Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Wildcats

Barring any unforeseen events, I will not be attending the IU@NU game for the first time in years. Every time I've gone, the Hoosiers have lost at Welsh-Ryan arena. I am being needlessly superstitious, but frankly, the Hoosiers need the win bad.

Earl Calloway returns, which should definitely help. Bassett needs to learn a little more from Calloway, who can get and in the lane and shoot any time wants, but doesn't for the good of the offense. Give EC a couple of games before the conference tourney to get back into the swing of things, and Indiana ought to be pretty dangerous going in. I don't know where we'll end up, but if we win both, that third seed looks fairly likely. Illinois and Iowa are the only teams that can tie us, and they play each other this weekend, so one of them will drop out. Iowa plays at PSU tonight, so they could drop out of the race for third tonight, and still beat Illinois, taking them down a peg as well. In the event that one of them ties us (I'd bet Illinois) it comes down to tie-breakers. We went 1-1 against each, so then it goes to our records against the top teams. All three played Ohio State once and lost, so it comes down to the record against Wisconsin. Indiana 1-0, Illinois 0-1, Iowa 0-2. Of course, that'd put us on a collision course with Wisconsin in the semi-finals, but as we're going to run into them sometime as I think they're the most likely winners of the tourney, that's fine.

So, the Hoosiers definitely have the inside track for the third seed. But lose tonight and that all goes out the window.

Go Hoosiers.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Must Win time for Indiana

The game on Wednesday night at Northwestern is now a "Must-Win" for Indiana. Which is not the way that IU has played the last three times I watched them get beat in Welsh-Ryan arena. If they play like they have to win, even without Earl Calloway, they should grind out a solid road win. Calloway might be back for NU, as likely Sampson didn't want him hurt in a last game against the rough Spartans. Terry from the IndyStar sums up a lot of our problems

I watched that loss with a MSU alum (Jeff) and a Purdue alum (Tony), which honestly was the way to watch it, 'cause instead of me & Jeff fuming at the TV on our own, we just made fun of each other when the Sparties played like idiots in the first half, and then when IU played stupid in the second half. I said in my last post This could really go either way. Either MSU has a let-down and allows IU the chance to steal one on the road, or they play with huge confidence and Indiana gets shellacked for its worst loss of year. Well, both happened. MSU had a let-down in the first half (at one point late in the half they had 15 points and 13 turnovers) and then Nietzel played with confidence and hit some huge threes while IU coughed up the ball and got pasted with a bunch of fouls on the way to their worst second half yet.

If IU doesn't win against NU, they'll have to prove something in the Conference tourney to get into the NCAA's. But they should win at NU and in their final home game. One thing I don't like is all this BS about the Big Ten only getting 3 or 4 bids, while much-less impressive teams with far worse numbers (I'm looking at you, USC and Stanford) are considered "in" while Illinois and /or Purdue are out. What? The Big Ten deserves Six bids, not that it's the Big 10's year to make any noise once they are there, but they deserve to be there. I expect that five will get in, but there's too much name-game going on right now with the ESPMSM.

Looking at the Recruits for next year, and while IU, Purdue, OSU, and MSU all got good classes, Eric Gordon
looks awesome here, and like he has the skills to make us better on the wing instantly. Wow.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Doing what needs done

I've been a little busy my work and personal life, so my obsession with IU (& Big 10) basketball has lessened ever so slightly. But I did watch IU's 71-59 tight victory over Minnesota. There were certainly good and bad moments. The worst was probably watching Minnesota come down the floor midway through the second half on four consecutive possessions down just 48-50. And DJ White, Earl Calloway, and AJ Ratliff were all sitting on the bench. Uh-oh. But on the good side, Minnesota didn't score on any of them, and neither of their two shots drew iron.

