Mutka: Unbridled Hoosiers need more than one gear
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org February 3, 2013 5:42PM
BLOOMINGTON, IN - FEBRUARY 02: Victor Oladipo #4 of the Indiana Hoosiers shoots the ball during the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Assembly Hall on February 2, 2013 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 154060812
Updated: March 5, 2013 6:30AM
What makes Indiana a potential national champion should also give fans of the Hoosiers a serious case of nerves. IU’s relentless and reckless attacking approach could contain the seeds of elimination come tournament time.
They nearly buried former No. 1 Michigan, but allowed the Wolverines to come back from a 28-13 deficit by exceeding the speed limit. When it came time to shift gears the Hoosiers disregarded the rules of the road, committing unforced errors. The Big Ten leaders survived to knock off their second No. 1 team in as many seasons, but were outscored 21-9 on turnovers.
Michigan’s Trey Burke, who could be the Big Ten MVP, kept the Wolverines in the hunt with 25 points, but needed 24 shots, possibly because he was guarded by everybody but the student manager.
Victor Oladipo, who will undoubtedly dethrone OSU’s Aaron Craft for defensive player of the year honors, serves as the emotional epicenter of the Hoosiers. He leads them with 54 steals and was unofficially credited with an amazing 22 deflections in a victory over Michigan State. Cody Zeller may be an All-American, but Oladipo is clearly IU’s MVP though he needs to be reined in from time to time.
Because the Hoosiers are averaging 84 points it’s easy to overlook their defense, but stopper Christian Watford was their unsung hero Saturday. In addition to ringing up his 16th double-double (14 point, 10 rebounds) he limited freshman Glenn Robinson III to just one basket and four rebounds in 40 minutes.
Headed by Zeller’s 16.3 average, IU boasts five players in double figures counting sixth man Will Sheehey’s 9.9 average. It’s enough to make the average Hoosier giddy up, but their thoroughbreds have a long way to go.
The perils of the road await. Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota and a season-ending trip to Michigan stand between the Hoosiers and their 21st Big Ten regular-season title (Purdue leads with 22). Meanwhile, the Hoosiers grade A+ in my annual mid-term report. Here’s how the rest of the league fares:
Michigan (20-2, 7-2) — The latest top-ranked team to tumble, the young Wolverines suffered from freshman jitters in the first five minutes at Indiana, but made a gallant comeback behind Burke. Coach John Beilein starts freshmen Robinson (10.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, Lake Central), Nik Stauskas (12.5 ppg) and 6-10 rookie thumper Mitch McGary (Chesterton) pounds off the bench to lead them in rebounds.
Burke is averaging 18.2 points and leads the Big Ten in assists (7+). Tim Hardaway, one of four Wolverines in double figures, adds 15.6 points. Next for the Wolverines is nemesis Ohio State. Perilous road trips to Wisconsin and Michigan State are potential minefields. Grade: A+
Michigan State (18-4, 7-2) — Unbeaten at home, the overlooked Spartans still have two games with archrival Michigan. They must also visit Ohio State and host Indiana in a critical three-week stretch which will decide the championship. On media day, coach Tom Izzo called Gary’s Branden Dawson his best rebounder and the 6-6 sophomore confirmed it with double-figures on the boards in three recent conference victories. The Lew Wallace grad bounced back from season-ending surgery in his freshman year to average 10.6 points. He is also shooting 55.6 percent and leads the Spartans in steals.
