College Basketball Nation: Jordan Hulls

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.

DAYTON, Ohio -- Quick (OK, very quick) reaction to No. 1 Indiana's easy 83-62 win against No. 16 James Madison:

Overview: Just a day after Southern came as close to knocking off a No. 1 seed (Gonzaga) as any No. 16 seed ever has, the Indiana Hoosiers made sure there was no such such suspense in Dayton Friday afternoon. They opened up an 18-5 lead early, stretched it to 29-10 by the eight-minute mark in the first half, took a 43-22 lead into halftime and kept up the pace in the second half. There was no mini-comeback or turnaround; Indiana dominated from start to finish.

Turning point: The opening buzzer? The moment the buses pulled up to the back entrance of UD Arena? At the risk of being glib, it really was that commanding of a performance. The Hoosiers did struggle for stretches, as plenty of No. 1 seeds have, before finally opening a blowout in the second half. They didn't need Jordan Hulls to make a big a-la-Kevin-Pangos shot down the stretch. They just rolled.

Key player: Yogi Ferrell. When Indiana is at its best, it is offensively balanced, and it was Friday: Five players finished with double-digit scoring performances. Ferrell was one of them, but he stood out more for his other contributions, including eight rebounds and six assists. The former is especially important to Tom Crean, who wants to start an offensive break as quickly as possible -- and skipping the outlet pass is a handy way of doing so.

Key stat: Indiana went 29-of-55 (52.7 percent) from the field and scored 1.4 points per possession. Pretty simple stuff, really.

What's next: The Hoosiers move on to face Temple, where they could face a real challenge from a hot Khalif Wyatt-led team that has won eight of its last nine games. JMU finished 21-15 overall, but should be an intriguing team to watch next season, as four freshmen return for coach Matt Brady.

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 -- After their fans had stormed the floor Tuesday night and they had answered the media’s questions about Minnesota’s first victory over a No. 1 team in nearly a quarter-century, the Golden Gophers continued their celebration in the locker room.

The chorus of Canadian rapper Drake’s new single, “Started from the Bottom,” pulsated in the team’s hub in the lower level of Williams Arena, where the Gophers had just defeated No. 1 Indiana in a 77-73 upset -- the program's first over a top-ranked opponent since 1989.

“Started from the bottom, now we're here. Started from the bottom, now my whole team here.”

“Here” for Minnesota is a growing sense of assurance that Tubby Smith’s program will reach this year’s NCAA tournament, despite losing eight of 11 games prior to Tuesday’s victory.

The numbers have favored Minnesota all season. The Gophers are ranked in the top 25 of the RPI, BPI and KenPom.com ratings. Per the RPI, the Gophers possess the nation’s No. 1 strength of schedule. They compete in the toughest league in America.

Indiana’s overall success has contributed to the Big Ten's national standing. The Hoosiers didn’t play like the No. 1 team in America in Minneapolis. But road losses have been an issue for every team in the country -- ranked and unranked.

Indiana is still a program that’s equipped to reach Atlanta in early April and win a national title there. After the loss, however, the Hoosiers acknowledged their vulnerability.

“We just need to go to the drawing board, definitely watch film, see what we did wrong and bounce back,” said national player of the year candidate Victor Oladipo, who finished with 16 points.

But the loss could prove to be meaningless. If Indiana, a team that has won four of its past five games, finishes strong and earns a coveted No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, Tuesday’s outcome might not matter.

Hoosiers coach Tom Crean didn’t seem overly concerned about the defeat.

“We just missed some opportunities,” he said.

The Gophers can relate.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Mbakwe
AP Photo/Tom OlmscheidAn inspired Trevor Mbakwe had 21 points and 12 rebounds, both game highs, in Minnesota's upset.
Although they’d looked like a tournament team on paper, they’d failed to compete like a squad that deserved an at-large bid in recent outings.

Smith was so concerned with the team’s recent slide that he recently hired a sports psychologist to talk to his players.

“We all need somebody to lift us up,” Smith said.

It must have worked. The Gophers (19-9, 7-8 Big Ten) entered the game with a vigor they had lacked in recent matchups.

In the first half, they took control. But then a dominant Trevor Mbakwe went to the bench nearly 10 minutes into the game -- and Indiana launched a 10-0 run in his absence.

Oladipo hit a 3-pointer as Elliott Eliason picked up a foul off the ball with 12 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the first half. Officials deliberated but ultimately counted the shot, and Indiana retained possession. Jordan Hulls hit a jump shot and a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions to give Indiana a 20-16 edge. That swing shifted the momentum in the Barn.

Leading scorer Cody Zeller finish the half without a field goal, but the Hoosiers still entered the break with a 34-30 lead. Nearly five minutes into the second half, they pulled out to a 44-36 advantage. Eliason's seven consecutive points, however, tied the game at 46 with 10:51 to go. Over the next four minutes, the Gophers continued to battle and eventually regained the lead, 55-52, with 7:22 to play.

