It’s no secret by now that Kentucky will be enormous favorites when both teams meet in the Georgia Dome on Friday night. Pretty much every analyst and prognosticator all over the country will pick against IU, and some might even pick the Hoosiers to get run out of the building. But the Hoosiers proved once that they can beat the unbeatable Wildcats. Sure, some wrote it off as lucky, but they did something to beat Kentucky last time. How exactly can they expect to do it again? Here’s 16 ways Indiana can hope to have a chance against the national title favorites:
1. SHOOT THE LIGHTS OUT FROM LONG RANGE
Indiana shot an incredible 7-of-9 in the second half from beyond the arc with one especially famous 3-pointer to end the game (I think you’ve heard of it). That’s a clip that the Hoosiers haven’t really matched in a half all season, and it’s almost impossible to expect them to shoot that well. But with how impressive Kentucky’s defense is on the interior, Indiana may have to rely on 3-pointers to get quick offense. It’ll be key to use high screens to get open looks, as Kentucky has struggled with that at times, and the Hoosiers took advantage when they played before.
2. GET HOT EARLY ON
The Wildcats have had a tendency to let their opponents stick with them for the first half, and then explode on the offensive end in the second when they’re more in rhythm. That’s what happened against Iowa State, and we can expect that to happen again against Indiana. With how physical and imposing its defense is, Kentucky tires teams out a lot, especially inside, and although Indiana’s never really looked winded in games this season, they haven’t played a defense like Kentucky’s since…well…Kentucky.
3. PROTECT THE BALL
Turnovers were a problem the last time Indiana played Kentucky, and a whole lot of them were unforced. The Hoosiers will have to be much smarter with the ball to win this time because 18 turnovers just won’t cut it. Jordan Hulls will be the most interesting piece of this equation, as he was guarded by lengthy guard-forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist last time, and that led to five turnovers. If Hulls can limit his turnovers and the rest of the team can focus on not playing too fast to the point of getting erratic, they’ll be much better off.
4. GET ANTHONY DAVIS OR MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST IN FOUL TROUBLE
This is obvious, but also much easier said than done. Davis hasn’t accumulated more than three fouls since their last meeting in December, and he averages around only two fouls per game. Kidd-Gilchrist has struggled more as of late, but he’ll still be a factor when it comes to the rebounding battle. If Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo, or Cody Zeller can get him in trouble early, it’ll be a huge boost. But Davis is the key here, as his presence in the game changes the game’s entire landscape. It’ll be tough to replicate, but the key to forcing fouls isn’t so much to pound it inside with Zeller, but to have Oladipo and Watford go as strong and aggressive to the hole as they have all season. Penetrating that post area will be the only way to catch Davis off-guard and out of position.
5. REMY ABELL NEEDS TO HAVE A BIG GAME
The Hoosiers may very well miss Verdell Jones a lot in this game, despite the fact that Jones had five turnovers in their last meeting. That’s because Jones offers another ballhandler on offense that can carry some of the burden when Hulls is being blanketed by Kidd-Gilchrist. Abell also has the ability to drive and hit 3-pointers, so his versatility could allow for others to get open shots on the perimeter. His length will also help disrupt Marquis Teague, who’s quickness has been near unstoppable lately. And speaking of Teague…
6. FRUSTRATE MARQUIS TEAGUE AND FORCE MISTAKES
Teague’s calling card at the beginning of the season was that he’s a point guard prone to making mistakes, but he’s really cleaned up that part of his game in the second half of the season. And with the exception of the SEC Championship game, he’s proven to have some playmaking offense in him, as he’s scored 15, 12, and 24 in the other three games of the postseason. This will likely be Victor Oladipo’s assignment, and if he can get into Teague’s head like he has with other mistake-prone guards this season, Oladipo could win this matchup.
7. GET INSIDE TERRENCE JONES’ HEAD EARLY
Jones had an absolutely awful game against Indiana the last time around, but it’s not likely that he’ll be caught that frustrated again. He’s averaged a double-double since the postseason started, and he’s been on a serious tear for a while before that. But he’s still capable of getting frustrated and has had problems with Christian Watford guarding him in the past. The Hoosiers, and especially Watford, need to be as physical as possible with him for the opening tip, and even force him to make shots from the charity stripe by keeping him from getting any easy baskets. After all, he’s only a 65 percent free throw shooter.
