I'll admit it. If, at 7:59 p.m. last night, someone had held a gun to my head and asked me which team was going to win, I would have said "Evansville." Part of it is because I'm shellshocked after the last three years. Part of it is that even NCAA-worthy IU teams have struggled on the road against in-state opponents (I'm thinking mostly of losses to Butler in 1993-94 and Indiana State in 2000-01 and 2005-06). Hell, Evansville's Colt Ryan is even from Batesville, the town that produced ISU's Michael Menser, the Hoosiers' nemesis a decade ago. The Aces knocked off NCAA runner-up Butler last weekend, they are an experienced team with a good coach, and this was a huge game for Evansville and its fans. Fortunately, my nervousness about last night's game proved to be completely unfounded. IU jumped out to a 7-0 lead, never trailed, and essentially sealed the game by halftime. IU's lead was as large as 33 before some garbage-time defensive lapses allowed the Aces to make things look more respectable than they really were. A game that screamed "trap!" turned out to be a house of horrors for Evansville and a very solid performance from IU.
Here are the stats. Obviously, IU continues to shoot extremely well, at 55 percent for the game and 60 percent in the first half. The three point shooting was very good as well:11-21. That number won't hold up, particularly when it is reliant on Verdell Jones III going 4-4, but IU got a number of open looks. The rebounding wasn't great, but it was nice that IU turned the ball over only 12 times (16 percent) against a team that relies pretty heavily on such things. Evansville turned the ball over 16 times, and 7 of the TOs were credited as steals for IU. The Hoosiers' overall numbers are getting pretty gaudy. IU is #15 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, #2 nationally with an effective field goal percentace of 64.5, #18 in three point shooting percentage (47.2) and #10 in two point shooting percentage (62). We are #31 in the Pomeroy ratings (which still include numbers from last year) and Pom now projects us to finish 20-11/9-9. Those numbers aren't sustainable, but at this point we have taken it to all of our opponents, and none of them have been sub-300 body bag games.
Individual stat lines of note:
Cody Zeller played very well, scoring 15 points on 6-7 from the field and adding 9 rebounds. His presence drew the double team, which helped IU's perimeter shooting and didn't really do much to stop Cody anyway.
- Verdell Jones III played one of the finest games of his career, scoring 17 points on 5-8 shooting, including 4-4 from deep, and adding 7 assists compared to 2 turnovers.
Victor Oladipo didn't score as much as in previous games, with 8 points on 3-8 shooting, but had 4 boards, 4 assists, and 3 steals (and 2 turnovers).
- Christian Watford finally looked like himself, scoring 15 points on 5-7 from the field and grabbing 8 rebounds.
Jordan Hulls was his steady self, scoring a quite 14 points on 7 shots.
- Will Sheehey added 10 points off the bench, giving IU five double figure scorers.
- It appears that Derek Elston is going to get most of the minutes spelling Cody Zeller, and that's fine. The healthy Elston we have seen this season is much more reminiscent of the promise he showed a a freshman rather than his subpar sophomore season. He's not as big as Zeller, of course (or Tom Pritchard), but he is a much more versatile offensive player than Pritchard and has enough shooting range to cause matchup problems for many interior defenders.
I'm trying not to oversell this. IU has looked very good so far. We have exceeded expectations in every game, dramatically so last night. That doesn't change the reality that we have our weak spots. Zeller is going to get into foul trouble at some point and is going to be out-muscled by some of our opponents. Our point guard play and perimeter defense remain concerns. Any significant injuries could have a major impact. All that said...hey, this stuff is fun again! I find myself watching other college basketball games with interest instead of with jealousy. I look forward to writing the recaps. I'm sure there will be some low moments this year, but we seem well on our way to being a bubble team, which most of us agreed before the season would be a positive, and are making it non-crazy to hope for more.