Wednesday, February 28, 2007

IU hires a new president.

According to numerous reports, IU will name Michael McRobbie its new president. McRobbie, originally from Australia, has been with IU in various capacities since 1997. As such, he is the first IU president promoted from within in decades. I can't speak to John Ryan's background, but IU's last three presidents (Tom Ehrlich, Myles Brand, Adam Herbert) had no IU ties before assuming the presidency. Here's hoping this president's tenure is more peaceful than that of his two immediate predecessors.

The Northwestern game.

Northwestern Wildcats
Overall record: 13-15
Big Ten record: 2-12
RPI: 156
Sagarin: 145
Series record: IU leads 104-43

Of all of the basketball programs that have been long-term members of major conferences, Northwestern's is the undisputed worst. Northwestern is the only current member of the six "power" (i.e., BCS) conferences that has never played in the NCAA Tournament. Even the Big East's newcomer South Florida has been to the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern stands alone. The Wildcats won their only outright Big Ten title in 1931 and shared the title in 1932 and 1933, but that's it. For comparison's sake, Chicago won six Big Ten titles before leaving the conference in 1946.

If this blogging endeavor were further along, I might invite a Northwestern blogger, if such a thing exists, to opine on why the Wildcats have set such a high standard for ineptitude. Northwestern is a great school with a beautiful campus, a fine location near a wonderful city that produces loads of basketball talent (both in the city and in the suburbs), and plays in a major conference. Welsh-Ryan Arena, because of its size and purple color, reminds me a bit of the great old fieldhouse at Muncie Central High School, but other successful private schools (Duke and Stanford particularly) have built strong programs while playing in small, seemingly outdated arenas. Football would seem to be a much more difficult sport for a small, private school to manage successfully, but NU has turned into a respectable football school in the last decade or so, at least occasionally. Yet, in basketball, where just one strong recruiting class can turn the tide for a program, NU's futility continues unabated. I really expected Bill Carmody to turn things around, and by the numbers, he is NU's best coach in decades, but still hasn't broken through.

Astoundingly, IU has not won in Evanston since 2002. As I noted in my last entry, IU has now lost three in a row in Evanston. No current Hoosier has won in Evanston. Last year's senior class never won in Evanston. During the entire Bob Knight era, IU lost in Evanston only three times (1982, 1984, 1988). IU last lost three in a row in Evanston in the last throes of the Lou Watson era, from 1968-1970. This is a situation that requires correction.
According to the invaluable Big Ten Wonk, through last weekend's game, Northwestern's scoring offense is the worst in the Big Ten, at a meager .90 points per possession. NU is ranked #3 in two-point field goal percentage, but offsets that with an abominable 27 percent three point percentage. The Cats take reasonably good care of the ball (they turn the ball over on 19 percent of their possessions, fourth-best in the Big Ten) but grab offensive rebounds on only 21 percent of their possessions. Northwestern plays at by far the slowest pace of any Big Ten team. NU averages 56.5 possessions per game in Big Ten play. Iowa plays at the fastest pace (64.1 possessions per game). Penn State is tenth at 60.2 possessions per game. Yes, that means the difference between #10 Penn State and #11 Northwestern (3.7) is nearly as large as the difference between #1 Iowa and #10 Penn State (4.2). As with many slow-paced teams, commentators will look at points allowed per game and presume that a team like Northwestern plays "tough defense." Don't make that mistake. NU gives up more points per possession than any team in the league other than Penn State.
I could delve into individual matchups, but why? NU doesn't have a player that IU wanted and IU doesn't have a player that would have considered NU. This season, in large part, is about restoring order to the universe of IU basketball. In an orderly universe, IU wins at Northwestern. Let's do it.


This isn't an original thought (I think I owe IUTerry a hat tip), but it is worth noting: the Big Ten's various "tiers" are extremely well defined this year. Ohio State (14-1) and Wisconsin (12-3) are the top tier; Minnesota (3-12), Northwestern (2-12), and Penn State (1-13) are the bottom tier; and Illinois (9-6), IU (8-6), Iowa (8-6), Michigan State (8-7), Michigan (8-7), and Purdue (7-7) are the middle tier. What is so unusual isn't that there are obvious dividing points, but that the outcomes are almost entirely predictable by tier. Ohio State and Wisconsin went 1-1 against each other and 24-2 against the rest of the league. Wisconsin lost at IU and and at MSU. The bottom tier's results are nearly as uniform. Minnesota, Northwestern, and Penn State have combined for six wins. Purdue's loss at the Barn is the only win that the "little three" have claimed against any team but each other, at home or on the road. The muddled six have held serve against each other, winning at home and losing on the road, almost as a rule. Iowa won at Michigan, and that's it. As I type this post, Michigan is finishing a home win over MSU.

The point? IU has struggled on the road this year, but a loss tomorrow night in Evanston would be the worst loss by anyone in the Big Ten this season. Before a three game Evanston losing streak under Mike Davis, IU had not lost to Northwestern since 1988, home or away. Northwestern has never won in Assembly Hall and hasn't won in Bloomington since 1968, but even Welsh-Ryan Arena has been friendly to the Hoosiers. I'll add some more substance tomorrow. But this isn't so much a must-win as a can't-lose.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Senior Night.

The Hoosiers don't play again until Wednesday night at Northwestern. That lull in the schedule allowed Kelvin Sampson to travel to Norman, Okla. to walk with his son, Kellen, on Senior Night at Oklahoma.

According the the various wire reports and other articles, Sampson, who won a higher percentage of his games than any OU coach, was received warmly by Sooner fans. At this time last season, although he did face the threat of NCAA sanctions, Kelvin Sampson was entrenched at a school where he won over 70 percent of his games, won two Big XII tournament titles, qualified for the NCAA Tournament every season but one, and reached the 2002 Final Four. So, why would Kelvin walk away from that and come to IU? Daily Oklahoman columnist John Rohde gives us some insight on that:

OU fans did not embarrass themselves, other than there being 1,000 empty seats.
Not even free T-shirts on Senior Night on Big Monday with No. 3 Kansas in the
building can fill Lloyd Noble these days.)

The pressure of coaching at IU can be intense, but Kelvin will never again have to worry about 1,000 empty seats for a game against a top 5 opponent on Senior Night. Some coaches thrive on the pressure inherent in a program of IU's stature, while others shrink from it. We won't know for a while whether Sampson will become one of IU's all-time great coaches, but I think it's obvious that he has the personality for a place like IU. We haven't had that in a while.

Another interesting tidbit from the OU coverage that I don't recall seeing in the Indiana media: Kellen Sampson will join his dad's staff at IU next season.