Friday, May 23, 2008

William Gladness, in memoriam

Former IU player William Gladness has passed away at age 34. By most accounts, he was a great, cool guy.
I really enjoyed watching him play, his slippery interior scoring was something that you don't see too often at IU. I was sort of surprised to see him slump after a fantastic start to his senior season, and right along with him, the Hoosiers slumped into the postseason and got blown out by St. John's. He evidently went on to play in Europe before settling down to teach in Arkansas, and by all accounts, was just a great guy. A fellow teacher said "I once told him, `You can't change the world,' and he looked at me and said, `Why not?'"

Being about to turn that same age, reading something like this is one of those moments that throws the knowledge of your own mortality into plain view. I send my condolences for his family and friends, and I hope Gladness has found peace.

Will the last one out of Assembly Hall please...

turn off lights? Taber? Crawford?


Well, Brandon McGee got booted, and it sounds pretty bad, as Crean said he felt bad for McGee's family & high school coach who were trying to help keep him on the team. Certainly Crean has a right to create his own team and program, but I was rather hoping McGee would be the sort of player who grew up and responded better to a new coaching style, like Tom Coverdale. Yeah, McGee only averaged 1.5 points and saw very few minutes, but he was the tallest athletic talent we had returning. The fact that McGee dripped athleticism, had a nice outside shot (I believe he hit 4 threes in an exhibition game last fall), and was a consensus top-100 recruit coming into IU made me think that McGee was quite possibly a star in the making. But we knew next year was going to be rough for the Hoosiers, now it'll be just be a little rougher. 3 wins in the conference? Maybe. I hope the Hoosiers land 6-7 Emmanuel Negedu, even tho it seems likely he'll head to Memphis.

I watched a little of the NBA, and remembered why I don't like it. The officiating drives me nuts. The last two minutes of any game aren't basketball, it's some sort of rugby or something, and periodically whistles blow followed by strange and terrible decisions. The last few possessions of the Spurs-Lakers game 1 is a case in point. First, the ball goes out of bounds as Tim Duncan gets a rebound and as half-nelsoned by Pau Gasol. Duncan of course drops the ball and the whistle blows- ball out of bounds to the Lakers. Then the ball gets loose on the ensuing possession, and Manu Ginobili clearly is the only person touching it as it sails into the stands- ball out of bounds to the Spurs.

I know, you're probably thinking "make-up" call, too, but then as the Lakers come back down with the score now tied, Kobe Bryant gives Bruce Bowen a fore-arm that would raise any college ref's whistle (when one guy goes flying and the other has elbow sticking out like a chicken wing, it's called an offensive foul in the game of basketball). Bowen goes flying, to no call, as Kobe is all alone to drain the go-ahead shot. When the Spurs come back down, Ginobili misses a shot, the ball bounces around, and then it looks like Ginobili is about to have possession when he gets *tackled* from behind. The ball squirts out to a Laker, the game is essentially over. And I'm sitting there thinking, why do I watch this mockery of the game I love?

Oh yeah, I don't. And over the last ten years, people are joining me in watching something else. There's a bit of a bump this season, I think because of the post-writer's strike landscape on television these days. There's very little else to watch but the NBA playoffs if you've any interest in basketball.

Sure sure, I hate the Lakers, but what I hate more is the way "star power" and late-game fear corrupts the NBA whistles. Defensive prowess isn't respected the way offensive talent is in the league, and refs are scared of making a call that ends the game, and the players know it, so they can just maim with abandon in the final minute. I could expand this to discuss how the NBA is a more explicitly money-driven league that rigs the rules to give the fans a show, and how the allure of money-making & the culture of celebrity ruins everything, but I'll save my old-man-curmudgeon rant for another day.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Couple of thoughts

6-10 Maurice Sutton sounds 50-50 for committing to Indiana, and honestly, it would be good for IU just have a 6-10 body on the roster, but I've heard (unfavorable) comparisons to Eli Holman that make me a little worried about how much this kid will be able to help. Still, right now, despite the late pick-up of preferred walk-on 6-5 Broderick Lewis, the Hoosiers only have two guys who are even 6-8 on the roster for next year, and only 6-7 Kyle Taber has any experience at banging in the lane in Big Ten games.

Big Ten:
I just saw something that made think Bruce Weber's really losing it, as he evidently refused to give a MVP award to this year's basketball squad. I mean, sure, it was a disappointing year for the Illini with lots of unfortunate losses, but not even a fare-thee-well to one of the departing seniors? So, I'm thinking, that's it, Weber's cooking his own goose with team chemistry, and then I see this.

