Friday, March 30, 2007

IU baseball.

Unlike at many southern and western schools, baseball has never taken off as a quasi-major sport at IU. Frankly, there are very few quality baseball programs in the northeastern quadrant of the country. Of the 25 teams ranked in the current USA Today coaches' poll, Wichita State is the only school that wouldn't be considered southern or western. Of the 26 teams "also receiving votes," only Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota (?!), Southern Illinois, and Kansas State fit the bill. Kentucky is ranked #18 despite a climate similar to that of southern Indiana's, but UK has the advantage of gong south for all of its conference road games. On the other hand, the Big Ten school with the least hospitable climate is the only Big Ten program in the top 50 right now, so go figure.
One of IU's disadvantages is antiquated Sembower Field, a Pony League-caliber field across the street from Briscoe and McNutt quads. If IU's facilities enhancement plan comes to full fruition, IU will be building new baseball and softball facilities that would be worthy of being called "stadium" rather than "field." Until that happens, it seems unlikely that IU will do anything to put a dent in the southern/western dominance of college baseball. On the other hand, with the least severe climate in the Big Ten, IU would seem to be in a decent position to produce a quality baseball program if the resources are provided. A couple of years ago, IU replaced the long-tenured Bob Morgan, who won only one Big Ten title in a generation of coaching, with Tracy Smith, a former IU pitching coach who executed a nice turnaround at Miami of Ohio.
IU begins the Big Ten season this afternoon against Michigan State. The Hoosiers currently stand at 10-8, with all of the wins coming against teams from non-power conferences. IU doesn't have any offensive standouts to date. Amazingly, IU has only one home run this season in 18 games. I don't follow college baseball closely enough to know how unusual that is, but note that the IU pitching staff has allowed eight. Freshman pitcher Matt Bashore, from Tipp City, Ohio, seems to be showing some promise. In 27.1 innings pitched in five appearances (four starts), Bashore has a 1.63 ERA with 22 Ks and only 11 walks. His 1.14 WHIP would be very good by MLB standards, but again, I don't follow college baseball closely enough to know how good that is.
I'll keep an eye on the baseball Hoosiers as the season progresses.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Oden, Conley, and Mike Davis.

Birmingham News columnist Kevin Scarbinsky wrote a column today that has Hoosier fans a bit exercised. It would be easier for us to move on if the media would stop writing IU/Davis retrospectives. Scarbinsky seems to have interviewed Davis about his recruitment of Greg Oden and Mike Conley. Let's jet back to summer 2005 for a moment. From 1971 through 2003, IU never had a losing season--never came close, in fact. In 2004, IU posted its first losing season in 24 seasons and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1985. IU finished eighth in a down year for the Big Ten (only the top three conference teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament). It was the first time IU had missed both postseason tournaments since 1977. While Davis certainly faced some criticism, he was only two years removed from the Final Four, and so he essentially was given a mulligan by most, but certainly not all, of the fans. In 2005, IU failed to rebound. Faced with a slim chance of playing into the tournament, IU was humiliated by Minnesota in the 4/5 game of the Big Ten Tournament. That game was followed by Davis's bizarre "we were the four seed. We were the four seed. We were the four seed. We were the four seed..." press conference. The season ended with a whimper, in the form of a beatdown by Vanderbilt in front of the smallest crowd in the history of Assembly Hall. The ridiculousness was just more of the same from Davis, whose career never seemed to recover from his running onto the court slapping his head at the end of the Kentucky game in December 2002. He made too many broken promises about mystery recruits to count. His real gem from the 2005 season was the claim that IU's blowout loss at Northwestern was inevitable because IU had prepared for NU's best player, TJ Parker, but when Parker missed the game because of injury, IU simply couldn't adjust to NU's walk-on point guard, Michael Jenkins. Seriously.
Jenkins posted a line any post player would love - 8 points and a team-high 7
rebounds, including 4 offensive boards. He had no assists in his first career
start but hit a pair of 3-pointers on Northwestern's backbreaking 18-8 run
midway through the second half.
"It affected us with Parker not playing,"
Davis said. "We had prepared for T.J. You could see our guys not focused and not
ready to come out and compete and battle."
Davis was then asked about
"Who's that?" he asked.
I don't mean to drag Hoosier fans down a nightmarish memory lane here. I'm just pointing out how ridiculously absurd it was that after all of that, Mike Davis inexplicably was allowed to continue his stewardship of one of college basketball's historically elite programs, and to provide the context, lest anyone has forgotten, of the condition of the program when Conley and Oden were being recruited. At that point, Davis's IU career was beyond salvaging. The idea that someone like Mike Conley, a bright kid with involved and sophisticated parents, was going to entrust his career to that charlatan, was laughable. Yet the IU administration allowed Davis to come back, even though, by his own account, he no longer wanted to be at Indiana. IU's administration blew the last, best chance of signing Conley and Oden by giving Davis another years after had had proven his unfitness beyond a reasonable doubt.
Davis was self-absorbed to the end, as his interview with Scarbinsky makes clear. Even if he landed the commitments, he wouldn't sign them?! what a bunch of bunk. I know that it's politically correct to say that we wish Davis well, that we hope his is happy at UAB, and so forth. I don't. I hope he falls on his face, and I hope he does it soon. The sooner he flames out, the fewer careers and seasons he will be allowed to ruin. Good riddance, Mike.

Eli Holman.

Mark Montieth's article in today's Indy Star on IU freshman-to-be Eli Holman is a must-read, and I highly recommend the audio interview that is available on the sidebar. Holman sounds mature beyond his years, and anyone who has elected to form his opinion on Holman based upon the unfortunate altercation with the referee or the drive by shoting of which Holman was a victim ought to take a look.

Monday, March 26, 2007

John Thompson III.

Really, I'm going to talk about the baseball team any day now. But I had a thought as I watched the waning minutes of Georgetown's overtime win over North Carolina in the East Regional final. JTIII became the first son of a Final Four coach to reach the Final Four as a head coach. This has some tenuous IU connection because of Pat Knight's position on the IU staff during his father's last few years at IU. As you may know, Pat has a contract with Texas Tech that provides that he will succeed his father as Tech's head coach. It seems to me that it was always going to end badly for Knight at IU, even if he had retired of his own volition, because he would have tried to install Pat as the successor and many IU fans would have resisted. For Texas Tech, which has never been as prominent as in the last few years, it's probably a small price to pay.
This arrangement seems to have become more popular in recent years. Sean Sutton succeeded Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State. Keno Davis will take over for his father, Tom Davis, at Drake next season. Tony Bennett had an outstanding season in his first season after taking over for his father, Dick Bennett, at Washington State. Murry Bartow unsuccessfully followed his father at UAB and Joey Meyer did the same at DePaul.
What seems to separate JTIII from those above is that unlike most of the current batch of successor, JTIII didn't develop under his father's wing. He attended college and coached at Princeton, both as an assistant and as a head coach. Certainly, being named "John Thompson" probably has opened some doors for the current Georgetown coach, and certainly a confidante like the elder John Thompson would be a nice resource for any young coach. And it may all be a coincidence. Perhaps Tony Benett, Sean Sutton, and Pat Knight will all become elite coaches. Still, I think it is interesting that the first second generation Final Four coach did not follow the typical "favorite son" path.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Adam Herbert's legacy at IU.

There's no guarantee that firing Mike Davis in 2005 would have resulted in Greg Oden and Mike Conley enrolling at IU, but failing to fire Mike Davis after IU's two worst seasons of the last 35 years guaranteed that the best high school twosome in Indiana history would go elsewhere. Recruits and their parents figured out Mike Davis long before the administration did. Oh well. They made the right decision, unfortunately. Let's just make sure we never again allow IU to be a non-factor in recruitment of players like this.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Hoosiers lose in WNIT.

