Thursday, March 27, 2008

Coaching search and other housekeeping.

There isn't much well-sourced info out there on the coaching search. The less-than-credible New York Daily News reports that Scott Skiles will interview for the job. Skiles is unemployed, so it certainly is plausible that he would submit to a conventional interview, but what are the odds that a New York paper known for peddling gossip would scoop every Indiana reporter?
In any event, be sure to check out Inside the Hall, which is running profiles of the various rumored candidates. ITH already has profiled Tom Crean, Tony Bennett, Sean Miller, Bruce Pearl, and Scott Skiles (and perhaps more).
Of course, there are plenty of suspected IU candidates in action this weekend. Xavier and Sean Miller play West Virginia tonight in one of the early games, and Tony Bennett's Washington State team tries to shut down another potent offense, that of top-ranked North Carolina. One of the late games features Bruce Pearl of Tennessee against Rick Pitino of Louisville, either, both, or neither of whom may be in the mix, depending on the source. Certainly, the outcome of these games could affect the pace of IU's search.
As for me, my presence here for the next ten days is likely to be sporadic. I'll certainly try to get online if IU hires a coach next week, but no guarantees.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More on spring practice/Kellen Lewis.

The Hoosier Scoop has a nice discussion of the first day of spring practice. The most interesting snippet:
The only new information we learned about the status of Kellen Lewis is that Lewis will miss the entire spring. Coach Bill Lynch said he’s hopeful that Lewis will be back with IU’s team for voluntary workouts this summer.
This isn't a direct quote, so I'm not going to get too involved in reading the tea leaves, but IU's site has a video up, so I may watch it later today and try to post exactly what Lynch said. Still, hopefully Lynch wouldn't be talking about KL's return if he didn't think it were a realistic possibility.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring practice begins.

Just in time to salve the wounds of the most painful basketball season in decades, spring football begins. As I said last year, I hate spring football, spring games, the whole thing. It's just a gigantic tease. But if it's your cup of tea, enjoy it. For the first time in eons, IU preview articles will not mention a long bowl drought. Unfortunately, those previews will mention the indefinite suspension of IU's best and most important player, quarterback Kellen Lewis. I recommend following the Hoosier Scoop, which will have reporters on site as often as allowed, I'm sure.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Random tournament and coaching thoughts.

Now that all of Indiana's teams have been eliminated, IU fans will be focused on the performance of Big Ten survivors Wisconsin and Michigan State and on IU coaching targets, not necessarily in that order. Again, with the caveat that we have no idea who actually is under consideration, here are the remaining coaches who have been "mentioned" in media reports:
  • I would guess that any IU fan who watched Washington State's demolition of Notre Dame's potent and fast-paced offense came away impressed with Bennett. I've been high on Bennett from the beginning and came away from that game completely impressed. His Cougars play top-ranked North Carolina.
  • The other game in the East features two guys, Rick Pitino and Bruce Pearl, who have been mentioned as possible candidates. Clearly, Pearl would seem to be the more realistic candidate.
  • In the Midwest, 12 seed Villanova and Jay Wright will play Kansas. I don't know that Wright would be interested in or a good fit at IU, but he seems to be drawing some mention.
  • In the West, Sean Miller, whose Xavier team beat Purdue on Saturday, will face the 7 seed West Virginia with a chance to play the winner of UCLA-Western Kentucky.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Arkansas 86, Indiana 72.

Well, that's that. Faced with the slight of an eight seed in the NCAA Tournament, IU responded by playing like a 16 seed. Actually, that's not fair. The 16 seeds actually play like they want to be there.
As was somewhat expected, The Razorbacks' big men had a big day. Here's the box score.
In terms of offensive efficiency, this was IU's second-worst defensive performance of the year (behind the freakish game at Michigan State), allowing 1.29 points per possession and 86 points in a 66 possession game. Arkansas shot 68 percent from the field in the second half and 54 percent overall. The Hoosiers, meanwhile, shot 43 percent from the field and a respectable 41 percent from the three. As with the last few losses, while it's fun to point to various statistics, IU's finish (losing four out of five games) can almost entirely be attributed to Eric Gordon's loss of his outside shot. Gordon was 3-15 from the field, 0-6 from behind the arc, and even 2-6 from the line. Absent Gordon, IU shot just over 50 percent from the field (25-49) and 10-16 from the arc. While IU's defense was poor (Arkansas shot well from the field and very well from the line),
Gordon, more than in any poor shooting performance this season, really hurt the team. I hope that Gordon's slump is related to the injury and that he will recover, because otherwise, it is nearly impossible to explain.
Arkansas disregarded its balanced approach, and why not? Leading scorer Sonny Weems scored a career-high 31 points on 12-14 from the field. IU's defense was hideous. As for IU's individuals, I've already mentioned Gordon's line. The others:
  • DJ White weas reasonably good: 22 points on 10-16, 9 rebounds.
  • Armon Bassett is the only reason last night wasn't a Colorado/St. Johns/Pepperdine style blowout: 7-9 from the field, 5-7 from three, 21 points.
  • Lance Stemler, after slumping for the better part of his two year career, of course rediscovered his stroke in his final game as a Hoosier: 9 points on 3-5 from behind the arc.
  • In my discussion with Hawgblog, I mentioned that Jordan Crawford might be a surprise. Well, he certainly surprised me: 0-5 from the field, 2 rebounds, 0 points, 4 assists.

That was a predictable end to a once-promising season. Now, it's on to the coaching search. There is an interesting nexus between games of local interest and IU's coaching search:

  • Purdue plays Sean Miller and Xavier today at 4:40.
  • Notre Dame plays Tony Bennett and Washington State at 6:40. This will be a really intriguing game, to see how ND's highly efficient, fast-paced offense compares to WSU's highly efficient, slow-paced offense.
  • Michigan State plays Jamie Dixon's Pitt squad at 9:10. Dixon is getting some mention these days.
  • Tomorrow, Butler plays Bruce Pearl and Tennessee.

Dan Dakich made some interesting comments after the game. He seems to be getting beaten up for those comments in some quarters, but I'm not quite sure why. He thinks he should get the job, and made a forceful argument about the culture and tradition of IU basketball. Hoosier Scoop has the transcript: I don't agree that Dakich should be the coach, but I don't disagree with much else of what he says. Davis didn't understand the tradition or culture of IU basketball at all. Sampson paid lip service to it. I don't think IU's next coach has to have an IU background but he does have to understand, appreciate, and live by IU's standards.