And on the really good side, Minnesota's been a mediocre team this year, but when they have Spencer Tollackson playing, they're not that much worse that NCAA bubble teams Iowa, Purdue, Michigan, and Illinois. And IU looked like the better team for most of the game, even with their starting (& the conference's second-best) point guard still sitting out. And there are definitely some young Hoosiers with upside here. I've raved before about Joey Shaw (who really hit the glass in this one: 6 rebounds) but Armon Bassett has handles and quicks and an ability to hang and get his shot off. I think he'll be a pretty solid point guard after a summer's worth of figuring out his role at this level. And Ben Allen played pretty well in his time, too, hitting shots in the paint with either hand and generally playing tough inside. That's really good to see, especially if DJ goes pro (please, please, no).
But again, Mike White and Ben Allen combined for 22 minutes, while Lance Stemler got 30. I'm not sure why Mike White played so little, but poor FT shooting generally gets you the hook, even though it's really not terribly costly over the course of game (White missed 3 of 4 FTAs, which still gave IU one more point on those two possessions than Stemler's two missed 3-pointers). Give Stemler his due, he hustles and did grab 5 rebounds.
IU goes on the road to Michigan State, who's flying high after a big win over Wisconsin. This could really go either way. Either MSU has a let-down and allows IU the chance to steal one on the road, or they play with huge confidence and Indiana gets shellacked for its worst loss of year. Odds are not good for a Hoosier victory, which means they have to win at Northwestern and versus Penn State at home to get to 20 wins overall, 10 wins in-conference, and assure a spot in the NCAA tourney.

Monday, February 19, 2007


The loss at Purdue I expected, but the loss at Michigan I did not. And watching the Michigan game made the loss much more frustrating. Sure, if IU had hit some threes during the game, that's a win, and they had a nice rally to almost pull the victory out without Earl Calloway, but mostly, they coughed up an opportunity for a road win.

They couldn't shoot all day long, but then missed crucial free-throws in the stretch, and made some really bad decisions in the final minutes as well. I think that's the first bad road loss they've had all season. The funny thing is that I think IU's defense is tightening up, but their offense has dropped off. I'll have to try to justify that statistically, but no time right now.

Bounce back, IU. Bounce back.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

On to Purdue!

Well, I just don't rate the Hoosiers' chances very high in terms of beating Purdue in Mackey tonight. But it's possible. Indiana is (overall) a better team, but I think the Boilermakers will be fired up as possible, especially since they've been dwelling on Earl Calloway's comment to coach Matt Painter (I think it was something along the lines of "you shouldn't leave me open" after which Calloway apologized to him) but give Painter credit. He's blown it up into a major talking point, and is using it to get the previously (to this season) listless Boilermakers fired up. The fact that this would be a significant win in the stretch run to the NCAA's doesn't hurt, either.

I think one of the varied reasons Mike Davis was able to hang around so long at IU was his dominance of Purdue. We'll see if Sampson can exhibit that same dominance. I think IU needs to get either this game or the Michigan game for its own sanity, it's had some rough performance lately, and the Hoosiers need to right the ship going into the postseason.

I have posted my individual productivity-efficiency hfbratings of each Big Ten player, through 2/11, ranked 1-111.

Conley & Oden still lead, of course, and DJ's #4, but Tyler Smith and Adam Haluska have made big jumps up the ladder, and Penn State has two guys in the top ten. How are they so bad? Well, as noted in my last post, defense is certainly an issue, but they did almost knock off Ohio State. OSU keeps on getting lucky escapes, I think that'll come back to bite them in the postseason. Penn State's going to be dangerous down the stretch, I think. A close loss to OSU gave IU the conference for a very good run, and could have the same effect for the Nittany Lions.

In per-possession (hpps) rankings, AJ Ratliff is #3 overall, behind only the dynamic buckeye duo. We'll need him playing well, and somebody to step up at power forward, if we're going to get either of these road games this week.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Big Ten Defense and NCAA hopes

I proposed yesterday to analyze Big Ten Basketball team's defense by looking at how effective the opponents' were able to run their offense. I suggested punishing the defense for all free-throws given, and the offense for missed field goals and (especially) turnovers. Then divide by total possessions for a tempo-free measurement.