It's now the offseason for all IU basketball teams. The women's team lost 60-53 at South Dakota State. It turns out that SDSU improved to 25-4 with the win over IU and is a respectable 49th in the RPI ratings. IU finished at 19-13, a respectable record for a program that has seen more than its share of upheaval in recent years and has had different coaches in each of the last three seasons.

Tubby Smith to Minnesota.

The Big Ten coaching fraternity has changed (and for the better) in the last 24 hours. Just a day after the Alford-to-NM rumors were confirmed, as the whole universe knows, Tubby Smith resigned on of the most prestigious jobs in college athletics to become the head basketball coach at Minnesota, a solid but unspectacular program with few non-NCAA-redacted great moments. Minnesota seems to be a nice place, with what from TV looks to be on par with the Phog, Hinkle, Cameron, and the Palestra as a great old basketball barn. Minnesota's Williams Arena is "the Barn," semi-officially. Still, it's not Kentucky. I have a few thoughts on this move:
1. It's probably easier for a guy like Tubby, who has won a championship, to make a move like this. Even if it was with Rick Pitino's players, he's in the club. Moving from Kentucky to Minnesota makes it much less likely that he will ever again cut down the nets with "One Shining Moment" blaring in the background. If Bill Self, for instance, were in a similar situation a few years down the road, it might be a tougher decision sans title.
2. Where's the outrage? I'm not saying there should be any genuine outrage. Kentucky is entitled to its expectations. Nine years without a Final Four bid is a long time for a program of Kentucky's stature. As an IU fan, I resent the hell out of media scolds who tell us we should just accept our lot as a middle-of-the-pack program, so I'm not going to dress down Kentucky fans for that (dress them down for their historical acquiescence in $100 handshakes, racism, and point shaving, yes, but not for having high expectations). The trend at UK, particularly since the blowout loss to Marquette in the 2003 regional final, when Kentucky was ranked #1, has been downward. Kentucky has lost 25 games in the last two seasons. Yet, it seems to me that Kentucky is getting easier treatment than did IU for forcing out the incompetent buffoon who isn't half the coach that Tubby Smith is. Waah, it's not fair.
3. Where does UK go from here? Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart has a tougher job than did Rick Greenspan at this time last year. Both schools ultimately expect to compete for NCAA championships, so they have that in common. But Mike Davis was so deficient in so many ways that Greenspan could hardly have ended up with a worse coach if he tried. Kentucky, on the other hand, can improve, but could also do much worse than Tubby. Tubby won nearly 80 percent of his games, won a title in his first year, advanced to the Elite 8 four other times, and had some really excellent teams that just couldn't quite finish the job in March. Unless Kentucky hires a coach with a NCAA title on his resume (Billy Donovan or Tom Izzo, perhaps, although both seem like longshots), they will be doing exactly what the did a decade ago: they will hire a coach who has a very good but not championship-level record at lesser programs and hope that such success will translate into the highest level of success at Kentucky. I'm not saying they shouldn't be glad to have that opportunity--by all reports, the relationship between Tubby and the fans/administration was getting a bit chippy--but the opportunity is not without risk. It's going to be an interesting few weeks, withthe Kentucky, Michigan, and Iowa jobs open.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Spring practice, day 2.

The IU website does not contain a release this morning, and yesterday's practice was closed to the public. Information on the football Hoosiers may be sparse this spring, but here's a nice summary of day 1 from the Doug Wilson of the Hoosier Scoop, the Bloomington Herald-Times's blog.

Steve Alford takes New Mexico job.

Three Big Ten programs are now without coaches. Steve Alford will be the new coach at New Mexico, "unless there is an unexpected impasse." New Mexico unsuccessfully courted Bob Knight after the 1987-88 season. Alford did a nice job in recent years, but really managed to get sideways with the most amiable group of fans in the Big Ten. Iowa's decision to force Tom Davis out after the 1999 season has culminated in failure.
I have been pretty critical of Steve Alford. His handling of the Pierre Pierce scandal was disgraceful. Part of my attitude toward Steve was pushback against the IU fans who wanted Stevie to be given the IU job despite a complete lack of evidence that he is anything more than an average coach. Still, he is an IU legend and now that he is out of the Big Ten, it will be easier to root for him.
The design of the arena, UNM's famous Pit, should have tipped us off. Frankly, it's a wonder that IU ever managed to convince him to play at Assembly Hall.

New Castle Fieldhouse

Carver Hawkeye Arena

"The Pit," New Mexico

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spring football, day 1.

Assistant head coach Bill Lynch, who essentially is the acting head coach for the spring, as he was for last season's SIU and Connecticut games, held a press conference before today's practice. Lynch discussed, vaguely, the team's reaction to the latest news about Hep. The most interesting tidbit: Blake Powers, who started two games for IU last season and every game in 2005 (and set a school single-season record with 22 touchdown passes) is now a tight end, as had been long rumored.

Michigan coaching search.

Tommy Amaker, beloved by all Big Ten basketball fans (except Michigan fans, of course), finally received a well-earned pink slip over the weekend. Mgoblog and Maize n Brew are covering the story and breaking down the candidates in impressive detail. I'm not sure if Michigan really qualifies as a sleeping giant--the facilities problems and general indifference of many Michigan fans to basketball create challenges--but U-M probably has the best basketball tradition of any Big Ten school other than IU. Both Wolverine bloggers seem to be high on Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois, whose immediate predecessors, Matt Painter and Bruce Weber, coach in the Big Ten.
Minnesota, of course, has an job opening as well, and rumors continue to swirl about Steve Alford's future in Iowa and his possible interest in the New Mexico job, as discussed and dismissed in this column.

IU women prevail over Iona.

The IU women managed a 74-71 win over Iona in the WNIT. The reward? A trip to South Dakota State for the round of 16. SDSU is located in Brookings, SD, a town I didn't know existed until a few minutes ago.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How could I forget?

As the Hoosier Scoop blog of the Bloomington Herald Times reminded me, lost in all of the talk about Coach Hoeppner is that spring practice begins tomorrow. According to the linked blog entry, media access to practice will be limited this season, so it does appear that the official IU site will be the go-to place for information on spring ball.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The week to come.

Now that the inaugural season of the Kelvin Sampson era is complete, look for some sort of basketball post mortem this week. I also plan to provide an update and some discussion of the baseball team. Meanwhile, believe it or not, there is an Indiana University team still playing basketball: the IU women play Iona in the WNIT tonight at Assembly Hall.


IU has announced that Terry Hoeppner will not participate in spring practice. Bill Lynch will run the team in the interim. Everyone who lives in Indiana has heard various rumors about Hep's health, and I'm not going to traffic in those rumors. Let's hope this isn't as serious as it sounds. Certainly, while our focus should be on the coach and his family, this news is a blow for an IU football program that hasn't caught a break in 15 years.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

UCLA 54, Indiana 49.

I suppose it's fitting that it was two of college basketball's most tradition-rich programs that set college basketball back to the peach basket era last night. UCLA was very impressive defensively, but even that defense can't quite account for 5-28 and 13 points for IU in the first half. Here's the ugly box score. The most disappointing statistic is the 10-21 freethrow shooting. As poorly as IU played offensively in the first half, the unforced errors are the most troubling. In a 59 possession game, even with IU's late run IU managed only .83 points per possession, although UCLA had only .91. Many will point to the impressive rebounding numbers, but of course those numbers are skewed by the sheer number of missed shots.
Still, for all of the ugliness on the court on in the statistics, IU rallied from a significant deficit playing in front of a hostile crowd against a #2 seed that played in the NCAA title game last season. Suffice it to say that if we are in this position after the first weekend next year, there will be much gnashing of teeth. For this season, the Sampson era is off to a promising start.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The UCLA game.

