The best team in the nation needs to prove that being number one comes for a reason. Having the two leading candidates for national player of the year in Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller certainly helps, even in the too tight to call Big Ten this season.
So far, most of the big games in the Big Ten have gone the way of the home team, but Indiana pulled off a win that might eventually secure the regular season conference title. They beat Michigan State in East Lansing 72-68 with some late game heroics by Oladipo, be it with his defense, hustle, scoring off tips on the rim and simply his amazing awareness all across the floor on both offense and defense. The Spartans had a four point lead with 1:38 remaining, but Indiana and Oladipo went to work.
Indiana rolled on a 9-1 run to end the game, taking the lead on an Oladipo tip with 47 seconds to go and then extending it to 3 when the Wooden Award candidate broke away on an inbounds pass and dunked with 10 seconds left. All Michigan State could do was make only one of three shots from the line before Oladipo grabbed the rebound and finished the game from the line, scoring 19 points, to go along with 9 rebounds and 5 steals.
For now, all the talk about national player of the year (which Zeller says should go to Oladipo and the same goes for Zeller whan Oladipo talks about him) isn’t an issue. Oladipo’s place in next year’s draft and the comparisons to Dwyane Wade aren’t an issue as well. All that matters, at least to Tom Crean and this group of guys from what we can tell, is winning the Big Ten, and then proving that being ranked as the preseason number one team wasn’t a mistake.
In the Hoosiers’ two games against the Spartans this season, Oladipo had 11 of Indiana’s 16 steals. Oladipo’s four first-half steals came on 25 Indiana defensive possessions when he was on the court. He was also great on the other side of the ball, scoring 13 half-court points, and his 63.8% from the field in half-court sets is the best among the Big Ten players this season with a minimum of 100 attempts.
But there was more just Olapido proving how good he really is, playing at less than 100% according to Crean. The Hoosiers have lost 17 straight heading into East Lansing. As Tom Crean mentioned, some of his players weren’t even born the last time Indiana won a game on the road against the Spartans.
It was more proof of how focused this team is, winning their fourth game this season against a top 10 team, the first time that’s happened since 1993. They’re also 6-0 against ranked teams, the best mark in the nation, leading over Butler, Syracuse and New Mexico who also haven’t lost to ranked teams this season.
It was the first-ever meeting between these two powerhouses with both in the top 10, but it leaves both teams heading in different directions. The Hoosiers are now 12-2 in the Big Ten, leaving them with a trip to Minnesota, home games against Iowa and Ohio State before closing the season in Michigan. The Spartans? They have to play at Ohio State and Michigan for their next two games, with this loss to Indiana possibly closing out their chance to finish at the top of the conference.