Friday, March 21, 2008


I set forward the tempo-free numbers earlier this week here. The short story: comparable on defense, IU has the edge in offense, Arkansas has played much better lately. The biggest concern is the size of Arkansas's interior players and the Hogs' shot-blocking ability. IU has struggled against teams like that, most conspicuously against Connecticut. Here are the individuals to watch:
  • Senior Darian Townes averages 12 points and 1 blocks a game and shoots 54 percent from the field;
  • Seven-footer Steven Hill plays only 19 minutes a game but averages 2.4 blocks per game. He doesn't shoot much (4.4 ppg) but he shoots 68 percent from the field;
  • Senior Sonny Weems (6-6) is the Hogs' leading scorer at 14.3 ppg and shoots 36 percent from three point range;
  • Sophomore Patrick Beverly averages 12 points a game and shoots 38 percent on about 5 three point attempts per game;
  • Gary Ervin appears to be the point guard and averages 9.6 ppg/3.7apg. He shoots quite a bit, but not with much success: 44 percent from the field and 29 percent from behind the arc (although Eric Gordon's numbers are rapidly descending to that level);
  • Charles Thomas averages 8.9 ppg despite only 21 minutes per game.

Overall, Arkansas has a balanced attack, with five guys averaging between about 9 and 14 points a game. Well, as usual, no grand predictions from me. On paper, IU had a much better season than Arkansas and should be able to win if the Hoosier can recapture their ways of the first three quarters of the season. Unfortunately, IU has shown no signs of returning to form, so if forced to pick a straight-up winner I would pick Arkansas. Still, hopefully some combination of Dakich, DJ, and self-respect will compel the team to play well and advance to the second round.

Blog exchange with Hawg Blog.

I have exchanged some questions and answers with Hawg Blog, which as the name would suggest is an Arkansas blog, as a prelude to tomorrow night's matchup. Below is the first half of the exchange, and Hawg Blog has published the second half.
HR: Hawgblog, introduce us to your team. What players should IU fans fear, what are your strengths and weak spots, and how did your season turn out compared to preseason expectations in year one of the Pelphrey era?
HB: If I were the Hoosiers I'd be afraid of Arkansas Guard Patrick Beverly getting a hot hand on the perimeter. That will pull the defense away from the basket and allow Charles Thomas and Darrien Townes to dominate inside. The problem is Beverly, and the rest of the team for that matter, is streaky at best. Arkansas tends to get mentally lazy sometimes and you wouldn't expect it out of a team with this many seniors. But when there on their game they can beat anyone in the country (see victories over Tennessee and Vanderbilt), when they're not it gets ugly fast (see loss to Appalachian St). As far as Pelphrey goes I give the man a solid B+. He coached as well as can be expected with players who were recruited to play a more Big Ten style of basketball. I thought we'd finish with between 18 and 21 wins and sneak into the tourney before the season started. So, I guess I got about what I expected. Looking forward, when Pelphrey gets a couple of recruiting classes under his belt, I see a bright future ahead.
For those of us who haven't been following IU basketball, what exactly happened with Kelvin Sampson? The Hoosiers were ranked in the top ten, looking at a possible Final Four run, and it looks like it's fallen apart. Are you surprised how the team has reacted to his resignation?

HR: Well, the short story is that when IU hired Sampson in 2006, he was under investigation for improper phone calls at Oklahoma. In October 2007, IU self-reported to the NCAA that Sampson's staff had committed violations and included him in three way calls, in violation of NCAA rules and of Sampson's probation, but supposedly without Sampson's knowledge. In February, the NCAA enforcement staff issued its report, which concluded that Sampson knew he was involved in three way calls and had lied to IU and to the NCAA about it. After a short investigation by IU, Sampson "resigned" and took a pennies-on-the-dollar buyout. It's all pretty ugly. Just two years after our first true coaching search in 35 years, our once-pristine basketball program is without a coach and headed for probation.

I'm not sure if I'm surprised about the team's play. I really didn't know what to expect, because when has a team as highly ranked as IU was ever lost its coach a month before the NCAA Tournament? There's just no precedent. It does seem that there is some dissension on the team and not much rapport between interim coach Dan Dakich and many of the players. While I'm disappointed that the team hasn't been mentally stronger, I wish those who are sulking, if anyone, realize they are only hurting themselves. While IU hasn't played well since the resignation of Sampson, IU's biggest problem has been Eric Gordon's shooting slump. From the Purdue game (Sampson's last game) to present, Gordon is 33-96 from the field (34%) and 8-47 (17%) from three point range. He may have aggravated a wrist injury from earlier in the season, but for all the strife and sulking and subpar play, if Gordon were shooting just a bit closer to his ability we would have won a couple more games in the last three weeks.

If there's any basketball program that rivals IU for soap opera stuff, it's Arkansas. Like IU and Bob Knight, Arkansas and the great Nolan Richardson are on the outs. And then there was the whole Dana Altman episode. How do Arkansas fans regard Richardson and his legacy today? Are the fans divided about him or is there consensus? Any hope for reconciliation?

HB: Last March I figured if Stan Heath didn't pull thru and win at least a game in the NCAA's he'd be done and ol' Frank Broyles still had one good firing in him. Sure enough Stan was gone after the loss to USC and the search was on. The thing was this...Frank was sure he could get Billy Gillispie to come to Fayetteville from Texas A&M. What Frank didn't count on was the Kentucky job opening up and Gillispie passing him over. Which left Arkansas scrambling to fill it's vacancy. Enter Altman from Creighton...and Exit Altman. This left so much egg on Broyles' face that he gave up the search to a search firm where we were extremely lucky to land Pelphrey.That's the funny think about Broyles, it was always hard for him to let things go. Which leads me to Richardson. Most of the wounds are healing around the state in regards to Nolan. It took longer than it should have since Richardson sued the University for discrimination and wrongful termination. But now most regard him as a great basketball coach who let his personal political feelings get in the way. Although, most who wanted him gone now recognize how good he was. Richardson and 9 members of the '94 championship squad were recognized at a Northwest Arkansas Tip-Off Club meeting last month. New Arkansas AD Jeff Long was in attendance and met Richardson for the first time. Media reports from the meeting stated that there is a possibility of a ceremony recognizing the 15th anniversary of the '94 title team being set for next season and that Long and Richardson planned to talk more at a later date. This was all before Richardson flirted with the Arkansas State head coaching job last week. So, we'll see what happens.
With IU announcing that they've formed a search committee to fill your head coaching vacancy, who do you think would be a good fit as a head coach at IU? Can IU still draw a big name with the sanctions hanging above the program?
HR: That's nice to hear about Richardson. I hope that IU and Knight can make some progress some day, but I'm not holding my breath.

There seem to be two schools of thought on the issue. Some think that IU will attempt to hit a home run and will attempt to land someone like Bruce Pearl of Tennessee or Rick Barnes of Texas, guys who are doing well where they are but who will never be "the king" in the way that a basketball coach is at IU (Sampson to IU and Gillispie to Kentucky fit this general pattern). The other school of thought is that IU, particularly given the sanctions issue, might be a better fit for a young up-and-comer. The most common names mentioned from that category are Tony Bennett of Washington State (Wisconsin native with strong midwestern ties), Sean Miller of Xavier (recruits Indiana well, humiliated IU in a preseason tournament), and Brad Brownell of Wright State (Indiana native who has taken two mid-major programs to the NCAA Tournament).

