the Gophers stopped Indiana from entering the break with a big lead. A huge momentum swing changed the first half for the Gophers with 12 minutes, 46 seconds remaining.

Victor Oladipo hit a 3-pointer as Minnesota's Elliott Eliason was called for a foul off the ball. Officials deliberated before deciding that the shot counted. Indiana retained possession and Jordan Hulls hit a jump shot. Hulls then made a 3-pointer on the Hoosiers' next possession.

The Hulls triple capped off a 10-0 rally for Indiana. The Gophers were up 16-10 when Mbakwe went to the bench; Indiana had a 20-16 edge by the time he returned.

The Hoosiers entered the second half with a 34-30 lead -- and without a field goal from leading scorer Cody Zeller (0-for-4).

The back-and-forth pace continued after intermission. The Hoosiers took a 44-36 lead with 15:43 to play. But with about seven minutes to go, they were down 56-52 following Mbakwe’s three-point play.

Turning point: The game was filled with turning points. The Gophers took an early lead. Indiana bounced back. The Hoosiers seized an advantage early in the second half. Minnesota closed the gap.

The game really turned toward the end.

Austin Hollins' three-point play gave Minnesota a 61-59 edge with 4:36 to play. Then, the Gophers converted a turnover by Will Sheehey on Indiana’s next possession into an Andre Hollins 3-pointer on the other end.

A Christian Watford 3 in the final minute cut Minnesota’s lead to four points (70-66). He hit another 3-pointer with 43.9 seconds to go. But the Gophers held on. Even though they maintained their lead, Hulls' 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds to play reduced Minnesota’s edge to 76-73.

Andre Hollins was fouled on the inbounds pass. And the sophomore hit one of two free throws to extend Minnesota’s lead to the final margin of four. The Gophers intercepted Indiana’s inbounds pass to seal the victory.

Key player: Eliason scored seven consecutive points during a second-half stretch that kept Minnesota (19-9, 7-8 Big Ten) alive with Mbakwe on the bench due to foul trouble. Those were his only points, but obviously crucial. Then there’s Mbakwe. The senior led the way from start to finish (21 points, 12 rebounds, a block and a steal).

Key stat: The Gophers won despite shooting 4-for-20 from the 3-point line.

Next up: The Gophers will face Penn State on Saturday. Indiana (24-4, 12-3) will host Iowa the same day.

Porter does it all to enter Wooden race

February, 21, 2013
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Rob Carr/Getty ImagesOtto Porter has emerged as a dark-horse contender for the Wooden Award.

As March approaches, the field of Wooden Award contenders continues to narrow.

Trey Burke is the point guard. Doug McDermott is the scorer. Mason Plumlee is the big man.

But Victor Oladipo’s emergence has put the focus on a new type of Wooden Award candidate: the do-everything player.

Oladipo has emerged as Indiana’s most efficient scoring threat and best defender. On a team with another All-American candidate (Cody Zeller) and two other 1,000-point scorers (Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls), Oladipo has turned a complementary role into an elite one.

But what if you are the do-everything player on a team without much else?

That’s what makes Otto Porter a dark-horse Wooden contender.

Six weeks ago, Georgetown appeared to be on the verge of implosion. It suffered back-to-back losses without reaching 50 points. Then, the Hoyas suspended arguably their second-best player in Greg Whittington (academics).

Since then, Georgetown is 10-1 with Porter carrying the team on his back. He’s averaging 17.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game over that stretch in a starting lineup where Markel Starks is the only other player averaging more than eight points per game.

Porter is one of college basketball’s most prolific stat-sheet stuffers. He ranks in the top 30 in the Big East in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and 3-pointers.

Statistically, his season bears a striking resemblance to Syracuse’s Wes Johnson in 2009-10, a fitting comparison with the Hoyas travelling to the Carrier Dome on Saturday. Both averaged at least 15 PPG, 7 RPG, 2 APG, 1 SPG and 1 BPG while hitting half of their shots.

Over the past 25 years, the only other high-level players to do that were Tom Gugliotta for NC State in 1991 and Danny Granger for New Mexico in 2005.

Porter has put up these numbers while playing for one of the slowest-paced teams in the nation. The Hoyas rank 308th in the nation in possessions per 40 minutes. Johnson’s Syracuse squad averaged eight more possessions per 40 minutes than Georgetown does this season.

