Indiana was ranked atop the polls entering the season. They have had a couple of rough spots since, yet, as we near March, they are back atop the rankings again. When you consider the fate of some teams ranked near them — I’m looking at you and your preseason No. 3 ranking, Kentucky — what Indiana has done in living up to expectations is impressive. But just how good are these Hoosiers in what has been a very topsy-turvy year for the sport? Do they have what it takes to go all the way? Let’s take a look:
Oladipo is a beast
Victor Oladipo is a perfect example of how inexact the science of recruiting is. Coming out of high school three years ago he was ranked as the 53rd-best shooting guard in the country by ESPN. Now I’d give him my vote for National Player of the Year — and I am a diehard Michigan fan who worships Trey Burke. On a team where he was supposed to be in the supporting role for Preseason Player of the Year Cody Zeller, Oladipo has taken the team on his back and elevated his game incomprehensibly beyond where it was last year. The scary thing is that he is still just growing into his game, so he’s only getting better as the season progresses. He’s a massive asset for this team.
Tested by schedule
There is no denying that the Hoosiers have been tested. The Big Ten was touted as a brutal league before the season started. If anything, it has been even tougher than advertised. Not only are Michigan and Michigan State elite, but Ohio State is very good, Wisconsin has been surprisingly dangerous, and Illinois and Minnesota can do some damage even if they lack consistency. Just brutal. Indiana has two losses in the conference, but they have two wins over Michigan State and have beaten Michigan and won at Ohio State. There is absolutely no doubt that the team will be ready for anything that will be thrown at them in March. In fact, surviving the Big Ten tournament is going to be just as hard as the NCAA Tournament will be.
Focus after big games a concern
If there is a concern in conference play, it’s that the team has let their focus lapse slightly as they celebrate some big efforts. Their loss at home to Wisconsin came after an emotional win over a Minnesota team that was ranked eighth in the country at the time. The loss at Illinois followed a home win over No. 1- ranked Michigan. From this point forward there is no such thing as a minor game. Therefore, if they can’t keep their head in the game after a big win, then March could end sooner than they are obviously hoping. Their next game will be a good test — they travel to a struggling Minnesota after their huge win at Michigan State.
Zeller has upside
Zeller has gone from preseason favorite to win the big individual awards to an afterthought in the discussions. Some of that is because of play a step or two below expectations and some is because Oladipo has been so good. He is clearly coming around on his game, though, and is rounding into form as the games intensify. When a guy as good as he is starts getting better, then the team is obviously dangerous.
Didn’t play their best against the Spartans and still won
The win at Michigan State was a turning point in the way I viewed this team — and I am sure I am not the only one. The bench was brutal in the game — just six points from what is usually a very strong unit. The team lacked discipline and got far too many fouls, too. For the team to win like they did against a very good, very hot team despite performing well below their best — and to do it on the road in a very hostile setting — shows you just how good this team is.
No. 1 in the Midwest a huge advantage for them
Right now the team is in the driver’s seat to earn the top seed in the Midwest for the tournament. That means that if they make the second weekend they would be playing just down the road in Indianapolis. That would obviously be a massive advantage for a team that hardly needs it.
The Hoosiers are a very public team at the best of times, and that is obviously amplified when they are atop the polls. Given that big public attention, it is impressive that they are still 15-10 ATS. Only Iowa is more profitable in the Big Ten. It would be acceptable if they were much worse to bet on, so this is yet another reason to give the team credit.
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