Victor Oladipo (left) and Will Sheehey each scored 19 points as Indiana defeated North Carolina, 83-59
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – It was only a week ago that Indiana nearly lost a basketball game to Georgetown and did not look overwhelming while handling Georgia.
Then Duke won a big-time tournament in the Bahamas last weekend, toppling Louisville, the nation's second-ranked team.
The talk accelerated that maybe Indiana did not deserve its Number One ranking. That there were better college players than Cody Zeller, the Hoosiers' center. That Indiana couldn't win big while playing a pair of guards who are barely 6 feet tall. That there are teams with more NBA draft picks than the Hoosiers – and that NBA talent is what wins in March.
All that still might be true. It's a long and crazy season. You don't have to be Dick Vitale to know that.
But so is this: Indiana 83, North Carolina 59 -- on a night when the Hoosiers led by as many as 32 points in this ACC/Big Ten Challenge game.
"It's cool," said IU guard Victor Oladipo. "We've been working really hard and you guys know just as well as I know that this program, well, not last year, but over the past couple of years has really been struggling.
"We were trying to get it back to where it belongs, which is on top. For us to get a win like that is a humbling experience, not only for us but for this program as well."
"I would have loved to watch them play, if it wasn't against my team," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
I have watched North Carolina play basketball for many years. I have never seen the Tar Heels dunked on over four straight possessions the way Tom Crean's team dunked on North Carolina four straight times Tuesday night.
One game won't be enough to make the world stop questioning Indiana's defense, but in one stretch North Carolina took 20 shots and missed 19. Some of the 17,472 raucous observers stuffed into Assembly Hall will swear that it was Indiana forward Will Sheehey who knocked that solitary basket in for North Carolina.
Those two undersized guards – senior Jordan Hulls and freshman Yogi Ferrell? They navigated through the North Carolina defense for 14 assists and one turnover in a combined 55 minutes.
Some people laughed at Crean last week when he said that Hulls, his unflappable senior, would play in the NBA the same way that Travis Diener, Crean's former guard in Marquette, played in the league.
Maybe Hulls won't. But against North Carolina, Hulls showed the same thing he has shown while directing Indiana to its 7-0 record – that he is the team's Most Valuable Player.
He plays like a guy who has learned every lesson three years of college basketball can teach – pace, poise, determination, grit and understanding angles matter as much as speed and jumping ability. He grabbed seven rebounds, more than all but three players on the court. He distributed eight assists. Nobody did that better. Give him a pair of steals, too.
I didn't mean to overlook the 13 points that Hulls scored. Points are no longer the best way to define Hulls' game.
"He's a bad boy," Oladipo said.
Cody Zeller played like a guy who belonged on all those magazine covers, a guy who has recovered from the asthmatic bronchitis that slowed him last week. Zeller was back to running the floor like a guy who was double parked, tormenting the Tar Heels with 20 points.
Then there were the two Indiana juniors – Sheehey and Oladipo. Two years ago they were freshmen that no recruiting service ranked among the Top 100 players nationally, scrapping for time on an Indiana team that lost to Boston College by a dozen points in this ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
That game was televised on ESPNU.
Now they are unquestionably the guys who give this Indiana team its defensive edge, especially with the delight they take in bending their knees and working their feet. They're essentially twins – and each scored 19 points against the Tar Heels.
I'm not sure if the Hoosiers were motivated by the 18 first-place votes that Duke received in the AP college basketball poll for beating Kentucky and winning in the Bahamas, but Williams returned to Chapel Hill agreeing with the 47 voters that favored Indiana.
"I think they are (Number One)," Williams said. "The thing I like about them is that they really are a team. They don't have one guy that beats you up. They beat you up in so many different ways."