Tuesday, December 28, 2010

All is not lost

After catching up on a lot of Hoosier basketball on the DVR as my new son refused to sleep on anything but my chest today, I don't feel like the three straight losses should spell gloom and doom for the season- I think IU will still end up around .500 overall, picking up six or so wins in the conference. I see at least one powerpoll (from a hostile source) placing IU as 11th in the conference, but count me down as believing the Hoosiers will bounce back. I do see three major themes weaving themselves through the Hoosier basketball season so far:

1) Overconfidence- in even the cupcake games, this Hoosier team has repeatedly started out slow and gone big chunks of first halves without scoring. Watford, Jones, and Creek all seem all-to-willing to look for their shot without reading the defense. Furthermore, I think the powderpuffs helped convince Jones that he was back at the top of his game before he was anywhere near it.

2) Injuries- Obviously Watford was not himself, which is always a reason for concern when a young guy starts getting back spasms, but he & Crean need to figure out whether he can contribute or not. After all the work done in pre-conference establishing him as the go-to guy, IU's offense gets crippled if C-Wat isn't looking\able to score. However, although lots of ink has been spilled about Creek not being "back" yet, to me it's Verdell Jones that really struggled coming back from several injuries so far this season. So, consider that's all three of IU's top players trying to come back from injuries, not to mention Tom Pritchard's mystery paw and Matt Roth - who might finally be rounding into shape.

3) Youth - Oladipo and Sheehey are freshmen, and may be forgiven for the occasional turnover or poor shot selection. It's Crean's job to limit their minutes (possibly through yanking them out when they do commit these sins) so that they understand what they're doing wrong. And the rest of the guys are figuring out new roles, and the only ones to seemingly adapt without massively increasing their turnover or foul percentage are Rivers and Pritchard.

In any case, the confluence of factors leaves the Hoosiers probably less well off than most folks hoped they'd be by now, but I think Crean teams almost always have a nadir in late December. Look for some improved play and a couple of surprising wins in the months to come.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Big Ten Wins! Indiana loses

Most of the commentary has covered the ACC-B10 fairly well, but there's a few things I want to note.

1) The games are fun to watch. I don't know what it is about the challenge, but it really has a touch of March Madness energy to it. Maybe it's that all the teams are fairly well-known and usually pretty decent, and it's an early (sometimes the first) measuring stick of how good teams might actually be. But maybe it's also that each game is part of something bigger, and if your team loses, you have a bunch of other teams in the next game to root for.

2) My predictions sure were off- the Big Ten won the challenge and yet Minnesota really suffered without Nolen and a full-strength Williams, and Penn State was just absolutely horrible at home versus Maryland. As one PSU fan noted, the losses of Chris Babb's offense and Bill Edwards' rebounding are starting to be really felt. Sure, Buie had a bad night, but I figured with Brooks' improvement and any offensive contributions from Frazier, Jackson, and Jones- PSU would have a good chance down the stretch. Aside from a few offensive boards, the Lions got nothing from those three on that side of the ball. If that continues, Penn State may well remain in last place.

3) Michigan and Iowa aren't too bad- Michigan pulled off a shocker at Clemson, and along with Purdue's win at Virginia Tech, were probably the reason that the Big Ten triumphed. Michigan just looked like a much smarter and more disciplined team than the Tigers. Iowa lost at Wake Forest, despite having multiple chances to win it before an improbable three with just seconds left sank them. I was never big on Iowa's chances on the road anyway, but being able to bounce back and nearly get the win shows that Hawkeyes are going to be competitive in a lot of Big Ten games this year, even if they don't end up with more than a handful of wins.

4) Michigan State is a legitimate title threat - if only they can stop dribble penetration. Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving have NBA-level talent, sure. Still, I'd like to see some of their performances against non-MSU teams before according them lottery positions in next spring's draft. Still, MSU always starts slow and turned the ball over on a quarter of their possessions at Cameron, and *still* was in the game until the end. Their offense is impressive, and their defense has potential to get a lot better (notably, as Payne improves and gets more time). Duke and MSU are the only teams that are good bets to repeat their Final Four berths at this point.

5) Northwestern's offense is really good, but they could've used a quality opponent in this challenge. NU has a terrible time getting quality non-conference foes on the docket, and having Georgia Tech as their challenge foe is going to hurt them come Selection Sunday.

6) Indiana lost, as I expected, at BC, but showed some really nice things in coming back. Inside the Hall has an interesting conversation about who should be the IU point guard, but I'd still like to see what Jones can do when he's completely healthy and back on the same page with the rest of the team. Until that point, tho, Hulls should probably be starting point, with Rivers in for Hulls or Jones if they have defensive troubles or if teams start pressing. And I saw some negative talk about Creek jacking shots (2-for-8 on threes), but as I said about Rod Wilmont some years ago "Every team needs a guy, and sometimes every team needs to bench a guy, who always believes his next shot is going in." Creek is very useful and needs to keep shooting, but Crean might want to bring Creek's minutes down a little until his defense returns to an acceptable level.