South preview: Kentucky vs. Indiana

ATLANTA -- The comparisons were unfair.

Marquis Teague wasn’t going to be Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall or Brandon Knight.

Who could?

Kentucky coach John Calipari had a run of elite point guards (at Memphis and Kentucky) that may go unmatched. Who has lottery picks and two No. 1 draft picks in such a short period -- at the same position?

No one.

That’s why Teague’s normalcy in playing for Calipari has been skewed. Yet as the Wildcats prepare to play Indiana for the second time this season in Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup at the Georgia Dome, Teague is not a liability.

He’s become a strength. Teague scored 24 points, made 10 of 14 shots, and had seven assists and only two turnovers in the Wildcats’ win over Iowa State in the third round.

“That was a great confidence boost for him in that last game,’’ said Kentucky assistant Rod Strickland. “He did struggle the first few weeks of the season, but he’s playing the best basketball at the right time.

“When you think of D-Rose at Memphis and Tyreke and B-Knight and J-Wall, and some of the things those guys did, it’s hard to compare,’’ said Strickland. “But he’s had a great attitude and has had a strong learning curve. He’s a pit bull and a great competitor. At times he pressed but he stuck with it mentally.’’

Teague is light-years ahead since he had six-turnover games against Kansas and Old Dominion in November. He should be better. Teague has had a normal freshman year learning curve.

“I’m just being more of a leader on the floor, trying to find my teammates and get them good shots,’’ said Teague. “I’m just basically being a coach on the floor. Back then, I was just attacking the rim more and making plays for myself, not as much for my teammates.’’

And they noticed.

“He’s just got a lot more experience,’’ said Kentucky sophomore Terrence Jones. “He’s a lot more calm. He’s just more under control and just an overall better decision-maker when it’s his turn and when it’s time for him to distribute for all of us. He does a good job of choosing when it’s time for him or when it’s time for us.’’

If Kentucky is to advance to the national title game, Teague will have to be the ultimate playmaker. He’ll have to take and make the open shot. Indiana won’t hound him as much to force turnovers, as would Xavier or Baylor. But his overall control and confidence have improved so much there is no reason to fear any meltdown.

A questionable position four months ago has once again become a strength for a Calipari team. It doesn’t matter if Teague is NBA-ready -- he doesn’t have to be now. All he has to do is lead this team, and he’s done just fine in that role of late.

Who to watch

Kentucky’s Darius Miller: He is constantly overlooked because of the stars who dominate the Wildcats’ roster. Miller scored 19 points in an efficient 35 minutes in a 16-point win over Iowa State. He can get to the basket with a decent step and can also make 3s. He made three against Iowa State.

“We have a really good team this year,’’ Miller said. “It’s one of the best teams we’ve been on. I think the main point is that we have a lot of fun with everything we do. You see us laughing and smiling on the court, clapping, and you see all the emotion we leave on the court.’’

Indiana’s Jordan Hulls: If the Hoosiers are going to have a chance to upset Kentucky, Hulls must make 3s. He made four against New Mexico State, but only one against VCU, a much better defensive team.

“We’re definitely a good 3-point shooting team,’’ Hulls said. “It’s things that we look for, obviously. It comes from when we throw it inside to the big guy and he finds us on the perimeter. As long as we take the open shots, that’s what we’ve got to take. Like I said, Cody’s going to find us if we’re open, and as long as we have good ball movement, it will be all right.’’

What to watch

Anthony Davis vs. Cody Zeller: Neither player was dominant in the first matchup. Davis was in foul trouble and finished with just six points and nine boards. Zeller was a bit more effective with 11 points and seven boards.

But a lot has changed since IU’s 73-72 victory at Assembly Hall on Dec. 10.

Davis is the national player of the year. Zeller was the top freshman in the Big Ten.

Neither team will focus solely on the post player. But the Wildcats will get good shots from the attention paid to Davis. Zeller helps create perimeter shots for the Hoosiers' guards because of the defensive need to focus on him when he has the ball.

Both players and teams were effusive in their praise for how much the other has matured and developed. There’s no bad blood between these two squads.

“He’s a great player, dominating the post, shoots from midrange,’’ Davis said of Zeller. “I just can’t wait to go out there and see what happens in the game. We’re both great players and we both work hard. Let’s just go out there and have fun.’’