"The Illinois men's basketball team is the lone Big Ten Conference program to be honored this year. Bruce Weber's squad has earned the Public Recognition Award each of the three years it has been in existence."

Three years in a row? Weber must be doing something right to keep his guys achieving academically through success or failure. I didn't think I'd be saying this anytime soon, but... good on you, Coach Weber.

My way too-early rankings are sure gonna change after the draft. Ohio State's gonna drop a little with Koufos, and Texas takes a big hit losing DJ Augustin. The only major questions I have right now is whether North Carolina's Ty Lawson or UCLA's Westbrook stays or goes. Really, I think these are the two teams right now that can stop Duke for the title, but if those guards go...

Friday, May 09, 2008

Big Ten Power Poll for 2009

Yes, it's time for ridiculously premature prognostication! But first, a couple of notes. Regarding my last post, it looks like I may have given Eli Holman a little too much credit for being concerned about his teammates instead of himself. Seems he might have been more concerned about now-Detroit coach Ray McCallum, according to hints dropped from Coach Crean.

I finally got my ratings done for the 2008 Big Ten conference season. See which Big Ten Players were the best last season, who the top position players were, who the top freshmen were, and who you should look out for next season all here.

Both your & my favorite Michigan State blogger appears to have a way-too-early preview up and running, so I thought might as well chip in with my two cents. So here's my Very Early Big Ten Preview for 2009 divided into four sections: NCAA tourney-worthy teams, those probably headed to the NIT, the team headed to the CBI (should it continue), and those with no postseason hopes (barring a miracle run in the conference tournament).


1. Purdue
My hat's off to Matt Painter. He's got his team buying into an attacking style of defense, and Robbie Hummel creates huge match-up problems with his inside-out game. The two recruits (Ryne Smith & touted point Lewis Jackson) that Painter nabbed should see some minutes in the backcourt, but I don't see a 5-9 freshman taking a starting spot from Kramer, Grant, or E'Twuan Moore. The one weakness I see here is inside depth, but it didn't matter too much last season.

2. Michigan State
Goran Suton & Raymar Morgan should be a great 1-2 punch, but Chris Allen & Durrell Summers look like they're ready to become the athletic wing presence that Izzo's been missing for a few years. Throw in a bunch of experienced vets with promising recruits Delvon Roe & Draymond Green at forward, and the Sparties should be playing for a Final Four come March. However, they'll probably still finish second in the conference due to MSU's propensity for not putting it all together until tourney time.

3. Wisconsin
Bo Ryan snagged a nice recruiting class (his best?) and brings back a pair of quality forwards with Joe Krabbenhoft & Marcus Landry, as well as the solid scoring point guard Trevon Hughes. However, losing Brian Butch, Michael Flowers, and back-up center Greg Stiemsma is going to hurt. While defense generally gets under-recognized in on-paper projections, I do think Butch and Flowers were two of the better defenders in the conference last season, and I don't see Jason Bohannon or Jon Leuer stepping up to fill that void.


4. Illinois
Illinois often played like a much better team than their record, and nearly salvaged their season with a conference tourney championship. The Illini's best conference game was an especially vicious 80-42 rout over Minnesota. In fact, they beat Minnesota three times last season, which is why I think Weber's team will get over the hump and finish ahead of the Gophers. But, UIUC does lose their inside game with the graduation of Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle. The pair weren't the best free throw shooters, but overall were a solid force inside, and it'll be hard for Illinois to be as defensively potent without those seniors, probably keeping them out of the Field of 65. The big question has to be team chemistry, as the top six players returning with any scoring ability are all guards, and two of those have some character questions (transfer-happy Alex Legion & the oft-discussed Jamar Smith). I would expect Mike Tisdale & Juco Dominique Keller to start in the paint, and if they step up, who knows? But I think the Illini are a year away from contending in the conference.

5. Minnesota
According to my ratings, the Gophers' three best players return (Johnson, Westbrook, and Nolen), but so do a lot of questions about where the points come from given the absence of seniors McKenzie, Tollackson, & Coleman. While I won't be surprised if juco Devron Bostick sees starting minutes at the 3-spot, I still think Westbrook and Hoffarber's scoring numbers should get a bump. Frosh center Ralph Sampson III will be given every opportunity, but he &/or Colt Iverson are going to have to be pretty tough in the paint for Minnesota to make the jump to the NCAA tourney.