Opponent's Pts + missed FT's + Offensive Rebounds -(2xTO's)-Missed FGs
all divided by total possessions.

through 2/11/07

1. Ohio State .2170
2. Illinois .2704
3. Michigan State .3789
4. Purdue .4108
5. Wisconsin .4282
6. Indiana .4290
7. Iowa .4694
8. Minnesota .4934
9. Michigan .4976
10. Penn State .6096
11. Northwestern .7282

Compare this to Big Ten Wonk's Opponent-points-per-possession:
1. Ohio State (0.93)
2. Wisconsin (0.94)
3. Illinois (0.96)
4. Michigan State (0.97)
5. Purdue (1.01)
6. Indiana (1.01)
7. Iowa (1.06)
8. Michigan (1.07)
9. Minnesota (1.07)
10. Northwestern (1.11)
11. Penn State (1.18)

What's interesting that Wisconsin drops from 2nd to 5th. It would suggest that although Wisconsin doesn't allow that many points, you can get to the line. In fact, Wisconsin's Big Ten opponents have shot a mere 64.5% from the FT line, missing out on a whopping 54 points. Also, while Michigan and Minnesota tie for Oppp, you can see that Minnesota is slightly better at disrupting their foes' offensive efficiency. Michigan remains in NCAA contention having just snapped four-game losing streak, including a home loss to Iowa. ESPN's Drive to 65 suggests that the Big Ten's NCAA invites have slid from 5 to possibly only 3. Joe Lunardi at Bracketology posits 9 teams from the ACC. And Yoni Cohen still thinks at least 7 teams from the Pac-10 could make it.

I think 5-6 teams are NCAA-worthy from the Big Ten, and 5 should go. Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Indiana are all locks. Illinois, barring any more meltdowns, should coast to NCAA bid. Purdue, Michigan State, Iowa, and Michigan all have NCAA hopes. But only one of them will probably get in. I bet Michigan collapses and limps to a 6-10 finish. They can't defend, and they barely got by Minnesota at home. This is a tough league, and Amaker's team just isn't tough. Iowa also will probably not make short of winning the Big Ten Tournament. The Hawkeyes are 6-5, playing well, and only have one more loss probable (at MSU) in their final 5 games, but I suspect their shooting will cool off somewhere, and they'll get bit. Purdue or Illinois at home could happen, but I think it's at Penn State. Also, I know Alford's team does well in the Big Ten tourney, but I don't see this club doing well. It just looks to much like last season's Minnesota club: on a nice little run, but not really as good as this stretch. Props to Adam Haluska, 'though, who is establishing himself as the top 2-guard in the conference.

That leaves Purdue v. Michigan State. Which one? Well, it will probably come down to the Big Ten tourney to decide that. I would bet that Purdue beats the Hoosiers tomorrow night, loses at Iowa but probably wins the final 3, leaving them at 9-7. I have in the past that Michigan State was overrated (I figured them for NIT pre-season), but now I think they're underrated and getting a lot of bad press for losing four straight, but three were on the road and the home game was vs. Ohio State. The only problem they are having is one of perception, and that's all due to the second half against Purdue. Now, that game was at Purdue, and the Sparties are weakest at Purdue does best at forcing: Turnovers. The result is not surprising, and I'd like to see such proposed NCAA squads like Washington, Georgia, and Maryland play at Purdue. Granted bubble squad Georgia Tech squished Purdue (at GT), but Purdue bounced back to beat "should be in" Virginia at home. Anyway, Michigan State has a brutal schedule down the stretch with winnable games at home v. Michigan & Iowa, then tough games at home v. Wisconsin and Indiana (if they don't get that Wisconsin game, look out Hoosiers), and then finish with games at Michigan and Wisconsin. That final Wisconsin game is a loss, but don't be surprised for MSU to win at least 4, if not all five of its next five games. They get 'em all and they're 9-7. More realistically, they finish 8-8 and have to win 2 tourney games to get into the NCAAs. Purdue probably has to win just 1 tourney game to get in, but I doubt there's room for them both. Purdue has better numbers right now, but give MSU a couple of games against Wisconsin, and that should change. MSU's better at defense, anyway.

I put together a cross-section of the computer numbers (CBS RPI, Sagarin, Blue Ribbon, and Pomeroy as well as Strength of Schedule: RPI & Sagarin) on Google docs. The Big Ten looks pretty solid overall. If your numbers need to be in the 40's to get in, the conference should have 6 teams in the NCAAs, no matter how you slice it.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Illinois almost got that one, but Indiana slipped away with a 65-61 victory by the skin of its teeth. In the end, Illinois' offense returned to normal, missing key shots down the stretch and turning the ball over, which they had not done all game.