UCLA Bruins
Overall record: 27-5
Pac-10 record: 15-3 (plus 0-1 in conference tournament)
RPI: 2
Sagarin: 6
Series record: IU leads 6-5

IU and UCLA have a combined 16 NCAA titles. In the history of the NCAA Tournament, the only game that involved more combined championships was Kentucky's win over UCLA in the 1998 Sweet 16. Those two teams had 17 combined NCAA titles, although Kentucky would win its seventh a few days later. IU and UCLA last played in the West Regional final in Alberquerque in 1992, a game that IU won 106-79. IU and UCLA met in the first game of that season, in the Tipoff Classic in Springfield, Mass., and UCLA won 87-72. In that game, Bob Knight famously ended Chris Reynolds's red shirt season in the middle of the game. Reynolds began the game in streetclothes and ended it in uniform.

Of the 11 games between IU and UCLA, three have been in the NCAA Tournament (including the aforementioned 1992 game). UCLA defeated IU in the 1973 Final Four national semifinals, when UCLA was in the midst of its record 88-game winning streak and its long NCAA championship streak. IU returned the favor in the 1976 national semifinals as IU proceeded to its own undefeated national championship. Also, UCLA, led by future Pacer legend Reggie Miller, defeated IU in the 1985 NIT championship game.

Other than Ohio State, UCLA is IU's most formidable opponent of the season. Here is Ken Pomeroy's UCLA scouting report, and here's how UCLA's numbers compare to those of IU:

: Indiana 64 possessions per game (267/215); UCLA 64.3 (257/274)
Offensive efficiency: Indiana 1.105 points per possession (37/9); UCLA 1.116 (27/19)
Defensive efficiency: Indiana .967 points per possession (59/42) ;UCLA .928 (14/9)

Effective field goal percentage (extra credit for made three pointers): Indiana 52.4 (78); UCLA 54.2 (27)
Turnover percentage: Indiana 19.0 (61); UCLA 18.3 (34)
Offensive rebound percentage: Indiana 35.6 (91); UCLA 34.7 (130)

Effective field goal percentage: Indiana 46.7 (45); UCLA 47.8 (82)
Turnover percentage: Indiana 22.2 (101); UCLA 23.3 (51)
Offensive rebounding percentage: Indiana 32.5 (126); UCLA 29.9 (39)

What does this tell us? UCLA is statistically superior to IU in nearly every category and played a quality schedule. IU s better than Gonzaga by the numbers, but UCLA's status as the comfortable favorite is supported by these numbers. UCLA's top three scorers, Aaron Affalo, Josh Shipp, and Darren Collison are all threats from three point range. Affalo shoots 6.5 threes a game and makes about 38 percent.

This has been a promising season, and will remain so even if IU falls short tonight. A win, on the other hand, would put IU in a great position, would increase the buzz around Sampson's IU program as we approach the summer recruiting season, and would be a great start to the new era of IU basketball.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Indiana 70, Gonzaga 57

That was a really nice win. After a competitive first half, we managed to expand our lead in the second half. Gonzaga pulled to within 3, at 38-35 at the 17:37 mark. Rod Wilmont hit a three at the 17:00 mark, and the Bulldogs never were within a possession again. Neither team shot particularly well, although IU did manage 47 percent in the second half. In the first half, IU shot only 34 percent but managed 38 percent (7-18) from behind the arc, which accounted for the lead. My quick calculations indicate a 66 possession game--nothing out of the ordinary for Gonzaga, but run-and-gun by Big Ten standards. As the Wonk notes, this was an outstanding performance for the Hoosier defense, or at least a fairly deficient performance by Gonzaga's offense. The Wonk says 67 possessions, I say 66, but in any event, something in the neighborhood of .86 points per possession for the Zags, while IU was just south of 1.0. Again, this was a quicker game than most of the games IU played during the Big Ten season, so while the 13 turnovers may look a bit high, the 19.6 turnover percentage is just a tick higher than IU's 18.9 average in Big Ten play.
The Big Ten has taken quite a bit of grief for the style of play and the number of bids and quality of seeds that the tournament committee awarded to the Big Ten. I'm not really a "conference pride guy," meaning I don't feel any particular obligation to root for Purdue or Illinois or Wisconsin in the tournament because it's "good for the Big Ten." I vaguely hope that the Big Ten does well, but it doesn't mean I will sit down on the couch and root for Purdue in the tournament. Today might be an exception. The criticism of the Big Ten has been so harsh that I would love to see a 6-0 start, even if it means rooting for the loathesome Boilers and Illini. I love that MSU managed lull a quality Big East team that averages over 67 possessions per game into a snail's pace, 58 possession game, and won comfortably. IU played at a faster pace than normal, and won comfortably. I realize that ugly, slow basketball does not always indicate good defense, but at the same time, a 49-45 score does not always indicate a poorly played game, and I'm sick of the simpletons in the media who say so.

More on Gonzaga.

IU’s defensive problems this season have been on the interior. Our 2-point field goals allowed percentage is very pedestrian, but at least for most of the season, our three point defense was the best in the Big Ten. Gonzaga, despite the aforementioned loss of Josh Heytvelt to the devil ‘shrooms, is still pretty tall, with two 6-9 guys in the starting lineup. The Zags leading scorer is Derek Raivio, who averages 18.2 points on only 12 shots per game. As the Wonk has noted, the Bulldogs don’t shoot three pointers often, but they shoot them well. Raivio is the most frequent long bomber for the ‘Zags. He shoots 6.6 threes a game and makes 41 percent. Other than the departed Heytvelt, Gonzaga has only one other double digit scorer, point guard Jeremy Pargo, who averages 12.2 points a game on 8.4 shots per game. This article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes the production increases of 6-6 David Pendergraft, 6-8 Micah Downs, and 6-9 Abdulli Kuso since Heytvelt’s suspension. Pendergraft and Downs have doubled their points per game since then, which makes a look at Gonzaga’s season stats a bit misleading. For programs that play in major conferences, the latter two thirds of the season tend to be a more reliable indicator of a team’s quality because of better competition and more uniform competition as compared to other major conference teams. For Gonzaga, it’s a bit different. The Bulldogs play the bulk of their high quality opponents in the non-conference season to offset the comparatively weaker WCC schedule. Accordingly, it is tough to give as much weight to those players’ increased production as it would be if they had done so with a more "conventional" major program.
I don't have any parting thoughts of any significance in this, my last post before IU begins (and possibly ends) its 2007 NCAA Tournament appearance. By the numbers, by seed, by the Vegas odds, IU is a narrow but decided favorite. The Hoosiers should win, but a Gonzaga win would not be a momentous upset. As of noon today, the ESPN Bracket Challenge entrants favored Gonazaga by about a 55/45 margin. I love picking against the trendy upset. I don't expect great things from IU in this tournament, and I will be quite surprised if I am writing a preview this time next week, but winning an NCAA Tournament game would be a nice step and a nice reward for team and coach after a promising first season. Let's go Hoosiers.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Wonk's preview.

I'll be back with more later, but for now, here is the Big Ten Wonk's preview of IU's four-team pod in Sacramento.

Indiana and Gonzaga, toe to toe.