Johnson finished third in the 2010 Wooden vote behind Evan Turner and John Wall. So why isn’t Porter deeper into this season’s discussion?

Ironically for a stat-sheet stuffer, numbers might not do him justice because defense is such a big part of his impact. Porter ranks 20th in the nation in defensive rating. Among Wooden candidates, only Jeff Withey (14th) is ahead of him.

As Georgetown keeps winning Porter will gain more notice, and that’s what it will take for him to enter the Wooden conversation.

Only four Wooden Award winners have averaged fewer than 18 PPG (Anthony Davis, T.J. Ford, Elton Brand and Ralph Sampson). All were on top-five teams. For Oladipo, Plumlee and even Porter, it all comes down to how their respective teams finish out the season.

Video: Indiana 76, Nebraska 47

February, 13, 2013
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Christian Watford had 13 points and 11 rebounds as top-ranked Indiana pummeled visiting Nebraska 76-47.

Rapid Reaction: Indiana 81, Michigan 73

February, 2, 2013
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - A few quick thoughts from Indiana's 81-73 victory over Michigan.

Overview: The most anticipated game of the college basketball season to date more than lived up to its billing Saturday at Assembly Hall.

Cody Zeller scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Christian Watford added 14 and 10 to spark No. 3 Indiana to a hard-fought win over the top-ranked Wolverines in front of a sellout crowd of 17,472. Victor Oladipo added 15 points and played outstanding defense for the Hoosiers, who will likely be ranked No. 1 when the next Associated Press poll is released Monday.

Indiana opened the season atop the polls before losing its spot following a Dec. 15 loss to Butler.

With No. 2 Kansas losing Saturday it certainly wouldn't be a surprise if Michigan ended up right behind Indiana in the polls, although Florida could also make a strong case for No. 2 after dismantling Ole Miss.

Whatever the case, no one would be surprised if Indiana and Michigan played three more times this season: once in their scheduled regular-season tilt in Ann Arbor on March 10, once in the title game of the Big Ten tournament and also in the Final Four -- perhaps even for the NCAA title.

Indiana was on fire to start the game, hitting its first six shots -- including four from beyond the arc -- to spark a 26-11 run. Michigan fought back and trailed just 36-32 at intermission. And the Wolverines forced a 40-40 tie early in the second when Nik Stauskas made all of his free throws after being fouled by Jordan Hulls on a 3-point attempt.

Indiana, though, responded with an 11-0 run that made it 51-40. The Hoosiers would never trail again. That's not to say that Michigan didn't make a game of it. An offensive rebound and reverse layup by Jon Horford pulled the Wolverines within two, 53-51, at the 11-minute mark. But that's as close as it would get, as Indiana outscored Michigan 28-22 the rest of the way.

Turning point: A traditional three-point play by Michigan's Trey Burke with 4:53 remaining pulled the Wolverines within one possession, 61-58. But Hulls responded moments later for Indiana with a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 64-58. That gave the Hoosiers the momentum for good. A tip-in by Michigan's Mitch McGary made it 64-60, but Oladipo countered with a three-point play that gave Indiana a 67-60 cushion, and that was basically the ballgame.

Star of the game: As he has all season, Oladipo did it all for the Hoosiers and, if he hadn't already, catapulted into the national-player-of-the-year conversation. But the most encouraging effort came from Zeller, the preseason All-American who had struggled with bouts of inconsistency in recent weeks.

Burke scored 25 points for Michigan while Tim Hardaway Jr. added 18.

Key stat: Indiana shot 52 percent from the field and outscored Michigan 22-6 from the foul line.

Up next: Michigan hosts Ohio State on Tuesday; Indiana plays at Illinois on Thursday.

Weekend Watch: Minnesota-Indiana preview

January, 11, 2013
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Editor's note: Each Friday morning, Jay Bilas will break down the weekend's top game. This week, it’s the Big Ten matchup between No. 8 Minnesota and No. 5 Indiana at noon ET on Saturday.

