Wednesday, November 29, 2006

ACC-Big Ten Challenge thoughts

Everyone knew that the emphasis was going to be on the "Challenge" part of this contest for the Big Ten this year. The ACC just flat-out has more talent, as do a number of conferences, actually. This will probably be a 3-4 NCAA bid year for the Big Ten, unfortunately (I still think 4, but my loyalties are clear).

That said, after Michigan failed to wake up until it was far too late in their Monday night loss to NCSU, the Big Ten actually had an okay outing last night. If Indiana had hit their free throws and Penn State had gotten a couple of stops, the Big Ten would've had an amazing night.

As it was, it was good that Northwestern (over Miami) and Wisconsin (over Florida State) won, because that may be the last victories that the Big Ten gets in this year's Challenge. But let's talk about the losses. Penn State is clearly a much better team with Geary Claxton playing (even if he's still rounding into shape after his injury) than without. Having Mooch Jackson back and shooting decently also was a big boost. Once they get frosh forward DJ Jackson healthy and in the rotation, Claxton will actually have some rebounding help inside (as Hassell and Cornley are both playing decently inside). Who knows, maybe the Nittany Lions' defense will tighten up a bit? Still, I originally forecast Georgia Tech as a NIT squad, before upgrading them to leading the bubble-pack. Point being, I see these teams as roughly equal, maybe PSU just a step behind, but if a rematch was played at Happy Valley, I think GT would come out a loser.

On to the Indiana game.
I was checking in from time-to-time in the first half (no Lance Stemler--ouch, ugly turnovers--ouch, Duke's Nelson heating up--oh well), turned back to catch the last couple of minutes of first half, with Calloway's clutch runner at the buzzer giving me some hope all was not lost. Then the second half began, and IU came out with intensity like I've not seen in some time. Good rebounding, hustle for the ball, and a careful and methodical exploration of the defense. If DJ White had been hitting, Duke would've been toast. But McRoberts and DJ seemed to be canceling each other out.
Still, it was a good, gutty effort that left me mad at the end of the game. I came away feeling like this Duke squad really wasn't better than Indiana's. Bassett not instantly launching the three at the end of the game didn't help.

And not that Kelvin Sampson, Erreck Suhr, and Armon Bassett didn't all do a hell of a job, but maybe Calloway could've played a bit more in the second half? It seemed like Suhr & Bassett were pretty beat at the end, and Calloway has a propensity to hit big shot.

Joey Shaw was also aggressive offensively (beautiful floating jumpers in the lane), which was nice to see, and both Mike White and Ben Allen had trouble shooting (White shoulda had ten points, easy) and not committing fouls, but they were aggressive on the boards. That'll be handy come conference play.

All in all, this is a very teachable game for Indiana. Sampson should walk into practice today and say "I don't like losing. I'm mad about this loss, and so you should be too!" Not to fault the effort, but just the execution. Sampson can show DJ where he should've passed out of the double-teams, Mike White where his silly foul 30 feet from the basket isn't needed and oh yeah, how about hitting some free throws?, show Bassett appropriate shot selection, Suhr how over-dribbling can kill your offense, and all of the starters the sort of effort that needs to be shown in-game if they expect to stay the starters.

I feel like IU may be on the right track this year after all. They just need to get some actual victories now.


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