PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 17: Bradford Burgess #2o and Rob Brandenberg #11 of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams react after losing to the Indiana Hoosiers 63-61 during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Rose Garden Arena on March 17, 2012 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Sorry for the delay in commenting on this game. I've been traveling. Obviously, this was an excellent and important win for the team, the coach and the program. Last night's win over VCU guarantees that this season is unambiguously a success. IU has now won 27 games, the most since 1992-93, has advanced to the second weekend of the Tournament for the first time since 2002 and only the second time since 1994, and the team responded to its only losing streak of the season (Minnesota-OSU-Nebraska) by going 12-4 since then. IU lost Verdell Jones III, one of its key leaders and most trusted ballhandlers, to an injury in the Big Ten Tournament, yet survived in the second round against the most opportunistic defense in Division I. The worst case scenario is that IU will lose in the round of sixteen to the best team in the country, having beat that team once already, one of the other number one seeds, and a number two seed. IU's wins over Kentucky, VCU, and Butler mean that IU has defeated three of last season's Final Four teams. Three straight 20 loss seasons gave way to a Sweet 16 season. Before the 2008-09 season began, I expected a trajectory something like disaster in year one, NIT in year two, NCAA in year three, and make some noise in the NCAA in year four. Obviously, years two and three fell short of that timetable, but arguably IU is back on course after this season. As for Tom Crean, as solid as his Marquette record was, this is only his second trip to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The first, of course, was his trip to the Final Four nine years ago. This run will make it a bit tougher for his critics to question Crean's Tournament resume.
As for the game, obviously Seth Davis and other members of the national media took quite a bit of heat from IU fans about their predictions, but while they were wrong about the result, they certainly were correct about the concerns. IU's turnover percentage of 33.5 was the ugliest since Crean's first season at IU. I did think Crean made a good point however, in his postgame interview, noting that the turnovers were unfortunate, but that IU's 66 percent shooting in the first half also was a function of VCU's aggressive defense. While Verdell Jones III is not an excellent ballhandler, he unquestionably was missed, particularly with Jordan Hulls struggling as he did. IU was able to come back for a couple of reasons: first, the combination of IU's solid defense and cold shooting by VCU; second, IU was very strong on the boards, grabbing 34 percent of its own offensive rebounding opportunities and allowing VCU only 22 percent of its opportunities. These two factors offset IU's turnovers and less-than-stellar second half shooting.
Of course, the individuals whose performances will be best remembered are Victor Oladipo, whose old-fashioned three point play tied the game, and Will Sheehey, whose baseline jumper with 12 seconds remaining gave IU its first lead in nearly 20 minutes and the final margin of victory. I've said many times that as heralded as the current juniors, current freshmen (at least Zeller), and next year's freshmen are, the unheralded Sheladipo class is the primary reason that IU has made a leap from 12 wins to 27 and counting.
Other individual performances:
Cody Zeller struggled at times, and turned the ball over five times, but he still ended up tied for the team lead with 16 points and was the only Hoosier who spent any time at the line. He also had 13 boards, by far the game high.
"Good Watford" was present and accounted for. Sixteen points, 4-5 from deep, solid on the boards, only one turnover.
Victor Oladipo had five turnovers and looked a bit out of control as a ballhandler, but he was 4-5 from the field and had 6 assists.
Will Sheehey was 4-6 from the field and had 4 assists.
Well, we are who they thought we were, but found a way to win anyway. Now, it's Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome, the site of IU's last Final Four appearance. Much, much more on that game as the week transpires. Whatever happens isn't going to diminish the progress that the Hoosiers have made this season.
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