Game overview: Minnesota is coming off a victory at Illinois in which the Golden Gophers shot 9-of-15 from 3-point range, scored in transition and took the ball inside against the Illini. Tubby Smith has a good defensive team that plays primarily half-court man-to-man (although Minnesota does press, mostly after free throws). The Gophers pressure the ball, contest passes on the perimeter and close out well on shooters while still taking away drives. This team loves to get out on the break, but does not force a lot of turnovers or rely upon steals, and loves to get the ball inside via post passes and drives. The Gophers have shot the ball well, but the primary deep threats are Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins, the only two players on the roster who have hit more than 10 3s on the season. But what Minnesota may do best is hit the offensive glass and get second shots. Trevor Mbakwe and the super-athletic Rodney Williams are both averaging around 3 offensive rebounds per game. Williams has been playing the power-forward slot and has been having his best season. Minnesota leads the nation in offensive rebound percentage at 48.5 percent. The Gophers are deep, play hard together, are finally healthy and at full strength, and expect to win.

The Hoosiers are an outstanding offensive team and an underappreciated defensive unit. Indiana gets up and down the floor better than Minnesota, especially Cody Zeller, who runs the floor better than any college big man. The Hoosiers are balanced, with five guys who average between 11.1 and 16.5 points per game, and shoot better than 51 percent from the floor as a team. Indiana does a great job using ball screens and finding opportunities to cut to the basket or the 3-point line. It all starts with Zeller, whose running game drags the defense toward the baseline and provides opportunities for others. Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey provide versatility and toughness and freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell has improved game by game. Indiana has several players who can hit a 3 -- but two whom you must find in transition and cannot leave, Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford.

[+] EnlargeAndre Hollins
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesShooting at a 43.3 percent clip, sophomore Andre Hollins is Minnesota's top 3-point threat.
Indiana’s best player: Cody Zeller. The third of the Zeller brothers is the most efficient big man in the country, and is the Hoosiers’ best scorer, defensive rebounder, offensive rebounder and most efficient player. Zeller averages 16.5 points and 7.9 rebounds on 62.7 percent shooting, and takes just over 8 shots per game. Zeller does not turn the ball over and gets to the free-throw line. While he could clearly be a better defensive rebounder and more assertive and look to take over on the offensive end, this team does not win without Zeller. Since his arrival in Bloomington, the Hoosiers are 41-10.

Minnesota’s best player: Andre Hollins. He is a scoring point guard who has only been playing the position for a few years. Hollins was a scoring guard in high school, playing in the same backcourt with Memphis guard Joe Jackson. He is Minnesota’s primary handler and top assist man, but he is also an attacking guard who loves to get past defenders to explode into a shot or get to the rim. Hollins has shot more free throws than any Gopher but Mbakwe, and is a streaky 3-point shooter who has hit 29 triples on the season. Hollins is also a terrific defender who is very good pressuring the ball.

Indiana X factor: Victor Oladipo. The dynamic wing is having an outstanding season, and he can be plugged into almost any role on the floor. Oladipo is nothing but energy and activity, and can guard anyone from a point guard to a four, and can keep primary offensive options from catching it where they want. He is relentless in going to the glass, going after loose balls and making momentum plays in transition. Oladipo is averaging 13.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.1 offensive rebounds and 2.2 steals, while shooting 67 percent from the field.

Minnesota X-factor: Trevor Mbakwe. Mbakwe is older and more mature, and is incredibly strong around the goal. He is hard to move off his spot, and is an outstanding rebounder at both ends. Mbakwe has huge hands and is among the best offensive rebounders in the country. Indiana cannot allow Mbakwe to get angles in the post and must make him run and guard ball screens at every opportunity.

Key stats: Turnovers and offensive rebounds. Both teams are good defensively, and an important factor will be second shots. Minnesota gets more of them than any team in America, but can also give them up. Indiana has two outstanding offensive rebounders in Zeller and Oladipo. In addition, Minnesota has to take care of the ball. The Gophers are rated 254th in the country in turnover percentage.

Who wins: This is a big-time game between two teams that can beat anybody. Indiana is at home, where it plays its best and has been difficult to beat. I favor Indiana to win, 76-72.
Throughout last summer, I talked to Tom Crean about Christian Watford’s plans for 2012-13. All of our chats centered on Watford’s offseason adjustments and tweaks.

A 6-8 forward who’d considered the NBA draft after averaging 12.6 ppg and shooting 44 percent from 3-point line didn’t need any dramatic alterations. He had to get tougher on defense and on the glass, league officials told Crean when consulted about Watford’s draft stock. But they also recognized his potential.

