INDIANAPOLIS – When the 2015-2016 college basketball schedule was released this past summer, the matchup between the Indiana Hoosiers (5-2) and the Duke Blue Devils (6-1) was arguably one of the most anticipated non conference matchups of the upcoming season.
Duke, was the defending national champions and boasted a very talented roster mixed of veterans and an even better freshmen class while Indiana on the otherhand also had a roster full of veterans themselves with an influx of talented freshmen as well.
It was supposed to be THE marquee matchup of the college basketball season as it was going to be two of the top teams in the nation.
Despite all that early season hype, Duke is still there, but unfortunately Indiana has since faltered. In what could be considered a disastrous trip to Maui that saw Indiana drop two of their three games and limp to a sixth place finish in the early season tournament, the Hoosiers are now left trying to pick up the pieces and prove to everyone that they were worthy of those lofty preseason expectations.
Duke on the other hand is the seventh ranked team in the nation and has only lost one game this year as that was a heavyweight matchup in Chicago against the now top ranked Kentucky Wildcats.
Based off that, it would appear Duke would roll to an easy victory, but I sense Indiana is going to put up a fight and could honestly pull off the big upset in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night (9:15 pm ET/ESPN/IU Radio Network).
No, I’m not trying to sound like a crazy “homer” but Indiana has a chance to turn their season drastically around and erase those two bad losses last week in Maui to Wake Forest and UNLV.
The only way this happens though is if Indiana can cut down the turnovers drastically and hit their shots.
IU has been about as awful as it gets in the turnover category as they commit an abysmal 16.7 turnovers-per-game so far. Among those 16 turnovers are many unforced errors as they play out of control at times. That’s where they get in trouble.
But, if they can keep their nerves calm in what will surely be a raucous arena on Wednesday night, they can pull the season turning upset on national TV.
How you may ask?
Duke struggles to defend the three point line despite their opponents shooting 37.7-percent from behind the arc. That number doesn’t tell the whole story as they give up a ton of open shots. At this point of the year though, they haven’t played the talent level yet that has had a chance to exploit that like Kentucky did a few weeks ago.
Duke also struggles to stay in front of the ball as well. They get beat a lot on dribble penetration and struggle to close the driving lanes off. On top of that, when they do get the ball stopped, they don’t rotate or recover well at all which leaves wide open shots near the perimeter.
That’s basically Indiana’s offensive game right there in a nutshell. They love to penetrate the lane as they run a three-man weave offense. That gameplan works, as they either get to the rim with ease, or setup good looks from behind the arc.
Indiana is scoring a blistering 88.3 points-per-game which ranks 17th in the nation entering Wednesday’s big contest. They get to that mark by shooting an astounding 54.7-percent from the field and 44.9-percent from three-point range.
Mix that with them passing the ball really well as they average 19.3 assists-per-game which ranks 12th in the nation and you have a team that could have no problem scoring on Wednesday.
This right there is going to be their bread and butter. If they can dribble drive and turn those into high percentage shots that go in, Duke could be the ones in trouble here not the unranked Hoosiers.
But, if Indiana becomes stagnant and lets Duke use their length on both ends of the floor, Indiana will be the ones in trouble then.
Duke is long – very long. They only have two players on their entire roster under 6-5. Their starting lineup is 6-5, 6-5, 6-9, 6-9 and 7-1. Indiana doesn’t want to get in a slow pace game with them because three of their five starters are under 6-5.
They also don’t want to have to shoot over that length either because Duke has some really long arms that could wreck a lot of havoc on Indiana’s looks. They need proper spacing and hit their shots they get.
Another factor is going to be foul trouble. Indiana causes a lot of teams to commit a lot of fouls. Duke, only plays eight guys and their bench in much smaller as they only have one of their three players coming off the bench above 6-5. That means Indiana needs to get Duke in foul trouble early and they will have a real chance in another aspect of the game as well.
Furthermore, Duke actually ranks worse nationally on defense than Indiana does as they’re 135th in the nation compared to Indiana’s 127th ranked defense. So, all those talks about how bad Indiana’s defense is, Duke is statistically worse.
That’s the biggest factor here. Can Duke slow Indiana?
Duke has struggled against athletic teams like Indiana too as they lost to Kentucky by 11 and only beat VCU and Georgetown by eight and two points respectively. IU can really impose their will on Wednesday night if they don’t let the hype get to them.
The final factor here is the hostility. Yes, Duke is one of the toughest places to play in all the nation. They boast 120 straight non-conference home victories as their last loss at home in non-conference play?
St. John’s on Feb. 26, 2000, when Duke fell in Cameron 83-82.
Yes, Duke hasn’t lost a non-conference game at home in 15 years! That’s a span of 120 straight games as only 15 of them have been single digit margins.
One of those games though as the 54-51 win that Duke had over Indiana in this very ACC/Big 10 Challenge in 2006. That also was the last time these two teams have played as despite their rich traditions and prestige, they’ve only played seven times in the two teams’ history.
Despite that though, Indiana shouldn’t get too rattled as they have three seniors, two juniors and two talented freshmen. This building won’t scare them as they have something most teams in college basketball don’t have these days – experience.
Another weird stat is the two ACC/Big 10 Challenge games in 2005 and 2006 are the only two games these two teams have played that didn’t occur in a tournament.
IU won the first matchup between the two schools in the NCAA Tournament in 1987 with an 88-82 win in Cincinnati. They then lost the Final Four contest in Minneapolis 81-78 in 1992 then lost again in the Great Alaska Shootout in 1995 74-64.
Indiana then won two straight, 85-69 in the NIT in 1996 then the thrilling 74-73 game in Lexington in the 2002 Sweet 16.
From there, it’s been all Duke as they’ve won the last two meetings.
But, Indiana has other thoughts in mind and I think they can pull it off in a thriller.
Indiana 81 Duke 79
Eric Smith is a Senior Writer for the Indy Sports Report. Follow @Ericsportsguru and @IndySportsRep on Twitter