In Kentucky coach John Calipari's first two seasons in Lexington, the Wildcats have blasted undermanned Indiana twice by an average of nearly 20 points.
We'll find out Saturday in Bloomington how much the arrival of highly touted center Cody Zeller and the development of the returners Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey has helped the undefeated Hoosiers close the gap.
To get an idea of where Indiana has improved and whether it will be able to be competitive with Kentucky on Saturday, The Dagger asked a coach whose team has already faced the Hoosiers this season to assess their strengths and weaknesses. The coach was granted anonymity to assure honesty.
An opposing coach on Indiana:
1. If things go their way, I wouldn't be surprised if they end up being a top 25 team. But at the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if they have a good year but end up being a bubble team. ... I think they're still missing a little punch to beat some of the best teams on their schedule. They're just not quite elite yet. Doesn't mean they can't beat elite teams, doesn't mean they can't win enough games to get a good seed in the NCAA tournament, but there are only so many teams that have a legitimate chance to go to a Sweet 16 or a Final Four, and I don't think they're there yet. Their recruiting class may be what they need. They just need a little bit more of everything, but just a little.
2. (Cody Zeller) is the easy target to give credit to for their improvement. He simply makes them better on both ends of the floor. He's obviously a high-profile recruit, but for a young five man to make the impact he's made, I was really impressed. His skill level is superb, but he also understands how to play the game. Things like transition baskets and offensive rebounds. He's second in deflections and he leads them in steals. For a true freshman to do what he's done, that's really phenomenal. ... His physical strength is the area where he needs to improve. If he plays someone with similar size but more physical maturity, he will struggle if he can't get close enough to the basket. His length against us was all he needed to feel comfortable scoring, but we wanted to keep him as far out as we could.
3. They're difficult to game plan against because they're really, really balanced. We didn't think we could back off of them because they have enough shooters. We didn't think we could pressure them because they have good quality ball handlers. We didn't say they were weak here or weak there. We just thought we had to guard everything straight up and do the best we could.
4. The one weakness some people may say is they don't have an elite scorer. (Victor) Oladipo is a super athlete. (Jordan) Hulls is a great shooter. (Verdell) Jones is a role-playing point guard at this time. (Will) Sheehey, I think, is their second-leading scorer coming off the bench. But they don't have a perimeter go-to guy who's just going to get them a basket. That's what I'd say they're missing more than anything right now.
5. (Christian Watford's) productivity has gone down, but I think it's similar to Jones. With Zeller in the lineup, Sheehey being a year older and everyone else being a year better, they just don't need it. I don't think he's having a bad year or is any less capable. I think that's just not as necessary for them to be good. The best thing for them to be good is having Zeller scoring inside, to have Hulls make every open shot and have everyone else contribute.
6. Sheehey is playing with great confidence and you can see that. To have a guy as versatile as he is coming off the bench, that's big for them. That's probably what impresses me the most about him. He's going to make an open three, he's going to score in transition, he's great at getting underneath the defense with back cuts to the basket. As he continues to develop, gets bigger and stronger and plays more and more minutes, he'll be an all-Big Ten player before he leaves there.
7. I don't think they have a lot of holes defensively. They play hard, they're very solid and they want to make you earn everything you get, which for a mediocre offense is going to make for a long day. I do think an offense with a lot of perimeter power will score the ball on them because of their philosophy. They do tend to go underneath all ball screens and regular down screens, so someone who can really extend them and make a lot of shots from the perimeter will give them problems.
8. Indiana likes to play fast, which people who don't follow them closely will probably be surprised by, but it's going to be in their best interest against Kentucky to make it ugly, make it more of a Big Ten game and just kind of grind it out. That's the way I'd see them winning. I think they've improved enough that they can have a legitimate chance to win the game at home. I would give them very little chance playing at Rupp Arena, but they're good enough to beat Kentucky with emotion on their side.
More from the "A Closer Look" Series: