Victor Oladipo lead Indiana past Michigan State Sunday with 21 points and six steals.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – The best thing any writer can do is not proclaim any player the best one in college basketball this season. There's no Anthony Davis or Michael Jordan in this discussion. Hold all ballots as long as possible.
But if you're making your list of candidates, you'd better check it twice or even three times if it does not include Victor Oladipo of Indiana. If you're limiting the discussion to defense, Oladipo better be mentioned on Line One.
"He's a bad boy," said former IU star Calbert Cheaney.
I've already gone back and checked the first three paragraphs of this column, making certain that Oladipo has not stolen any punctuation marks or conjunctions. Cheaney is a former Wooden Award winner who now works as the Indiana basketball team's director of operations. Cheaney shook his head several times at the performance Oladipo had for the Hoosiers against Michigan State Sunday.
Oladipo walked away with everything but the Spartans' designer bronze sneakers as he led the IU past Michigan State (75-70) and into a first-place tie with Michigan in the Big Ten.
Ask Tom Izzo, the Michigan State coach. Nobody appreciates a great defensive player more than Izzo, who has worked in the Big Ten longer than anybody in the league. Izzo called Oladipo "the Ray Lewis of college basketball."
Deion Sanders is probably a better comparison, considering interceptions are Oladipo's game. Or maybe Ozzie Smith. But you get the picture. Izzo was dazzled with the way Oladipo defended. Why not?
Credit Oladipo with six steals and three blocks. Credit Oladipo with forcing nearly half of Michigan State's 19 turnovers. Keith Appling, the Spartans' point guard, was a no-show. I'm nearly halfway into this column, and finally mentioning that Oladipo led Indiana with 21 points and seven rebounds.
Because Oladipo's defense was the kind of defense that makes the opposing dribblers want to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. Bob Hammel, the Hall of Fame writer considered the unofficial historian of IU basketball, said Oladipo is Indiana's best defender since Bobby Wilkerson, the guy who stared down centers and point guards for the unbeaten 1976 NCAA champs.
On the game's first play, Oladipo reached out and swiped the ball out of Brandon Dawson's powerful hands. See ya. Oladipo gathered his prize and raced away for a dunk. By game's end, Oladipo was also credited with 22 deflected passes, 15 in the first half.
"For me to get those steals and start our break was huge for us," Oladipo said.
For all the talk about Cody Zeller, Indiana's all-American center, Oladipo is a better poster boy for the way Tom Crean has rebuilt this program into a team that has won 18 of 20 games, six of seven in the Big Ten. This is not the player the recruiting gurus saw in high school. Crean and his assistants have squeezed the potential out of Oladipo the same way it happened at Marquette with Dwyane Wade. It's no surprise that Wade and Oladipo are friends.
"He came with the athleticism," Crean said. "He came with the work ethic. He started more games here after two years than he did in high school.
"He is a great example of the old boring statement of daily improvement. I have not seen him not have a day when he wasn't doing something extra."
When Oladipo arrived from DeMatha High School in Washington D.C. in 2010, he was not considered one of the nation's Top 100 recruits. There was a reason for that. You didn't have to guard him from beyond five feet.
Last year Oladipo could make the five or 10 footer, but it was risky business thinking he would consistently make shots from much beyond that. He was a 47 percent shooter who struggled to make 20 percent of his three-pointers. The gap in his game was real.
This is what has been forgotten this season in the blizzard of Oladipo steals and blocks: He has become Indiana's most efficient offensive player.
He made eight of 12 shots Sunday. He took a pair of three-point shots – and nobody was shocked when one went in. Oladipo has made nearly 55 percent (17 of 31) of his threes this season. He's averaging about 14 points per game and shooting 66 percent. That's efficiency you expect from a 7-footer, not a 6-foot-5 wing.
What can Oladipo can do now that he could not do before Crean and his staff started working with him?
"There's a lot of things," Oladipo said. "Impact the game on both ends of the floor at a high level. That sums it up. My freshman year, I wanted to, but I wasn't capable. I started growing myself.
"My junior year I've got to bring it every night on both ends of the floor so my team can win."
Oladipo brought it Sunday against Michigan State. He brought it on both ends of the floor.