One thing that IU fans have learned in recent years is to distrust information from those who claim to be in the know. When current AD Rick Greenspan hired the late Terry Hoeppner to coach the football team, news didn't leak until Hep told his players at Miami. During the last basketball search, Sampson's name didn't leak until Andy Katz broke the story hours before the introductory press conference. Whether the involvement of a more high-profile search committee will result in more leaks, I don't know. But just to be clear, all of the above is speculation. If history is any guide, IU will hire someone not on the list.

As for the sanctions, I really don't know. I'm not sure that successful coaches are terribly intimidated by such things. While I think it's unlikely that IU will face a postseason ban, unfortunately, IU is in uncharted water. IU has never had a major violation in basketball and hasn't had one in any sport since the late 1950s. While that would normally work in IU's favor, on the other hand, IU hired a coach who was in NCAA trouble and he and his staff committed the similar offenses at IU. So, will the NCAA treat IU as a repeat offender even though we technically are not? Will we get brownie points for self-reporting and an aggressive investigation? Those are the big questions, and any new coach is going to have to accept some short-term uncertainty. I tend to think that the prestige of the IU job along with some ongoing facilities improvements will allow IU to hire a very good coach, but it may dissuade some of the household names from considering the job.
Again, be sure to check in with Hawg Blog for the second half of our discussion.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arkansas through the years.

While many would consider Arkansas a football school, the school does have a fine basketball tradition. The Razorbacks are 37-29 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, ranking #17 in all-time Tournament wins. Arkansas has been to the Final Four six times (1941, 1945, 1978, 1990, 1994, 1995) and won the NCAA title in 1994. Arkansas was the dominant basketball program of the old Southwest Conference, winning the conference title 22 times before moving to the SEC in 1991-92.
One thing Arkansas has in common with IU? Acrimonious relationships with former coaches and general coaching upheaval. The fallout after the Knight firing in 2000 is well-known around here. In 2002, Nolan Richardson, who led the Hogs to three Final Four appearances and the 1994 title, was ousted amid his accusations of racially discriminatory treatment by the university. Richardson sued the university unsuccessfully. Knight and Richardson are somewhat unusual as NCAA champion coaches who are on the outs with the schools where they had their greatest success. Arkansas hired Stan Heath in 2002. Heath is best known among IU fans for leading the Kent State team that lost to IU in the 2002 South Regional final. Heath was let go after last season, and Creighton coach Dana Altman was introduced as the new Arkansas coach before backing out within a day or so.
  • From 1990 through 1996, Arkansas reached the Sweet 16 or beyond 6 times in 7 seasons. Arkansas hasn't played on the second weekend since then.
  • Arkansas's current coach is John Pelphrey, a former Kentucky player who was a member of "the Unforgettables," Kentucky's 1992 team that exceeded all expectations and is best remembered for losing in the 1992 Elite Eight on Christian Laettner's shot.
  • Arkansas has lost in the first round in its last four NCAA Tournament appearances. The Hogs last won a Tournament game in 1999 (Siena). Arkansas last defeated a team from one of the six "power conferences" in 1998 (Nebraska in the first round).
  • On the flip side, IU has now won four consecutive first round games (Utah in 2002, Alabama in 2003, San Diego State in 2006, and Gonzaga in 2007). IU's last first round loss was to Kent State in 2001.
  • IU won its first game of the Tournament in nine consecutive appearances from 1973 through 1984. After winning in the first round in his first nine NCAA appearances, Bob Knight went 8-7 in the first round from 1986-2000. Mike Davis and Kelvin Sampson then went 4-1 from 2001-2007.
  • Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, this is the seventh time IU has faced a "power conference" opponent in Round 1. IU is 2-4 with wins over Oklahoma (1998) and Alabama (2003) and with losses to California (1990), Missouri (1995), Boston College (1996), and Colorado (1997).
  • Arkansas is 4-1 all time in NCAA Tournament games against Big Ten opponents: Arkansas beat Purdue (second round 1983), Iowa (first round 1985), Michigan (regional final 1994), and Penn State (first round 1996) and lost to Iowa (second round 1999).
  • IU is 9-2 all time in NCAA Tournament games against SEC opponents. IU beat LSU (national semifinals in 1953), LSU (1954 consolation game), Tennessee (1955 consolation game), Kentucky (1973 regional final), Alabama (1976 Sweet 16), LSU (1981 national semifinal), LSU (1987 regional final), LSU (1992 second round), and Alabama (2003 first round). IU lost to Kentucky in the 1975 regional final and the 1983 Sweet 16.
  • Beating an SEC team historically is a good omen for the Hoosiers. IU has defeated an SEC team en route to six of its eight Final Four appearances and four of five NCAA championships. Indeed, setting aside the 1954 and 1955 consolation game wins, the 2003 win over Alabama is the only win over an SEC team that didn't lead to a Final Four bid.

The Chicago Sun-Times steps to the plate and other miscellany.

