Monday, December 29, 2008

Worst home loss ever?

I don't have a lot else to say.

Everybody better do a better job on the boards and on free-throws in the months to come, because losing to Lipscomb while winning the turnover battle is not a good sign. If Crean doesn't mobilize the guys he has right now, 18 straight blowouts await them in conference play.

I'm working on the pre-conference efficiency stats. They won't mean a lot as they aren't adjusted for strength of schedule, but it should point us in the right direction of who to watch in conference play when it comes to per-possession efficiency. I suspect I won't have them done by the Big Ten opener (Purdue-Illinois tip-off tomorrow night), but certainly by the end of the week I should have them up.

Friday, December 26, 2008

December Big Ten Power Poll

Y'know, Northeastern was pretty comparable by the numbers coming in to face the Hoosiers, but I thought if IU could take TCU down at home, they'd handle Northeastern fine. I guess that was overly optimistic. I had a chance to get tickets, but I was already double-booked by the time that opportunity arrived. Just as well.

So, to take my mind off that *unpleasantness* and since I also think enough data has come in, it's time for an early guess at how these teams stack up. I'm not straying too far from my preseason prognostications -with a few exceptions, but here's how the Big Ten is stacking up right now.

1. Ohio State (9-0)
Best Wins: at Miami (Fl.), Notre Dame, Butler
Losses: none

Really, Minnesota probably has the best win (over Louisville), but OSU has not only had more quality wins, the Buckeyes also have a blossoming player of the year candidate in swingman Evan Turner. They'll also get the four-spot guy they've been wanting shortly when the 6-9 juco shooter Nikola Kecman becomes eligible shortly.

2. Minnesota (11-0)
Best Wins: Louisville, at Colorado State, Cornell
Losses: none

Surprisingly good win over Louisville, but like Izzo, Rick Pitino's teams tend to be a lot better in March than December. Still, that one'll keep giving as the Gophers build their Big Dance resume.

3.Michigan (8-2)
Best Wins: UCLA, Duke
Losses: Duke, at Maryland

You could make a case for Michigan at #1, but the home win over Duke is somewhat offset by the neutral-site loss to Duke, and a chance to get a good road win at Maryland slipped out of their fingers as they couldn't solve the Greivis Vasquez question. Still, the Wolverines are in a very strong position to make the NCAA tourney, and transfer point Laval Lucas-Perry isn't even eligible yet.

4. Michigan State (8-2)
Best Wins: at Texas, Oklahoma State
Losses: UNC, Maryland

Earlier, I mentioned how Izzo teams tend to be better in March, but this Sparty club should be better in January once Goran Suton really starts getting back to contributing. For the last two years, Suton has been a mainstay as one of the top per-possession contributors in my efficiency rankings, and getting him back into the offense (and back on the defensive glass) should help a lot. That win at Texas did a lot to reassure me that these guys will climb back up the power rankings.

5. Purdue (9-2)
Best Wins: Davidson, BC
Losses: Duke, Oklahoma

The Boilers looked a little shell-shocked against Duke, but otherwise, they've been taking that next step forward. Painter's club should still be fighting for the top spot of the conference standings. The rebounding is a reason for some concern, but otherwise, they look pretty tough again.

6. Wisconsin (9-3)

Best Wins: at Virginia Tech, San Diego
Losses: Texas, at Marquette, Connecticut

None of their losses are really *bad* losses, and the Badgers actually showed up for the ACC challenge this time, but there's not lot here that suggests we'll see anything like the previous conference dominance that UW's been enjoying under Ryan.

7. Illinois (11-1)
Best Wins: v. Missouri, at Vandy, Kent St.
Losses: Clemson

None of these wins are particularly impressive (or unimpressive), and the loss to Clemson at home should've had Weber pulling his hair out, but they've been winning a lot. Mike Davis took up the most-improved front-runner spot, and they'll be getting shooting wing Alex Legion eligible soon. Right now, the Big Ten could be gunning for 7 NCAA spots, when at the beginning of this year, I had the conference down for maybe four.

8. Northwestern (7-2)
Best Wins: FSU, DePaul
Losses: Butler, Stanford

On one hand, the Mildcats are still near the bottom of the conference and might struggle to get to any postseason (although they do seem to be operating at an NIT/CBI level currently), but on the other, they just seem light-years better than last season. And most of their talent is pretty young. Coach Carmody's seat just may be cooling off.

