You know me. I like to give you the context. Anyone can report to you what happened. I like to tell you what it means. And Saturday’s win means a lot of things. But sometimes it’s also work worth looking at some of the finer details of the game so we can understand some of the why as well as the what does it mean.
There were a number of reasons why Indiana beat Michigan on Saturday night but one of the biggest was inside help-defense. I couldn’t stop watching the way Cody played off the ball in the post. It’s not the first time this approach has been employed, Crean used it against Northwestern to prevent the constant backcutting, but it may have been the best usage of it. And the approach was basically this. Cody never came too high. Even when his man went to the perimeter to set a ball screen, Cody hung back in the lane because he knew two things. 1. McGary and Horford weren’t going to score from the perimeter and 2. If Cody stepped up to help on the dribble drive too high, Burke was going to dump it behind him to McGary for the dunk. So Cody stayed back.
Whenever Burke came off a screen into the lane, instead of stepping to the free throw line to stop the penetration, Cody gave a little ground, inviting the driver deeper into the lane and reducing his options while allowing the primary defender to catch up. And the few times Cody took one step too high, he got beat. Fortunately it didn’t happen more than a couple of times.
The exact opposite of that is the way McGary went to help on Victor when he drove the baseline twice in the second half. McGary left Cody to stop the drive, Victor missed, no one was left to box out Cody and he slammed the rebound home both times. It’s as small as one step in the wrong direction, or one step too far in a game like this, with two teams this good, that can make a huge difference. Cody didn’t take very many of those wrong steps and it paid off.
So, that’s the small picture. The big picture is this. We’re #1 again and this time it’s for real (but possibly not for long).
We spent five weeks on top of the polls, an important step for the program, but no one in the country put a lot of stock in it, after all we played and beat up on a very weak slate of opponents while Duke played and beat up on a schedule filled with Top 10 teams. Sure, we were #1, but kind of by default.
Not now. Now we’re #1. And while anyone with any sense can see that between now and the end of the season Kansas, Michigan, Florida, and Duke will all likely get a week or so on top of the polls, we’re #1 today and it’s legit. We’ve played and beaten some very good teams, including Michigan from start to finish. And don’t fool yourself, Michigan is very, very good.
I’ve been saying for weeks that the Big Ten is going to come down to us and Michigan and we’re both getting #1 seeds in the tournament. I just hope the Big Ten title doesn’t come down to our trip to Ann Arbor, cause that’s gonna be a tough mountain to climb.
But big picture, we’re #1 and we’re playing like #1. The last three games, Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan have been clinics. We’re playing our best ball of the season right now, but to capture the titles we’re looking for, we need to play better. We’re #1 right now, but a Thursday trip to Illinois and a Sunday trip to Columbus could see us knocked out of that #1 spot and back into a tie for the Big Ten lead with Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. A much less comfortable place to be than ranked #1 and alone atop the Big Ten standings.
But that’s the reality of our schedule and the Big Ten. We’re in the middle of our toughest stretch and winning in Columbus is going to be a very tough task. So don’t go nuts. Enjoy our return to the top, but don’t expect it to last too long. And keep in mind that a #1 ranking is meaningless.
Only three #1’s matter to us.
#1 in the Big Ten
#1 in Atlanta.
#1 in February is nice. But this isn’t about nice. And it’s not even about #1.
It’s about #6