We've obviously been staying on top of the emerging story surrounding the youthful Indiana Hoosiers, who beat Illinois last week 52-49 (great game, watched it at Yogis) and then took Michigan State to the wire in an 84-83 overtime loss (we were ROBBED, thanks officials) at the Breslin Center.
My first question is: The kids are getting it done without the services of Verdell Jones OR Maurice Creek, who were inarguably the top scoring options on this team coming in to the season, at least at guard. How?
The answer? Sophomores Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford are apparently entering their primes. Hulls is absolutely clutch -
-and Watford is presenting a strong case that he is going to be NBA worthy after probably another year.
Next question: Are the injuries to Creek and Verdell allowing other players to shine?
Well, I wouldn't exactly call this a blessing in disguise, but let's be honest. Maurice this year was nowhere close to where he was last year, when he led all freshmen in scoring before his season-ending injury. He couldn't move as well and his shot was off.
Now, Matt Roth gets off the bench and can provide instant offense, as he did against Michigan State. Will Sheehey can show us all why Crean was so excited to add him to the team - nice fastbreak and dunk against the Spartans, kid! - and between him and Oladipo, this year's freshman class looks to be fitting in nicely.
Lastly, what about the big men?
I've been a Tom Pritchard defender basically since we started having to defend Pritchard all the time, which would be after his production fell off a cliff midway through 2008-09. If he can just stay in the game, he provides solid defense and pick-and-roll skills, as well as a penchant for the big moment. Huge plays winning the Illinois game and then getting some very key rebounds in the later minutes of Michigan State.
On average, Tom fouls 6.7 times per forty minutes, while only drawing two fouls in that time. If there's an area for improvement (and there is) then this is it, because his backups Derek Elston (minus 2.1) and Bobby Capobianco (minus SEVEN!) aren't good at getting opposing big men in trouble, either.
Watford, by the way, leads the team in this category, fouling three times per forty and drawing 6.7/40, good for 47th in the nation according to kenpom.com.
So can we beat Minnesota tomorrow? I think so. Will we? Who knows, but if this team keeps showing us steady improvement and gelling like they have been, almost anything is possible. And yes, I include an NIT bid in that statement.