6. Ohio State
A great freshmen class is joined by a couple of jucos, but I'm not sure all the pieces will fit this year. Matta's magic will probably keep the turnovers low and the defense solid in conference games, which should secure another middle-of-the-road performance. However, losing Jamar Butler, Kosta Koufos, and Othello Hunter hurts because there's just not very many effective scorers on the roster. Lighty & Turner are nice pieces, but not stars, and frosh center BJ Mullens and guard William Buford should help, and (expected) late juco pick-ups Jeremie Simmons & Nikola Kecman could settle in at point and power forward, respectively. Unless Mullens is the second coming of Koufos and Buford is so good as to put Lighty on the bench, I see OSU ebbing a bit, and then coming back in 2010 to be title contender.


7. Penn State
On the upside, they return most of their personnel from last year's 7th place team. But losing Geary Claxton in January 2008 really hurt, as after a 2-1 start they only went 5-10 after that, including a season-ending surprise OT-win over a dispirited Hoosier club. I think that Ed DeChellis' club will improve, but the embarrassing Stanley Pringle situation has to be resolved, and Jeff Brooks has to work this summer to be the game-changing force that he has the potential to be. And who knows? Maybe transfer Andrew Ott will be the answer in the middle (not likely, tho). Overall, short of an implosion by one the top six (I'm looking at you, Illinois), there's just not room for PSU any higher up in the rankings.

No Postseason

8. Michigan
I thought Michigan had a good shot to maybe get to the NIT-level next season when they were returning everyone of importance and bringing in a couple of decent recruits in 7-footer Ben Cronin and Arizona transfer Laval Lucas-Perry (does he have the 90210 sideburns? just askin'). However, the most efficiently productive player on the roster, Ekpe Udoh, finally decided to transfer. It shouldn't cripple John Beilien's team, but Udoh was the player best at getting extra possessions for his team with his defensive prowess and offensive rebounding. The margin of error becomes a little smaller, altho' maybe Lucas-Perry runs the team better than Kelvin Grady, Manny Harris calms down a little, and Zach Gibson & Cronin fill the minutes in the middle adequately. Probably the Wolverines are just the best of the conference's worst in 2009.

9. Iowa
Tony Freeman was poised to be one of the best point guards in the conference before he transferred. I know Hawkeye fans weren't always super-high on him, but Iowa was way better with him than without. I know he didn't always shoot great and his assist-turnover ratio was mediocre at best, but overall Freeman produced a lot for the Hawkeyes. Lickliter nabbed a decent recruiting class and gets promising forward Jarryd Cole back for the 2009 season, but there's not a lot of height in the paint for intimidating opponents now that Kurt Looby & Seth Gorney are gone. Iowa was unpredictable last season, and probably will be again this season, but the rebuilding project is going to take at least another year.

10. Northwestern
The Wildcats return just about everyone, but what's going to help them more this year is getting some more height. NU was awful last season, and while they've got a couple of promising underclassmen in Kevin Coble & Michael Thompson, they'll still be pretty bad again this season. One bright spot was the late-season emergence of Ivan Peljusic, who might end up being the next Vedran Vukusic for the Wildcats. Also, Carmody brought in some height in his recruiting class, and while they won't see too much PT, at least the option will be there when foul trouble strikes. I could see NU tripling or quadrupling their conference win total, making NU a still very bad basketball club.

11. Indiana
Crean did about as well as could be expected with his late recruiting efforts, grabbing a trio of decent guards (Nick Williams, Verdell Jones, and juco Devan Dumes), and keeping Sampson signees Tom Pritchard & Matt Roth. However, there's very little in the cupboard after graduation, early-entry losses to the NBA, transfers, and dismissals. Crean really needs to land one more halfway-passable center (I think the athletic but green 6-10 Maurice Sutton is the most likely candidate) just to be able to run practice. While I do think the recruits along with Jordan Crawford, Kyle Taber (who came on late to be as good of a starter as IU had all year at the 4-spot), and Brandon McGee should be competitive in most of the games, this is definitely a rebuilding year, and I think the Hoosiers are looking at 3 conference wins, maximum. The upside is that I believe Brandon McGee will really get a chance to shine and his inside-outside game should position him to be a star in the conference in a year or two, once the Hoosiers are respectable again.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The clouds behind the silver lining

I've seen a lot of Hoosier love for kicking those kids off the team, and yeah, good on Crean for backing Dakich, but I do feel it was a little bit of a dick move to wait until the last day of finals to kick out the three players. I mean, no one got hurt, the players had to study and it does ultimately benefit them, but using the players' desire to get back on the team and make them achieve a passing/non-scholarship killing score for the semester to kick them out on the day that they achieve it... well, I can understand why Holman threw a potted plant and transferred as well.