The numbers are courtesy Ken Pomeroy and Big Ten Wonk. You should know that, because you should be reading those guys anyway. The number in the parentheses is the national rank, with the Pomeroy weighted ranking as the second parenthetical number in the efficiency rankings:
Pace: Indiana 64 possessions per game (267/215); Gonzaga 69.4 possessions per game (82/108)
Offensive efficiency: Indiana 1.105 points per possession (37/9); Gonzaga 1.124 points per possession (22/31)
Defensive efficiency: Indiana .967 points per possession (59/42) ;Gonzaga .992 points per possession (97/79)

Pomeroy also uses some sort of method that I don't fully understand for adjusting the above statistics based upon the quality of opposition. In all of those measures, Indiana does better than its raw score and Gonzaga does worse.
Effective field goal percentage (extra credit for made three pointers): Indiana 52.4 (78); Gonzaga 54.5 (22)
Turnover percentage: Indiana 19.0 (61); Gonzaga 18.8 (51)
Offensive rebound percentage: Indiana 35.6 (91); Gonzaga 33.6 (163)
Effective field goal percentage: Indiana 46.7 (45); Gonzaga 46.6 (44)
Turnover percentage: Indiana 22.2 (101); Gonzaga 18.7 (295)
Offensive rebounding percentage: Indiana 32.5 (126); Gonzaga 29.9 (39)
So what does this tell us? Gonzaga plays faster, but Indiana is in the Big Ten, so that is understood. Both teams are efficient on offense, while IU is a bit tougher on defense. The two teams' offensive numbers are strikingly similar across the board. The main distinctions come on defense, where IU forces more turnovers and Gonzaga is a much better defensive rebounding team. Mitigating Gonzaga's advantages are IU's stronger schedule (hence IU's more favorable rating in Pomeroy's weighted stats) and the fact that Gonzaga lost its best big man because of a drug possession charge. IU is justifiably favored in this game.
More on the individuals later.

And the worst five.

1. Pepperdine, NCAA first round 2000. We didn't know it at the time, but this was Bob Knight's last game at Indiana. The 2000 team frustrated. They started well, with a huge win over Kentucky, but never quite recovered from blowing a five point lead at Breslin against eventual NCAA champ Michigan State. IU also lost on the road to Dan Monson's first Minnesota team, in Joel Pryzbilla's last game for the Gophers. IU then lost in the 4/5 game of the Big Ten Tournament to Illinois, and a team that looked like it had the potential to return IU to the top echelon ended with a sixth seed.
Coincidentally, the week of the NCAA Tournament was the week that the now-defunct CNN/SI TV network finished its work on the Bob Knight expose. CNN/SI managed to obtain (from Ron Felling, if I recall correctly) a copy of the video of Knight's choke/push/adjustment of Neil Reed. Whatever one thinks or thought of Knight and his methods, that story must have put a tremendous amount of strain on the team. I hoped they would rally around the coach, but unfortunately, the Hoosiers looked like they were mailing it in, losing by 20.
2. Kansas, 1993 NCAA regional final. This was The Team. IU had won titles in 1976, 1981, and 1987. So the timing was about right. IU returned four starters from a Final Four team, finished 31-3 and 17-1 in the Big Ten, was ranked #1, and looked powerful. Unfortunately, while IU survived Alan Henderson's knee injury with only one loss and still managed to get to the Elite Eight, Kansas simply had too much. In addition to Henderson's injury, Brian Evans, the lanky perimeter player who was forced into duty as Henderson's replacement, injured a finger in the Louisville Sweet 16 game and was not effective, either. The only flaw of that team was a lack of depth. I remain fully convinced that but for the Henderson injury, IU would have held it together and won it all.
3. Colorado, 1997 NCAA first round. This game was a red flag, an indication that something was really wrong with the IU program. IU started well in 1997, whipping Duke in the PNIT and ascending inot the top 10. But again, IU limped through the Big Ten season and ended up as a #8 seed against Colorado, with Chauncey Billups, a program that hadn't been to the tournament in eons. IU was absolutely spanked, much to the chagrin of the NCAA, which had placed IU in the same bracket as #1 seed North Carolina. Dean Smith entered the NCAA Tournament one win short of Adolph Rupp. Smith broke the record against Colorado instead of Indiana.
4. Boston College, 1994 NCAA Sweet 16. IU was the five seed and knocked off Ohio and Temple in the first two rounds. As importantly, Boston College upset top seeded North Carolina in round two, and therefore the Hoosiers' opponent was a bit less formidable than expected. Again, the Hoosiers were struck by an injury at the worst possible time. In the second round game against Temple, freshman point guard Sherron Wilkerson suffered a nasty spiral fracture of his leg, and injury that would cost him a full season. Would he have been enough to push the Hoosiers past BC and then Lon Kruger's Florida team? Who knows. IU has had so much success over the years that it seems like bad form to complain about injuries, but Wilkerson's was a tough one.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tournament memories.

I have lived in Indiana for nearly all of my life, but I didn't become an IU fan until I enrolled in autumn 1992. Growing up in Indiana as a sports fan, it was impossible to not follow IU, so I remember the 1987 title, "the chair," the amazing 1989 team that won the Big Ten over Illinois and NCAA champ Michigan, and so forth, but not in the capacity of a fan. So, from 1992-93, here are my top four and bottom four NCAA Tournament games:

1. IU over Duke, 2002 NCAA Sweet 16: Ultimately, the Mike Davis era did not end well, but clearly, this was the highlight, and is the highlight of IU basketball over the last 20 seasons. That particular IU team had some great games, but ultimately ended the regular season 20-9 and outside the AP top 25. IU knocked off Utah in round one, and profited from UNC-Wilmington's upset of USC, and prevailed over Wilmington in round two. IU was fortunate that the South Regional was held in Lexington, Kentucky, that year. Many IU fans found their way into the building, and Kentucky fans hate Duke even more than they hate IU. That particular IU team thrived on three point shooting, but how many recall that in the amazing 17-point second-half comeback against Duke, IU did not make a three pointer? I still cannot watch the Dane Fife foul on Jay Williams.
This was an important win for IU because it proved that there was life after Knight for IU basketball. Clearly, the Davis era turned out to be a disaster. But I'll always be grateful to Davis for that team. Given his failings, it's amazing that it ever happened.
2. IU over Oklahoma, 2002 NCAA Tournament national semifinal. It's hard to believe Kelvin Sampson is on our side now. IU held on in the first half, and went crazy from three point range in the second half. Oklahoma was plagued by foul trouble and poor shooting. Jeff Newton played the game of his life in his hometown.
This game was special to me because it was the first Final Four game I ever attended in person--indeed, the first IU NCAA Tournament game I ever attended. A buddy and I drove to Atlanta on a lark and without tickets. After five minutes on the largely deserted streets of downtown Atlanta, we somehow stumbled into face value tickets for the seminfinals and the championship game. I still remember when it really sunk in what that 5th seed team had managed to do. After the game ended, my buddy and I were just shaking our heads and saying, "Monday night." "Monday night." At that moment, the Georgia Dome jumbotron displayed the last single bracket with "Indiana" on the top line.
3. IU over Kent State, 2002 NCAA South Regional final. This one felt more like a coronation than anything else. Because my buddies and I didn't see much postseason success during our years in Bloomington, we drove down to watch this one at the house of a firend of a friend. The Hoosiers let Kent stick around too long, but thanks to some incredible three point shooting, the Flashes never led. We then flocked to downtown Bloomington to watch the youngsters celebrate on Kirkwood Avenue. Hours later, we shook hands with Jared Jeffries, who had come to celebrate after the team returned from Lexington. Kent State was a formidable opponent. The #10 Flashes knocked out the #2 seed Alabama and the #3 seed Pitt before playing IU. Still, losing the regional final to a MAC school two days after beating top-ranked Duke would have taken all of the luster off that upset win.
4. IU over Louisville, 1993 NCAA Sweet 16. The last win for a great team. That edition of the Hoosiers won the Big Ten with a 17-1 record, swept the Fab Five, and finished the regular season ranked first in both polls. Unfortunately, IU could not overcome Kansas and big oafs like Greg Ostertaag in the regional final, but that Thursday night, as an IU freshman, I was already plotting my Saturday dash to Showalter Fountain.
The bottom four, as well as a systematic look at the 'Zags, later to come tonight.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Gonzaga game (NCAA Tournament first round)