Indiana stayed close until an Andre Hollins’ 3-pointer -- off Will Sheehey's turnover with 3:47 on the game clock -- gave Minnesota a 64-59 edge.

From there, Minnesota extended its lead to seven before Indiana (24-4, 12-3) cut that deficit to three on Hulls’ 3-pointer in the final seconds.

But the Gophers sealed the game with a steal on Indiana’s final inbounds pass.

Minnesota fans flooded the court, where they hugged players and each other in the biggest win in Smith’s tenure.

“It was crazy. It’s definitely a night to remember,” Joe Coleman said. “I don’t think too many college players get to experience something like that. I’ve never felt a heat wave like that before. All the people came in. It just got so hot and crazy.”

Crean’s team had failed to stretch its second-half lead when it had the chance.

And it couldn’t do anything with Mbakwe (21 points, 12 rebounds, a block and a steal). Zeller (2-for-9, 9 points, 7 rebounds), largely due to Mbakwe’s presence, played one of the worst games of his career.

“I love challenges like that. He’s a great player, and I was able to play pretty well,” Mbakwe said. “Obviously, when you see a matchup like that, you want to play your best.”

Added Crean: “That’s a grown man that’s one of the best rebounders in this country, certainly in our league. And he was the toughest guy on the court today.”

Unlike past years, the Gophers might be worry-free on Selection Sunday. But Smith said he doesn’t want his team to become overconfident.

“The emotional part of it, getting too high and too low. ... That’s what happens to you sometimes,” Smith said. “You can have a false sense of accomplishment. I was just more matter-of-fact and said, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta get busy for tomorrow. We’ve got practice tomorrow.’”

Crean could have said the same thing to his team.


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
2/21/13
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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.

Zeller's transition game sparks Hoosiers

February, 14, 2013
2/14/13
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Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesCody Zeller and the Hoosiers have had a lot to celebrate this season.

Cody Zeller, the preseason favorite for the Wooden Award, was “on the cusp” of the top-five players last week according to Jason King’s Wooden ballot and has been overshadowed recently by the highlight-worthy play of Victor Oladipo.

But don’t count Zeller out of the POY race yet. He really improved his stock the past two weeks with a huge double-double against No. 1 Michigan, and then a dominating 24-point performance on the road against 10th-ranked Ohio State.

He is playing his best basketball of the season now, averaging 18.4 points and 8.6 rebounds on 60 percent shooting from the floor over his past five games.

How important is Zeller to Indiana? He leads all Division I players with a Plus-Minus of +395, according to Statsheet.com.

Zeller is the only player this season from the six major conferences to average at least 16 points and eight rebounds with a free throw percentage of at least 70 percent.

If he can keep up this pace, he would join Larry Johnson in the 1990-91 season as the only Wooden Award winners to average 16 points and eight rebounds per game while shooting 59 percent or better from the floor and at least 71 percent from the free throw line.

Zeller’s Impact on Offense
Zeller is one of the best transition players in the nation, and runs the floor arguably better than any center in the country.

One reason he is so dangerous scoring on the break is because of his ability to create contact near the rim, drawing a shooting foul on more than one-third of his transition plays.

Zeller has also excelled as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, ranking second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage and fourth in points per play.

In the Hoosiers' win against the Wolverines, Indiana opened the game on a 26-11 run. The scoring was highlighted by two transition buckets from Zeller, and two well-executed ball-screens with Oladipo and Jordan Hulls finding Zeller for easy baskets in the lane.

Zeller’s Impact on Defense
Zeller has really improved his defense in the post this seaon compared to his freshman season. After allowing the most points on post-up plays in the Big Ten last season, he is holding his opponent to 29 percent shooting on post-ups this season, which ranks second in the league (min. 25 plays).

He is part of a Hoosiers defense that is one of the most improved in the country.

Last season Indiana allowed 98 points per 100 possessions, ranking sixth in the Big Ten and 147th in Division I. This year Indiana’s defensive efficiency of 89 leads the Big Ten and ranks among the top 25 teams in the country.

Rapid Reaction: Indiana 81, Michigan 73

February, 2, 2013
2/02/13
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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.

Video: Indiana 93, Jacksonville 59

December, 29, 2012
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Jordan Hulls, with 20 points, led five players in double figures for No. 5 Indiana, which blew out visiting Jacksonville 93-59 to improve to 12-1.

Point guard play key to success

December, 5, 2012
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Marquis Teague, Kemba Walker, Jon Scheyer, Ty Lawson, Sherron Collins. Those are the names of the point guards of the past five national champions in college basketball. All play professionally (Teague, Walker and Lawson in the NBA), four of them were All-Americans (Teague was not) and two were Cousy Award winners (Walker and Lawson). It cannot be overstated how important the point guard position is in college basketball.