9. Penn State (10-2)
Best Wins: at Georgia Tech, at Penn
Losses: Temple, URI

I've been surprised at how little the PSU frontcourt is contributing. The undersized Jamelle Cornley is giving it his all, but returning center Andrew Jones and backup Jeff Brooks are not really making any meaningful contributions. 6-10 transfer Andrew Ott might be able to help out more, as in his first two games he's showing the ability to score, rebound, and get the occasional steal/block. Talor Battle has been unbelievable so far, though, putting together incredible per-game averages (19ppg, 5rpg, 5apg, 1.5spg). We'll see how efficient those averages remain in conference play, however. Also, defense has yet again been the Lions' achilles heel: they're not bad, they just don't make plays or force turnovers.

10. Iowa (9-3)
Best Wins: v. Kan. St., Iowa St.
Losses: at Drake, WVU, at BC

The Hawkeyes have actually been quite a bit better than I expected to this point, but everyone else in the conference (outside of Michigan State, Purdue, & Wisconsin) has been too. Post play, particularly on the offensive end, has been a weakness, but the interior play might get a boost now that there's been recent signs of life from forward Jarryd Cole. Frosh wings Gatens has been fine, but Anthony Tucker, as long as he's behaving, has been the real surprise. Sophomore point Jeff Peterson has been okay as well, but more is needed on both ends for Cyrus Tate from the other bigs.

11. Indiana (5-6)
Best Wins: Cornell, TCU
Losses: v. St. Joseph's, v. Notre Dame, at Kentucky, at Wake Forest, v. Gonzaga, Northeastern

Plenty has been said in this space about the Hoosiers being the worst team in the conference this year. I just hope they get a victory early in the conference season to take the heat off about worrying about going defeated in '09.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Top Ten NCAA CBB Surprises

First, the Good:

Butler (HOR)
The Bulldogs should start being given the respect they deserve as a program, and I'm as guilty as anyone. I thought they'd get some sort of postseason (NIT, I think- still a possibility), but they look like they'll probably romp through another season in the Horizon on the way to yet another NCAA tourney. They got a nice home win over Northwestern (yes, see below) and then won three straight road games before falling ever-so-narrowly at OSU.

Maryland (ACC)
I knew Greivis Vasquez would be good, and would have a little help from Hayes & Milbourne, but they've cranked out some quality wins over Michigan & Michigan State. I didn't know Vasquez would be this good, or that Adrian Bowie would jump to be an effective third-guard in the line-up. However, the Terps have been frighteningly inconsistent, squeaking out an OT win over Vermont and getting beat by Gonzaga and just destroyed by Georgetown.

Georgetown (Big East)
I thought the Hoyas, and the Big East in general, were way overrated going into this season. I think the Big East is still a little overrated, but Georgetown's definitely a NCAA contender. Greg Monroe has been surprising with his immediate contributions at center, and Austin Freeman & DaJuan Summers have made good on their transition to offensive centerpieces. GU has that nice beatdown of Maryland on their resume, as well as a good OT win over Memphis, and the Tigers were a bit lucky -I thought- to even send the game to overtime.

Michigan (Big Ten)
Beating UCLA & Duke? I did not see that coming. Honestly, even if they scrape together a .500 record in conference, they should be set for the NCAA. And furthermore, the way the Wolverines are playing defense, the maturing of Manny Harris, and the new-found poise of this team should give everyone confirmation that Beilien is a very good coach, not just a gimmicky flash-in-the-pan.

Northwestern (Big Ten)

I could've slid Ohio State here just as easily, as OSU really has the better wins, but it is absolutely nuts to see NU at #35 in Sagarin and #18 (!) on Kenpom. And our favorite geeks, Big Ten Geeks, have a nice post about the Wildcats "growing up" with their newfound height and the effect it's had on their defense. NU's only loss is a narrow one at Butler, and immediately before crushing DePaul, the Wildcats slapped a (currently, the only) loss on a much more athletic Florida State team. I watched the second half of that game, and NU had the 'noles absolutely befuddled. FSU just couldn't match up. I thought NU would be better than Indiana this season, but not by a lot. I was wrong.

Better than expected so far, but wait and see:
Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Missouri, Seton Hall


Charlotte (Atl-10)
What the heck, Charlotte? You were supposed to be contending for the crown of the Atlantic-10 and building a case for an at-large berth, not dragging down the conference RPI with losses to Appalachian State and Cal-State Fullerton. I will say that the 49ers have recently turned things around with road wins over SIU and Miss. State. I hope it continues, for my own prognosticating pride.

