DAYTON, Ohio -- It will be the game within a game. Can the Big Ten's best defender, Indiana's Victor Oladipo, stop the Atlantic 10's best scorer, Temple's Khalif Wyatt?
We'll find out today when the top-seed Hoosiers (28-6) face ninth-seed Temple (24-9). At stake is a berth in next week's Sweet 16 at Washington D.C.
Oladipo is a 6-4, 215-pound junior known for his quickness, athleticism, leaping ability and relentless style. Wyatt is a 6-4, 215-pound senior who can score on anybody at any time. He has six 30-point games this season, with a high of 35 against Duquesne. He averages 20.2 points.
Oladipo likely won't guard Wyatt all the time. Coach Tom Crean rotates his defensive matchups, so Christian Watford, Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell also could get their shots. But Oladipo is certain to see a lot of Wyatt. The winner of that individual battle might determine the winning team.
“I know he's a great athlete,” Wyatt said of Oladipo. “I know he plays really hard.
“If he's guarding me, I know he'll be up for the challenge. I've got to let the game come to me. Just play my game, let my teammates get me shots, set screens, and work without the ball.
“He's a good defender, but he's not the first good defender I've faced.”
Wyatt is not the first good scorer Oladipo has faced. He's been a defensive stopper since he was young. This season he's guarded such big-time scorers as Michigan's Trey Burke, Butler's Rotnei Clark and Georgia's Ken Caldwell-Pope.
“Growing up, I didn't have any skill set or ability to shoot or dribble,” Oladipo said. “All I could do was play defense. I've taken it with me wherever I go. Defense is what I pride myself on."
As far as Wyatt Oladipo said, “He does a lot of good things well, a lot of different things in order to score. I'm going to have to do a good job of slowing him down for us to win.”
Wyatt injured his thumb in Friday's win over North Carolina State, but said it won't bother him against Indiana.
“I don't think it's a huge concern,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “Even if it were, I don't think he'd let me take him out of the game. He wants to play.”
IU coach Tom Crean understands the challenge Oladipo will face.
“He knows (Wyatt is ) really good. You can tell there's no moment that's too big for him.
“He can get to the rim. He can score on a pull-up. He can make threes from range, and he can find his teammates. When you have somebody like that who can hurt you in from so many different aspects, that makes for a much more dangerous opponent.”
IU's blowout win over James Madison enabled Crean to play his starters sparingly. Nobody played more than 27 minutes. Temple starters had to play hard till the end of their 76-72 win over North Carolina State.
Will that be a factor given the short turn-around?
Crean said the lengthy timeouts and the 20-minute halftime (five minutes more than the regular season), along with the overall postseason stakes, will help eliminate fatigue issues.
“I don't think it changes as much this time of year. I don't know how relevant that is this time of year.”
Dunphy said he and Wyatt have grown to appreciate each other, although growth wasn't always easy.
“It's of great respect right now,” Dunphy said. “In the beginning he had his way of doing things, and I had mine. We were trying to get together on it, but he was a pain in the butt sometimes, and he'll be the first to tell you.
“But he's grown. When you sign these guys, it's not perfection. You sign on for the good and the bad. It's kind of like for richer or poorer, for better or worse.
“He's been great down the stretch of his career. Now he's a very low-maintenance guy. Early he was killing me with high maintenance. I'm glad it's worked out.”
Are the Hoosiers aware of all the NCAA tourney upsets?
You'd better believe it.
When No. 2 Georgetown loses to No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast, No. 3 New Mexico falls to No. 14 Harvard and No. 4 Kansas State is upset by No. 13 La Salle, it gets your attention.
“Everybody is watching these games,” forward Derek Elston said. “When you see upsets like that it makes you play a little harder. It makes you think anybody can catch you off guard. You never know when your time will be or when that loss will come, if it comes.
“Something like that makes you think anybody can catch you.”
Teammate Cody Zeller is well aware of what can happen to favorites who aren't prepared.
“I've been watching upsets since I was little. It's March Madness so it's going to happen. You try not to make it happen to you. You do a lot of preparation. You can't take anyone lightly. We prepare for this team like we did for Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.”