Guard Keith Appling and Gary Harris, a Hoosier transplant from Fishers, rank 1-2 in scoring. Still young, MSU’s only senior is 6-9 Derrick Nix. Grade: A
Ohio State (17-4, 7-2) — Under former Butler coach Thad Matta, Ohio State doesn’t rebuild, it just reloads. The defensive-minded Buckeyes have limited five of their last six Big Ten conquests to fewer than 60 points. Fort Wayne’s Deshaun Thomas is bidding for Big Ten player of the year honors with 20.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, Lenzelle Smith joins the 6-7 junior in double figures. Academic All-American guard Aaron Craft already owns the school record for career steals and is the reigning defensive player of the year. Grade: B+
Wisconsin (14-7, 5-3) — Under the radar coaching genius Bo Ryan continues to create winners with average talent. His .710 percentage is the best in Big Ten history. The Badgers seldom beat themselves, averaging just nine turnovers, but poor free throw shooting — a Big Ten worst 61 percent — has compounded their offensive struggles. After beating IU for the 11th straight time, they bottomed out, scoring in the 40s three times. Jared Berggren (11.9 ppg) and Ryan Evans (7.5 rpg) have carried the overachieving Badgers, but redhead Mike Bruesewitz is supplying adrenaline since coming back from a freak preseason leg injury which required surgery. Grade: B
Minnesota (16-5, 4-4) — Four straight road losses chilled the Gophers’ conference title hopes after a 15-1 start. It’s deja vu for coach Tubby Smith, who coaxed the Gophers to a 12-1 record the previous year only to see them stumble to 6-12 in the conference. Rebounding ace Tevor Mbakwe, who played only seven games last season before being sidelined, is back and yanking down nearly nine per game, but has yet to regain his scoring touch. Forward Rodney Williams, Minnesota’s go-to-guy, recently joined the 1,000-point club. Grade: B-
Purdue (11-11, 4-5) — Thanks to 7-footer A.J. Hammons, the Boilers lead the Big Ten in rebounds and blocked shots. Offensively challenged, they’re shooting only 31.2 percent from the arc and connecting on just 63.1 percent of their free throws.
Junior Terone Johnson leads Purdue in scoring (13.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg). Ball-handling is an issue with the Boilermakers getting their pockets picked for 140 steals. They’re a minus 39 in that category. Their lackluster response to a 97-60 thrashing by Indiana, a lopsided loss at Northwestern, was discouraging. Grade: C
Illinois (15-7, 2-6) — A 12-0 start, including victories over Butler and Gonzaga, raised high hopes, but (shades of deposed coach Bruce Weber), the Illini staggering into Big Ten rigor mortis. Brandon Paul (17.6 ppg, 4.7 rebounds) is as advertised. D.J. Richardson and Tracy Adams are clicking for 11-plus points. The Illini are shooting a miserable 26.1 percent from the arc and suffer from a soft perimeter defense. Grade: C
Iowa (14-7, 3-5) — A program on the rise, dangerous Iowa is underrated and could develop into a tournament darkhorse. Coach Fran McCaffery has assembled a nine-man rotation, all averaging better than 15 minutes of game-time. The Hawkeyes start three freshmen and a sophomore. Aaron White is one of three Big Ten players averaging 14 points and six rebounds, Roy Marble and Anthony Clemmons are averaging better than 13 points. Grade: C+
Northwestern (13-10, 4-6) — Every year key injuries seem to wreck a potentially promising season for the depth-less Wildcats. Losing Drew Crawford was the current mishap for a team with more ups and downs than the coasters at Six Flags Great America. Fort Wayne’s Reggie Hearn (13.7 ppg) has stepped up and guard Daveid Sobolewski is solid, but Louisville transfer Jared Shropshire has been inconsistent. As usual Northwestern is being abused on the boards. The Cats might not even qualify for an NIT bid, which could put coach Bill Carmody’s job in jeopardy. Grade: C
Nebraska (11-11, 2-7) — The anemic Cornhuskers dropped into the 40s in three losses and are being manhandled in the paint. Dylan Talley, Ray Gallegos and Brandon Ubel are averaging double figures. New coach Tim Miles carries only three players in his eight-man rotation who saw action last year. Grade: D+
Penn State (8-13, 0-9) — Any chance of moving into the middle of the pack disappeared after elite point guard Tim Frazier suffered a season-ending injury only four games into the season. D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall have tried to pick up the pieces, but the toothless Nittany Lions are averaging less than 56 points in conference games. Grade: F