Finally getting my first opportunity to sit at a computer with some extended down time and I’ve been watching the replay of the game on the Big Ten Network while skimming multiple message boards. The overall haters mentality for Indiana is that Kentucky played a terrible game and IU had to play the game of their lives to even win on a buzzer beater. Going back and watching the game a second time shows this notion to be fundamentally untrue. Yes, Indiana played a very good game, but no, they were not at the best they could play. Follow along as we dissect some of the specific reasons that Indiana won the game and Kentucky lost through the eyes of Monday morning coaches.
Indiana had to shoot out of their minds to even keep it close: False
Indiana finished 9-15 from behind the three point line, which is a 60% clip. It was an incredible display of long ranged shooting from the Hoosiers but was it miraculous like much of the world is making it out to be? No. In fact, in such a small sample size, 9-15 isn’t so outrageous. If they missed two more than they made then they’re directly on line for their season average from behind the line. It turns out that the Indiana Hoosiers are just incredibly good from distance and Kentucky struggles defending the perimeter. In the replay, I counted the number of threes that were open compared to contested. Kentucky had a hand in the face of Indiana on 2 of their 9 makes. TWO of NINE. Indiana wasn’t all that fantastic shooting from deep, Kentucky was just that bad at defending the perimeter. Now you could attribute that to great ball movement and inside-out passing from Indiana or Kentucky being a bad defensive team. Advanced metrics suggest the former rather than the latter.
Kentucky’s best player had a bad night: True
Assuming you agree that Terrance Jones is Kentucky’s best player and potential All-American, then it is true Kentucky’s best player had a bad night. In fact, watching the game over again tonight, the best adjective to describe his play on Saturday is gutless. He was absolutely dreadful. At one point I focused on him around the nine minute mark in the second half. He was on the offensive end with Zeller guarding him and he didn’t move for 12 seconds. Didn’t flinch. Just stood there. If I were a Kentucky fan I’d probably be calling for him to be benched. It wasn’t just an off night for Jones, it was effortless. He is easily the goat of the night. One rebound and four points from a player that had a clear physical advantage. Gah, I’d be furious if he were my guy. Of course you do have to give some credit to Watford and Pritchard in the defensive effort. Every time Jones caught the ball they were there. Every pick set for Jones was fought through with maximum effort from those two. They offered a pretty stout resistance to keep Jones out of the game.
The officials handed IU the win: False
This is fundamentally not true. I will concede that the calls were inconsistent from one half to the second but it was inconsistent across the board for both teams. Looking back at the replay and seeing some plays that I thought were fouls proved to be pretty good no-calls. Some that I thought to be bad calls turned out to be right on. Of course there was the issue of the first half being called much closer than the second but it was done so equally across the board. In the end, the onus was on Kentucky for not shooting well from the line. Here is a pretty telling stat from the evening. Both teams shot 17 free throws. Kentucky hit four less than the 14 that Indiana hit. However, of those 17 free throws for IU, 14 of them came before the 14 minute mark in the second half. Kentucky? They shot eight free throws over the final 14 minutes compared to IU’s three. They also had three less team fouls for the game. Officiating, if anything, favored the Wildcats in crunch time, but most likely offered no one the advantage.
Indiana handled the ball well: False
IU struggled mightily at times to take care of the ball. They finished the night with 18 turnovers compared to Kentucky’s 16. IU’s struggles at the point were a bit concerning. They strained in stretches to not only distribute the ball well but avoid deflections. Kentucky’s length wreaked havoc on the passing game of the Hoosiers in stretches. On the flip side they had good stretches of guarding against the turnover. In the good stretches they thrived and when Kentucky stepped up the D there were problems. Obviously a more complete game in this aspect makes this team much more deadly than it proved to be on Saturday.
The best players had the best game: False
We get it Dickie V, the Hoosiers need to get the ball to Zeller. While Vitale was 100% correct in that aspect, we get it, shut up already. Cody Zeller was mostly a statistical non-factor on the scoring end. Of course he brought his biggest weapon to the game, presence, but he didn’t factor much into the offensive flow of the game. The Hoosiers could have done much better feeding Zeller the ball, especially against Vargas when Anthony Davis was out of the game. Push the ball through Zeller more and it is likely that you would have seen the same shooting percentage of 60% on 20 three pointers instead of 15. For the other team, the bold statement could be true. Forget Terrance Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist needs to change his last name, because he’s not a kid but a man. No Gilchrest Saturday and the Wildcats lose by double digits and probably closer to 20 than 10. The dude is a beast and likely supplanted Jones for the status of best player currently residing in the state of Kentucky. He distributed, attacked the rim and played lock down defense. An all-around player and should be Freshman All-American.
In the end, Indiana played a really good game, but not a great one. There is still plenty of room for growth in this squad. The game film from Kentucky is likely going to be a staple in the film room from here on out. It was such a great dichotomy of great basketball and terrible basketball for both teams. Shot selection for both teams was not very good overall and the complete lack of Kentucky to even consider shooting the three ball got them beat. Wiltjer takes one three instead of trying to penetrate the lane on the dribble and Kentucky wins. BUT, on the same end of the court, if Indiana does a better job of recognizing Kentucky willingness to pass up on the three they could have improved defensively against the dribble drive. Hulls and Jones were beat numerous times off the first step, perhaps a half step back allows them to react in time to stop the drive. Overall, Kentucky and Indiana can both be happy with the effort from their respective squads, minus Terrance Jones. It was a battle and a hell of a game. Can’t wait to see it played again next year.