Gonzaga Bulldogs
Overall record: 23-10
West Coast Conference record: 11-3 (plus 2-0 in the tournament)
RPI: 60
Sagarin: 46
Series record: tied at 1-1

Eight years ago, Gonzaga was nothing but a delightful mid-major feel-good story. The Bulldogs reached the Elite Eight in 1999 and nearly defeated eventual NCAA champ Connecticut in the regional final. After that, coach Dan Monson left for Minnesota, and most expected that Gonzaga would be relegated to the dustbin of history like other mid-major darlings such as Ball State, Santa Clara, Miami of Ohio, Valparaiso, etc. Instead, while playing in the West Coast Conference and at a school that was barely known to the average sports fan a decade ago, Gonzaga has become a legitimate basketball power, even to the point that some have referred to the 'Zags as "Duke West" because of the media's adulation of this admirable program. Who would have guessed that Gonzaga would still be going strong in 2007 while Monson's career lies in ruin?
How have they done it? I really don't have a clue. Some have suggested that Few was the brains behind the whole operation in the first place. That could be true, or it could be after-the-fact rationalization. Whatever Monson contributed to the initial success of Gonzaga, it is clear that Mark Few is an excellent coach and, as importantly, has been willing to turn away power conference programs that have sought his services. Many mid-major schools have meager fan following, subpar academics, or various other flaws. Gonzaga, while it shares a state with two Pac-10 schools, seems to be the only show in town in Spokane, and despite recent success, neither Washington nor Washington State is a traditional basketball power. In other words, Gonzaga has an easier path than a school like Butler, which shares its city with the Colts and Pacers and its state with Indiana, Notre Dame, Purdue, and a host of respectable mid-majors with glass-slipper tournament histories (Indiana State, Evansville, Ball State, and Valparaiso have all made runs to the Sweet 16). Could it be the funny name? Really. Most Jesuit universities in the United States seem to bear the name of their home cities (e.g., Dayton, Detroit, St. Louis) or the names of one of the co-founders of the Jesuit order, St. Francis Xavier or St. Ignatius Loyola . Can't swing a dead cat in this country without hitting a "Xavier" or "Loyola." Instead, the university's founders made the fortuitous decision to name the school for St. Aloysius Gonzaga, an Italian nobleman who gave up his riches and rights of inheritance to join the Jesuit order and died in his early 20s. Would the 'Zags be the 'Zags if the school had been named "the University of Spokane" or "Loyola (Washington)"? Well, sure, they literally would not be "the 'Zags," but would they be in the position they are now? I don't know, but the funny name seems as good an explanation as any for why Gonzaga has been able to not just maintain its position at the top of a non-power conference, but has become a legitimate national power that generates interest and television ratings.

Women's team qualifies for WNIT.

The IU women's basketball team received an at-large bid to the newly expanded, 48-team Women's National Invitational Tournament. While the men's NIT features a reduced field this season (just ask Iowa!), the women's field has been expanded, and now features a representative from each of the 31 Division I conferences. Apparently the "next best" team to the conference's NCAA entrants receives the automatic NIT bid. The NIT selected IU for one of 17 at-large slots.

Monday, March 12, 2007

It's worse than I thought.

IU played its first round games in Indianapolis in 1993, when IU was the top seed in the Midwest and ranked #1 in the nation. Since then, IU has not played a first or second round game closer to Bloomington than Buffalo, which is about 550 miles (a good 9 hour drive) away.
Here are IU's opening round sites since 1993:
2007: Sacramento
2006: Salt Lake City
2005: n/a
2004: n/a
2003: Boston
2002: Sacramento
2001: San Diego
2000: Buffalo
1999: Orlando
1998: Washington
1997: Charlotte
1996: Orlando
1995: Boise
1994: Landover, MD
Now, I'm not complaining about this. Only once in the last 14 seasons has IU been seeded fourth or higher. That was in 2001, Mike Davis's first year. The NCAA introduced the pod system in 2002. Under the current arrangement, that IU team might have been closer to home than San Diego, where IU lost in the first round to 12 seed Kent State. As I noted below, we can solve this problem by improving our regular season performance. Frankly, it's easier now than it was in previous years. In 1992, IU blew the Big Ten championship and top seed in the Midwest or Southeast by losing the regular season finale at Purdue and instead became the #2 seed in the West. Of course, that IU team handled the adversity just fine: they cruised through the West Regional with four double digit wins, ended Shaquille O'Neal's college career in the second round, and spanked top-seeded UCLA 106-79 in the Regional Final in Alberquerque. Still, such a late season drop was much more significant then than it is now. Because of that late-season loss, IU was relegated to Boise for its first and second round games. If that happened today, IU still would have ended up in the West, but likely would have played its first round games in Cincinnati or Dayton in front of a partisan IU crowd.
I'll have more later on Gonzaga in particular and the bracket and selection process in general. It should be a fun week as always.

Gonzaga again.

IU plays Gonzaga for the second consecutive year in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, the Bulldogs eliminated IU in the second round after IU's first round win over the evil Steve Fisher and San Diego State. Clearly, Gonzaga is not the team they were last season. Adam Morrison is gone. Gonzaga did not win the WCC in the regular season but managed to defeat Santa Clara in the conference tournament. The game will be in Sacramento, not to terribly far (by western US standards, at least) from Gonzaga's campus in Spokane. The selection committee has dispatched IU to the western US several times in recent years, at least for the first couple of rounds. This year, IU is in the West region and will play out west if they advance to the Sweet 16. Sacramento should conjure up some nice memories for IU fans: IU beat Utah and UNC-Wilmington in 2002 on the way to the Final Four. That year, of course, IU was in the South and played at Rupp Arena in Lexington for the Sweet 16 and regional final.
Off the top of my head, IU played out west in 2006 (Salt Lake City), 2002 (Sacramento), 2001 (San Diego), and 1995 (Boise). That's five times in IU's last 11 NCAA appearances and four of the last five. It's well past time for us to control our own destiny by finishing as a top four (preferably number one) seed next season. More on this matchup and the tournament later.
I was a bit surprised by the seed. It is now even more frustrating that we lost that game to Illinis Friday night, because a win probably would have given IU a sixth seed and avoided playing UCLA in the second round in California (if IU beats Gonzaga.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Illinois 58, Indiana 54 (OT)

The numbers say that IU was the most efficient offense in the Big Ten this year. Unfortunately, that number seems highly reliant on the three point shot. Against Illinois, in all three matchups this season, we have struggled to find open looks, and the frustration I described in my preview post continues. I can be a bit dangerous with math, but my calculations indicate a 62 possession game (pretty slow for an overtime game) and a total for IU of about .87 points per possession. Illinois was also below 1.0, but that's just awful. Here's the ugly box score for your review.
I really despise the empty feeling of waking up on a Saturday morning on March and knowing there could be a game today but isn't. It's not as bad as the same feeling would be next weekend, but it's no fun nonetheless. As I noted in the preview post, the importance of this game was getting us out of the 7-8-9-10 seeding range. IU's seed usually is a pleasant surprise, so I have some hope, but not much, that week can sneak into a 7 seed. I have looked at it systematically, but maybe the rash of tournament upsets will help us.
With no game until at least Thursday, I hope to spend some time looking back at the season this coming week, while of course discussing Selection Sunday and the impending NCAA Tournament. I think it's fair to say most of us would have taken 20-1 (10-6) at the beginning of the season, but our early performance had us expecting more than we ultimately got. At least we know that next time we play Illinois, we will have a genuine scoring threat who can find his own shot. I think the Illini know his name.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Illinois game (Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals)

