So, is there like, an important game today or something? I hope so, otherwise I'm not sure why I bothered Austan from the fine Indiana blog The Crimson Quarry with 5 stimulating and enlightening questions. I supposed I could bother Amelia Rayno to tell me when the Gophers play. I mean, that's the primary job of a beat writer, to serve as teh Google for rubes like me. Right? Meh, I'm just going to assume there's a game today. On to the questions.
The Daily Gopher: While no one (ok, no one who is sane) questions that Indiana is one of the country's best teams, you still hear plenty of people talk about not knowing how "for real" the Hoosiers are because of their non-conference schedule. Do you buy into that line of thinking? Do you wish the Hoosiers had played a tougher slate before the B1G season?
Austan: Indiana is for real. The Hoosiers have as many good players as any team in the nation. Offensively, Indiana has ample weapons, but it's been the Hoosiers' commitment to defense that's really been impressive. The Pomeroy ratings have Indiana as the ninth best defensive team -- a marked improvement from 64th a season ago. The next step for this group is proving it can consistently win Big Ten road games. This current crop of Hoosiers and coach Tom Crean have accomplished a lot over the past 15 months, but most of it has come inside Assembly Hall. All Big Ten teams struggle on the road, but Crean's Hoosiers are 6-32 in conference road games, with two of those wins coming this season. As for the schedule, it looks a little softer because North Carolina is having a rare down year and UCLA -- who Indiana could have met in Brooklyn -- wasn't playing well early, so the Hoosiers ended up facing a decent Georgetown team instead. Indiana's best opposition thus far was Butler, and it lost that game. I do wish the schedule had been a little more difficult, but at the same time, there will be plenty of challenges in conference play to prepare this team for the postseason.
TDG: Obviously everyone knows about Cody Zeller. Actually, most folks probably know several names beyond Cody but my schtick in these Q&A's is to ask the other blogger to tell me who else we should keep an eye on besides a singular BMOC. Since Indiana is a pretty well known quantity I guess I'll mix things up and ask you who you think will have the best game against the Gophers and why? And yes, you're allowed to answer "Cody Zeller" (though the best answer would be "NO ONE. WE'RE SO TOTALLY SCREWED).
Austan: Actually, Cody Zeller hasn't been Indiana's best player this year. In fact, he's been a little disappointing, to be honest. Indiana's best player has been Victor Oladipo. The 6-foot-5 junior improved in each of his first two seasons, but Oladipo has taken his game to a different level this year. Oladipo and Rodney Williams may be the two best pure athletes in the Big Ten. Oladipo has always been a defensive menace (2.3 steals per game this year), but the improvement has come on the offensive end. Coming in to today, Oladpio is hitting a remarkable 67 percent of his shots, including 47 percent from beyond the arc -- quite a jump after he hit just 20 percent of his 3-point tries last year. Shooting 67 percent speaks to his ability to get to the rim and his judicious shot selection. There isn't a phase of the game which the ultra-active Oladipo can't impact.
TDG: In looking over the stats, the one thing that caught my eye about the Hoosiers is that on paper they don't have a glaring weak spot (at least not one as glaring as Minnesota's issues with defensive rebounding). If I had to pick 2 areas that they appear to struggle, it would be with turnovers and giving up offensive boards. Would you agree? Any other areas that you think the Gophers need to exploit to win the game?
Austan: Indiana's weaknesses are defensive rebounding and toughness, which go hand-in-hand. Indiana is a skill-based team that wants to play a free-flowing, up-and-down game as opposed to a slow, grind-it-out affair. The Hoosiers have some players who will shove back when they've been shoved, so to speak, but they only have two guys -- Oladipo and Will Sheehey -- who will start the fight, if that makes sense. In the Butler game, Indiana was simply beat up on the glass. The Hoosiers haven't played anyone who's very good since then, so it's hard to tell if Indiana has improved in that area. We will get to see today as the Gophers boast a pair of big-time, relentless offensive rebounders in Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams.
TDG: What about this game and the matchup with Minnesota makes you the most confident in a Hoosier victory? What would you like to see Indiana's gameplan be?
Austan: The fact that this game is in Assembly Hall makes me confident. Yes, I know Minnesota came to Bloomington and won last season, but Indiana hasn't lost a home game since. Also, on paper the Gophers aren't a bad matchup for the Hoosiers. Indiana has struggled with bigger teams at times because the Hoosiers start three guards, two of which (Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls) are listed at 6-foot. Oladipo is typically placed on the opposition's best perimeter player. Against some teams, that forces Hulls -- who is already a defensive liability to begin with -- to (try to) guard a much bigger player. That won't be the case against the Gophers as Minnesota will have guards Joe Coleman, Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins on the court for a majority of the game. Purely a guess here, but I'd look for IU's defensive matchups to go like this: Ferrell-Andre Hollins, Oladipo-Austin Hollins and Hulls-Joe Coleman. Whoever Hulls ends up guarding will have a chance to have a big game, especially on the boards. As for Indiana's gameplan, I'd like to see the Hoosiers come out in attack-mode, which they usually do at home. Against Penn State, Indiana displayed a focus and purpose I hadn't seen this season. I'd like to see the Hoosiers bring that attitude -- one where they're the aggressor from the get go -- into a game against one of the big boys. (ED NOTE: I don't know about you, but it still makes me smile to see the Gophers listed as "one of the big boys.")
TDG: Predictions for today?
Austan: At this point in the season, there's no doubt that Indiana and Minnesota are two of the nation's best teams. It should be a slugfest. To me, it comes down to homecourt advantage. Boosted by the home faithful, I think the Hoosiers edge the red-hot Gophers, 77-71. Here's to hoping it's a great game.
I second everything in that last answer minus the Hoosier victory. Thanks to Austan for kindly taking the time to answer my questions! As always, stop back later today to join in the discussion of this huge game in the Open Thread. Ski-U-Mah and GO GOPHERS!