It happened again, the number one team in the country went down. Still, unlike previous “king of the hill” switches, Indiana’s loss to an unranked Minnesota isn’t something that has exposed the Hoosiers as a masquerade. Indiana is still the most dangerous team in the country despite falling to Minnesota 77-73 on Tuesday night.
Before Indiana’s silver lining is discussed, let’s talk about Minnesota for a moment. Losers of four of their last five games before Tuesday night, Minnesota had played themselves away from a top-25 team, to an unranked shoe-in tournament team, to a team on the ever-changing wrong/right side of the NCAA bubble. Indiana was Minnesota’s last chance to add a quality win to their tournament resume. Now that they’ve got the big win, there’s a good chance for the Golden Gophers to end the regular season on a four-game winning streak with their next three games coming against Penn State, Nebraska, and Purdue.
Minnesota owned the glass against Indiana with Trevor Mbakwe and Elliot Eliason each getting the better of Indiana’s low post defense. Mbakwe nearly outrebounded the Hoosiers on the offense glass grabbing six offensive rebounds to Indiana’s eight team offensive grabs. Mbawke was a monster in the paint, scoring 21 points with power dunks or near-rim makes as the Hoosiers struggled to contain him. Off the bench, Eliason was tough on the Hoosiers in his 14 minutes on the floor, grabbing six rebounds and seven points. Minnesota had been missing a consistent option on the low post during their struggles in Big Ten play. If Mbakwe and Eliason can use Wednesday night as a rebirth then Minnesota could will again look like the team that was once ranked among the country’s top ten.
Okay, back to Indiana. The Hoosiers walked into the definition of a hostile environment. Besides the energy of the building, the recipe for an upset was there early. All night Indiana could not get established in the post, a spot on the floor that they need to open their outside shooting. Zeller was outmuscled by Mbakwe in the game’s early moments before getting involved offensively late. The Hoosiers’ starting and second-unit frontcourt pieces only combined for 29 points total, whereas the offense normally enjoys an inside-out, outside-in balance the Hoosier guards had to handle all the heavy lifting.
Fine with them. Going 5-7 from three-point range, Jordan Hulls carried the weight for Indiana as the Gophers looked to slam them early in the game. Later, it was Victor Oladipo and Yogi Ferrell who stepped up, combining for 15 points in the second half. Ferrell ended with 10 points and five assists, while Oladipo ended with 16 points.
It was too little too late as Christian Watford put on a back-to-back three-point display that had Indiana as close as four points with 0:46 left in the game. Still, being able to nearly pull out a win without a balanced attack is still scary. The nightly scoring load is capable of being handled by anyone one of the Hoosiers five starters, Tuesday night is proof of that. Having that capability is what will allow Indiana to handle the ever-changing matchups, pace and expectations of NCAA tournament play. It’s also the reason why Indiana should still be considered as the best team in the country, and a number one seed.
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