This search has been short on idiocy, but the Chicago Sun-Times is trying to make up for lost time. Here's what the S-T (via Inside the Hall) says:
Indiana University is expected to contact former Bulls coach Scott Skiles as it launches its coaching search, according to a source. Skiles was born in LaPorte, Ind. and led Plymouth High School to the 1982 Indiana state championship.
He’s maintained a house in Bloomington, Ind., where he is now and lives during the NBA’s offseason. The Bulls fired Skiles on Dec. 24. He went 165-172 and helped turn around a laughingstock of an organization into a playoff team that advanced to the second round last year. Skiles would not comment on the possibility of coaching Indiana.
Who says? "A source." Not "a source close to the search," not "a source with knowledge of the Indiana athletic department," just "a source." If the S-T had any more information on this source that would explain why we should believe him or her, the S-T would give us that information.
Skiles, like Randy Wittman and Steve Alford the last time around, strikes me as a "conventional wisdom candidate." He's from Indiana, he lives in Bloomington, so of course he is the subject of rumors. During the last search, I heard from superficially credible, connected people that Steve Alford had been given the job and it was just a matter of time. I heard the exact same thing about Randy Wittman. Now, I realize that I may end up being the idiot. Perhaps Scott Skiles will be the coach. If I were running IU's athletic department, I would have grave reservations about hiring a coach who never has had a professional reason to crack open the NCAA rulebook to lead a program that will be on probation, but anything can happen. Again, I may be wrong, and did not foresee Sampson last time, but I will be surprised if Skiles is the pick, and even more surprised if there is anything to this report.
In other news, I have heard through the grapevine that on ESPN Radio this morning, Mike & Mike declared that if IU beats North Carolina, "how can Indiana not hire Dakich," etc. I hope, first of all, that IU doesn't get run off the court by Arkansas. But suppose that IU and North Carolina do play in the second round. IU, until this week, was ranked all season long and spent some time in the top 10. Even after last week's losses to Penn State and Minnesota, IU is ranked between 16 and 23 by the major computer rankings. ESPN "Bracketologist" Joe Lunardi still expected IU to be a 5 seed. IU has two of the best players in the country (DJ White and Eric Gordon) and two other guards (Armon Bassett and Jordan Crawford) who are capable of taking over games when they are shooting well. If those four guys play well and if Tyler Hansbrough gets in foul trouble, it's not at all difficult to imagine IU beating UNC, and it wouldn't be among the top 50 upsets in NCAA Tournament history.
To be clear, I don't expect it to happen. I wouldn't even take even odds for the Arkansas game. But even if the NCAA selection committee is correct, IU is the #32 team in the country. If IU plays like it did for most of the season, IU is probably more like a #10-#15 team. Top-ranked teams lose to teams like this IU team multiple times every single year. There are bigger upsets in the NCAA Tournament every year. The idea that the outcome of one 40-minute game between two talented teams should be the only consideration in a search for a long-term leader for the IU basketball program is batshit. It's absurd and insane, and having been through this interim garbage before, I'm really sick of it. Why do media members so love every single interim coach? In 2000-01, two Big Ten programs were led by interim coaches: IU by Mike Davis and Wisconsin by Brad Soderberg. IU caved to media pressure and hired a guy who isn't fit to be a head coach anywhere, and despite the improbable run in 2002 the program still hasn't recovered. Wisconsin, despite a nice season and NCAA Tournament bid, conducted a thoughtful search and came up with a guy who has turned Wisconsin (Wisconsin!) into one of the best programs in the country. The idea that one upset win entitles an interim coach to a long-term contract worth millions of dollars just makes my blood boil.
Other miscellaneous items:
  • Yes, IU appointed a committee this week. I haven't commented because I don't think it's a big deal. I would guess that Greenspan still be be doing the legwork on the candidates and that the committee will be in more of a strategic, thumbs-up-thumbs-down position rather than watching game film and breaking down statistics.
  • This has nothing to do with IU or with basketball (and it's about Northwestern, so it certainly has nothing to do with the NCAA Tournament), but Lake the Posts, an excellent blog that covers with good humor the Big Ten's least prestigious athletic department, has committed acts of journalism. In 2005, before the LTP blog existed, its author conducted an in-depth video interview of former Northwestern football coach Gary Barnett, and LTP is rolling out the video in a multi-part series this week. Even if you don't care a bit about Northwestern, it's no exaggeration to say that Barnett's turnaround of the NU football program is one of the most remarkable stories in the history of American sport. Check it out. Part one is here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Indiana vs. Arkansas: tale of the tape.

Here's a quick comparison of tempo-free stats for IU and Arkansas, courtesy of Pomeroy's scouting reports for the Hoosiers and the Razorbacks (the parenthetical is the national rank), and other factors such as computer ratings. My usual color-coding won't work really well considering that the two teams wear the same colors. Since IU used to wear fire engine red, this is Indiana and this is Arkansas:
Record: IU 25-7; UA 22-11
RPI: IU 23; UA 32
Sagarin: IU 19; UA 39
Pace: IU 67.1 (167); UA 69.2 (92)
Raw efficiency: IU 110.7 (34); UA 106.4 (90)
Adjusted efficiency: IU 116.4 (21); UA 11.0 (58)
Effective FG%: IU 52.4 (72); UA 51.7 (100)
Offensive rebound %: IU 36.2 (59); UA 38.0 (21)
Turnover %: IU 20.0 (106); UA 22.0 (235)
Free throw rate: IU 32.6 (11); UA 24.9 (186)
3 point %: IU 34.6 (186); UA 33.9 (216)
2 point %: IU 52.6 (37); UA 52.0 (49)
Free throw %: IU 76.3 (10); UA 67.2 (233)
Block %: IU 7.9 (76); UA 9.8 (230)
Steal %: IU 9.0 (97); UA 9.8 (156)
3PA/FGA: IU 34.8 (161); UA 30.2 (267)
Assists/made field goals: IU 52.0 (233); UA 54.4 (176)

Raw efficiency: IU 95.4 (42); UA 96.5 (55)
Adjusted efficiency: IU 90.9 (31); UA 91.3 (35)
Effective FG%: IU 46.9 (48); UA 47.4 (63)
Offensive rebound %: IU 28.9 (30); UA 31.6 (110)
Turnover %: IU 19.4 (258); UA 21.2 (155)
Free throw rate: IU 30.0 (48); UA 36.5 (169)
3 point %: IU 33.9 (103); UA 32.6 (47)
2 point %: IU 44.7 (43); UA 46.6 (100)
Block %: IU 10.3 (90); UA 14.6 (13)
Steal %: IU 10.4 (140); UA 10.0 (165)
3PA/FGA: IU 35.6 (218); UA 35.3 (206)
Assists/made field goals: IU 56.1 (209); UA 52.3 (100)
It's not terribly surprising that although this is an 8/9 matchup, IU has a decided statistical advantage. IU is an eight seed because of abysmal recent performance, which hasn't been quite bad enough for long enough to ruin IU's once-excellent overall numbers. Still, IU's offense seems to be a bit more effective that the Razorbacks' offense while the defenses are fairly comparable. Arkansas blocks lots of shots and plays good three point defense, which, given Eric Gordon's recent slump, is not good news. On the flip side, IU excels at getting to the free throw line and Arkansas sends its opponents to the line quite a bit. If the three isn't falling, Gordon should drive early and often (but carefully, given the Hogs' shot-blocking prowess).
Given the coverage, which has centered on how IU needs to pick up the pace against Arkansas, I was surprised to see the Hogs' middling pace of 69.2 possessions per game, only 2.1 more per game than IU. In the linked article, Dan Dakich mention the Arkansas-Tennessee game in the SEC Tournament, but that 72 possession game was close to Tennessee's average than to that of Arkansas. Arkansas broke to 70 possession barrier only 6 times in 19 SEC games (compared to 4 times in 19 Big Ten games for IU). Certainly, Arkansas plays faster, but they aren't exactly like Loyola Marymount was in the 1980s.
More on Arkansas's season and individuals as the week continues.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Initial thoughts.

