DAYTON, Ohio- For No.9 Temple, the biggest challenge in facing No. 1 Indiana tomorrow may be getting past the awe factor. The preseason No. 1 team in the country, the Hoosiers (28-6) spent two weeks outside of the Top 5 all season. Boasting two All-American players and playing in the powerful Big Ten Conference, Indiana was constantly featured on national broadcasts.
The notoriety gives the Owls (24-9) the task of changing mindsets when watching Indiana play.
“Watching on TV, you’re not really watching how they run sets,” sophomore guard Will Cummings said. “You just watch it as a game of basketball, chilling out and watching basketball. Now we’re really focusing on their sets, and how they’re running and how they’re scoring. Get the weaknesses and strong points and translating them into our game.”
Indiana is led by a pair of All-American players, both of which are likely future NBA athletes. Sophomore forward Cody Zeller and junior guard Victor Oladipo lead the Hoosiers with 16.7 and 13.5 points per game, respectively. Oladipo, a likely candidate for the National Player of the Year, stands at 6-foot, 5-inches and 215 pounds. While he is not physically imposing, his athleticism has earned him national attention and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honor.
“The first thing I noticed about [Oladipo] is that he plays pretty hard,” graduate guard T.J. DiLeo said. “He’s obviously really athletic, versatile player. He can jump out of the gym and he’s got a good change of direction. He’s a really tough matchup.”
Likely to draw the assignment of stopping senior guard Khalif Wyatt, Oladipo is assigned the task of containing the Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year.
“[Wyatt] is a really good player,” Oladipo said. “He does a lot of good things well, a lot of different things in order to score the ball. If I get drawn to him in an assignment, I’m going to have to do a good job of slowing him down in order for us to win.”
“I know if he’s guarding me, he is going to be up for the challenge and he is going to play hard,” Wyatt said. “I have to let the game come to me… He’s a good defender, but I mean, he’s not the first good defender.”
While Oladipo said that he wasn’t sure he was going to be assigned to stop Wyatt, Indiana coach Tom Crean said he respects the talents of Temple’s guard.
“Khalif Wyatt takes a backseat to no one in the country right now when it comes to being a complete guard,” Crean said.
Not to be forgotten is fellow NBA-draft prospect Zeller. At seven feet tall, Zeller is a matchup nightmare due to his athleticism, ability to run the floor and wingspan. Zeller averages 8.1 rebounds per game and joined Oladipo on the Big Ten First Team. Zeller will likely be guarded by a combination of graduate forward Jake O’Brien and senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson.
“We’re going to have an even bigger challenge [than yesterday] tomorrow because Zeller is a big guy,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “He gets a lot of rebounds, and everyone on their team crashes the boards as well. We have to just battle again and try to stay physical with these guys.”
“[Zeller] is really strong, they look for him a lot, he’s an important piece of the offense,” redshirt forward Anthony Lee said. “Just his presence in there. We’re going to have to try to stop his activity all around.”
While Lee played eight minutes of the North Carolina State contest, he said that he is still day-to-day and that he should be ready for tomorrow’s game. Lee would add size to an interior that would be depleted without his presence.
In playing the No. 1 seed, the Owls said they would cherish the opportunity, but that it was important to not get wrapped up in the moment.
“You want to step up to the challenge,” DiLeo said. “This is what the NCAA tournament is all about.”
“Once the game starts, I don’t think seeds matter,” O’Brien said. “It’s us against them. We’ve played a lot of big games this year, against some of the best teams in the country. It’s really nothing new to us to play a team like Indiana. Once the game starts, it’s Temple vs Indiana, and we’re going to prepare the best we can.”
The time of the game is set for 2:40 tomorrow at the University of Dayton Arena. The winner of the game will advance to Washington D.C. to play the winner of No. 4 Syracuse and No. 12 California.
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.