Yet another 1-seed found an early exit in the tournament last night. This time, it was the Indiana Hoosiers who met their fate at the hands of the Syracuse Orange and their famous 2-3 zone.
On a macro level, three things typically beat a zone defense: offensive rebounds, 3-point shots, and transition baskets. Indiana largely failed at all three in their defeat last night. The Hoosiers only made three shots from beyond the arc and had only 11 offensive rebounds (four of which came on one possession and didn’t even result in a made shot). Both of those figures actually fall below their respective season averages of 7.3 and 12.2.
Indiana found some success attacking Syracuse before the Orange could set up in their patented zone, but it was largely a mixed bag. The Orange did a fine job defending in transition last night, greeting the Hoosier break above the 3-point line and forcing wild forays to the rim, like these from Victor Oladipo that resulted in turnovers more often than they did made baskets.
I got a ton of e-mails this week and most of them were worth publishing, but I decided to limit the number to 16 in honor of the upcoming Sweet 16. Let’s get down to business.
Who do you see as the favorites to win it all, and why? Also, who has disappointed you? Between Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon, and La Salle, which team is your favorite Cinderella story? Also, who do you think has the best chance of going far and why?
Never mind. I guess I’ll answer 19 questions.
Louisville is the favorite right now, with Duke and Florida close behind. They’re the only teams that have been at the top of the polls all season and also looked dominant in their first two games. The obvious omission is Michigan, which has been highly ranked all year and just thrashed VCU. But I want to see how the Wolverines handle Kansas before I jump back on their bandwagon. The VCU win was impressive, but the Rams' style of play is possibly the worst approach against Michigan. If the Wolverines dispatch the Jayhawks, they’ll be favorites, too. But if they lose, I would have a hard time considering them contenders for the national title.
The obvious disappointments are Gonzaga and Georgetown. Both have histories of getting bounced early, but I thought this year would be different because of Kelly Olynyk and Otto Porter. I was wrong.
Finally, Oregon is the best double-digit seed remaining, La Salle has the easiest path to the Final Four of the three Cinderellas, and Florida Gulf Coast is the underdog most likely to say “Screw it, let’s go get shitfaced and party on the beach” after it loses.
Eight years ago, college basketball was the most important thing in my life.
Wait, wait. I worry what you just heard was “Eight years ago, I really liked college basketball.” What I said was: “Eight years ago, college basketball was the most important thing in my life.” When I was 17, sports were everything, and college basketball was, by far, my favorite. As a Duke sympathizer (it’s a long story that involves a lack of college basketball in Chicago and Jay Williams) living in Illinois in 2005, I felt it was my moral obligation to both the sport and mankind to remind everyone at my high school that ACC basketball was superior. This led to watching games every night, starting arguments every morning, and eventually going to that year’s Final Four just to watch my least favorite team in the history of sports lose to North Carolina.
As I hit my 20s, that love of college basketball — and Duke — slowly fell away. I like to think it’s because I became less of an asshole, but I suspect there’s more at work. When the latest Golden Age of the NBA began to take shape, and it became clear that I was free of experiences like the Baby Bulls and the 2005 Finals, it felt like pro basketball had again turned into the product worth watching. Players like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose only stoked that fire, and by this season, I’d managed to make it until February before taking in a full college basketball game. With the lackluster slate of NBA games last night, Indiana–Michigan State seemed like as good a place as any to see if I could start things up again.
In case you were busy finding a Belgian who could fence $50 million worth of diamonds, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Indiana got its first win in East Lansing since 1991 with a hard-fought 72-68 win over the Michigan State Spartans. Missed free throws down the stretch hurt the Spartans, as they went 2-for-6 from the stripe in the final two minutes of the game. "I could just feel [Indiana head coach] Tom Crean looking at me as I was at the line," said MSU guard Gary Harris, who missed a chance to tie the game at the line after being fouled on a 3-pointer. Harris went on to explain, "I'm from Indiana and the guy recruited me hard, and I really wanted to go to IU, but then you see him smile, and it's not a real full smile, it's like a creepy half smile. And you start looking at his hairline, and the way it goes way back but he still gets all that volume in his hair, and you start realizing something ain't right. And then you realize Tom Izzo looks kind of the same, and so does Calipari, and so does Pitino, and you start to wonder whether your trapped in some sort of nightmare, where all of the best college basketball coaches out there are the same guy. Or maybe avatars of the same demigod? And that maybe there is no free will, and you'll always end up playing basketball for Tom Crean, or whatever it is that Tom Crean represents, assuming it's supernatural, which I now do. So, yeah, I missed some big free throws, but I had a lot on my mind."