I haven't done a bit of homework yet, but I'll have much more to say about the Razorbacks as the week progresses. As for the bracket overall:
  • It seems that the NCAA loved some clever matchups this year: the two freshman phenoms, Michael Beasley of Kansas State and OJ Mayo of Southern Cal, will play in the first round. I wonder if the possible UNC-IU matchup in round 2 was at all influenced by the opportunity for some more blathering about Dan Dakich's defense against Michael Jordan during IU's 1984 upset of top-ranked UNC.
  • Not that I am banking on IU beating Arkansas--not in the least. The last time the committee tried to set up an IU-UNC matchup in round two was in 1997, when Dean Smith was on pace to break Adolph Rupp's record in the second round (in Winston-Salem, of course--has a highly ranked team from Duke or UNC ever had to leave the state for a first round game?). Unfortunately for CBS (I'm sure Jim Nantz had some schmaltzy catch-phrases ready for the Knight-Smith matchup), Chauncey Billups and Colorado made damn sure that IU wasn't going anywhere.
  • Speaking of Arkansas, this will be only the second meeting between these two tradition-rich programs. I have no idea if the committee knew that. The only previous meeting was in Bloomington on December 15, 1949. IU won 75-50.
  • Another little tidbit: the East region is the honorary "IU coaching search bracket." Including Dakich, five of the 16 coaches have been the subject of media speculation about the IU job: Washington State's Tony Bennett, Notre Dame's Mike Brey, Louisville's Rick Pitino, and Tennessee's Bruce Pearl.

NCAA to Big Ten: drop dead.

IU is seeded #8, playing an improving Arkansas team that finished second in the SEC tournament. If IU wins its first game on in Raleigh, NC on Friday, the Hoosiers will play top-ranked North Carolina on Sunday. Other than Michigan State, which is a five, #3 seed Wisconsin and #6 seed Purdue seem a bit low. Clearly, the Committee did not believe in the Big Ten this year, and IU in particular seems to have been knocked down because of its recent play. Much more later, of course.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Minnesota 59, Indiana 58.

Here's the box score. I'm not going to elaborate on the game much. Minnesota owned the first half of the first half, and IU stormed back in the next 20 minutes so that the teams could fight it out at the end. While I don't think any of the foul calls in IU's favor at the end were bad calls, I do admit that it's unusual for officials to blow the whistle so often in the closing seconds. I think officials should apply the same rules in the last 30 seconds that they apply in the first 39:30, but unquestionably, IU benefited from this rarity but could not capitalize. I have a hard time blaming Dan Dakich for much regarding this team. He's in an tough spot. But Dakich was on the bench as an assistant coach for the 1987 NCAA final. In light of that and Knight's philosophy on guarding the in-bounds man (Derrick Coleman in the 1987 game--He threw a full court pass with one second remaining that was intercepted by Keith Smart), I was surprised that Dakich had Jordan Crawford guarding the in-bounds pass instead of serving as a free safety. Perhaps Dakich feared, given how whistle-happy the officials had been at IU's end of the court, that a 5 on 4 situation might increase the risk of a foul.
I may come back later and break down the box score, but probably not. Yesterday, PJS mocked the common cliche that it's tough to beat a team three times in a season. While it isn't universally true, when the twice vanquished team is a decent, well-coached team (as opposed to a cellar-dweller), I think it applies. Now the shoe is on the other foot. As PJS reports today, Illinois has defeated Minnesota 19 times in a row, including twice this season.
Well, perhaps the only people more disappointed than IU and Purdue players and fans in yesterday's results are Jim Delany and ticket brokers. As I discussed earlier, both sides of the most intense rivalry in the conference have been down during the 11 year history of the conference tournament. Just when it looked as if the Big Ten was looking at a marquee semifinal matchup and a local school in the final, Illinois and Minnesota intervened. It will make for some compelling TV, however. Both the Illinois-Minnesota semifinal and the title game now will be essentially NCAA play-in games. I'm sure I speak for 99 percent of IU fans when I say go Gophers. Better Tubby than Squeaky.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Minnesota: Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Current record: 19-12
Big Ten record: 8-10 (plus 1-0 in BTT)
Current RPI: 101
Current Sagarin: 62
2006-07 record: 9-22
2006-07 RPI: 191
2006-07 Sagarin: 167
Series: IU leads 87-63
Last IU win: 3/5/08 (69-55 in Bloomington)
Last Minnesota win: 1/29/06 (61-42 in Minneapolis)
Big Ten Tournament meetings: 1 (2005: #5 Minnesota 71, #4 IU 55)
TV: 9 pm Friday, Big Ten Network
IU's last win came just over a week ago against the Gophers, and now IU must try to beat the Gophers for the third time this season. IU has accomplished that feat only once during the Big Ten Tournament era: in 1997-98, IU beat the 11 seed Ohio State three times. Before that, IU hadn't defeated a Big Ten team three times in a season since 1976, when IU beat Michigan twice in the regular season and then in the NCAA title game. During the regular season, IU was 5-0 against the remaining teams in IU's half of the bracket, so any team IU might play in the next couple of rounds will be highly motivated (IU was 4-3 against the remaining teams on the other side and 5-1 against the eliminated). Although IU is 5-0 against Minnesota, Purdue, and Illinois this year, IU is a combined 1-7 against those teams in the BTT. The only time IU and Minnesota have met in the BTT was in 2005, when "we were the four seed. We were the four seed. We were the four seed." Am I imagining this odd Mike Davis press conference moment? I try to find independent documentation on Google, and I keep finding this blog. Humor me.
The game in Minneapolis this season was down to the wire, and Minnesota was ahead by a point in the game in Bloomington with about 8 minutes left in the second half before IU outscored the Gophers by 15 down the stretch. Here's my recap of the last game. Most significantly, IU took good care of the ball against the Gophers compared to the turnover-fest in game one. Looking back at my recap of game one, my recap may seem overly giddy, but at that point Minnesota was 12-4 and thinking NCAA Tournament. The Gophers managed to vastly improve on last season, but struggled against the upper tier of the conference. Minnesota was 0-7 against the top four in the conference and 7-3 against everyone else. The killer games, the games that mean Minnesota likely has to win the tournament to get to the tournament, were the two losses to Illinois. Absent those losses, Minnesota would 20-10 (10-8) and somewhere on the bubble, at least with a chance to make the tournament with an upset or two of a top four team.
In any event, the Gophers are what they are, a solid, improved team that certainly was competitive with IU for about 70 of the 80 minutes they have played this year. IU is struggling, but unquestionably can beat the Gophers again. At this point, no outcome would surprise me. IU could win 3 in a row or could lose by 20 tomorrow night. We will see.

Two down, two upsets.

It's been a good day for the dark jerseys here in Indianapolis. In game one, #9 Michigan beat #8 Iowa 55-47. In game two, #10 Illinois upset #7 Penn State 64-63 on a late putback by Chester Frazier. The only game remaining today is the most relevant to the Hoosiers, #6 Minnesota against #11 Northwestern. I will be equally nervous with either outcome. Minnesota is a respectable team that did everything but upset one of the top 4 this year. Northwestern, despite its 1-17 conference record, gave the Hoosiers fits in both matchups and should have won the game in Evanston.
In case you are wondering, no, there have never been three upsets on the first day of the BTT. In fact, this is only the third time in 11 tournaments that there have been two upsets on day one (1999 and 2002 were the others). Illinois in 1999 is the only #11 to win a game (Illinois won three, of course), so the odds are against Northwestern. Oddly enough, given that it theoretically is the closest matched game of day one, this is only the third time that a #9 seed has won (#9 Penn State in 1999; #9 Iowa in 2002). It's the seventh time in 11 tournaments that the #10 has defeated the #7.
EDIT: And Northwestern leads Minnesota 34-21 at halftime. Could be the wildest first day in BTT history.
EDIT: Northwestern couldn't hang on. Minnesota 55, Northwestern 52.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Surprising lack of idiocy.

