Kentucky Wildcats vs. Indiana Hoosiers Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Kentucky Wildcats (9-0 SU, 3-4 ATS) vs. Indiana Hoosiers (4-4 SU, 3-4-1 ATS), 12:00 p.m. EST, Saturday, December 12, 2009, Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind. TV: CBS
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Kentucky -9/Indiana +9
Over/Under: OFF at time of print

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John Calipari and Tom Crean are good friends, but on Saturday afternoon they won’t be when the Kentucky Wildcats face the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall.

There will be plenty of young talent on display in this one. Both teams rely heavily on freshmen. Kentucky is led by freshmen John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, while the Hoosiers rely heavily on Maurice Creek, Christian Watford and Derek Elston.

This will cap off a very tough week for Kentucky that has gone quite well thus far. The Wildcats defeated North Carolina last Saturday, 68-66, and won over UConn on Wednesday, 64-61. It’s been Wall who has bailed them out of four games already this season. In a tie game in the final seconds against Miami of Ohio, Wall made a game-winning jumper with less than a second left. Against Stanford, the ‘Cats trailed by two in the final seconds but Wall drove to the basket, got fouled, and made two free throws to tie the game and send it to overtime, where Kentucky pulled off the victory. Against UNC, Wall hit the clinching free throws with under five seconds remaining. Against UConn, he drove to the basket with his team down by one in the final seconds, made the layup and got fouled for a three-point play to win the game by two.

Indiana has had a good week as well. Crean’s Hoosiers got what may have been a program-changing victory over Pittsburgh in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, 74-64. Pitt isn’t a powerhouse this year but the Panthers are a very solid team, and the Hoosiers have been waiting since last season for that significant victory to swing them in the right direction. They had a couple of close losses earlier in the season to Boston University and George Mason, and they came close to knocking off Maryland, but this win over Pitt gives the Hoosiers the confidence to win some games. Maybe they won’t beat Kentucky, but don’t be surprised if they keep it fairly close the whole way through.

Kentucky relies on its defense to control the game. It will be tough for Indiana to score a lot of points on this Kentucky team. The Wildcats are very big inside with Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton, and very long on the perimeter with Wall, Darnell Dodson, Darius Miller and Ramon Harris. The ‘Cats want to get some steals and get fast breaks at the other end led by the ridiculous speed and passing ability of Wall. At the offensive end, Wall and Bledsoe will penetrate to the basket to either score or dish off to a big man. Wall and Bledsoe can also knock down jumpers, so defenders can’t play too far off them. The best way for Indiana to limit the scoring of the ‘Cats is to take their chances by packing in the zone and force them to knock down outside jumpers. Bledsoe is shooting 48 percent from 3-point range and Dodson and Miller are both shooting over 35 percent, but the ‘Cats are unlikely to win too many games with their outside shooting. They want to get easy baskets inside with Wall, Patterson and Cousins.

Indiana likes to push the tempo when it can, so this could be an exciting up-and-down affair at times. But if the Hoosiers can’t score in transition, they will pull it out and use up the shot clock. The Hoosiers execute well on offense and play solid defense at the other end. Crean gets the most out of his players. Jeremiah Rivers controls everything for Indiana. The 6-foot-5 point guard, who is the son of Doc Rivers, has great speed and quickness and will get to the basket and finish. The matchup between Rivers and Wall should be an interesting one to watch because of the size of both point guards. Maurice Creek and Verdell Jones III are a pair of 6-foot-5 guards who are scoring in double digits for the Hoosiers. Creek is a terrific shooter who cannot be left open. He is shooting 39.5 percent from beyond the arc and leads the team in scoring with over 15 points per game. Jones is a long, athletic wing who can score around the basket. Down low, Christian Watford is a 6-foot-9 mobile big man who needs to be boxed out by Cousin and Patterson because he will find a way to score points around the basket.

Ryno’s Pick: This is a rivalry game, so even though there are so many young players in this game it will be an intense battle. It will be a special environment at Assembly Hall, but Kentucky won’t be too fazed by the crowd after winning at North Carolina last week. The Hoosiers now have the confidence after the win over Pitt, so it’s very likely that they will keep it close for a while. The question will be whether or not they can keep it up throughout the second half. There are some good matchups in this game, but the key for Indiana will be for Watford, Elston and Tom Pritchard to stay out of foul trouble. If they do get in foul trouble, Patterson and Cousins could dominate inside. Kentucky has been playing a lot of its games closer than expected, and Indiana is always competitive, so take the Hoosiers to keep it close in this one.