For about 35 minutes, I recognized Illinois' defense, still giving IU fits (although maybe the Hoosiers could've pulled away if they'd quit running sets for Lance Stemler to get open shots) but Illinois' offense had ability that I hadn't seem them display since they were playing Savannah State (well, maybe Arizona). It looks like Chester Frazier and Brian Randle are healthy again, and if they stay that way, and Jamar Smith starts to get some confidence back in his shooting, this Illini squad could be a team that makes a surprise run to the Big Ten tourney title. Watch out.

That aside, Indiana didn't quit, so props to them for pulling this out, but the defense is starting to be a real concern. Sure, the Hoosier offense could make that all go away if they are hitting at an unconscious level again, but there's real problems at the four-spot. Xavier Keeling is a good kid, a strong & quick competitor, but he's no starter yet. When he was in, Illinois ran sets that resulted in lay-ups or open jumpers. The fact that he started is a testament to our weakness at that spot. I know Sampson came to the defense of Stemler, saying he does a lot of other things for the Hoosiers, but Stemler's not a guy who can defend quick power guys or particularly tall forwards. Stemler's more of a Brian Evans-type. You can play him at the 4-spot here and there, but really he belongs at the 3. It's worked for most of the year due to his ability to hit the three, and give IU the chance to run a 1-4 offensive set, but if he can't do it, IU's offense either has to change too a more traditional double-post offense, or Ben Allen has to be able to play some of those minutes. I lobbied for Ben Allen, but we'll see what Sampson does down the stretch.

As Ben & Ken reflect on the value of statistics, I've thought about my own obsession with them of late. I think my interest falls under that category that History, Science, Philosophy, Theology, Sociology, etc. all have fallen under as I've studied them: in search of truth. I think it is valuable to recognize that truth is not an absolute, but also that it's still worth using whatever processes you may to get as close as you can to it.

With that in mind, I've been trying to figure out how to evaluate defenses. I think that you have to look at how your opponents' offense operates. The points-per-possession would the quickest metric, but I'd also like to see how efficient those opponents' defenses are, with some adaptation of the HPER formula.
The goal here is to find how good a team is at limiting possessions and scoring of the other team. One thing that I feel must be addressed is Free-Throw defense. There isn't any. I think a defense should be punished (or the opposing offense should be rewarded) in any offensive efficiency statistical metric for every free throw taken.

My proposal:

Opponent's Pts + missed FT's +Offensive Rebounds -(2xTO's)-Missed FGs
all divided by total possessions.

I'll give it a shot, see if it makes sense.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

2/7 News & Commentary

U recruit Eli Holman gets a quadruple-double. Getting Holman, Eric Gordon, and the rest of the Hoosier class in next year could make us a real-honest-to-goodness title contender, if DJ stays. And that's a moderate if. I don't think DJ would go, but maybe if IU does pretty well in the NCAA's, he might.

Watched a little of the Michigan at Ohio State game last night. OSU is so talented, but when Michigan is executing against you on your home floor, something about your defense is not championship-worthy.I gotta think Ohio State is not a final four team. They could be, but I just don't think they are consistent enough.

I gotta go with Wisconsin, UNC, Florida, and UCLA for my favorites, but Texas A&M, Butler, Kansas, and Ohio State for the Elite Eight. Nevada and Air Force would round out my top ten. I honestly don't think that highly of Memphis, Pittsburgh, and most of the Pac-10.

Current debate in ESPMSM: Oden or Durant for #1 in June?
I gotta say, it's just going to come down to which team is drafting, but if it's a team that needs everything, I think you gotta go with Greg Oden. You just can't teach height.

Terry Hutchens
sparks some debate
asking about the "lovetap" Sampson gave to Calloway during the Iowa game.

I don't care, and wish these stories wouldn't take up print. I didn't care when Bob Knight was coach, I thought a lot of those incidents wouldn't have got much attention had it not been Knight doing it. I think those sorts of things, barring actual slapping or hitting of players, is more about the creation of a media story than any ethical issue.

