Friday, March 11, 2011

Insult added to injury

At least it was the last IU loss I'll have to watch for the season. And to indulge in a tiresome aside - despite some defensive posturing by PSU bloggers about whiny IU fans- it is quite ridiculous that PSU didn't get whistled for a single foul for over 22 minutes. I'd say the Hoosiers didn't test them at drawing fouls, but it also shouldn't matter when David Jackson windmill-smacks Christian Watford in the mouth mere feet from Ed Hightower (at the 11:50 mark of the second half). Did the cost the Hoosiers the game? That's pretty unlikely, but it also didn't help IU's chances when Sheehey & Elston make clean plays or even made mere defensive feints and got whistled. Next season, Crean needs to keep the fouling in the preseason to a minimum, or this will be the result in every B1G roadgame.

I won't get all boilermaker and emotionally insist that the refs were out to get the Hoosiers in order to preserve a possible at-large bid for the conference. No, I believe that this was a game where the perception of IU as a hacktastic club and resultant lack of respect from Hightower, et al, manifested itself in a series of whistles that looked like jobbery, but wasn't. IU shouldn't have won because of their lack of offense and on defense they couldn't keep the Lions off the boards and had no answer for Jeff Brooks.

The 22 minutes without a foul... (Well, 25 really, in terms of meaningful whistles- an over-the-back at the end of the game when the IU player had possession doesn't matter- an over-the-back call where a player did have position would've helped earlier in the half) was extremely frustrating and disappointing to watch as a fan. It was something that was easy to key in on as "blatantly unfair" when your team is letting you down. It was insult added to injury.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

What next?

I was really hoping IU would spring an upset over Wisconsin to not totally slide into the end of the season - but Jordan Taylor was unbelievable- the last time I saw put on performance like that on against IU, it was Chauncey Billups drilling contested threes, and even that wasn't as impressive as Taylor's performance.

Now, to build any momentum, Indiana has to win some games in the Big Ten tourney. I will say this: even though IU hasn't put much together in the last few games, they have probably the most favorable schedule to make some noise they could've reasonably asked for. Still, the Big Ten is tough this season, and there were only a few bounces of the ball that could've made it seem like the Hoosiers were progressing (which they are - ever so slightly) instead of regressing (which they are in terms of conference W-L).

Friday, March 04, 2011

Called it... pretty much... maybe

Here' a retrospective on the offseason "BFD?" notes - Overall, I definitely over-rated MSU without Chris Allen (without foreknowledge of the losses of Lucious & Byrd), I slightly under-rated Purdue without Rob Hummel (we'll see how by much very soon), and I nailed how Northwestern would fare without Kevin Coble.

Coble's loss- This is exactly what I thought would happen. The offense suffered when Shurna was hurt (1.06 this season, down from 1.09), and the defense remained terrible -in fact slightly worse- than last season (1.15 in 2011 compared to 1.14 in 2010). In Coble's last season, with the Wildcats in 2009, the defense *only* allowed 1.07 per possession. Look at the defensive rebounding, steal, and block percentages from that season for the players who weren't on the next two incarnations of the Wildcats (Coble, Craig Moore, and Sterling Williams) here. Despite accusations of dubious one-on-one defensive ability, Coble has proven to be the defensive difference-maker for the Wildcats, and I do feel vindicated.

Chris Allen's dismissal- This has been worse than I thought, but I had also predicated that Izzo would have a lot of options. Not so much. Two and a half of the three options I outlined were also taken away. I think the Sparties were starting to get it together in conference play as Lucious rounded into shape, but then he got kicked off the team. Given that Russell Byrd was removed from the equation before the season began, and as Summers actually has seemed to regress, it is only now that Keith Appling has started to figure out his role on offense that MSU has started to look like a NCAA tourney team again. I was way off on how MSU would play this year, even though I guessed even if Summers failed to improve and Appling & Byrd weren't ready, the Lucious + Lucas backcourt option for replacing Allen might take MSU down a peg or two, but there was no way to know Korie Lucious and Russell Byrd would be out, or Summers would be worse in most statistical categories.* Allen's dismissal has been a BFD, indeed.

