Hulls shines, Zeller slips in No. 1 Indiana's OT win over Georgetown
Six-foot guard Jordan Hulls was Indiana's most important player vs. Georgetown
Cody Zeller needs to step up his game to live up to his player-of-the-year hype
Georgetown's Otto Porter improved his draft stock, looked like a first-round pick
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- What we learned from No. 1 Indiana's 82-72 overtime win over Georgetown in Tuesday's Legends Classic final (aside from the fact that it figures to be one of the best games we'll see all season):
The value of Jordan Hulls. The previous night, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean served up some excessively generous praise of Hulls: "With all the NBA people here tonight" -- reportedly 30 scouts -- "that's an NBA guard. He's a huge winner, with skills." I could not find any NBA scouts who were salivating over the 6-foot senior combo guard, nor does Hulls' name appear in any mock drafts, but I will not dispute the second part of Crean's quote. Hulls is a winner, with skills -- mostly the ability to hit threes and perfectly arced runners -- and he was the most important player on the floor for Indiana against the Hoyas.
Not only did Hulls equal Cody Zeller's point total of 17, the mop-topped gunner from Bloomington also scored eight of his points in the final 2:01 of regulation and OT. He made arguably the two biggest plays of overtime; the first came on a right-wing pick-and-roll in which 6-foot-8 defensive stalwart Otto Porter switched onto him, but didn't seem to believe that Hulls had the desire to drive the ball all the way to the rim. When Hulls changed pace, Porter stopped sliding, and that's when he was blown by for a beautiful runner off the glass -- and an and-one free throw, because big man Nate Lubick stepped over late and fouled Hulls after the release. It put the Hoosiers up 70-64, and on their next possession, Hulls perfectly executed another pick-and-roll, knifing a bounce pass to a rolling Zeller that resulted in two free-throws, and another six-point lead. From then on, the game was out of reach.
It's a testament to how scared Georgetown was of Hulls' three-point shooting that coach John Thompson III ordered, on a number of big possessions, his best two defenders -- the 6-8 Porter and 6-8 Greg Whittington -- to mark a guard who was eight inches smaller. After going 3-of-6 from beyond the arc on Tuesday, Hulls is now shooting 55.2 percent on the season (16-of-29).
Hulls has been so hyper-efficient that only two players in the country who use at least 15 percent of their team's possessions score at a higher per-possession rate than he does, according to statsheet.com: Creighton's Ethan Wragge (1.760 PPP, 15.5 percent usage) and Wright State's J.T. Yoho (1.608 PPP, 16.1 percent usage). Hulls is scoring 1.602 PPP and using 15.3 percent of Indiana's possessions.
He isn't the Hoosiers' go-to-guy -- their offense is still going to be dominated by Zeller and Christian Watford -- but he's an incredibly valuable floor-spreader in a starting lineup that lacks another elite shooter. There's no way that Indiana would have the nation's top offense without him.
Zeller is not as complete (or assertive) as much of the preseason player-of-the-year hype suggested. He had a solid game while recovering from the flu (17 points, 9-of-13 from the foul line, eight rebounds), but was noticeably passive at times against a Hoyas team that, while long and athletic, lacked a true center to defend him. With 4:06 left in the second half, after Zeller passed out of the post while single-covered, Crean lit into him from the sideline during a stoppage in play. "Hey! You've got 1-on-1 coverage," Crean yelled. "Quit passing and get to the rim."
Zeller tried to attack on two of the next three possessions; he missed an off-balance hook, but on the second one, drew a fifth foul on Mikael Hopkins that knocked him out of the game, and made both free throws. A Zeller basket attack early in overtime also forced Georgetown's leading scorer, Markel Starks, to foul out. "Sometimes," Crean said, "You have to remind Cody that it's OK for him to score."
Crean reminded reporters afterward that Zeller, a sophomore, was still young and "far from a finished product." That is especially the case on defense, where -- even though he wasn't saddled with the foul trouble that knocked him out of Monday's win over Georgia for much of the first half -- he struggled to make any impact in the middle of Indiana's 2-3 zone. Zeller neither stepped up to stop Porter from hitting jumpers in the high post, nor stepped over to cut off basket attacks from the likes of guards Starks and Jabril Trawick.
IU's star center finished the game without a single block, and had just three rebounds in the second half and OT. Zeller may be willing to be more aggressive on D once backup bigs Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin, who are serving a nine-game NCAA suspension, are able to play. But if the Hoosiers continue to try a 2-3 zone, Zeller should watch tape of how Fab Melo manned the paint for Syracuse last season -- with a real vengeance. The 7-footer needs to be altering more shots on the interior if Indiana's defense is going to be elite.
Otto Porter, once again, proved he can do everything. Georgetown established itself as a top 20 team here in Brooklyn, and Porter, although he wasn't the tourney MVP (it went to Hulls), established himself as a first-team All-America candidate. His line of 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and three steals from the small-forward spot against UCLA was, as Thompson said, "a full game." Porter backed that up with a 15-point, five-rebound, four-assist, two-block, two-steal game against Indiana -- including two incredible shots in the final minute that improbably sent the game to overtime.
On back-to-back nights, Porter outplayed the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft (UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad) and the preseason favorite for the Wooden and Naismith Awards (Zeller), who's also in the running for the No. 1 pick. Georgetown is so system- and team-oriented that Porter did not claim any personal victories ... but we can say it for him: As far as Porter's draft stock is concerned, those were huge personal victories.
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