Watford
With a highly touted recruiting class entering the scene, the Hoosiers certainly had a few question marks -- mostly about the chemistry the team would have after adding so many new faces -- as they prepared for the 2012-13 season. But Watford wasn’t one of them.

Once the season began, however, it was clear that Watford hadn’t picked up where he’d left off -- see 27 points in a 102-90 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

He was essentially absent during Indiana’s 83-59 blowout of North Carolina in Bloomington on Nov. 27 (1-for-9, 2 points in 21 minutes). He was 1-for-5 (9 points) in Indiana’s 88-86 overtime loss to Butler Dec. 15.

Overall, Watford had rarely showcased the same gumption he had a year ago.

But he’s been more assertive since mid-December.

He’s recorded at least 15 points in three of his past five games. And he’s shot 10-for-21 from the 3-point line during that stretch.

In Monday night’s 74-51 win against Penn State, Watford finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists. And he played with as much energy as he had all season. The player who’d produced in spurts throughout the season was finally ready to go at tipoff against the Nittany Lions.

From Inside the Hall:
Christian Watford set the tone with a 13-point first half Monday and the Hoosier defense took care of the rest as No. 5 Indiana set down an overmatched Penn State team, 74-51.

Thanks mostly to Watford, the Hoosiers (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten) were hot early against the Nittany Lions (8-6, 0-2).

Indiana led 44-27 at halftime and despite a sloppy second half that included 13 turnovers, the Hoosiers prevailed easily in front of 9,386 at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Eight of the Hoosiers’ first ten points in the game came from Watford.

“We wanted to get him going. We went to him right off the bat,” Tom Crean said. “That was a big part of our game plan. And he responded.”

Penn State only led once, 3-2 at the 18:20 mark of the first half, but Indiana would quickly get the best of the Lions, reeling off a 13-0 run from there.

“I just wanted to be aggressive, wanted to get in the paint and get some easy buckets to start off,” Watford said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me and we executed some plays and took it from there.”

It’s (potentially) a promising development.

Crean will need Watford’s talent and experience as the Hoosiers prepare for the gauntlet known as the Big Ten.

Watford can’t be a mystery for this program. And his recent success suggests that he recognizes that.

But, to his credit, Watford is in a challenging situation.

A sudden influx of talent can change things for returning veterans accustomed to specific roles in past seasons. We saw it with Kentucky’s Terrence Jones last year as John Calipari welcomed Anthony Davis and Co. There are legit concerns about UNLV head coach Dave Rice’s ability to play youngsters Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch with Mike Moser once he returns from an elbow injury.

It’s not always an easy transition for players in Watford’s position. This is a balanced Indiana team that relies on more players than last season’s squad.

Watford, however, remains a vital component in Indiana’s Big Ten and national title hopes.

Now he just has to duplicate Monday’s effort as Indiana prepares to face some of the conference’s tougher teams.

Video: Indiana 74, Penn State 51

January, 7, 2013
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No. 5 Indiana, behind 16 points and 8 rebounds from Christian Watford, improved to 14-1 with a 74-51 victory at Penn State


NEW YORK -- Victor Oladipo held up the Legends Classic banner for the crush of Indiana fans to view.

Oladipo made his way around the arena, even standing up on the media table at one point.

The No. 1-ranked Hoosiers had just knocked off unranked but soon-to-be top-25 Georgetown 82-72 in overtime Tuesday night at the Barclays Center.

This was just a two-game tournament that didn't even produce a supposedly marquee matchup of Indiana versus UCLA (the Bruins aren't close to being as good as Georgetown is now, or possibly in the future). But it didn't matter to Indiana what the tournament was called, whom the Hoosiers had to go through to win it or when the games were played.

This title meant something to IU.

"It's huge, man," Oladipo said. "This was our first big test, our first tournament as the No. 1 team in the country. Georgetown is a really good team with a lot of really good players. It means a lot for us to win this tournament with two wins on the road."

Georgetown represented, but the majority of fans were clad in crimson and white. This Hoosiers team has a following akin to the Indiana teams of old. There is a sense among fans that they are witnessing something special. And the perception isn't farfetched.

Cody Zeller is a star and the preseason national player of the year. But he was mortal these two days in Brooklyn. He was in foul trouble Monday against Georgia, and while he had his moments against the Hoyas, he struggled to gain position at times and wasn't a dominant presence.