Other than the Kravitz article I discussed a while back, I haven't stumbled across much coaching search idiocy. Perhaps reporters were chastened by IU's out-of-nowhere selection of Kelvin Sampson last time, but most of the speculation seems to be acknwoeldged as exactly that. No pronouncements that Steve Alford is 90 percent certain to take the job or anything of the sort. My unscientific impression is that most of the talk, for what that is worth (absolutely nothing), centers on Washington State's Tony Bennett. A Google news search for "'Tony Bennett' Indiana coach" yields 70 hits. Similar searches for other guys being mentioned: Steve Alford: 59 (mostly relating to Pat Knight's endorsement); Kevin Stallings (ugh): 56; Sean Miller: 44; Brad Brownell: 26; Mike Montgomery: 16. Again, I'm not suggesting that any or all of these guys are candidates, but the Google news search gives us some idea of where the talk is.
At New Mexico's senior night, Alford gave what the New Mexico folks are interpreting as a a definite no: "Let's keep the focus on the seniors," Alford said after the Lobos beat UNLV 59-45 on Tuesday night. "This coaching staff isn't going anywhere." I'm not sure that's as definitive as interpreted, but I also don't expect Alford to be a candidate.
While not much is going on now, I would expect the chatter to heat up within a couple of weeks. It's hard to believe that 11 days from now, the field will be winnowed down to 16 teams, and most or all of IU's targets (whomever they might be) could be out of the tournament. It should be interesting.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Big Ten Network and Comcast, together at last?

With the exception of a few early-round Big Ten Tournament games, there won't be another football or basketball game on the BTN for another six months. I don't know whether the timing is unfortunate or somehow related to the end of the BTN's coverage of those sports, but Inside the Hall passes on this article about an in-the-works deal between the BTN and its longtime nemesis Comcast. It's long been speculated that when Comcast made a move, all the other providers would fall in line, so this is a big deal if true. The basics:

Comcast agreed to launch the conference network on expanded basic through most of the Big Ten Conference’s eight-state region, as much as 94 percent of it, according to one source. Previously, Comcast was adamant against launching on expanded basic to a such a wide area. Meanwhile, Big Ten Network relaxed its demand to launch the channel on expanded basic everywhere in the eight-state market. The channel will allow Comcast the flexibility to place it on digital basic in various markets within the footprint, including Philadelphia.

BTN made a similar concession with Insight, which allowed the cable operator to launch it on digital basic in Louisville, Ky., on the outskirts of what BTN originally considered its inner core market.

I do disagree with one aspect of ITH's discussion:
While it looks like Comcast is getting the win — after all, the Big Ten Network’s original pitch was that it deserved to be alongside ESPN and Comcast Sports Net as basic programming for everyone — the bottom line is that IU fans will be able to see games they’ve missed this year. That’s no doubt a good thing, even if you’re stuck paying for 12 or 14 extra channels you’ll never use once.
I think it's exactly the opposite. As I said at ITH in comments, it's really hard to know who won and who lost. We don't know about the money and we don't know what the parties actually were willing to live with in the end. For instance, Comcast may have always intended to give in on the tier issue. But it's beyond dispute that this resolution, if as reported, is way, way closer to the BTN's public negotiating position than to Comcast's public position.
First, it's important to understand what "expanded basic" is. When I was a kid, in the days before digital cable, On Demand, MLB Extra Innings, regional sports networks, and the like, there were two types of cable: "basic cable" and premium channels. Everything but HBO, Showtime, and the like were "basic cable." At some point, I think around the early 1990s, the cable companies introduced the notion of expanded basic. So, the point was to put all of the desirable channels on "basic" and all the niche channels on "expanded basic," right? Wrong. The purpose was to make money.
For instance, here's a link to a Comcast channel lineup from somewhere near Chicago, divided in to "basic" and "expanded basic." As you will note, basic cable includes the network affiliates and other local programming, PAX, the Home Shopping Network, QVC, Spanish language stations, public access, C-SPAN, TV Guide, and religious programming. That's it. Expanded basic, on the other hand, includes that channels that most of us consider "cable": ESPN, CNN, Fox News, MTV, Nickelodeon, A&E, Comedy Central, and so on. In other words, the channels that motivate people to buy cable are on expanded basic. If the Comcast deal is as reported, the Big Ten Network will be on par with these channels.
For months, Comcast's position was that the Big Ten Network should be on a digital sports tier everywhere in the country, including within the Big Ten region. As the link indicates, Comcast's sports tier includes the NFL Network, NBA TV, CSTV, and the like. The BTN's position was that it should be on "expanded basic" in the Big Ten region (with ESPN, CNN, etc.) and on the sports tier everywhere else. It sounds like the Big Ten's big compromise is that in some fringes of the Big Ten region, the BTN will be on "digital basic," which apparently is somewhere in between "expanded basic" and the "sports tier." That means that the Big Ten Network is getting what it wanted in 94 percent of the Big Ten region and has reached a compromise, middle ground on the other 6 percent. Comcast is getting what it wanted in zero percent of the Big Ten region. Again, none of us knows enough about Comcast's true, private position to know whether it is a loss for Comcast. But it sure looks like a win for the BTN.
EDIT: Unsurprisingly, Brian was there before I was. He agrees that it looks like Comcast caved, and speculates that the phone line-based services now provided by Verizon and AT&T are having an effect. My anecdotal contribution is that I commute through an old, mostly low-income part of Indianapolis and I see AT&T trucks every day, far more than could be explained by introduction of or modification of telephone service.

Final Big Ten Bloggers basketball poll.

