Kentucky-Indiana Preview

Indiana waited more than a year to celebrate a victory like the

one over Pittsburgh.

So before the locker room became too exuberant Tuesday night,

coach Tom Crean gave the Hoosiers a quick lesson about reality: He

told his players they had three days to get ready for their old

rival, Kentucky.

As Crean knows, this is not just some ordinary Wildcats team

coming to Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday. This is a national

championship contender, the best team Indiana has faced so far and

maybe the best team they’ll face all season.

“I told my team they’re No. 2, but they’re No. 4?” Crean asked

after the game. “By Friday night, they might be No. 1 with the way

they’re playing. You want to talk about Kentucky? They’re the real


Crean’s assessment shows just how much has changed since these

two traditional college powers met last December.

Back then, the Hoosiers were in full rebuilding mode after

absorbing the punishment of the school’s first major NCAA scandal

in nearly half a century. Crean had just nine scholarship players,

one senior and three players taller than 6-foot-6. Predictably, the

undermanned Hoosiers were overwhelmed in a 72-54 blowout that could

have been even worse.

This year, the Hoosiers (4-4) have more talent and depth but

still lack experience. The leading scorers are freshmen, Maurice

Creek at 15.6 points per game and Christian Watford at 13.3.

Sophomore Verdell Jones is third at 12.5.

Kentucky, however, turned things around in less than eight


After an inexplicable season-opening loss to VMI last season and

then failing to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since

1991, the Wildcats replaced coach Billy Gillispie with John


Calipari persuaded star forward Patrick Patterson to spend one

more year in college and won over heralded recruit John Wall,

providing the inside-outside combination that has Kentucky back

among the national powers and widened the gap between the two

border state rivals.

Kentucky has responded with a 9-0 start and wins over defending

national champion North Carolina and perennial power Connecticut,

though Calipari insists the Wildcats haven’t played that well.

“We are 4-5, that is what we are,” he said after Wednesday’s

64-61 win over UConn. “I know we have a nice will to win and we are

doing some good stuff. I told them in there we need to stop

drinking the poison and do better in practice.”

Crean knows better.

He’s seen the tapes and realizes the Hoosiers face a monumental

challenge matching up with Kentucky’s speed, depth and experience –

things the Hoosiers are still trying to develop.

Wall averages 19.0 points with Patterson at 16.6.

“He (Calipari) inherited some really good players, and then he

went out and recruited some outstanding players,” Crean said,

explaining the difference between the two restoration projects.

“They are impressive. Their transition game is as good as anybody

in the country.”

But for Indiana, there may not be a better time to get this kind

of test.

After losing four of five, Indiana headed to New York City on

Tuesday, desperately needing a victory. Mission accomplished.

Indiana was more rugged than usually physical Pittsburgh,

building a 17-point second-half lead and rolling to a 74-64 victory

that gave the Hoosiers their first signature win in Crean’s

two-year tenure and a major injection of excitement.

“Our hard work is starting to pay off,” Jones said. “To get a

win against a big team like this, I think, it really motivates us

to keep coming into practice and keep getting better. It just feels

so good to get that big win.”

Now Indiana heads home to Assembly Hall, where they are 3-1 this

season, with a fresh outlook, renewed hope and what they anticipate

will be a boisterous crowd.

Is it enough to upset Kentucky?

“He (Calipari) is an incredible coach and he has a lot of talent

and he knows how to utilize it,” Crean said. “So we are going to

have a very small margin of error against them.”