"That's what makes us so dangerous," Zeller said. "Even last year, I don't have to do it all whether they take me away as a shooter or a driver. I don't have to worry about getting my stats. We can get the win no matter whether I score."

[+] EnlargeYogi Ferrell
Debby Wong/US PresswireFreshman guard Yogi Ferrell finished with more free-throw attempts (11) than Georgetown (10).
Zeller still had 17 points and eight boards, equaling the scoring output of guard Jordan Hulls. The offensive balance and the ability to find openings in Georgetown’s lanky, rangy zone was effective. Christian Watford made big shots and got boards (he had 10 points and 10 rebounds), Yogi Ferrell got to the free-throw line (9-of-11), reserve Remy Abell was a perfect option off a double team (a pair of 3-pointers) and Will Sheehey found his way to the basket, one time with authority on a slam.

"We have a team full of guys," Hulls said. "[Zeller] obviously gets more attention, but we have guys who can come in and contribute."

Indiana coach Tom Crean loved every second of this game. He told me at halftime that this was an epic college basketball game for November. He said afterward that if he couldn't coach it, he would have loved to have played in it. The atmosphere wasn't Assembly Hall, but it was more than adequate for a neutral-site, nonconference tournament setting.

Georgetown had its chance to knock off the Hoosiers but hit several scoring droughts, ignoring stud Otto Porter a few times. After Markel Starks fouled out it became harder for the Hoyas to pull off the upset.

"They've got a nice combination of experience and good younger guys," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "Yogi adds a whole new element with his speed. Zeller was the preseason player of the year. They have guys who have been through the ropes. They're poised, very, very poised."

That's a whole new experience for Indiana. The Hoosiers have never been the team to beat on the schedule under Crean. They are now.

"Now we're on the other side of it," Zeller said. "We'll get everyone's best shot, and we kind of expected that when we signed up to play at Indiana. You're going to get the best shot when you're first in the country."

The Hoosiers are hardly done being pushed, with North Carolina in Bloomington next Tuesday for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (yes, even after the Tar Heels lost to Butler in Maui). They will play Butler in Indianapolis on Dec. 15, and of course there’s the Big Ten schedule.

"These were two great games for us and it teaches us that we're capable of winning the tough games," Oladipo said. "These were the first two games that tested us and we came out with the victory. This is big for us. We'll have a lot more tough games down the road. We're the No. 1 team in the country and we did a good job to beat Georgetown and get the win."

Rapid Reaction: Indiana 82, G'town 72 (OT)

November, 21, 2012
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NEW YORK -- A quick look at Indiana’s 82-72 overtime victory over Georgetown in the championship game of the Legends Classic.

Overview: This wasn’t the matchup everyone had hoped for but no one is complaining now, not after 45 minutes of ridiculously good basketball.

Having watched UCLA and Georgetown in back-to-back games, there was no arguing which was the better team, at least on this night.

The Hoyas in a landslide.

Pushed and prodded by Georgetown the entire game, the Hoosiers pushed right back, giving a November game a March feel. Like the Champions Classic in Atlanta, it was high entertainment, high intensity and high skill, and it was like that from the tip.

If Georgetown is the fifth-best team in the Big East -- as it was picked in the preseason -- the league is going to be fierce. The Hoyas leave New York with a lot more believers than they came with, and a sweet combination of offensive skill and high hoops IQ should carry them far.

Indiana leaves as it came -- as the No. 1 team in the nation, and maybe with more admirers, too. That’s because the Hoosiers held on, fought back and proved they aren’t just the Cody Zeller show. The sophomore was good, but his surrounding cast was every bit as great. Jordan Hulls had 17, Victor Oladipo 12, and Christian Watford a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Mix in two huge 3s from sophomore Remy Abell and another from Yogi Ferrell, and you've got an across-the-board box score here.

The caveat: There is still that lurking issue of IU’s defense. It tightened up when Indiana needed it most, but the Hoosiers have work to do, especially defending the arc, beyond which Georgetown did its most damage.

Turning point: There were approximately 50 in regulation, but the overtime was more like a slow bleed to victory for Indiana. The Hoosiers went to the basket and got to the free throw line, needing just one field goal to build a seven-point lead that would be the end of Georgetown.

And then came the dagger, a buzzer-beating circus 3-pointer from Ferrell to bump the lead to 10 with less than a minute to play.

