Observations: Indiana begins crucial stretch with big win vs. Michigan

Indiana answered the bell against Michigan.

Tuesday marked the beginning of a critical two-week period for the Hoosiers and Tom Crean’s squad passed the first test with flying colors in a 80-67 victory.

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After falling behind by 11 points early Indiana ripped through Michigan like a chainsaw through butter and dominated their Big Ten rivals in what was maybe the most impressive performance we’ve seen from the Hoosiers this season.

Indiana’s 13-point win on the road in Ann Arbor wasn’t as close as the final margin indicated and it brought up one truly interesting question: has any team in college basketball improved in the last two months as much as the Hoosiers?

Since losing at Duke in early December, Indiana has won 14 of its last 15 games and the margin of victory during those wins is an impressive 18.7 points. The only blemish for the Hoosiers in the last two months was a three-point loss at the Kohl Center against Wisconsin last week and that’s a venue where Indiana has never won a game.

Add in the fact that this team had to remake itself after starting guard James Blackmon was lost for the year with a knee injury and these accomplishments warrant even more merit.

It’s only early February and the Hoosiers still have to play Iowa twice, travel to Michigan State, and host Purdue and Maryland, but the facts are the facts: Indiana is currently 19-4 overall and 9-1 in Big Ten play.

Not a lot of people expected that a week or two before Christmas.

Elijah Brown is quietly crushing it for New Mexico

The Mountain West may look like a one-bid league this season, but that doesn’t mean there’s not great players in this conference producing at an extraordinary level.

The 6-foot-4 Brown has gone on a tear of late for the Lobos all while quietly establishing himself as one of the more productive transfers in college basketball. A lefty with an uncanny feel, Brown is averaging 26.5 points over his last four games and has scored 30 or more points twice during that span.

The son of former NBA head coach Mike Brown, Elijah Brown initially started his career at Butler before opting to transfer to the Lobos’ program following the 2013-14 season.

New Mexico has now won four straight games following Tuesday’s victory over UNLV and has a player in Brown that could single-handedly will this team during the Mountain West Conference Tournament in March.

The offensive pressure on Kentucky’s guards is immense

It’s been well established that the Wildcats do not possess a low post scorer with the ilk of somebody like Julius Randle or Karl-Anthony Towns, but at this point this team just needs somebody it can throw the ball to on the block.

Kentucky’s low post offense has become obsolete and that was on full display in Tuesday night’s loss at Tennessee.

The Wildcats’ three starting guards — Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe, and Jamal Murray — took 40 of the team’s total 62 shots and that triumvirate dictated everything this team did offensively in crunch time.

There’s no relief for this trio on offense and that’s going to continue to be an achilles heel for this team until something changes.

Alex Poythress (14 points vs. Tennessee) is an energy guy that gets his offense off dumps and put backs while Derek Willis is a pick-and-pop big man that creates spacing, but is most effective on offense when he’s facing the basket.

Meanwhile junior big man Marcus Lee and freshman Skal Labissiere have combined to score just 12 points over this team’s last two games.

Kentucky appeared to be turning a corner and even had strong moments of promise in last Saturday’s loss at Kansas, but until this team’s guards get some offensive relief it’s going to be hard to see the Wildcats’ ceiling looking any different than it is right now.

Yogi Farrell led the Hoosiers to a big victory vs. Michigan on Tuesday. (USATSI)
Yogi Farrell led the Hoosiers to a big victory vs. Michigan on Tuesday. (USATSI)

This and That

  • North Carolina’s Marcus Paige is just 11-of-49 and 4-of-30 from 3-point range over his last five games. The struggle is indeed real.
  • Five of Arizona’s final nine Pac-12 games are at home and the Wildcats don’t have to travel to Oregon State and Oregon. Don’t count Sean Miller’s team out of the conference race just yet. Arizona currently trails Oregon by two games in the league standings and is 5-4 in Pac-12 play.
  • Houston’s win over SMU on Monday night could be a look into the future. The Cougars have had a breakthrough this season under Kelvin Sampson and return almost everyone of significance next year. Sources have also told CBS Sports that Houston is very much in the mix for 2016 big man Jarrett Allen, who is also considering both Kentucky and Texas. If the Cougars add Allen they could be Top-25 good in 2016-17.
  • Florida State has quietly won three consecutive games and is now 5-5 in ACC play and 15-7 overall. The Seminoles own a road win at Florida and a home victory over Virginia which both could pay major dividends on Selection Sunday. Four of Florida State’s final seven conference games are at home.
  • VCU’s Justin Tillman is on an absolute tear. The bouncy forward is averaging 14.0 points and 7.3 rebounds over his last three games while shooting 18-of-22 during that span. The Rams have won 11 straight games and next visit La Salle tonight in North Philadelphia.
  • A major thing to watch moving forward for Texas A&M is the progression of freshman D.J. Hogg. The 6-8 forward is better shooter than he’s shown this season (33.0 percent from 3-point range) and could give the Aggies another weapon in reserve if he can make shots consistently.
  • Greg Gard has led Wisconsin to four straight victories and has two winnable games this week at home against Ohio State and Nebraska. If the Badgers can win these next two games they’ll be 15-9 overall and 7-4 in Big Ten play heading into back-to-back games at Maryland and Michigan State. This smells like a bubble team.
  • Villanova needs to get Jalen Brunson back on track offensively. The Wildcats’ freshman point guard is just 7-27 from the field over his last four games and will attempt to turn things around Wednesday at home against Creighton. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network. I’ll be on the sideline with Tom McCarthy and Steve Lappas handling the call.
  • A battle for sole possession of first place in the Ivy League will take place Friday night in New Haven when Columbia visits Yale. Both teams are 4-0 in conference play.
  • Which Cincinnati player does Mick Cronin feel has to emerge as a go-to guy for the Bearcats moving forward? Find out on the College Hoops Today podcast.

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