Illinois Fighting Illini
Overall record: 23-10
Big Ten record: 9-7 (regular season; 1-0 in BTT)
RPI: 34
Sagarin: 44
Series record: IU leads, 81-76
Let's get this out of the way: Illinois is in the NCAA Tournament. The Illini killed any "bubble" discussion with their narrow victory over Penn State yesterday afternoon. I refuse to believe that a 23-win Big Ten team with an RPI of 34 and with no losses to any team ranked lower than 89 (at Iowa, just like IU) will be left out. I don't know what the conventional wisdom is about the Illini among the chatterers today, but if you hear anyone say that Illinois is on the bubble, change the channel. They will be in even if IU wins by 30 (I hope to see that hypothesis tested). Purdue is on the bubble because of its awful losses at Indiana State and Minnesota. Illinois lacks the signature wins that IU has (Wisconsin and Southern Illinois) but in terms of avoiding bad losses, Illinois has a resume remarkably similar to IU's.
I'm glad that paragraph is over. Illinois is one of my least favorite Big Ten schools. In my experience, there isn't a fan base in the country that is more delusional about its place in the college basketball world than Illinois fans. I don't know if I coined this description of Illinois basketball, but I have used it enough that I consider it mine: "Duke's attitude, Iowa's tradition." I mean no disrespect to Iowa, a fine place with some of the nicest fans in the Big Ten. But no self-respecting Iowa fan would argue that Iowa basketball is in the top echelon of college basketball programs, or that they would be there but for a vast, worldwide officiating conspiracy. Before 2005 (to be fair, the 2005 Illinois team was one of the best and most fun-to-watch Big Ten teams I have ever seen), the most legendary team in Illini history, the 1989 Flyin' Illini, was a team that not only didn't win the NCAA Tournament, but didn't even win the Big Ten! Even Purdue wouldn't overhype a team that didn't win the Big Ten! (yes, let's see how many Big Ten fan bases I can alienate in one blog entry). To UIUC's credit, the school did produce the Big Ten Wonk, the finest and most even-handed blogger around.
The tiff between Kelvin Sampson and Bruce Weber has further escalated tension between the two schools. As anyone who follows college basketball knows, Eric Gordon of North Central High School in Indianapolis, the finest scoring guard the state of Indiana has produced in years, committed to Illinois on the eve of the 2005-06 season. At the time, Illinois was coming off that remarkable 2005 season and IU had inexplicably retained Mike Davis after he produced IU's two single worst seasons in 35 years and did so in back-to-back seasons. After IU kicked Davis to the curb and hired Kelvin Sampson, contact was made between IU and Gordon (it appears that Gordon made the first contact, but that is far from established) and on the evening of Midnight Madness 2006, Gordon "formally" switched his verbal commitment from Illinois to Indiana. Frankly, I don't think Sampson did a thing wrong in recruiting Gordon. Contrary to current conventional wisdom, I don't think he even owed Weber a phone call. The whole notion of the "coaching fraternity" sickens me a bit. These guys make north of a million bucks a year to advance the interests of their universities. I reject the notion that Kelvin Sampson should have made his duty to Indiana University subservient to his obligation to fellow coach Bruce Weber. All that said, Sampson made his own bed with the unfortunate and troubling NCAA violations at Oklahoma. Many of Sampson's critics have blurred the line between the improper calls at OU and the recruitment of Gordon in an effort to portray a general "sleaziness." I don't think that's fair. The cheating at OU was sleazy; recruiting a kid who has made a non-binding commitment is not. The NCAA has a hefty rule book that legislates everything from the serious down to the mundane issues of how much a school can pay for a kid's meal on an official visit and the page length of the school's media guide. The NCAA has not outlawed recruitment of verbally committed players. The NCAA could do that, but my suspicion is that they want kids to be able to change their minds into their senior years of high school, just like any other high school student. In any event, the Gordon recruitment is going to enliven this series for a while.
As is par for the course in the muddled middle, both teams held serve at home in the two previous meetings this season. Between the hostile fan greeting and the anemic offense, IU's 51-43 loss in Champaign was the toughest game of the season to watch. Offensively, IU was brutal, with 43 points on 44 shots and 6(!) free throw attempts. IU had only 8 assists. What is interesting about that game is that Illinois was nearly as bad on offense, which I suppose suggests that IU was doing something right on defense. The two teams' field goal percentage (overall and from three), rebounds, assists, and turnovers were practically identical. The difference is that IU was whistled for 20 fouls but shot only 6 free throws. Illinois committed only 9 fouls but shot 20 free throws. That's not intended to be an indictment of the officials (in college basketball, one could write an entire blog about nothing else) but to point out the statistical difference.

IU won the rematch, 65-61 in Bloomington. Again, the two teams' stats were uncannily similar, even in free throws this time (IU shot 23 to the Illini's 20). IU shot just a tad better from the field and from the line and took care of the ball just a bit better than the Illini (14 turnovers compared to 17 for Illinois). IU's offense still wasn't pretty: only 9 assists on 23 field goals. To my rough calculation, even in the game at Bloomington, IU was at exactly 1 point per possession, below the season average. Because of the unfortunate drunk driving incident, Illinois is not the same team it was for either of this year's IU games. But Illinois will have the crowd today in Chicago, and this will be a tough one. It's a game that does have some importance for IU's NCAA seed. I am hopeful that a win and a strong showing against Wisconsin could put IU into the 6-seed range. The 7-8-9-10 range makes it much more difficult to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Obviously, the #2 and #1 seeds are the best teams in the country, meaning they are tougher to beat and less likely to fall in the first round. Two wins in the BTT likely would guarantee IU a seed in the 4-5-6 range, which is much better.
History: this will the sixth BTT matchup between IU and Illinois. The Illini are 4-1 against the Hoosiers in the BTT. In 1999, IU was the #3 seed (before this year, that's the only time IU has ever been seeded as high) and lost to the #11 seed Illinois, 82-66, which despite a poor regular season defeated #6 Minnesota, IU, and #2 Ohio State before losing to Michigan State in the final. In 2000, in the 4/5 game, Illinois defeated IU on a Cory Braford three pointer in the closing seconds, 72-69. In 2001, IU managed its only win. The #4 seeded Hoosiers upset the #1 Illini 58-56. In 2003, the teams again played a nailbiter in the semifinals, with Illinois prevailing 73-72. In 2004, in the second round, top-seeded Illinois graciously served as Dr. Kevorkian for IU's only losing season in the last 37 years, winning 71-59. It is worth noting that IU leads the all-time series against every Big Ten school except Purdue. Illinois is the only Big Ten team within striking distance, and the Illini's dominance of the Hoosiers in these BTT matchups is the main reason why. Since the advent of the BTT, IU and Illinois will have played 22 times, an average of more than two games a season.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Tournament begins tomorrow.

As I discussed in an earlier post, the Big Ten was very stratified this year. Ohio State and Wisconsin lost only two games to anyone other than each other. Minnesota, Northwestern, and Penn State won only two games against anyone other than each other. The middle six generally held serve against each other. So does that make tomorrow more interesting or less interesting? #8 Michigan plays # 9 Minnesota, #7 Michigan State plays #10 Northwestern, and #6 Illinois plays #11 Penn State. By seed, there has been at least one first day upset in every BTT except 2001 and 2005. This year, the bottom three really are the dregs of the conference. Will one of the underdogs win? The conventional wisdom among bracketologists is that OSU, Wisconsin, and IU are locks, with Illinois and Michigan State in fairly good shape. Oddly, two teams playing on day one are in good shape, while the teams in the 4/5 game, Iowa and Purdue, seem to be in trouble. All of these games have NCAA implications. Michigan might play itself into the tournament if they beat Minnesota and then try to upset OSU, which they nearly did last weekend. Illinois and Michigan State may play themselves out of the tournament if they lose their openers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

BTT history.

