Indiana v. Kentucky: a look back at the first meeting.

BLOOMINGTON, IN - DECEMBER 10: Cody Zeller #40 of the Indiana Hoosiers dunks the ball during the Indiana 73-72 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats at Assembly Hall on December 10, 2011 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

I will have a full preview posted tomorrow, but for today, it's worthwhile to take a look back at the first game. Here was my nutshell opinion of the first game:

What's nice about the Kentucky win is that while it was an upset, it wasn't a fluke. IU won with perimeter shooting, and offset the expected offensive turnover onslaught by forcing 17 of their own (25 percent). The defense didn't exactly keep Kentucky in check (UK shot 55 percent for the game and 68 percent in the second half) but did prevent UK from matching IU's three point shooting. UK was 2-7 from deep while IU was 9-15. That, really, was the reason Watford was in a position to make the game-winner in the first place. Coming in to the game, Kentucky's three point field goal defense numbers looked good, but the Kentucky commenters who stopped by insisted that it was a relative weakness for UK. It appears they were correct. It should be unsurprising that in a game decided by a buzzer beater, it was pretty even statistically. As I said above, UK shot the ball better than IU, but IU offset that by taking and making a high percentage of three pointers. In turnovers, assists, steals, offensive rebounding percentage (IU 40, UK 39), and free throw rate, the teams were comparable (both teams took 17 free throws, but IU was 14-17 while UK was 10-17). It was a game that could have gone either way, and thankfully it went IU's way. Most encouragingly, I think IU can play better, and the effort, from wire to wire in nearly every game, has been great. It was disappointing to have given up big leads in both the first and second halves, but as they did against NC State, the Hoosiers didn't quit and didn't panic. The poise that Jones and Watford showed on that final play was remarkable.

And here's what I had to say about the individual performances:

  • As I said last night, Christian Watford was huge, and it's a well-deserved moment for a much-maligned Hoosier. While some of the criticism of Watford was over the top, it is true that last season, he tended to disappear against top-flight competition. Not last night. 20 points on 8-15 shooting, including 4-6 from deep. As I said in my preview, Watford is the only IU player, other than Cody Zeller, who was a recruit of the caliber of all of Kentucky's players. Last night, it showed.
    Verdell Jones III didn't play a mistake free game, but he had the assist for the ages, and was 4-5 from the line.
  • Cody Zeller wasn't as big a part of the offense as would have been preferred, but he held his own against tough competition: 11 points, 4-8 from the field, 3-3 from the line, 7 boards. Much was made, particularly by Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale, of IU's failure to feed the post during the final five or seven minutes of the game. I don't think they were off-base, and I would have liked to see more of it, and it sounds as if Tom Crean agreed, based on postgame comments. I think there are a few things at work. First, it's been clear all season that IU's guards haven't completely absorbed how to use a big man of Zeller's caliber. Second, Verdell Jones III, for as well as he played in the final seconds last night, has limitations as a point guard, and I imagine that the guards were cautious, perhaps excessively so, because of UK's disruptive defense. I think the factor that makes me wish Crean had called a timeout and focused on feeding the post is that Anthony Davis had four fouls, and IU played noticeably better when Davis was on the bench. But neither Vitale nor anyone else was complaining about IU's failure to feed the post when the Hoosiers made seven three pointers in a row. IU won the game on the perimeter. Still, the general point that IU can't forget about Zeller is well-taken.
  • Jordan Hulls didn't extend his free throw shooting streak, but he did everything else. He scored 11 points, on 4-7/3-6 shooting, and while he had 5 turnovers, he had 5 assists and 4 steals.
  • Victor Oladipo was a very good counter to Kentucky's athleticism. He was only 4-12 shooting, but he was tied for Zeller with 7 boards and got to the basket quite a bit.
  • Sheehey played a surprisingly low 16 minutes, but as always, made the most of it with 10 points on 3-8 shooting.

Sadly, Verdell Jones III won't be able to reprise his late-game heroics, but everyone else should be ready to go.

Of course, this is a huge game for both sides, and it's worth taking a look at what SB Nation's excellent UK blog, A Sea of Blue, has to say about IU now:

Kentucky Basketball: Looking at the Hoosiers Part I - The Past - A Sea Of Blue
Kentucky Basektball: Looking at the Hoosiers Part I - The Past. The loss to IU back in December should give Kentucky fans reason for concern, but also reasons for optimism. Part I in a series.

Kentucky Basketball: Looking at the Hoosiers Part II -- The Present - A Sea Of Blue
Kentucky Basketball: Looking at the Hoosiers Part II -- The Present. A Sea of Blue analyzes the advantages Kentucky has in Friday's game versus the Indiana Hoosiers.

...and then:

Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Picking Through More Kentucky-Indiana Wreckage - A Sea Of Blue
Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Picking Through More Kentucky-Indiana Wreckage. How you can win the statistical battle and still lose the game.

A Few More Thoughts on the Kentucky Wildcats @ Indiana Hoosiers Game - A Sea Of Blue
A Few More Thoughts on the Kentucky Wildcats @ Indiana Hoosiers Game. A Sea of Blue continues the analysis of Kentucky's loss to Indiana yesterday.

More on this one tomorrow.

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