If you don’t believe me, look down the list of ESPN.com’s Power Rankings this week. Indiana, Duke, Michigan, Syracuse and Florida are the top five teams. Yogi Ferrell, Quinn Cook, Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams and Scottie Wilbekin are the guys handling the point for each of these teams. It’s practically a list of the who’s who at the position.

[+] EnlargeMichigan's Trey Burke
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsTrey Burke's play at point guard is one reason Michigan is ranked third.
If you want further proof, look at some of the underachieving teams so far this season. Tops on that list has to be Kentucky. The Wildcats are a case study on how important point guard play is and how much maturity is essential at that position. Freshman Archie Goodwin has been asked to do a lot in that offense, at times too much, and Ryan Harrow, the NC State transfer, has been disappointing. The three UK losses are all against teams with well-established, playmaking, mature point guards (Duke’s Cook, Notre Dame’s Eric Atkins and Baylor’s Pierre Jackson).

Wisconsin is another example where the missing piece is the point guard. The Badgers have had guys such as Devin Harris, Trevon Hughes and Jordan Taylor lead teams in Madison for a decade. Josh Gasser was the next on that list until he tore his ACL in the preseason. Bo Ryan has had to rotate freshman George Marshall and sophomore Traevon Jackson at point guard. Combined the two have struggled, averaging about five points, two assists and one turnover per game.

Another team that has taken some lumps early on is North Carolina. The task of replacing Kendall Marshall, last year’s Cousy Award winner, was given to highly touted freshman Marcus Paige. Paige has struggled with a 1-1 assist-turnover ratio while averaging just under eight points per game. He sat out the Tar Heels’ game against UAB because of a shoulder injury, which forced Dexter Strickland to shift over to the point. He stepped in very nicely, but Strickland is not a natural point guard and that does not seem to be the long-term solution for Roy Williams. And remember, this is a Tar Heels team that was not the same when it lost Marshall (wrist injury) last year in the tournament, so UNC is well aware of how critical that position is.

Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon is well aware of how important a good floor general is. His Panthers had been to 10 straight NCAA tournaments until last season’s team failed to make it to the dance. A severe abdominal strain sidelined Pitt point guard Tray Woodall for two months in the middle of the season. During his absence, Pitt had losing streaks of eight and five games and was a completely different club without its leader.

“I will never put myself or our program in that position again,” Dixon told me in describing how important having a point guard such as Woodall is to a team. “From now on we will always carry at least two point guards every year.”

The point guard position is integral to a team’s success for a variety of reasons. Some point guards are facilitators such as Carter-Williams at Syracuse, some are dynamic scorers such as Burke at Michigan, and some are lock-down defenders such as Aaron Craft at Ohio State. The thread that binds these prolific players is they tend to also be good in other areas of the game. The elite point guards are multidimensional and have the ability to step in and lead when necessary. They play with maturity. They are calming. And their teammates have confidence in them. It’s those tight-game scenarios where Michigan looks at the other sideline and thinks, “Hey we’ve got Trey Burke and you don’t!”
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams said earlier Tuesday that he had to stop himself from being too critical during his team's loss to Butler last week in Maui because of the freshmen on the court.

He knew he had to be patient. But that patience might be wearing thin.

The Tar Heels could use an excuse that P.J. Hairston was back in Chapel Hill with a sprained left knee, that the freshmen had never been in such a hostile environment as Assembly Hall or that the veterans like Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and James Michael McAdoo were either injured or hardly significant players last season.

But Williams isn't using any of those as a crutch, and neither were his players after a humbling 83-59 defeat to the top-ranked Hoosiers.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireRoy Williams admitted he was frustrated in Tuesday's loss, but remains high on UNC's potential.
"There's a point and we're at that point," said Williams. "The best thing is that they have the day off [Wednesday]. Basketball is a simple game. You just need to do the crap that I tell you to do."

Williams said that the young players weren't all at fault. He cited Strickland's inability to get back and the times when everyone failed to compete.

Carolina came out with a sense of urgency, unlike in its loss to Butler in the Maui Invitational semifinals Nov. 20. But the last four minutes of Tuesday's first half and the beginning of the second were as lopsided as Williams has seen in his tenure, or at least as much as that humbling 33-point loss to Florida State in January.

North Carolina was beaten consistently as Cody Zeller outran the Tar Heels. Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls passed over the Tar Heels or IU's Will Sheehey or Victor Oladipo got ahead for a flush or an otherwise-demoralizing finish.