I considered an awards section to this post, but figured it would be pointless. Not surprisingly, I agree with the selection of DJ White and Eric Gordon as Big Ten player of the year and freshman of the year, respectively. If I had a vote for coach of the year, I probably would have cast it for Matt Painter, although I think one could make a compelling argument for Bo Ryan. So, on to the poll:
1. Wisconsin (26-4, 16-2). Last week: 2. Wisconsin lost to Purdue twice, but took care of business everywhere else, including in Bloomington and Columbus.
2. Purdue (24-7, 15-3). Last week: 1. Like Wisconsin, Purdue had a much-better-than-expected season with a young team.
3. Indiana (25-6, 14-4). Last week: 4. IU did not finish well and looks to be going nowhere in the postseason. Still, IU has a two-game lead on the Spartans. And as humiliating as was IU's 29 point loss at East Lansing, MSU was only +10 in the two matchups (IU won by 19 in Bloomington).
4. Michigan State (24-7, 12-6). Last week: 3. By far, the most disappointing team in the conference. The Big Ten doesn't have a legitimate NCAA title contender and doesn't have much depth. How in the world did the preseason favorite end up four games behind Wisconsin?
5. Ohio State (19-12, 10-8). Last week: 6. The Buckeyes made up for lost time and a lack of quality wins by defending their homecourt against Purdue and MSU. Will it be enough?
6. Minnesota (18-12, 8-10). Last week: 5. Tough end for the Gophers, who even considering Purdue's resurgence probably were the conference's most improved team.
7. Penn State (15-15, 7-11). Last week: 7. The Nittany Lions pulled a couple of nice upsets with a young team. Is this is sign of things to come, or just a big tease like 2006?
8. Iowa (13-18, 6-12). Last week: 9. The Hawkeyes ultimately hit the wall (or the windshield, maybe?) but had some nice moments.
9. Michigan (9-21, 5-13). Last week: 10. The Wolverines had a really rough start in the pre-conference and in the Big Ten. A month ago they were 5-17/1-9, but they finished 4-4 despite nothing much to play for.
10. Illinois (13-18, 5-13). Last week: 8. Eric Gordon changed his mind 18 months ago, and Illinois AD Ron Guenther is still whining about it. Losing Gordon was a blow, but at some point Guenther and Weber are going to have to take responsibility for the incredible decline of this program since the 2005 championship game.
11. Northwestern (8-21, 1-17). Last week: 11. Rough year. I really thought Carmody would have Northwestern in the NCAA Tournament by now, but that dream looks as unrealistic as ever. Carmody is NU's most successful coach in decades, but I'll be interested to see what NU does with him.

Big Ten awards announced.

The Big Ten announced its postseason awards today. Here's the link. The Hoosier highlights:
  • DJ White was named Big Ten player of the year, apparently unanimously, by both the media and coaches.
  • Eric Gordon was named Big Ten freshman of the year, apparently unanimously, by both the media and coaches.
  • White and Gordon were both named to the all-Big Ten first team. The reason I said "apparently unanimously" above is because the link indicates that all caps denotes a unanimous selection. While White's name is in all caps as Big Ten POY, it is not for First Team. Is it possible that White was the unanimous Big Ten POY but not unanimous first team all Big Ten? Odd. Gordon and Robbie Hummel of Purdue were both noted as unanimous first team selections.
  • Armon Bassett was selected to the third team by both the media and coaches.
  • Jamarcus Ellis was honorable mention by the media.
  • Eric Gordon was a unanimous all-freshman pick, along with Hummel and E'Twaun Moore of Purdue, Kosta Koufos of Ohio State, and Manny Harris of Michigan (all unanimous).

Monday, March 10, 2008

Big Ten Tournament: schedule and some history.

Here's a link to the Big Ten's BTT page, which includes a bracket. The schedule:
Thursday, March 13:
12 pm: #8 Iowa v. #9 Michigan
2:30 pm: #7 Penn State v. #10 Illinois
5:00: #6 Minnesota v. #11 Northwestern
Friday, March 14:
12 pm:#1 Wisconsin v. 8/9 winner
2:30 pm: #4 Michigan State v. #5 Ohio State
6:30 pm: #2 Purdue v. 7/10 winner
9:00: #3 Indiana v. 6/11 winner
1:40: Winners of first two Friday games
4:05: winners of last two Friday games
3:30 pm: championship
I may be in the minority among IU fans, but I like the Big Ten Tournament. It's not much of a measure of full-season excellence, and I value the regular season championship more, but before this season my main objection to the BTT was the 16-game schedule. Now that the Big Ten has resumed the 18 game schedule, even that minimal basis for objection is gone. Here's a little history:
Tournament champions
Illinois, 2 (2003, 2005)
Iowa, 2 (2001, 2006)
Michigan State, 2 (1999, 2000)
Ohio State, 2 (2002, 2007)
Michigan, 1 (1998)
Wisconsin, 1 (2004)
Most wins
Illinois, 18
Iowa, 13
Ohio State, 13
Michigan State, 11
Wisconsin, 11
Indiana, 8
Michigan, 7
Minnesota, 6
Penn State, 5
Northwestern, 4
Purdue, 4
Winning percentage
Illinois, .692 (18-8)
Iowa, .619 (13-8)
Ohio State, .619 (13-8)
Michigan State, .579 (11-8)
Wisconsin, .550 (11-9)
Indiana, .444 (8-10)
Michigan, .438 (7-9)
Minnesota, .400 (6-10)
Penn State, .333 (5-10)
Northwestern, .250 (4-10)
Purdue, .250 (4-10)
When the Big Ten Tournament was conceived in the mid-1990s, IU and Purdue had been the two best programs of the previous quarter-century. Who could have foreseen just how undistinguished those two programs would be during the first decade of the tournament? In the 25 seasons before the advent of the BTT, IU and Purdue won a combined 18 (outright or shared) Big Ten championships and one or the other was at least a co-champ in 17 of 25 seasons. In the BTT, neither team has played well. Purdue advanced to the title game in 1998, the first year of the BTT, but didn't return to the weekend until last season, and won only one BTT game from 1999 through 2006. IU has reached the weekend semifinals only four times, and like Purdue has no championships and one runner-up finish.
To date, the BTT has been played in Chicago 7 times and Indianapolis 3 times. The Big Ten has committed to play the BTT at Conseco through 2012. The three previous Indianapolis based tournaments have been won by Ohio State (2002), Wisconsin (2004), and Iowa (2006). Here are the teams' overall records in Indianapolis:
Iowa: 6-2
Ohio State: 5-2
Wisconsin: 3-2
Illinois: 3-3
Indiana: 3-3
Michigan State: 3-3
Minnesota: 3-3
Michigan: 2-3
Northwestern: 1-3
Penn State: 1-3
Purdue: 0-3
Random thoughts:
  • As I said yesterday, the Big Ten brass must be happy to see IU and Purdue on the same side of the bracket. If both teams win their opening games (by no means assured, especially the way IU has been playing) the conference would get not just a high-interest semifinal matchup, but would be guaranteed a local team in the title game (and the resultant full house).
  • It's been ten years since the only IU-Purdue game in the BTT. #3 Purdue defeated #6 IU 76-71 in the first-ever BTT.
  • IU is 1-5 against Illinois and 7-5 against everyone else. If yesterday's result has any positive, it's that IU likely will not have to play Illinois.
  • Illinois has never failed to reach the semifinals, not even in 1999, when the Illini were the #11 seed but upset #6 Minnesota, #3 IU, and #2 Ohio State to reach the final. TAFKABTW informs me that Illinois did lose in the quarterfinals in 2006 as the #3 seed, suggesting that the slot is cursed. IU has indeed lost its first game the two previous times that IU was the #3 seed.
  • There have been only two overtime games in BTT history: in 1999, #10 Michigan defeated #7 Purdue; last year, #6 Illinois beat #3 Indiana.
  • ADDENDUM: unsurprisingly, the Wonk is on to something. Purdue in 1998 [plus Wisconsin in 2004; at least I can blame the Big Ten results page for that error] is the only #3 seed to reach the final, and no #3 seed has won the BTT. Indeed, the #3 seed is 4-6 in the quarterfinal round, meaning that the majority of the time, the third-best team in the conference has lost its first BTT game. Given the Hoosiers' stellar BTT history, I'm even more encouraged about our prospects. Of the 20 participants in the title game, 7 have been seeded lower than #3: #4 seeds are 1-2, #6 seeds are 1-0, # 8 seeds are 0-1, #9 seeds are 0-1, and #11 seeds are 0-1. I guess that means Ohio State is the real loser here: only the #5 seed has never reached the final.
  • ADDENDUM: In the first six Big Ten Tournaments, every final game included a team seeded #4 or lower. But #1 has faced #2 in three of the last four tournaments, and no seed lower than #3 has reached the final.