Before that, though, was the end of regulation. Otto Porter drained a 3-pointer to get the Hoyas within one after IU seemed ready to finally ease to the W. He followed it up with a gigantic drive to the right side of the lane, laying in the muscle shot to tie it at 64.

Key stat: Here are the numbers Hoyas fans will be sure to study: 36 to 11. That’s how many times Indiana went to the free throw line versus Georgetown. The Hoyas didn’t even get into a one-and-one situation until there were two minutes left in OT.

Key player: Really hard to pick just one and really hard to limit it to one team in a game like this. So I won’t.

In a group effort from Indiana, the edge goes to Hulls. The quintessential Indiana kid made sure Indiana stayed No. 1. His 17 points matched Zeller's, but it was the timing of some of them that mattered most. Hulls scored five of the Hoosiers’ first seven in OT and then set up Zeller with two more on a nifty bounce pass. That ended up being all the cushion IU needed.

But we’ve also got to give Porter his due. The super sophomore, who had just three points in the first half, nearly willed the Hoyas to and through overtime. He finished with 15 points, including those crucial five at the end of regulation to force the extra five minutes.

Miscellaneous: Indiana has yet to hear from the NCAA regarding its appeal of suspended players Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin. The two traveled to Brooklyn, and their appeal was heard Tuesday, but the NCAA did not make a ruling. ... Hoosier Nation travels.

Next game: The Hoosiers host Ball State on Monday, and then North Carolina, loser to Butler on Tuesday night, heads to Bloomington on Nov. 27 for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. ... Georgetown hosts Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday and then has a good back-to-back, against Tennessee (Nov. 30) and Texas (Dec. 4).

Video: Indiana 99, Sam Houston St. 45

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
9:39
PM ET
Christian Watford's 23 points paced five players in double figures as top-ranked Indiana overwhelmed Sam Houston State 99-45.
You can’t learn how to dunk. You either jump, or you don’t. You can, however, learn how to shoot: feet shoulder-width apart, right foot an inch ahead of left, elbow over the knee, wrist parallel to the floor, ball gently placed in fingertips, elbow straight, up and out, follow through with the wrist. Rinse, repeat.

That’s the great thing about the art of long-range shooting. It requires nothing but a few quick mechanics and tons and tons and tons of practice. The best players in the world are rarely the best shooters, because they don’t have to be. But if you can master your shot, you can level the playing field at all levels, from your local pickup game to the NBA. And aesthetically, there are few things more satisfying than watching a beautifully shot ball drop perfectly through the net. I love good shooting.

As you can imagine, it was rather fun to put together the following list -- the nation’s 10 most dangerous 3-point shooters. (Freshmen, as always, were excluded.)

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Let’s get one thing clear: There are 3-point specialists on this list that have made more 3-pointers than McDermott in his career. They are arguably better “pure” shooters. But none of them, not a single one, manages to blend the sheer overall offensive efficiency that McDermott brings to the game; none of them maintains utterly deadly 3-point shooting in their reportoire as an afterthought. But that’s exactly what McDermott did in 2011–12, when he was one of the most efficient offensive players in the country. McDermott attempted 400 2-point field goals and made 63.2 percent of them. He attempted 111 3-pointers and cashed 48.6 percent. His true shooting percentage (67.8) and effective field goal percentage (65.4) were third- and sixth-best in the country, respectively.

[+] EnlargeCreighton's Doug McDermott
Jeff Curry/US PRESSWIREThe versatile game of Doug McDermott includes 48.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.
So, why put him atop this list, when others have made more 3s, who serve as lethal catch-and-shoot specialists for their teams? Because you can’t guard McDermott the way you can guard most of the country’s best shooters. At 6-foot–7, he’s too tall, his post game too sharp, to be put in any particular box. He’ll work you to death with pivots and drop-steps on the low block, just before stepping outside, or catching in transition, and hitting one out of every two 3s he takes.

I mean, seriously: How on Earth do you stop that?

2. Jordan Hulls, Indiana: Hulls may have flaws in his game -- he’s undersized (and definitely shorter than his gentleman’s listing of 6-foot) and an occasional defensive liability at the point of attack -- but he has plenty of strengths, too. He can handle, he can dish, he’s whip-smart and, oh by the way, the boy can really shoot. In 2011-12, he went 72-of-146 from beyond the arc, good for 49.3 percent, the second highest rate in the country. (He also shot 89.9 percent from the free throw line.) And while you’d expect someone with Hulls’ size to struggle to get his shot off, he really doesn’t -- he can get looks from off-ball screens and high picks, he can step under a defender and bury the 20-footer, and he can catch and release as quickly as any player in the country. And if you leave him open? Well, just start running the other way.