In my high school soccer & swimming careers, I had coaches who were grimly quiet, coaches who yelled and loved everyone, and as well as coaches who yelled and hated everyone. My preference was for the ones who yelled and cried and carried on and put their hands on you, but loved everyone, and they let you know that they were on your side. And furthermore, those coaches also demanded that you represent yourself, your teammates, and your school with class. Kelvin may yell and grab Calloway or anyone else, but unless he's smacking them around, I don't care if he gets in a players face or grabs his jersey. That's between him and the player. Sampson demands professionalism from his players, and now twice has had them apologize after plays (AJ to the refs, Earl to Coach Painter).

I thought Mike Davis was generally a professional (if emotional) coach, but I don't recall Tom Coverdale or Marco Killingsworth ever being sent to apologize to anyone. I think I might recall Bob Knight doing that, but no specifics come to mind.

At the end of it all, I think Coach Sampson has worked his butt off, and been professional at Indiana. And he's winning. That's all I can ask.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Shake it up

I think if the loss at Iowa proved anything, it's that the Hoosiers need some scoring from someone at the 4 or 5 spots. It could be DJ, Stemler, or even Mike White, but IU just didn't get it going from anyone other than Calloway, AJ, and Rod on Saturday, and that wasn't enough.
So, I know that Sampson doesn't want to destroy Stemler's confidence, who can be so valuable when he's on (his demolition of Goran Suton in the MSU game was probably the best evidence), but Stemler really doesn't add much when he's having an off-night offensively (or an off-month). But I think Lance has to take a seat on the bench for now. He'll have other chances, but right now Indiana needs some production, and definitely needs to not be working their sets to get him open shots.
And yes, I'm unironically moving from that sentence to suggest insertion in the starting line-up of Ben Allen. Allen is the least productive member of the squad (excluding Adam Ahfeld & Kyle Taber), but putting him in the starting line-up would have the same benefits that Lance Stemler has offensively, and defensively would give DJ a break against the opponents' top post threat. On the road, it would also give Sampson the chance to see if Allen could do anything, and if not then maybe he absorbs a couple of the "off-the-bus" fouls. If Allen can contribute, then he earns more minutes. If not, then he's not getting significantly more minutes anyway.
But the real wrinkle here is that it would allow the Hoosiers to still bring Mike White off the bench while at the same time expanding his minutes. Keeling gets the "breather-minutes" for DJ, and Lance -for now- plays only mop-up duty.

Indiana can feel pretty good about itself at this point in the season. There have been some tough losses, of which Iowa was probably the worst, but nothing to really hang one's head about (Michigan, on the other hand, who Iowa had just beat in Ann Arbor, can certainly hang their heads). But still I think at this time of the year, just to let everyone know that they can't rest on their laurels, Sampson has to shake it up.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A call for positivity

Colts win! Colts win!

Following the Colts 29-17 Superbowl win (giving Indy its first-ever major championship, as far as I know) over the Chicago Bears, and the IU Hoosiers loss at Iowa (81-75), there's been some considerable negativity in the air.

Let me come to the defense of three who are being maligned.

1) Rex Grossman

This kid, in his first full year of NFL play, goes to the Superbowl, plays in conditions that even the offensive juggernaut Colts found difficult, to wit: a wet humid, downpour. Btw, all last night I was schadenfreude-ing about all the folks who must have bought HD tv's in time for the superbowl, only to see the rain destroy any visibility/clarity. But seriously, to expect Rex to make a difference against what was turning out to be the NFL's best defense, minus one of his running backs, in those conditions, was just not reasonable. If Big Ben had a miserable Superbowl last year in great conditions, what was Rex going to do? You got to give him a pass on this one, yeah, he threw some late interceptions, but he had to take the risks as the game was slipping away from Chicago. See how he bounces back next year, but he helped get Chicago to the Superbowl for the first time in over 20 years. Let's not call him cooked just yet.

2) The Bears' Defense
Lots of blah-blah-blah about how the Bears didn't show up, the defense didn't play, and few "experts" blabbering about how they saw in the statistics that this defense wasn't all that great anyway. Is this defense All-Time great? Maybe, maybe not. They'll need to bounce back next year with a championship to prove it. But this defense played smart and tough and got takeaways against the Colts, and kept the Bears in the game until the fourth quarter. Peyton took what he was given, exploiting an early lapse for the big play, and then when the Bears stayed back to protect against that, he handed off or tossed short passes to his RB's to wear down the Bears. The Colts learned well from the Patriots, and looked the part of the more veteran team, dominating time-of-possession. It would've been a very tough defense indeed that could've done more against the Colts.