First things first — you might notice there's been a bit of re-branding in these parts. I've been using "epiphanies" as a catch-all term for the recap column this season (as in, "15 Epiphanies from the weekend in college basketball!"), but it gets tough having so many epiphanies every week. Eventually your brain begins to hurt from all that sudden insight and joy, and you start to think, hey, maybe I can fake an epiphany or two. Then you catch yourself typing things like, "EPIPHANY:Bo Ryan is secretly the most exciting man in college athletics," and it gets so bad you can't even look at yourself in the mirror. Such guilt!
So no more epiphanies. From now on, this is The Hardcourt Shuffle. Here are my two reasons for choosing the name:
In just its sixth year of existence, the Legends Classic isn’t exactly legendary or classic, and as early-season tournaments go, it certainly isn’t as renowned as the Maui Invitational. But this year’s Legends Classic was played in Brooklyn’s new Barclays Centre and featured the no. 1 team in the country (Indiana), the no. 1 recruiting class in the country (UCLA), another team that should comfortably make the NCAA tournament (Georgetown), and a team that is Georgia (Georgia). Because of this, this year’s Legends Classic was must-see TV for me. If you didn’t feel the same way, here’s what you missed: four takeaways from Monday's and Tuesday’s games.
Indiana Answered Some Questions
Because of their inconsistency a season ago, the two big questions concerning the preseason no. 1 team in the country this year were whether they could handle being the hunted rather than the hunters and whether they could beat a halfway decent team outside of Assembly Hall. Both questions were answered last night, even if they were answered less emphatically than Hoosiers critics might like.
Last week, we looked at the Dangerous Outsiders, the Royal Blues, and the Title Snipers. This week, we turn to four legitimate championship contenders. So far we've examined NC State, Ohio State, and Louisville. See the box below for those links. Now, it's time for the no. 1 team in all the Americas — the Indiana Hoosiers.
If there was one moment last season when a college basketball game stopped obeying the usual laws and got all transcendent on us — when fast-paced, free-flowing athleticism meshed with the beauty of complex execution and became a kind of sublime, gasp-inducing display of fulfilled offensive potential — it came during the Indiana-Kentucky shootout in the Sweet 16.
When I look back at the 2012 tournament, that's the game that will stick in my memory. Hoosiers coach Tom Crean attacked Kentucky with a game plan that some called ballsy and some called insane. Either way, they were right. He played Kentucky's game, at Kentucky's speed. You have to wonder if at some point the week before, a timid assistant tried to approach Crean and say, "Um ... coach? Just so we're all on the same page, you know we're playing Kentucky, right? The Kentucky? The main one?"
While the rest of the country watched the Packers choke in the NFL playoffs Sunday and made Discount Double Check jokes that quickly became more annoying than the commercials themselves, most college basketball fans in the heartland of America devoted at least half of their attention to the Ohio State-Indiana rematch. Two weeks earlier, largely because Ohio State’s three best players battled foul trouble all game, the Hoosiers upset the Buckeyes in Bloomington and sent a message to the rest of the country: Their win over Kentucky wasn’t a fluke. Thanks to upset losses by both teams earlier in the week, the rematch didn’t have quite the luster leading up to it that it would’ve otherwise had, but it was still a significant game. One team was going to get back on the winning track, while the other was going to fall behind in the race for the Big Ten title. In the end, Ohio State smothered Indiana defensively and cruised to a 17-point, 80-63 win over the Hoosiers on the back of Lenzelle Smith Jr.’s offensive explosion. We’re still two months away from the NCAA tournament, and this was only one game, but let’s overanalyze it anyway.
This blog post was supposed to be about Indiana-Michigan, but when I got down to the business of researching, things veered a little off track. So before things get out of hand, here's what I gathered from Thursday night's game:
Last year, the Indiana Hoosiers finished 12-20. It was Tom Crean’s third season as coach, and those 12 wins were the most for the Hoosiers during his tenure. Crean needs the team to improve this year; he could lose his job if they don’t. So far, he's getting that. Indiana is 11-0 and the only team to have beaten third-ranked Kentucky. As the Hoosiers prepare for the beginning of the conference play, they’re a top-20 team with a chance of challenging Ohio State for the Big Ten crown.
Every year, when upset season begins, an article emerges from a well-meaning but staggeringly uptight writer who has taken time out of his or her precious days on Earth to lecture college kids about storming the court. There have to be rules, you see. We can't just storm for the love of the game. It's not dignified! You know the drill. The rigid enthusiasm cop chides the overzealous fans and sets up arbitrary guidelines, of which there are two mainstays. First, the victory has to be an upset against a top-ranked team or a bitter rival. Second, it should end on a buzzer-beater or something equally dramatic.