Victor Oladipo (right) and his teammates were alternately impressive and frustrating Saturday for Indiana fans, but it's wins like this one that might mark the road to a championship.
Going back to the tape was a recurring theme of Indiana’s postgame press conference Saturday, after a performance so basketball-schizophrenic as to almost defy belief. When the Hoosiers do sit down for that review, then they will see exactly why college basketball thinks what it thinks of them.
For 20 minutes Saturday afternoon, 17,472 people paid to watch a mugging, white-on-maroon crime, total team efficiency the likes of which might not be replicable anywhere else in the country.
No. 5 Indiana bent No. 8 Minnesota to its will in nearly every possible way, so much so that the statistics alone tell an unquestionable story. The No. 5 Hoosiers (15-1, 3-0) shot 21-of-32 from the floor, an impeccable 76.6 percent effective field goal percentage once their 7-of-11 3-point-shooting performance was factored in.
Meanwhile, Minnesota seemed all too content to ignore some sage advice — if you’re going to be forced to dig your own grave, try to dig it shallow, so you might be able to escape later if given the chance. It would get that chance, of course, but not before turning the ball over, playing far too soft offensively and failing to slow Indiana down in transition pretty much at any point in the first half.
Tubby Smith, the Gophers’ veteran coach and one of the deans of his professional fraternity, said simply after the game that the Gophers were “getting our asses beat.” Indiana forced turnovers, outrebounded perhaps the country’s best rebounding team and scored seemingly at will. The Hoosiers couldn’t put a single foot wrong.
“Indiana was much more aggressive, both offensively and defensively, and it showed,” Smith said, summing up in 12 words what might end up being the most one-sided half of basketball between two top-10 teams this season.
In those 20 minutes, Indiana simply looked unbeatable.
There were, of course, 20 minutes more to be played, and in those, Indiana provided as many reasons for concern as it had ones to inspire confidence in the first half.
The Hoosiers got sloppy, turning the ball over 11 times while registering just one assist. They were profligate, shooting 6-of-21 from the floor and missing 13 of their 36 second-half free-throw attempts, including five in the final five minutes. Minnesota attempted 19 more shots, and it made 11 more field goals, cutting 23-point halftime lead to three points in the final seconds of the game and putting an almighty scare into a once-boisterous Assembly Hall crowd.
“The second half, we can’t accept that,” senior guard Jordan Hulls said later. “We have to do better than that.”
So, over the course of two hours, we met the two Indianas.
There’s one that is very good, able to play at something clearly below its best and still compete with a top-10 opponent (although “compete” is still a bit kind when you’re outscored by 16 in the second half of a Big Ten home game).
There’s one that is great — diverse, fluid, dynamic, athletic. There’s one Indiana that is unstoppable, and if this team can figure out a way to make sure that Indiana turns up for something close to 40 minutes every night, it will win a Big Ten title in March, and it will play in a Final Four in April.
This is how a championship team evolves or doesn’t. It has to prove itself to itself, and then to the world. Then it has to prove it can play that way at any time against anyone, and it can do it in a dominant way for most of forty minutes, and for six games in a row.
Indiana played like a national champion for about 75 percent of the game Saturday, and then it began leaking. A trickle turned into a regular flow, and it was at a full-blown rush when Minnesota ran out of time on its comeback.
That’s OK. In November, Indiana played November basketball, and though the sample size is limited at the moment, it’s playing January basketball in January.
Coach Tom Crean apologized for leaning once again on one of his favorite talking points when he said after Saturday’s win that every season is a “process,” one that can’t be skipped or shortened artificially. A team needs to see how it can succeed, and how it can fail, and then it needs to improve accordingly.
Indiana’s players will know now and see later — on that tape they so look forward to watching — that Saturday included plenty of steps one and two. That just leaves step three.
“Where it takes the next step is when the players understand that they can play better,” he said. “It was a very good victory, and one we appreciate and we earned, but at the same time, there’s no question that, with the long season that it is, we’ve got to get a lot better.”