I know it makes me a bit of a pariah among college basketball fans in general and a full-fledged blasphemer in the traditionalist wing of the IU fan base, but I like the Big Ten Tournament. Certainly, I’m glad that the Big Ten doesn’t consider its tournament winner the “conference champion” (I believe that the ACC and Big East both consider the tournament champion to be the conference champion) and I don’t like that it takes away from the number of regular season conference games. Unlike one-bid leagues, the winner of the automatic bid nearly always would have been in anyway (in the nine year history of the BTT, Iowa’s 2001team is the only champion that entered the tournament on the bubble, and still may have been in had they lost to IU in the 2001 final on the strength of their three previous wins in the tournament). On the other hand, ten Big Ten games, all televised, all on neutral courts, in a four day span. What’s not to like? The games on days three and four almost always feature quality matchups, as does the 4-5 game on day two. Days one and two often have significant bubble implications.

The Big Ten has a nice summary page setting forth the history of the tournament. Here’s some info divined from that:

Tournament champions

Illinois, 2 (2003, 2005)
Iowa, 2 (2001, 2006)
Michigan State, 2 (1999, 2000)
Michigan, 1 (1998)
Ohio State, 1 (2002)
Wisconsin, 1 (2004)

Most wins

Illinois, 16
Iowa, 13
Michigan State, 10
Ohio State, 10
Wisconsin, 9
Indiana, 8
Michigan, 6
Minnesota, 6
Penn State, 5
Northwestern, 4
Purdue, 3

Winning percentage

Illinois, .695
Iowa, .650
Michigan State, .588
Ohio State, .556
Wisconsin, .529
Indiana, .470
Michigan, .400
Minnesota, .400
Penn State, .357
Northwestern, .307
Purdue, .250

Last to lose a BTT game for the first time: Michigan, which won its first four before losing to Ohio State in the 1999 quarterfinals. As far as the NCAA is concerned, none of that ever happened, but if we actually disregarded all of the games played by OSU, Michigan, and Minnesota at various points, we wouldn’t have much left.

Last to win a BTT game for the first time: Iowa in 2000. Penn State won its first earlier in the same day.
  • Wow, has Purdue been awful in the Big Ten Tournament. The Boilers have had four NCAA Tournament teams during the BTT era, but after advancing to the final game of the first BTT, Purdue has only one win in the last eight tournaments, a 2001 win in the 8/9 game over Minnesota. Purdue’s current six-game losing streak is the longest in BTT history.
  • This is no surprise to anyone who has followed the BTT, but Iowa is the main outlier. The wins and winning percentage rankings pretty closely follow conference performance during that period. Purdue is a bit low, but Iowa, ranking #2 in wins and winning percentage and tied for first in number of titles, has overachieved in the BTT.
  • Along those lines, Steve Alford, in seven Big Ten tournaments, has all 13 of Iowa’s wins, more than any other coach. Tom Izzo is second with 10 wins, but he has been at Michigan State since the BTT’s inception(he’s the only Big Ten coach who can say that). Bo Ryan has five wins in the BTT. He has been at Wisconsin only since 2002. Illinois’s 16 wins are allocated among three coaches: Lon Kruger (6), Bill Self (5), and Bruce Weber (5). Ohio State’s Jim O’Brien won 7 BTT games, as did Mike Davis. Bob Knight’s only BTT win was against #11 Ohio State in IU’s first BTT game in 1998.
  • Illinois won its first BTT game every year until 2006. IU, which lost its first game only in 1999, 2000, and 2005, is second only to Illinois in first-game performance. Of course, that stat does not distinguish between teams with and without a first round bye.
  • Of the #1 seeds, only Michigan State in 1999 and Illinois in 2005 won the tournament. It is fitting that only Iowa has defeated two #1 seeds. Minnesota, Penn State, Indiana, Ohio State, and Wisconsin have all defeated one top seed.
  • The class of 2001 was the fourth year of the Big Ten Tournament, meaning that the league's seniors had experienced the tournament every year. Since then, only three senior classes have failed to win a Big Ten Tournament game in their four years: Penn State '05, Purdue '05, and Purdue '06.

Postseason honors.

Not a banner year for the Hoosiers in terms of all-conference honors, but the Big Ten released its postseason awards today. Unsurprisingly, Alando Tucker, Greg Oden, and Thad Matta were player/freshman/coach of the year. Oden also received defensive player of the year. DJ White was named second team All Big Ten by both the media and coaches. Ditto Rod Wilmont for the third team. Earl Calloway was honorable mention from the media.

Also, for the first time in several years, IU held a postseason awards banquet. Nearly everyone received a trophy. DJ White and Rod Wilmont shared the Most Outstanding Player award. As IU fans for a certain age will recall, IU used to have such a banquet between the regular season and the NCAA tournament. In 1992, after IU blew a share of the Big Ten title by losing the season finale at Mackey against a mediocre Purdue team, Bob Knight (after a, er tense flight back to Bloomington), abruptly canceled the banquet, which was open to the public and served as the primary fundraiser for some nonprofit organization. That IU team recovered nicely, reaching the Final Four, but the banquet didn't return for 15 years.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Women lose in second round of Big Ten Tournament.

After noting that IU fans don't pay much attention to women's basketball, I completely forgot to mention that the women's team lost to top-seeded Ohio State 72-60 on Friday night. Mea maxima culpa. Ohio State and Purdue play for the title this evening. Because of her long-term commitment to Indiana University, we should all be rooting for Coach Versyp and the Boilers, right? Yeah, right. O! H! I! O!

Nice BTT article.

As promised, more to come on the Big Ten Tournament. For now, here's a link to a fun Teddy Greenstein article from the Chicago Tribune article with highlights and even an all-time all-tournament team for the six Big Ten Tournaments that have been played in Chicago. Again, note that the three tournaments played at Conseco are not part of the article. The Chicago media is sued to pretending that nothing important happens in Indiana, but at least this article is up-front about it.

Indiana 94, Penn State 63

It's nice to deliver an old-fashioned beatdown on Senior Night. Lots of fun in the second half, nice exits for the three seniors, and the whole nine yards. It does appear that the Senior Night festivities changed a bit. Under Knight and Davis, all postgame festivities were held for the end of the game. When Knight was at IU, he basically emceed the event, recognizing the senior cheerleaders, poms, and band members before moving on to the managers and players. Davis added the tradition of presenting the framed jersey, and Sampson seems to have added pregame introductions of the families and players while saving the speeches for postgame. Unfortunately, it's been a crazy weekend (crazy in the sense of home improvement, nursery preparation, and family dinners, not what would have passed for a crazy weekend a few years ago) and I haven't yet read or listened to the speeches. Thanks to the bye, we have five full business days before IU plays Illinois or Penn State (Illinois) in the last game of day two of the Big Ten Tournament. So, I'll double back on that issue this week as well as providing some retrospective numbers and preview stuff on the Big Ten Tournament. It's hard to believe that this will be the tenth Big Ten Tournament. It also will be the last in Chicago for the foreseeable future. Beginning next season, Conseco Fieldhouse will host the tournament for at least five years.
As for the game, what can be said? The Hoosiers spanked an inferior team trying to finish a really disappointing season. Penn State likes the zone defense, but that defense certainly allowed IU quite a few open three pointers. IU attempted 32 three point shots as compared to 25 from inside the arc. IU hit 17-32 from the field. Calloway and Wilmont both played admirably in their Assembly Hall finales. Calloway scored 15 points on nine shots. He hit 3 of 5 from three point range (don't tell Matt Painter--the kid can shoot!) and added 11 assists. Overall, IU managed 23 assists on 32 made baskets, and Earl himself assisted over a third of IU's baskets. Not shabby. Wilmont scored 21 points on 18 shots and had a couple of nice, crowd-pleasing breakaways, really nice for senior night. Errek Suhr scored only two points in his final game, but did manage a couple of assists. AJ Ratliff gets the trophy for most active stat line: 18 points on 8 shots, including 6 of 7 from three point range, and 5 fouls, all in 14 minutes. He even found time for a rebound and a turnover.
It's hard to take much from this game in the grand scheme of things. This was Penn State at home, IU's only home game against the #11 seed. Literally, this was the easiest Big Ten game of the season on paper, and the reality was consistent. Still, there were some pretty numbers in the box score from last night. IU scored in the neighborhood of 1.5 points per possession last night, while Penn State was around 1.0. IU had 13 offensive rebounds on only 25 missed shots and pulled down 19 of Penn State's 25 misses.