3) Hoosier Men's basketball team
I've seen some print about the "let-down" and the "same-old same-old" and "maybe-they're-not-so-good" about the Indiana loss at Iowa. I think that Indiana didn't lose this one as much as Iowa won it. Iowa was juiced for this one, and played about as well, and as physically, as they can play. And this game was something of an anomaly, due to all the foul calls. Who knows what kind of game would actually be played on a neutral court in the Big Ten Tournament? But it was a sort of predictable loss, if you watched the way Iowa rallied against IU in the first meeting. And more than anything, this was a typical road game. Crazy stuff happening, some strange whistles, a couple of mental lapses (AJ's technical, noone coming back for the ball leading to a Ben Allen turnover) that could've changed the nature of the last minute.
Indiana showed up to play in this one, and indeed, wasn't that far away from having a chance to win it. The biggest problem was the double teams DJ faced in the second half. In the first half, he hit 3-point shooters, but in the second half, the Hoosiers needed to hit someone cutting to the basket (and at times that person was there, but DJ didn't see them). Composure and passing out of the double teams are the two things I would hit on if I were Sampson, but I'm not him, and he's done pretty well so far.

I'm not confident about IU's chances at Purdue and MSU, but then, I never was. I do think that if the Hoosiers tighten up, they could still get road wins at Michigan and at Northwestern, which would mean an 11-5 conference record, and 20-8 overall going into the Big Ten tourney (given home wins over Illinois, Minnesota, and Penn State).

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Here's your bandwagon, jump on it

Any former IU Basketball fans who aren't behind this Indiana Basketball team at this point should just go ahead and sell all of their old Hoosier paraphernalia and move to West Texas. At the very least, they should have the decency to never to talk about basketball again. Because what's happening in Bloomington's Assembly Hall is good basketball. Last night's 71-66 victory over #2 Wisconsin was a great game, and a perfect example of the excellence returning to college basketball in the state of Indiana.

This Hoosier squad's defense may not be as fearsome as it is hyped to be, but it's scrappy, imaginative, and adaptable. The offense swings the ball, looks for the open man, the extra pass, and relies on sweet-scoring DJ White to abuse any defense that dares to play him one-on-one. For tough games, the offense seems to have found a nice formula, go with DJ to keep you in it for 30 minutes, and then find a swingman's hot hand (Rod or AJ, most likely) to carry you down the stretch.

A good mix of personalities also feeds their success, Wilmont's unwavering belief that the next shot is going in and IU is going to win seems spread contagiously, DJ White constantly yelling and getting everyone pumped up, Earl Calloway playing the Scottie Pippen role, keeping spirits up and telling guys that the next pass is coming their way, the undersized Lance Stemler scrapping for every loose ball, every rebound. These guys set the tone, and it's a large reason why you've never seen IU phone in or even quit on a game this season.

And finally, let's give it up for Kelvin Sampson. This guy came to IU under a bit of a cloud, to a less-than-thrilled reception (Sampson was a hot commodity 10 years ago, not so much last season), and to a team that had lost its top three scorers and five players from its rotation. Let's just say there were a lot of question marks.

But Sampson has worked his tail off. He came in and persuaded DJ White and AJ Ratliff to stay, he persuaded Armon Bassett, Joey Shaw, and Xavier Keeling to stick around, he went out and got Lance Stemler & Mike White from the Juco ranks, and then for good measure, he nabbed the best junior guard in the country from the teeth of Illinois.

The season started, and he gave this team an identity, and he has worked just as hard as any of the players, if not harder. He paces the sideline, is talking to every one of our guys, lobbies the refs, adjusts the defense, comes out with offense game-plans that adapt to what the opponents are giving them (does anyone else remember past Indiana squads trying to solve the zone?).

If you can't appreciate what Sampson is doing on the sidelines, and what these Hoosiers are doing on the floor, then college basketball isn't your sport. And that's the last I'll say about it.

Great game, Hoosiers. Welcome to the Big Ten Title chase!