DAYTON, Ohio (WDRB) – It isn't Bird vs. Magic, or even Anthony Davis vs. Thomas Robinson. But it's certainly the best early individual matchup this 2013 NCAA Tournament has offered:
Sneaker-to-sneaker wrestling between Victor Oladipo and Khalif Wyatt Sunday when Indiana plays Temple in the NCAA Tournament East Regional at the University of Dayton.
The tournament's best defender (Oladipo) against the tournament's best scorer (Wyatt).
Oladipo has surged into the Top 10 of most 2013 NBA Draft projections because of his ability to stop you from doing things that you want to do. He intends to take the basketball from you and do good things with it.
Wyatt was the first guy to score 31 points in this tournament, a poised and persistent effort against North Carolina State Friday that was a reminder that Wyatt also hung 33 on Syracuse.
Mr. Oladipo, have you seen Mr. Wyatt?
"He does a lot of things well, a lot of different things in order to score the ball," Oladipo said. "If I get drawn to him in an assignment, I'm going to have to do a good job of slowing him down in order for us to win."
Mr. Wyatt, have you been tracking Mr. Oladipo?
"I know if he's guarding me, I know he's going to be up for the challenge and he's going to play hard," Wyatt said.
If you guard Mr. Wyatt, Mr. Oladipo? Are you trying to suggest somebody else will get the job?
"I mean, it's up to the coaching staff," he said. "I can't really tell you, so that's why I said it."
"He's a good defender," Wyatt said. "But, I mean, not the first good defender."
Here we go. It's the kind of player-on-player matchup that demands everybody's attention. Oladipo has guarded Trey Burke (Michigan), Rotnei Clarke (Butler), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Georgia), DeShaun Thomas (Ohio State) and other high-volume scorers for Indiana this season. His performance on the defensive end is what parked Oladipo on the Sports Illustrated cover this week.
Wyatt has been chased relentlessly by defenders from Syracuse, Kansas, Villanova and other NCAA Tournament teams this season – and he's still managed to average 20.2 points. He hung 33 on Syracuse, making all 15 of his free throws. He has the size – he's a solid 6 feet 4 – to stand glower-to-glower with Oladipo.
He understands what toppling a Number One seed like Indiana can do for his reputation. Wyatt has a tender thumb on his left hand. It was X-rayed Friday. But it's his non-shooting hand. He'll play and likely play well.
"I don't think it's a huge concern," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "Even if it were, he's not going to let me take him out of the game."
How did this happen? Don't ask the recruiting gurus to explain it. They won't be able to do it.
Oladipo came to Indiana ranked the 144th best player in his class. Skeptics thought he could not shoot. The hard-core skeptics were convinced that he would never be able to improve that skill. The elite programs were hesitant to invest a scholarship in a guy who could only deliver on one end of the floor. Now he's shooting nearly 60 percent and averaging 13.5 points.
"Growing up I didn't really have any skill set or ability to shoot the ball or dribbling ability or anything of that nature," Oladipo said. "All I could really do is play defense. That's what I had to do to get on the floor.
"I've just taken that with me wherever I go. I've been fortunate enough to grow, when I got to Indiana, grow as a basketball player. But at the same time, I realize that defense is what I pride myself on."
For every doubter that Oladipo had, Wyatt had several. Just three Division I schools had enough faith to offer a Division I scholarship: Delaware, St. Joseph's, Temple. Not exactly Duke, Kentucky and Kansas.
"I went to a small high school (Norristown, Pa., in suburban Philadelphia)," Wyatt said. "I know I played with some really good players in the summertime. I don't know. Just got to take advantage of the opportunity when you get it."
As a freshman, Wyatt was no factor. As a sophomore, he was Temple's sixth man. On Sunday, Khalif Wyatt will be Temple's best chance at toppling Indiana.
"You have to give these kids the bulk of the credit for where they are today," Dunphy said. "Because they watch and they see and they read. They want to be the best that they can be. When you are a great competitor like those two guys are, you're typically going to be a pretty good player."
Now they're good enough players that the college basketball world will be watching to see if the scorer or defender prevails.