8. FORCE KENTUCKY TO SHOOT FROM THE PERIMETER
Crean said in his press conference on Tuesday that the Wildcats are a better 3-point shooting team than they were at the beginning of the season, and although that’s true, Kentucky’s weakness still comes from behind the arc. Doron Lamb and Darius Miller are the two Wildcats who can hurt you from long range, and if Indiana can force guys like Kidd-Gilchrist, Jones, and Teague to take long shots, its doing something right. No starter on Kentucky, aside from Lamb, shoots better than 33 percent from 3-point land.
9. BEAT THEM IN THE TRANSITION GAME
This is also easier said than done, but Indiana has some comfort playing fast and if they can limit turnovers in that kind of game, it can be an effective weapon. Kentucky can get lobs in transition, and when that’s happening, there isn’t much hope of beating the Wildcats. But with Zeller as fast as he is in the open court, Indiana could have an advantage in the transition game. If they use that advantage, they could score in bunches.
10. USE SCREENS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
This works hand-in-hand with shooting the lights out. If Indiana can utilize screens, which Kentucky has struggled at overcoming at times this season, then the Hoosiers could take and hit open shots. Zeller off the pick-and-roll could also help confuse Davis into making bad fouls. Really, there’s no down side to utilizing screens as much as possible in this one to overcome Kentucky’s superior length.
11. OLADIPO/SHEEHEY NEED TO HIT MID-RANGE SHOTS
Both shot pretty well in the last game, and both have shown a propensity to succeed in mid-range (mostly Sheehey, but Oladipo to some extent). This time around though, Oladipo will likely have to take shots, especially if Kentucky gives them to him. With Davis in the game, Oladipo isn’t likely to be getting to the hole on every possession. He’ll have to hit shots.
12. CHALLENGE THEIR DEPTH
Darius Miller might start for Kidd-Gilchrist, but either way, the Wildcats only have two guys that come off the bench and play meaningful minutes. Miller and Kyle Wiltjer can be taken advantage of, as long as you don’t leave them open, and when they were in the game in December, the Hoosiers tended to excel more on the offensive end. So foul trouble may not come down to just Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist — any foul trouble will help.
13. USE LEVEL-HEADEDNESS AS AN ADVANTAGE
Kentucky is out for blood in this one. Whatever they may say in the week leading up to the game may not completely reflect that, but trust me, that’s the case. The Wildcats feel like they had the game stolen from them last time around, and they’ll feel like they deserve to win this next one. That’s where Indiana can take advantage, playing strong defense from the jump in order to frustrate Kentucky when things aren’t going its way. It’s a long shot because Kentucky will be awful motivated, but hey, so is Indiana.
14. KEEP CODY ZELLER OUT OF FOUL TROUBLE
Under no circumstances will Indiana win this game if Cody Zeller spends a lot of time on the bench. As their best rebounder, Zeller will need to play one of his best games in the post and remain as vertical as possible on penetrating drives to keep from fouling. Zeller should play the majority of this game, and his speed may be his best weapon against Davis. But in foul trouble? Indiana stands no chance.
15. FANS NEED TO BE LOUD — REALLY LOUD
I’m expecting the Georgia Dome to be a fairly even split between blue and red, but there’s no doubt that Indiana’s home-court advantage played a part in the Hoosiers win last time around. Any part that the crowd can play in this one will be huge for the Hoosiers. It’s going to be a pretty chippy environment between two of the chippiest fan bases around, so the crowd environment will be an interesting battle of momentum.
16. ONE PLAYER STEPS UP AT A KEY MOMENT
Against VCU at the end of the first half, Christian Watford stepped up and went on his own 8-point run to keep Indiana in the game. And at the end of Indiana’s game against Kentucky, Watford did the same thing, scoring the Hoosiers’ final seven points in the contest. I doubt it’ll be Watford this time around (you have to imagine Kentucky will be sure to guard him fairly closely), but there are plenty of players who could break out at the right time when IU needs them most. Kentucky will make several pushes in this game, but if someone like Hulls, Oladipo, or Sheehey could get hot from the field, then Indiana’s job will be much easier all around.