Of course, it's probably good for all involved, as the players can transfer in good academic standing, Crean preserves his scholarship, and cleans house while throwing some red meat to the fans desperate to see some discipline after Sampson's shenanigans & Davis' soft hand. But to say next year is going to be a rough year for IU basketball is an understatement. Crean has to get recruits to turn it all around ASAP, or a few losing seasons could start a bad spiral.

In other Big Ten news, Ekpe Udoh is transferring from Michigan, Kosta Koufos is hiring an agent, and Tony Freeman is leaving Iowa. Black Heart Gold Pants gives a perplexed good bye, a sort of good riddance due to Freeman's high TO rate. I'll say this, tho, that loss hurts Iowa, dropping them from a probable postseason (NIT/CBI) to a solid losing season. Freeman was one of the better point guards the last two years in the Big Ten, and the Hawkeyes were much better team with Freeman last season than the first 9 or so games without him.
This is all part of the new college basketball landscape, but the Big Ten lost three solid contributers recently, not even to mention the booted Hoosiers.

Friday, May 02, 2008

And then there were 3...

There are now just three players left from the Sampson era. Eli Holman evidently flipped out, threw a plant (maybe Knight gave him some pointers on appropriate office behavior during his recent Indiana visit) and is leaving. DeAndre Thomas, Jamarcus Ellis, and Armon Bassett are now dismissed. Only Jordan Crawford, Brandon "breakaway dunk blocked by the rim" McGee, and former walk-on Kyle Taber return. Technically, Taber walked on during the Mike Davis era, so there's only two players left that Sampson brought in. There'll be two more next year as Tom Pritchard & Matt Roth were originally Sampson commitments, along with guards Nick Williams, Devan Dumes, and walk-on Daniel Moore, and whoever else Crean can grab in the next few months.

I think Crean will succeed at IU, but it sure won't be next year. I don't fault him for starting off like this, but Hoosier fans should get used to this phrase: "Starting Center Tom Pritchard."

Once Kosta Koufos signs with an agent, and once Ekpe Udoh makes up his mind about staying or leaving Michigan, most of my "five questions" for the Big Ten offseason should be answered. I'll have power poll projections for next year's Big Ten before too long, but getting those answers would make it easier.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Top 50 NCAA basketball teams for 2008-2009

Here's my way-too-early top 50 for next season, no commentary attached at this time as I've got the usual reasons for choosing the order of these teams (losses, recruits, transfers), but it's not really worth talking about until it's known who's going pro and who isn't. I generally assumed most players who've not taken an agent up to this point will be back, but that's never 100% correct, so I've noted it where I could.

This generally reflects the NCAA tourney at-large bids as well as the top 16 or 17 conference winners, which I also noted(*). I do think Purdue will win the Big Ten next season, but I think Michigan State will go further in the Big Dance. MSU should be an actual Final Four contender in March 2009, but certainly they're no lock to get there.

1. North Carolina (w/Ellington, Green, & Lawson)*
2. Texas (w/Abrams & Augustin)*
3. Tennessee*
4. Duke
5. UCLA (w/Moute, Shipp, & Westbrook)*
6. Connecticut*
7. Michigan State
8. Memphis(w/Dozier & Anderson)*
9. West Virginia (w/Alexander)
10. Purdue*
11. Davidson*
12. Kansas (w/Chalmers)
13. Louisville
14. Gonzaga (w/ Pargo)*
15. Oklahoma
16. Notre Dame
17. Arizona State
18. Pittsburgh
19. Wisconsin
20. St. Mary's
21. Marquette (w/McNeal)
22. Florida (w/Speights)
23. Southern California (w/Jefferson)
24. Xavier*
25. Wake Forest
26. BYU (w/Cummard & Plaisted)*
27. Villanova
28. Drake*
29. Virginia Tech
30. Kent State*
31. Arizona (w/Budinger)
32. San Diego
33. Kansas State (w/Hoskins, w/ Walker)
34. Kentucky
35. UNLV
36. Ohio State (w/Koufos)
37. Charlotte
38. UAB (w/Vaden)
39. Baylor
40. South Carolina
41. Virginia Commonwealth*
42. Clemson
43. Creighton
44. San Diego State (w/Wade)
45. New Mexico State*
46. Alabama (w/Steele & Hendrix)
47. Washington
48. Cleveland State*
49. Miami (OH)
t-50. South Alabama*
t-50. Texas A&M (w/Carter)