"We were where we wanted to be, but then after the last media timeout [the four-minute mark of the first half] we were lackadaisical and they pushed it to 10 points," said McAdoo. "They kept it going and we never hit them back. We've got to learn from our mistakes. We have so many young guys, we're learning new roles."

North Carolina came into the game ranked No. 14. The Tar Heels won't likely be in the poll next week and will have plenty of work to do to regain their national credibility.

"We don't look at the rankings, we stay in our own camp," said McAdoo. "Right now we have to figure out who we are as a team. We've got a lot of work to do. We're playing for March."

That was sort of Williams' point earlier Tuesday. He said to check back with him in 30 days, 60 days and at the end of the season. This team still can be very good, but he noted that the ACC schedule lies ahead, to say nothing of a visit to Texas (still a road game, regardless of the Longhorns’ struggles) and one from UNLV.

"We felt like we could win this game," said Strickland. "We just had a lot of mental mistakes on defense. We left Cody wide open. We have to do a better job of hustling and showing a better sense of urgency and more aggressive play."

Strickland said the Tar Heels lost their poise offensively after the quick strikes by the Hoosiers. That was evident in nearly every fast-break IU basket.

"They just killed us in transition," said freshman Marcus Paige. "We didn't get easy baskets. We struggled from the floor."

The Tar Heels shot 1-of-8 on 3s. Hairston would have helped, but the problems are much larger than his health. UNC received good news when an X-ray on Reggie Bullock's finger was negative, although Williams said late Tuesday that the staff might take another one back in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels need a vocal leader, someone to take charge or calm this team down when things go awry. McAdoo tried to get the squad going in the hallway prior to the second half, imploring his teammates to grab every rebound and get after the Hoosiers.

Indiana then ripped off 13 consecutive points and was ahead 22. Game over.

Duke is clearly the ACC's best team right now. NC State is struggling but hasn't looked as vulnerable as Carolina so far. Florida State lost at home while Maryland won on the road Tuesday. The league is wide open -- after Duke -- so all is not lost for the Tar Heels. But they had better find that intensity, urgency and, for Williams at least, get back on defense -- and fast.

"I don't worry about the expectations," said Paige. "We can be a really good team."

That’s still to be determined.

"It's a good group, a really good group of kids," Williams said. "Right now is a tough time and we'll find out how mentally strong we are in practice."


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Quick thoughts from top-ranked Indiana's 83-59 victory over No. 14 North Carolina on Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge:

Overview: Until the beatdown began in the second half, Indiana and North Carolina had mainly played a tight game Tuesday. The Hoosiers (7-0) couldn’t pull away. James Michael McAdoo & Co. attacked the rim, keeping the Tar Heels alive in a hostile environment during the first half.

But once Indiana turned up the pressure after halftime, the Tar Heels (5-2) didn’t have any answers. A 46-37 advantage became a 70-43 edge midway through the second half. It quickly became an embarrassing event for a North Carolina team that lost to another Indiana-based squad, Butler, in last week’s Maui Invitational.

With 3 minutes, 46 seconds to play in the game, Indiana had three players who had scored 19 points or more (Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey) and another, Jordan Hulls, who had registered 13.

Indiana was on a different level, a stark contrast from the disparities between the two programs in recent years. But this lopsided win was another piece of evidence that justified Indiana’s status as the No. 1 team in the country.

Turning point: With 3:45 to play in the first half, Oladipo drew a flagrant foul; Indiana led 33-31 at the time. By the end of the half, however, the score was 46-37 in favor of the Hoosiers. It was a burst that secured the momentum for Indiana entering the second half. The Tar Heels had climbed back into the game, but Indiana’s surge late in the first half turned the matchup for good.

Key player: You could pick a few, but Zeller was stellar. His size and tenacity were problems for the Tar Heels. They couldn’t match up with him in the half court. They couldn’t run with him. They couldn’t alter his shots at the rim. Zeller was a polished player his freshman season. But he’s clearly a more complete player as a sophomore.

Key stat: Indiana was 8-for-20 from the 3-point line against the Tar Heels.

Miscellaneous: McAdoo started strong, but give the Hoosiers credit for slowing him down in the second half. ... You could see the competitive fire between Marcus Paige and Yogi Ferrell, the top two point guards in the 2012 recruiting class. Ferrell’s crisp passing helped Indiana’s offense flow throughout the game. Paige played hard throughout, too. Bright future for both players. ... I don’t think having P.J. Hairston available would have changed the outcome. But the Tar Heels certainly missed his 3-point shooting (they were 1-for-8 from beyond the arc).

Next game: North Carolina will face Alabama-Birmingham at home Saturday. Indiana will attempt to preserve its perfect record when it plays Coppin State on Saturday in Bloomington.

Video: Indiana 101, Ball State 53

November, 25, 2012
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Jordan Hulls scores 17 in Indiana's 101-53 win over Ball State.

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