This was the first 20-win regular season since 2000 and first undefeated home season since 1994. Now that it's tournament time, IU can lose only two more games this season. Accordingly, IU's loss total will be the lowest since 1999-2000. In 2001, when the media was in the midst of its successful campaign to berate Myles Brand into hiring Mike Davis for the long run, much was made of the fact that Davis's 21 wins were the most for any first-year IU coach (although his winning percentage did not approach that of the first seasons of Bob Knight (17-8) or Branch McCracken (17-3). I haven't heard anyone mention it this year, but with one win in each of the upcoming tournaments, Kelvin Sampson will have won more games than any first-year IU coach.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Penn State Game.

Penn State Nittany Lions
Overall record: 11-17
Big Ten record: 2-13
RPI: 181
Sagarin: 153
Series record: IU leads 25-3 (23-3 since PSU joined the Big Ten in 1992-93)

Last year, Penn State improved to a near-.500 record and went 6-10 in the Big Ten with a young team. While many expected the Nittany Lions to move into the middle of the pack in this year's Big Ten standings, that did not happen. Instead, the Nittany Lions regressed, and lost 13 consecutive Big Ten games before upsetting Iowa earlier this week. While Penn State likely will tie for 10th in the league with Northwestern instead of having the cellar to itself, this season must have been a bitter pill for Penn State. Anyone who watched any part of the Iowa-Penn State game on ESPNU saw the unbelievably meager crowd on hand for Senior Night. Penn State has had short periods of success, but has had no sustained success since joining the Big Ten. After the false hope provided by last season's improvement, this season must feel like a kick in the fruitstand for the hardy few who follow Penn State's basketball program. As a supporter of the IU football program, I can identify.

On the Hoosier side, this game represents an important milestone, at least for me. I enrolled at IU in 1992-93, near the front end of IU's school record 50 game homecourt winning streak. The streak began in 1990-91 and ended in a loss to Michigan in 1994-95, near the end of my junior year. Accordingly, I consider any loss at Assembly Hall to be an abomination, a disgrace, and inexcusable failure. The Indianapolis Star has a graph today (not available on line as best as I can tell) that shows my standards may be a bit high in that regard. If IU beats Penn State today, this will be the eighth undefeated home season in the 36 year history of Assembly Hall. The others? The 1973 team, Bob Knight's first Big Ten champion and a Final Four participant. The 1975 team, which did not lose a single game until the regional final against Kentucky. The 1976 team, college basketball's last undefeated NCAA champion. The 1987 team, Indiana's last NCAA champion. The 1992 team, which advanced to the Final Four. The 1993 team, which finished the season ranked #1 in the nation but lost in the regional final to Kansas. The 1994 team, Knight's last IU team to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. With the exception of the 1994 team, the list of teams that went undefeated in the Hall is remarkably similar to a list of the best teams that have played at Assembly Hall, period. The 1981 NCAA champion is the only obvious omission. So, my belief that IU should win every game we play at home is probably unreasonable. And it's worth noting that this year's team, barring what would be the biggest upset in the Big Ten this season, will become the most limited team to have successfully defended the Hall for an entire season. This wasn't the toughest home schedule we have ever played, but we did manage to knock off second-ranked Wisconsin, so it isn't as if we didn't have at least one really challenging home game. IU now has a 16-game homecourt winning streak. So, congrats to the team and the new coaching staff for renewing our homecourt advantage. Also, today's Star notes that if IU wins today, it will be IU's first 20-win regular season since 1999-2000.

It is Senior Night, of course, and that means Roderick Wilmont, Errek Suhr, and Earl Calloway will be making their final appearances at Assembly Hall. None of the three will go down in the record books as all-time greats, but all have contributed in their own ways.

Rod Wilmont has been the most productive of the bunch. He has always been a hot and cold shooter, but finally, as a senior, was more hot than cold and became a reliable scoring threat. He has still had bad games, but finally emerged as a top player. Wilmont shot an astoundingly awful .296 from the field/.258 from three as a freshman. He shot .391/.410 as a sophomore, .424/.325 as a junior, and this year is shooting .442/.410. Rod has become a more efficient scorer every season.

Errek Suhr has contributed sporadically in each of his four seasons. He grew up in Bloomington as a Hoosier fan and and had the honor of wearing the uniform as an invited walk-on. He is now on scholarship, but certainly knew that he might do nothing but ride the pine for four years. Instead, he managed to become an important part of the team.

Earl Calloway came on strong at the end of last season and played very well in the NCAA Tournament. He had 13 points, 10 assists, and 9 boards in the loss to Gonzaga. Earl continued that into last year and has been IU's undisputed floor leader. His absence in recent games certainly hurt the Hoosiers, and perhaps cost us a signature road win at Michigan State.

Absent a really improbable tournament run, this class is going to leave IU without having won a championship of any kind and without appearing in the Final Four. Hopefully, in a few years these guys can look back and realize that the were a part of the beginning of a special era in IU basketball history. Thanks for your contribution, men.

Friday, March 2, 2007

IU women defeat Iowa in Big Ten tournament.

The Hoosiers prevailed comfortably in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, defeating Iowa 67-53. IU faces Ohio State, the top seed, tonight. OSU was as dominant in women’s basketball this season as they were in men’s basketball, so this is a tall order for IU.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Women's Big Ten Tournament

Unlike our two neighbors to the north within Indiana, IU’s women’s program has never gained much traction with the fanbase. It’s hard to say why, and it’s a chicken-egg scenario. Maybe the team would be better with more fan support, maybe the fans would come out if the team were more competitive.

It really has been a rough road for the women’s program in recent years. Former coach Kathi Bennett was seriously injured in a car accident during her tenure at IU. After a promising first season, Sharon Versyp bolted for Purdue, her alma mater (how could Rick Greenspan have not had a Purdue-specific buyout or non-compete provision?). Former coach Jim Izard, who led IU to the NCAA Tournament when I was in school in the mid 1990s, committed suicide under strange circumstances. Still, the one positive moment in recent years for the women’s program was the 2002 Big Ten Tournament title. The Hoosiers defeat #1 seed Purdue in the semifinals and #2 Penn State in the final. This is the tenth year of the men’s Big Ten Tournament, and given the relative stature of the men’s and women’s basketball programs, it is hard to believe that the women have IU’s only Big Ten Tournament title.

This year’s Hoosiers enter the tournament 6-10 in the Big Ten and 17-13 overall. IU had a nice win over a ranked Western Kentucky team in the pre-conference but clearly struggled a bit in the league. IU is ranked #60 in the latest RPI projections, so presumably they will have to win the whole thing again to make it to the NCAA.

I won’t feign expertise on women’s basketball (I’ll talk about all IU teams on this site, but I will only feign expertise on football and men’s basketball). Instead, here’s a link to a nice tournament nutshell from the Indianapolis Star.