This post originally appeared over at AssemblyCall.com, where Jerod, Andy, and Ryan host a postgame show immediately following every IU basketball game.
Kentucky is a great college basketball team.
In this era of college hoops, with parity supposedly reigning throughout Division I, a team does not go 34-2 while winning all of its regular season conference games (even in a down cycle for the conference) and amassing a kenpom adjusted efficiency ratio of +33.8 without being a great team.
So Kentucky is a great team. And they are, rightly so, the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and the team most likely to cut down the nets in New Orleans on April 1st. I will argue none of those points because I agree with all of them. Disrespecting or denigrating Kentucky is absolutely not what this post is about.
However, I’ve had about enough of people like disrespecting and denigrating the achievements of Kentucky’s Sweet 16 opponent, the Indiana Hoosiers. That is what this post is about.
I don’t know if Indiana will beat Kentucky again on Friday.
No one does.
Kentucky has undeniable talent and Indiana will sorely miss the injured Verdell Jones, who assisted on Christian Watford’s epic buzzer beater earlier this year. (And, for the record, our own Andy Bottoms predicted a Kentucky win in his Indiana-Kentucky Sweet 16 preview post.)
But what I do know, which is echoed by Andy in his preview, is that those folks who are insisting that this game is some kind of done deal or foregone conclusion, those folks giving Indiana zero chance to win, are sorely mistaken.
Indiana can win on Friday, and it won’t be some David versus Goliath story if they do. It will technically be an upset, as Kentucky is favored by 9 after all, but Indiana doesn’t have to play perfectly and hope that Kentucky falls flat on its face to allow some kind of March miracle.
Friday night one really good, 4th-seeded basketball team will be playing a great, 1st-seeded basketball team. Such a matchup more often than not will go to the #1 seed, but it can still quite easily go the other way too, especially in March. This matchup is no different.
So before you are overly influenced by any hyperbole-spouting studio shock jocks or other irrational observers who suggest that Kentucky is a near-automatic entrant into the Elite 8, consider these reasons why Indiana has a perfectly reasonable shot to win in Atlanta on Friday night.
1. Indiana has already beaten Kentucky this year
This is easily the most compelling of all the reasons, yet it is also the most easily dismissed… which makes zero sense.
Number one seeds with the mystique of the “Kentucky” name and a roster full of future lottery picks win a lot of games before they ball is even tipped. Anyone who has played sports before knows that if you go into a matchup against a great opponent with even a shred of doubt in your mind, you’ve lost. You’re done. Kentucky does not have that advantage over Indiana because of what happened on December 10th in Bloomington.
Not to mention, while both teams are much different than the two squads who met up on December 10th, at least we know from that game that Kentucky doesn’t have some overwhelming physical advantage over Indiana. They have more talent and athleticism, yes; but Kentucky also has to play really well to beat Indiana. They didn’t on December 10th, so they lost.
Sure, the result Friday night may very well be different, but is it some kind of stretch to expect to see something we’ve already seen? I don’t think so. Other people sure seem to disagree.
2. Indiana has been better away from Assembly Hall than many think
Much has been made of Indiana’s home court advantage at Assembly Hall, and rightfully so. It is prodigious. However, far too much has been made of Indiana’s supposed inability to win away from Assembly Hall.
Indiana took down fellow Sweet 16 entrant NC State in their building this year. In fact, the Hoosiers were down late and stormed back to win. The Kentucky win has gotten all the pub, but those of us who have followed this program closely know how huge that win was, even if it is has received little fanfare. Indiana also beat Purdue in Mackey Arena, without Verdell Jones.
Granted, Indiana lost to Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin on the road, with only the Wisconsin game being competitive for 40 minutes. Indiana also lost to Nebraska and Iowa on the road during a frustrating midseason lull. So Indiana has been far from perfect in other teams’ gyms this year, but the last time I checked this game is being played in Atlanta, not Lexington.
Looking at Indiana’s performance on neutral courts this year, it’s been quite solid.
The Hoosiers took care of NCAA Tournament team Notre Dame on a neutral floor in December. In back-to-back games on a neutral floor this past weekend, Indiana has dispatched of teams seeded far lower than the Hoosiers but that many so-called experts still felt would win. Indiana’s only loss on a neutral floor this year came in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, when Wisconsin won 79-71 thanks to Rob Wilson’s out-of-nowhere 30-point outburst. Despite the loss, the Hoosiers still played well in that game, against another fellow Sweet 16 opponent.
Give Assembly Hall its due credit for helping to power an Indiana team that didn’t yet know how good it was to that December 10th victory over Kentucky. If that game had been played away from Assembly Hall, I don’t know if Indiana could have won it. But the Indiana team that will take the floor Friday night against Kentucky believes it can win anytime, anyplace, and it’s proven it can do so. Friday night at 9:45 ET in the Georgia Dome is no different.
3. Indiana has not lost a “rivalry game” yet this season.
Make of this what you will, but Indiana is undefeated against rivals this year, with “rivals” defined as long-standing rivalries and games against in-state teams:
- won @ Evansville 94-73
- won v Butler 75-59
- won v Kentucky 73-72
- won v Notre Dame 69-58 (neutral floor)
- won @ Purdue 78-61
- won v Illinois 84-71
- won v Purdue 85-74
You could argue that Indiana’s result against Evansville from November has absolutely no bearing on what will happen March 23rd against Kentucky. Fine. You’re mostly right. But there is something to be said for a team that is mature enough and locked-in enough to always bring its best effort and execution against its biggest rivals, when there is always just a little bit more at stake. Indiana has done that time and again this year. Why should Friday night be any different?
Indiana has some recent NCAA Tournament history on its side heading into Friday night, plus more professional-level talent than some people seem to think. Also, Jerod explains why Kentucky’s supposed mental edge is probably being overhyped and why Indiana’s mental and emotional fortitude could prove to be the difference in a close game.
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