Mike Botkin is a lifelong Purdue Boilermakers fan. He’ll be offering the dissenting opinion on the IU hoopla all season.
Even Indiana fans must have known this day was coming. Rarely do teams run the gauntlet of a season without losing. But judging by the way Jordan Hulls angrily wrenched away from a teammate offering to console him following his failed (wide left) last shot in Butler’s upset of Indiana on Saturday, I believe that Hoosier thought his team was going to win every game. Well, the pressure of winning every game is off now. Maybe Hulls can concentrate on a little defense.
It amazes me that, last Friday night, IU’s esteem was as high as it could get. IU was ranked No. 1 in the country. Cody Zeller was the All-American Player of the Year, without question. IU’s team defense was strong and head coach Tom Cream’s in-game decisions you could etch in stone. Then came Saturday, Butler University, and the game that became an instant classic.
This week, Zeller needs another year in college before he goes pro; Crean’s decision of who to play in the final seconds is coming under fire; and Hulls is called to the carpet for his poor defense. And not just on that play—according to ESPN, he is one of the three worst defenders in the country.
Here’s the newsflash: Good teams expose weaknesses. Butler’s big men exploited Zeller’s soft play inside. Crean commented on the physical nature of the game and the lack of foul calling but, in that department, I think IU got the better deal overall. Crean also made a mistake in leaving his big man on the bench during the final possession, allowing the middle to be wide open for Alex Barlow’s drive around Hulls for the winning shot. Once in the paint, there was no one to change or alter his shot. Personally, I would sit Hulls instead of Zeller in that situation.
Butler head coach Brad Stevens said this is just one game in a long season. Sure, his team will enjoy this win. Who wouldn’t? But Stevens admitted he was plenty worried about the outcome when the game was forced into overtime with two of his best players on the bench and another poised to join them. IU should have buried Butler in the extra session but failed to take advantage of Zeller’s presence in the middle.
IU now drops to No. 6 nationally, and Butler enjoys the elevation to No. 19. IU’s next serious game won’t be until after the first of the year—three cupcakes at home and then Iowa. But once into the meat of Big Ten play, those games—at Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois, and Wisconsin—will expose the same weaknesses that Butler did. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Hoosiers dropped six or seven games this season.
I still say it will be Sweet 16 and out for this group come March. It’s the deeper teams like Butler that will advance.