Isian Thomas, Indiana's remarkable sophomore guard, had a rather frightening revelation today for anyone who has watched the Hoosiers play the last four weeks.
"We're playing better now than in December," Thomas said. "We're doing a lot of the little things you need to do to win games better.
"But," he added, his eyes lighting up, "we can still play better."
If the Hoosiers play any better than they have in their first two NCAA games, St. Joseph's will be in trouble when the teams meet Sunday at 1 p.m. (WRC-TV-4) for the Midest title.
Friday, after watching his Alabama-Birmingham team play a good game against the Hoosiers only to lose, 87-72, Coach Gene Bartow talked about what it will take to beat Bobby Knight's team.
"It's going to take a team shooting about 55 percent or better, a team going to the boards really hard and really well and a team keeping its turnovers to about five, maybe less," Bartow said. "Even doing all that they still might not win."
Indiana (23-9) has won 12 of its last 14 games, including superb tournament performances against Maryland and UAB. The Hoosiers are playing at home against a team no one, including its coach, Jim Lynam, realistically expected to be here.
"Beating De Paul was a surprise for us," Lynam said today. "You don't plan on those things happening. But this may be even tougher because we're playing on Indiana's home court and because they're playing so well. I call them a five-guard team.
They've got one point guard and four pulling guards."
What makes this Indiana team special is its blend of strength and speed. The only true star is Thomas, the 6-foot-2 sophomore who has 46 points, 22 assists and three turnovers in tournament play.
But with his ability as a penetrator and his remarkable peripheral vision, Thomas makes front-court men Ray Tolbert and Landon Turner much tougher because he sets them up with such good shots. If a team tries to sag, Randy Wittman and Ted Kitchel are both excellent outside shooters. Wittman, who Knight has been trying to get to shoot more, had 20 points, all from outside, Friday.
The Hawks (25-7) have won their three tournament games by a total of four points and have averaged only 50 points a game. But they have survived with a zone defense and clutch plays down the stretch. And they have won even though leading scorer Boo Williams has just 14 points in the tournament.
Because of the Hawks' unimpressive statistics and Indiana's current tear, most people expect a mismatch. Naturally, Knight disagrees.
"You don't get this far without being a damn good team," Knight said. "St. Joe's plays tough and they're tenacious. They've shown what they can do in a tight situation in the tournament and all season long. Anybody who shows up expecting a blowout is going to be disappointed.
St. Joe's players have insisted all along that their label as a Cinderella team is wrong, that they have won because they have played to their potential and for no other reason.