Drake (MVC)
I can't hold Drake to much criticism for falling to a better-than-expected Butler team, but the lopsided loss to Vanderbilt and recent home loss to Stephen F. Austin sure take the air out of their non-conference resume. I thought they'd be flirting with a top 25 ranking again. I stand corrected.

Georgia (SEC)
The Bulldogs rescued their season last year with an amazing run through the SEC tourney, winning a surprise bid to the Big Dance. It's looking like they'll have to do that again to get any kind of postseason, as Georgia's getting beaten on by mediocre squads like Illinois & Loyola.

Michigan State (Big Ten)
It's a bit unfair, as the guy my numbers always favored, Goran Suton, just got back into action AND the superstar freshman, Delvon Roe, isn't really 100% yet. Thrown in the fact that Izzo teams are invariably better in March than in December, and I think it's way too early to pronounce the Spartans a real disappointment. However, they do make the list as they just were not competitive at all in the losses to Maryland & UNC. Neither team is really all that bad to lose to, but it's the way that MSU lost that has me concerned.

Virginia Tech (ACC)
Yeah, I don't know what is up with the Hokies. They should be better. Again, I thought that they'd be flirting with a top 25 ranking, but they've had a hard time shaking bad teams, can't beat good teams, and recently lost at Georgia. That's the same Georgia team that I just mentioned.

Southern California, Purdue(if loses to Davidson), UAB- for losing four players

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An expected split.

Hola, amigos- been a while, but I've had Finals week to contend with, proposals to write, applications to submit etc. Life sometimes gets in the way of sports enthusiasm. But that's why I've got the DVR, eh?

Notes on the Hoosiers from the TCU & UK games:
Between the last minute of the TCU game and the first 12 minutes of the Kentucky game, Hoosier fans watched the nightmare scenario of this season unfold. The Hoosiers were unable to hold onto the ball, had no shooting ability, and were completely without any composure in trying to run their game. In those 13 minutes, the Hoosiers were outscored 42-6. Luckily, CBS spared IU fans from most of the carnage of the UK game, not tuning in until the Wildcats already had a 20-point lead. And this may be the scrappiest squad I've seen in 15 years, short of the '02 team (at times), and the '98 team (until they burnt out). However, those teams had a *lot* more talent than either of these squads.
In the TCU game, IU had a very good run against TCU, where just about everything *went right* for them, resulting in a safe 20-point lead going into the last minute. Hopefully they get a couple of these games in conference play, and have learned the lesson not to cough up the ball in the last minute. And even though they got down 26 against UK early, they didn't quit and managed to narrow the lead to 15 midway through the second half. They just couldn't make any more headway than that, though- Kentucky, even "down" this year, has a lot more talent on hand the Hoosiers. But I was expecting a split between these two games, and that's what happened.

Unfortunately, although I love Daniel Moore's effort, vision, and Mark Price-esque fearless drives to the hoop, he hasn't got the offensive stroke to make defenses fear him, and he hasn't the defensive chops to really cause trouble for opposing offenses. He definitely does better when Verdell Jones is available and he's not having to carry the entire load (even if Jones isn't adding much value right now). But I think what gets lost here in all of the "walk-on" talk is that Moore is a freshman- he's seeing these defenses for the very first time and just doesn't have a good feel of how to punish defenses for pressing him or draw fouls. Tom Pritchard is a good back to the basket player (really showing a great knack as a freshman), but he either needs to develop a high-post game immediately, or the Hoosiers have to find another way to move shot-blocking defenses around in order to get high-percentage shots. From the Kentucky game, I also liked Matt Roth's new-found willingness to go after the ball- there should be more of that. Williams, Story, and Dumes all just didn't shoot very well, but they can't stop- they really are the best options when things aren't going for Pritch. And Taber put decent stats up defensively, but he just doesn't have a place in the offense at the moment. He's got a decent set shot and solid passing, so there's both the opportunity & the need. Hopefully the long break will help.