3. Brady Heslip, Baylor: In 2011-12, Heslip shot the ball inside the arc exactly 57 times. But don’t worry, he got still got his looks -- fully 220 of them from outside the arc. He made 100 of them, or 45.5 percent. Considering the volume involved, that is very efficient work, and a big part of the reason why Heslip ended the season with an eye-popping 138.6 offensive rating, best in the country among players with similar usage rates. If I was Baylor, I would focus on getting Heslip as many looks as possible this season.

4. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Canaan is a lot like McDermott, and a couple of other names on this list, in that he is so much more than a pure shooter … who also happens to be a pure shooter. Canaan is also his team’s primary ballhandler; he posted a 24.1 percent assist rate last season, easily the highest among any frequent Racers' contributor. He also drew 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes, shot 83.7 percent from the stripe and 48.1 percent from the arc. And, oh yeah, he made 45.6 percent of his 215 3-point field goal attempts last season. Defenses, Ohio Valley and otherwise, can’t contain Canaan, because he can get his own shot, or get into the lane, or hit a 25-footer in your face.

5. Rotnei Clarke, Butler: Clarke sat out last season after transferring to Butler, where he will take on a new role that may require him to do much more distributing and far less spot-up shooting. He also suffered a foot injury, though he appears to be recovered fully. In any case, the dude can stroke it: Clarke has shot 39.3 percent, 42.7 percent and 43.8 percent in his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons, respectively, and has 274 career 3s to his name. It will be interesting to see what his new team does for his production/efficiency (his Arkansas teams were never particularly good, so it could just as easily enhance both, too), but there’s no question Clarke is a major threat beyond the arc.

6. Langston Galloway, Saint Joseph’s: I’m guessing most casual hoops fans will not be familiar with Langston Galloway, but it’s time to correct that. In 2011–12, Galloway was one of the best 10 3-point shooters in the country, making 46.6 percent of his 193 attempts. Almost all of those shots came via the spot-up, where Galloway is just lethal. According to Synergy Sports, Galloway scored 1.38 points per spot-up jumper, and 1.49 points for every spot-up shot that came from beyond the arc. It is a bad idea to let him get loose, but with so many other returning weapons making up Phil Martelli’s highly regarded A-10 contender, keeping Galloway in check is easier said than done.

7. Chase Tapley, San Diego State: Tapley’s presence is a through line marking the recent ascendance of Aztecs hoops, beginning with his supporting role* on the Kawhi Leonard-led 2011 breakout squad. He stepped into a larger role last season, and responded by making 43.3 percent of his 3s, an improvement from the year prior despite an 70-attempt increase in volume (and a decrease in 2-point field goal accuracy). Tapley will have to be just as deadly from outside this season if San Diego State plans to live up to its preseason billing. I’m not worried. (*The original version of this post said Tapley came off the bench in 2011; in fact, he started the majority of games that season. My apologies for the error.)

[+] EnlargeChristian Watford
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireChristian Watford drained arguably the most memorable 3 of the college basketball season.
8. Christian Watford, Indiana: There is a reason the Hoosiers offense was the fourth-best in the country last season. Not only did it boast monster freshman center Cody Zeller, and not only did it get efficient shooting from the aforementioned Jordan Hulls, and balance from Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey (to say nothing of Matt Roth’s 54.5 percent 3-point shooting), but its second-most-used player is a 6-foot-9 forward who also happens to be lights-out from the perimeter. Watford made 43.7 percent of his 3s last season, and he shot plenty of them -- 119, to be exact (one of which you may have seen a few times before). Before Zeller’s arrival, Watford was often forced to play in the post, a position for which he is particularly ill-suited. Now that Zeller commands the low block, Watford is free to set up outside, peer over the defense, and fire away. It’s his niche.

