This is what Number one teams should look like on big nights; this is what prime time players, which Cody Zeller is obviously is, should be like on a big game. The biggest game in the ACC – Big Ten challenge wasn’t even close, but it taught us as to how good the Indiana Hoosiers are.
It also gave us some indication as to how far, or not, North Carolina will reach this year. They can bemoan Kendall Marshall’s injury from last season all they want, but this group of guys isn’t going too far, certainly not winning the ACC, with this kind of basketball.
All the talk of Indiana not being able to play defense or that Duke (number 2 in the latest AP Poll) are just as good went away as Cody Zeller put the game to bed just before half time. The brother of the former Tar Heel (now NBA player) finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds, followed by Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, both scoring 19 points.
But defense was the key, handing UNC one of its worst losses during the Roy Williams era; Their third worst, by 24 points to be exact. Only last season’s shackling vs Florida State (33 points) and against Duke in 2009-2010 (32 points) were worse.
Defense, not offense, was something Indiana were out do to. Tom Crean talked about running the ball and making it a pace North Carolina wouldn’t be comfortable with, but it was the Hoosiers defense in the second half that was the most impressive thing about their win in one of the most anticipated games of the season.
Over the first 8 and a half minutes of the second half North Carolina managed only three points, the tip-in and a free throw, while Indiana opened it with a 13-0 blitz. It was 59-37 at that point and 83-51, the biggest lead of the night, with 4:22 to go. No more talk about just being an offensive team and not truly deserving their number one praise. No more talk of North Carolina being able to deny Indiana’s incredible dominance at home during the month of November, chalking up a 34th consecutive win at Assembly Hall.
There can be the usual talk of playing for March, which is true in a way, but you need to win these games. Statement wins mean something in the shorter College Basketball season, unlike the NBA. It’s the coaches jobs later on, for Roy Williams in deferring the attention and disappointment from his young crew; for Tom Crean and his guys from not getting carried away with a non-conference win.
This 7-0 start, which now includes wins over Georgia, Georgetown and North Carolina, was expected. Still, it felt like a lot of people in the arena were surprised with how good Indiana were and are. It wasn’t supposed to be this easy, this dominant. Suddenly, they become a national powerhouse once again, after too many bad and rough years. From here, the only way is up. Like Cody Zeller said after the game: The most important thing now is not to be satisfied, not to feel comfortable with what they’ve shown so far. With this kind of talent and ability, there’s no need to settle for anything less than a national title.