In the upcoming days, I'll put together a state of the Big Ten rundown, but overall most of the teams that have positively surprised me nationally have been the Big Ten. Which I guess isn't great for Indiana in the short-term, but good for the future.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Gonzaga better than IU:
When teams don't hit their threes or all their frees, we don't look so terrible. This was something of a moral victory, as IU hung around close enough to engage the press-and-foul strategy in a not-entirely-futile-hope at the end of the game. They've got a little to learn there, too, though. However, a bit of concern: IU's turnovers are getting worse, or at least not getting better.
This team looks capable of rebounding okay, and hitting some threes to keep us in games, but until we trim our turnovers down, it'll be hard to be competitive. Btw, don't expect Jeremiah Rivers to be the answer at point next year. Going over his KenPom profile from his two years at Georgetown, he had the fewest assists and the highest turnover rate both years. He might serve as a stopper, but that's it. Now comes what should be a revealing stretch of non-conference play: TCU at home and Kentucky on the road. 1-1 would be a pretty good outcome, and while Kentucky's not all that good this year, but I'd be surprised if we were in it at the end of that road game.

*Big Ten Basketball to get 5+ Bids?
I had penciled in the conference for 4 bids, barely, but that looks to be changing with middle of the conference looking quite good now.
Big surprise: Michigan takes down Duke, who clearly seemed the better team in an earlier match. granted it was at home, and it points out that Duke's deficiencies are probably the same ones they had last season, but still, a very big win. And Ohio State beat Notre Dame on a neutral floor, and having that plus the Miami-Fla. road win in their pockets looks pretty good on their at-large resume. These two plus Michigan State, Purdue, and Wisconsin would seem to put the conference in good standing for at least five bids. It's early, and Michigan's inconsistency does put a question mark on their ability to do well enough in the conference to earn that bid. But they're now in the driver's seat. Also, don't look now, but Minnesota (8-0), Illinois (7-1) & Northwestern (6-1) are all doing quite well. Yes, yes, I know it's Northwestern, but NU probably has the best "quality win" of the three so far when they terrorized Florida State in the second half of the ACC-Big 10 challenge game, and FSU just went on to beat Florida this last weekend. The Wildcat's only blemish was a narrow loss to Butler who is currently undefeated.

*IU Soccer goes down. 3-2 in OT.
In 1994, I saw the string of Championship game appearances end for varsity soccer four-year players. This weekend, the string of College Cup (Final Four) appearances for varsity soccer four-year players has also come to an end. All good things, I guess. This year's team was soclose, they were battle-tested, tough defensively and peaking at the right time. I think if IU had managed to get homefield advantage, they'd be looking to play at least one more game. A game they should've had, but another late goal (three, actually) sneaks in to once again rob IU of the victory.

At this point though, all you can do is appreciate the effort of departing seniors
Brad Ring, Chay Cain & John Mellencamp,Brian Ackley, Kevin Noschang, Billy Weaver (as well as Doug Reisinger, Nick Sutter, & anyone else?) They'll be missed, but Indiana Soccer should actually be in a little better shape next year. IU'll be more experienced, and our wunderkind freshmen, Will Bruin & Tommy Meyer will be more comfortable being go-to guys at their positions. As long as Michael Munroe can take over goalkeeping duties as well as his brother, and Freitag can snag a talented freshman or two to juice our offense just a little more, Freitag should have a title contender on his hands next season. If not, he's actually going to start be looking at a warming seat, especially with other IU Soccer former players/asst. coaches doing well at other venues: (John Trask at UIC, Caleb Porter at Akron) I don't think this should be anything weighing on Coach's mind throughout 2009, but maybe the players ought to be aware going into next season. Work hard, guys, and let this OT loss burn you a little bit. Anything short of the College Cup next year should not be considered a success.

Go Hoosiers!

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Yeah, that was rough...

But still, the 83-58 loss wasn't as bad as I was worried it could be. Honestly, this score and the score from the last (2003?) trip to Wake Forest are probably reversed in my pre-game expectations. I thought we'd get sonned this time, and actually we lost by a smaller margin than Michigan State did to UNC. When I was watching IU in the Notre Dame blowout, I knew it would happen, but I still felt that burning, humiliated sensation creeping up my neck that used to make me run out and shoot for hours was I was 10 years younger. But I think I've accepted that the Hoosiers just don't have the horses this year. Crean has collected a number of players that have some talent and some will be valuable starters on decent teams in a couple of years. But all of these guys probably would be role players (at best) on the historically "very good" Indiana teams. Pritchard, Williams, & Story probably shouldn't be starters this year, but right now, they're only guys we got who can create good looks. They also create some bad turnovers, which would normally earn them a seat on the bench, but we just don't have much of one. I do want to temper fans' expectations going into the conference season: after watching the Big Ten choke away multiple opportunities (Iowa, Michigan, and most outrageously- Illinois) for their first chance to win the ACC challenge, you gotta see that the bottom of the Big Ten still has a lot more talent than the Hoosiers. I said before the season that the Hoosiers have a max of three conference wins, and I stand by that. But I truly believe the most likely Big 10 scenario for IU is 1-17. And this weekend's match with Gonzaga will be rough to watch as well. But, I do like these guys, and I like what Crean is doing. Just keep working hard, Hoosiers: It'll pay off.