9. Kenny Boynton, Florida: Among the handful of players who shot as many 3s in 2011-12 as Boynton, only Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins was a fellow member of a power-six conference. Boynton fired from downtown 270 times last season. If we were talking about his freshman or sophomore seasons -- in which Boynton was similarly free of conscience but far inferior as a shooter -- that would not necessarily be a good things. But because Boynton hit 40.7 percent of his 3s, he was a major reason why Florida’s offense was so difficult to stop. He can handle it and get into the lane, too, but his 3-point attempts dwarf his 2s, and as long as he’s making them at a 40-percent or higher rate, he’s very dangerous to opposing defenses.

10. Scott Wood, NC State: We talk a lot about NC State’s pieces, and these discussions typically center on point guard Lorenzo Brown, or forward C.J. Leslie, or touted freshman shooting guard Rodney Purvis. Far more overlooked is the offense Wood provides, and the way he provides it. At 6-foot–6, Scott is similar to Watford in his ability to step out and see over defenses, if slightly easier to run off the ball. (Despite his size, Wood attempted 232 3s and just 78 2s in 2012.) Whatever his breakdowns, Wood’s 40.9 percent shooting on a large number of attempts is crucial again this season, because NC State’s still-improving offense will desperately need the outside balance.

Honorable mentions: Travis Bader, Oakland; Scott Bamforth, Weber State, C.J. Wilcox, Washington, Allen Crabbe, Cal; Ethan Wragge, Creighton

Freshmen to watch (thanks to Dave Telep for the suggestions): Phil Forte, Oklahoma State; Isaiah Zierden, Creighton; Omar Calhoun, UConn; Katin Reinhardt, UNLV; Melvin Johnson, VCU; Kellen Dunham, Butler; Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke, Michael Frazier, Florida
Christian Watford Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesIndiana senior Christian Watford (2) knows he needs to improve on his rebounding if he is to take his game to the NBA.
Editor’s note: In the buildup to Midnight Madness, we are taking an in-depth look at Joe Lunardi’s top five seeds in a series called Countdown To Madness. In addition to the Insider pieces, Eamonn Brennan will offer Three Big Things about each team, and we’ll have Five Questions with a player or coach from each squad.

Indiana finished the 2009-10 season with a 10-21 record. The Hoosiers won just four Big Ten games that year, senior Christian Watford’s first at the collegiate level.

But the program and the 6-foot-9 forward have blossomed. The Hoosiers will enter this season as a top-three squad in most preseason rankings. They have the tools -- a strong frontcourt tandem of Watford and Cody Zeller, talented veterans and a nationally ranked recruiting class -- to make a run at the national title.

Watford has been pivotal (12.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 43.7 percent shooting from the 3-point line last season) in the program’s resurgence. The senior recently talked to ESPN.com about the NBA, this season and his personal goals for 2012-13.

After a strong finish last season, you considered the NBA. What made you return?

Watford: I just felt like I wasn’t done yet. We weren’t done as a team. I felt like we can only get better. We can only be on the upside of things. Coming in here, we weren’t like that, and I kind of wanted to bring the program all the way back. It was difficult. As a kid, you always want the chance to go play in the NBA. A chance to fulfill your real dream is always tough to turn down, but patience is a virtue. I just wanted to wait it out.

How did Indiana stay focused during those tough years?

Watford: It’s been a constant grind since I got here. For a minute, things didn’t seem like they were getting better, but in all actuality, they were. We worked hard every day. We spilled our guts, and we’ve done a lot to get to this point, and now we’re here. You just want to keep getting better. That was the main thing. Coach [Tom] Crean did a great job with that. We never got discouraged. We started to see results. Once you start to see results, it refocuses you. It was hard, but we had to do it in order to get better.

There’s a lot of Final Four/national title talk surrounding the program right now. How has the team handled those expectations and the pressure that usually comes with them?

Watford: It’s no pressure. I feel like we’ve been through a lot. So we know what pressure is. We’re not really concentrating on that. We’re just focusing on getting better day by day. We hear the rankings, but it doesn’t really mean anything to us until April when it’s Final Four time.

How will you blend the strong freshman class with the core that returns?

Watford: We lead them. When I first got here, we didn’t have anybody like that to lead and to talk to and mentor these guys. That’s what we’re here for now. They come right in, and they’ve got the same goals as us.

Crean said your rebounding has to improve if you’re going to get to the next level. Do you agree?

Watford: That’s got to be my biggest improvement besides points. I’ve shown people I can score the basketball and shoot the basketball. I’ve just got to get my rebounds up and show some more toughness.

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