As for Rob Hummel's loss, the recovery by PU has been amazing. His loss has almost entirely mitigated by great leaps forward in performance by Lewis Jackson, DJ Byrd, & Ryne Smith. To use KenPom's numbers, as these role players from last year got increased usage, they all three made the rare feat of dramatically upping their offensive efficiency. Byrd's ORtg jumped 25 pts, Jackson's jumped 17.7, and Smith's went up 31.5!!! By comparison, Jordan Taylor's eye-popping improvement is measured at a 20.3 ORtg points. Could this be a championship-worthy squad without Hummel? They seem to have become better than the barely-borderline top-ten team I came to think they might be. We'll just have to see how they do in the NCAA's.

*Summers' three-point and block percentages are up, but those are counter-acted by worse 2-point and free-throw shooting and lower steal/rebounding percentages. His turnovers are down, but so are his assists. There's been no "senior improvement" here, which wasn't unreasonable to assume, but the fact that he's been slightly worse when the Sparties have needed him is really unfortunate.

Indiana 2011 is pre-Shurna Northwestern. Yikes!

Someone asked over at Crimson Quarry during the late minutes of the Wisconsin loss "where has this effort been?" I think I can answer that - it's been there. Having watched multiple defeats in a row over the last couple of weeks, I can safely say that this Indiana ballclub is a scrappy, slightly undersized team that simply cannot execute in the first half and falls victim to opponents' heroic performances in the second. Thus, the title of this post.

To compare to an actual Big Ten team (I keed, I keed), I went back and looked at the end of the Keady years and beginning of the Painter years, as a lot of woofing by Purdue sportsblogs about Crean started me thinking about the comparable situations. And I think this year is very comparable to Painter's first year ('05-'06) for IU, which was also a 3-win, last-place conference season. This was also coming off a previous 3-win season, in which injuries to the best players short-circuited both season's chances at success, and gutty efforts didn't overcome the talent disparity in a very tough conference. I don't think it is fair in any way to consider the two rebuilding efforts equal, or to compare to 2008 Purdue "Baby Boiler" team to any IU team until the 2012 class steps on campus.*

*IF* Crean is anywhere near the equal of Painter, we should see IU get to the NCAA tourney next season (or at least come close -PU was a bubble team in '07) and the following season bring in a stellar class that finally puts the Hoosiers back in contention for a Big Ten championship. Crean has a done a great job recruiting, and rebuilding program morale for the Hoosiers while trying to rebuild from a total demolition that has rarely, if ever, been seen in college hoops. Even Baylor didn't start from absolute zero like Crean did. Painter, while starting out with somewhat less hype and fanfare in those areas than Crean, has simply just won games, and is now a legit contender for National Coach of the Year. And kudos to him, he's doing a great job. I do kinda hope that he has to play St. John's in the first or second round in the NCAA tourney, tho. It'd be great TV to see him go up against Keady.

For next season, maybe Tyler Zeller is the missing piece on both ends, maybe Mo Creek finally returns to his frosh form, and maybe Verdell Jones and Christian Watford both actually stay healthy for a consecutive 12+ month period. It's a lot of maybes, but I do expect to see improvement across the board. However, I also think the Hoosiers will probably see at least one off-season transfer, maybe two.

Additional say huh? note: The BYU program- I know sportswriters tend to be a conservative bunch, so I'll say it. Brandon Davies getting kicked out of the program for having sexual relations with his girlfriend is the end of that program's ability to recruit young men. BYU will now literally be known as the program where you can't get laid, and that explicitness is not good for recruiting. Yes, there'll always be a stream of particularly straight-laced-and-proud-of-it Mormon recruits, but this additional attention to not being able to be scruffy, drink caffeine (let alone alcohol), or consort with females is still going to hurt the program, long-term. In the short-term, it's probably the end of their final four hopes, too.

*Side note: I know it is nit-picking, but it seems irritatingly forgotten by everybody that the "Baby Boilers" had the nation's top Juco center in Nemanja Calasan, who saw starting minutes, and Scott Martin -who now stars for Notre Dame- was a really significant contributor as well. Moore & Hummel were the stars, and JaJuan Johnson has grown into a great player in the intervening years, but without the late pick-up of Calasan (who had been committed to Utah?), I don't see those Boilers having the interior experience and toughness to win 15 conference games. But they had him, and they did, so I do wish that the fact that the stellar Baby Boiler class is down to two of the original five was somewhat more acknowledged. Like I said, nit-picking.