Hoosier Scoop alerted me to the fact that one can watch the live video of the St. John's-Indiana game from the SJU soccer page.
Go Hoosiers!

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hoosier Weekend Wins & the Big 10/ACC challenge

It's a good thing I have the recent memory of the Hoosiers playing their best game in the Crean to beat Cornell going into tonight. I know, Cornell didn't have it's starting backcourt, but I was amazed at the way Pritchard took the ball at the 7-footer, Jeff Foote. Our wings did step up for the win, and Nick Williams was impressive, but I hate the way he turns over the ball. Williams is going to be a solid player for the Hoosiers for some time to come, but as long as Tom Pritchard keeps working like he has inside, Williams won't be the best player in this freshman class.
We'll see how Pritchard fares against the very tall and tough line-up of Wake Forest tonight. Indiana really got hosed on this one, but I guess they set up the match-up before everyone transferred out. I think our baseline of expectation should be similar to when the Hoosiers last traipsed over to Wake Forest in the Challenge and got thumped something like 100-65. I suspect we'll give up a 100 points, but I'm hoping we can score around 65. That's right, I am hoping that we lose by less than forty points tonight.

In other challenge notes, the Big Ten let an amazing opportunity slip away to maybe steal their first challenge when Iowa missed the front of a 1-and-1 with a second left to lose by two, and Illinois then also down two, didn't get a shot off with plenty of time remaining. But the Big Ten also caught something of break when senior Jack McClinton of Miami lost his mind and slapped a Buckeye freshman, and got ejected. OSU rallied for a big road win. Wisconsin started off the challenge winning for the first time in I-don't-know-when, usually Bo Ryan's teams play terribly in this contest, and Duke smacked Purdue down hard. Interior depth and offensive rebounding are now major concerns for the Boilermakers. If MSU was playing decent at all, (and they might be if Suton was healthy), they'd be by far my favorites for the conference title. But with all of this, the Big 10 could be up 5-1 and only needing a single win to pull off the challenge upset for the first time ever. Instead it's 3-3 and the only chances for victory over the ACC tonight are Michigan State at home against the UNC squad that has so far looked absolutely invulnerable, and Northwestern at home over Florida State. I would be shocked if Penn State was able to bump off Georgia Tech at home- they'd have to win the turnover & three-point shooting battles by a lot to offset GT's interior advantage- and Michigan winning at Maryland seems like a stretch, but it seems like that (plus NU & MSU victories) may be the best path of ending the ACC's dominance in the challenge. We all know IU's not in a position for even a moral victory- hopefully they get back to Bloomington without any injuries. Really, the Big Ten getting a single win tonight seems the most likely scenario.

IU Men's Soccer is only one game away from the Final Four! Unfortunately, that game will be at St. John's. I watched second half of the game against Michigan (who honestly looks better statistically than St. John's) in which IU was defensively sound and definitely the better team, but the Wolverines were actually a bounce here, and a shot off of the post there- to having a lead late in the game. Things finally broke the Hoosiers' way and as Michigan started pressing, the Hoosiers ran effective counter-attacks and walked off with a 3-0 win. Generally, I've been less-than-great at predicting soccer matches, but I like IU's chances, even on the road. I think the Hoosiers will out-shoot and out-possess St. John's, and as St. John's keeper doesn't seem to be any more gifted than Chay Cain at making saves, I'm betting the Hoosier offense strikes in the first half. I wouldn't bet that the Hoosiers do as well in the second half as they did against Michigan, so I'm thinking St. John's rallies at home to send it to OT, but here's where the Hoosier depth and new-found ability to counter-attack should pay off. IU 2-1 over St. John's in OT.
The only caveat I have is that these Hoosiers have stayed out of red card trouble so far this year, and usually there's at least one that IU gets hit with per season that just seems undeserved. If it happens at St. John's, that's a mighty hard obstacle to overcome.

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