Penn State 68, Indiana 64.

Here's the box score. In light of the adversity caused by the coaching change, this team seems intent on giving up on the season. If the Hoosiers keep playing like this, Sunday's loss at Penn State will have been the last weekend game of the year. I don't see any reason to believe that IU is capable of beating Minnesota or Northwestern for a third time or that IU can beat a #11 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Since Kelvin Sampson was ousted, IU has managed too-close wins against Northwestern and Ohio State, a humiliating blowout loss at Michigan State, a Senior Night home win against Minnesota (a game that was even until the 8 minute mark), and the season's new low, IU's fourth loss to Penn State in the 31 matchups since Penn State joined the conference in 1992-93. Of the four losses to Penn State, this certainly doesn't match the 2003 team's season-ending loss to a Penn State team that finished 7-20 and 2-14 in the Big Ten, but considering that the current Hoosiers began the season with Final Four expectations, it's a bad way to end the season.
Neither team distinguished itself offensively today. Penn State's 10 turnovers in a 71 possession game probably were the only impressive offensive statistic. Penn State shot 37 percent from the field, 25 percent from three point range, and 11-20 from the line. IU's numbers were even worse: 37.8 from the field (okay, slightly better), 7-33 from behind the arc. IU shot 33 three pointers to 25 two point field goals. DJ White scored 20 points on 11 shots (8-11 from the field), but IU obviously didn't get him the ball as they should. Clearly, Penn State's defense was more hospitable to the outside shot, and IU was happy to oblige. Eric Gordon scored 26 points, but needed 24 shots to get there and turned the ball over five times. Oh, and Jamarcus Ellis didn't make the trip, yet another disciplinary issue in what rapidly has become a terrible season.
So, as if we care, it's on to the Big Ten Tournament. Jim Delany must be happy about the decision to move the Big Ten Tournament to Indianapolis. If IU can manage to beat Minnesota or Northwestern, it likely will set up a matchup between IU and Purdue in the semifinals, which, of course, would guarantee that a local school will be in the final and likely will make for a great weekend in Indianapolis. IU certainly has the talent to win the conference tournament, but absent a dramatic change in the next few days, the Big Ten likely will have to do without even the IU-Purdue matchup in the semis. It's obvious that Dan Dakich won't be the coach next year, but hopefully he will convince these players that they are only hurting themselves (well, not only themselves, but themselves most of all).
EDIT: And I do want to add a thought about the end of regulation. Eric Gordon brought the ball across halfcourt with about 15 seconds remaining. On the court with him were three viable offensive players: DJ White, the presumptive Big Ten player of the year and one of the best post men in the country, and two excellent shooters (Armon Bassett and Jordan Crawford). Gordon didn't even think about passing. It has become fashionable to criticize Eric Gordon, and I don't mean to do that. He's a great player and will be missed next year. But what in the world has gone wrong with this team, with this program, when one guy decides to take on five when there are other viable options? Either Dakich wanted that to happen, or he didn't. I'm not sure which disturbs me more.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Penn State, part 2.

Penn State Nittany Lions
Current record:
Big Ten record: 14-15 (6-11)
Current RPI: 155
Current Sagarin: 129
2006-07 record: 11-19 (2-14)
2006-07 RPI: 199
2006-07 Sagarin: 155
Series: IU leads 27-3
Last IU win: 1/20/08, 81-65 in Bloomington
Last Penn State win: 2/15/06 (68-61 in State College)
Last IU win in State College: 1/13/07 (84-74)
TV: 2:00 pm Sunday, ESPN.
The Nittany Lions lost all hope for a successful season early in the Big Ten season when Geary Claxton suffered a season-ending knee injury. Penn State lost its first four conference home games, but has now won four in a row at home against Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan. I wish I could tell you that there are some real positives on PSU's Pomeroy page, but not really. They take pretty good care of the ball, a common characteristic of slow-paced teams, and they are decent offensive rebounders, but that's about it. IU should win, and then it's on to the BTT.

Indiana 69, Minnesota 55.

Better late than never. Here's the box score. Inside the Hall has gathered the Senior Night video clips in two posts.
This was a slow one, a 62 possession game. Minnesota's .883 points per possession was IU's second best defensive performance of the Big Ten season and offset a middling offensive performance. IU took much better care of the ball compared to the last game against Minnesota (only a 14.4 turnover percentage) and Minnesota turned the ball over 25 percent of the time. While IU shot only 38 percent from the field, IU shot only 40 percent, so who would have guess that turnovers would be a significant advantage for IU in a game against Minnesota? While the stats might suggest a comfortable win, the Gophers actually took the lead with 8:26 remaining in the game. It then was 47-46 Minnesota, but IU finished the game with a 23-8 run. Eric Gordon scored 12 of his 20 points after Minnesota's brief lead. While none of the games has been pretty, the 3-1 record in the post-Sampson portion of this season is about what would have been expected even if all the fireworks hadn't happened.
The individuals:
  • DJ White wasn't as dominant on the boards as he has been for most of the Big Ten season, but finished his Assembly Hall career with 17 points on 7-12 from the field.
  • As has become standard, Eric Gordon struggled from the field, but scored 20 points on 11 shots thanks to 12-14 from the line. As I mentioned above, he really picked it up in the final eight minutes. Still, four turnovers.
  • Armon Bassett had a rough shooting day, 3-11 from the field, but did score 11 points thanks to three pointers and a couple of free throws.
  • Jamarcus Ellis was great. 10 points on 7 shots, 13 rebounds, no turnovers, four steals.
I am typing this belated post-game entry just after Wisconsin beat Northwestern to clinch the outright Big Ten title. When Bo Ryan arrived in Madison, the Badgers had not won even a share of the Big Ten title since 1947. This is now the Badgers' third title in the last seven years, and their second outright title in the last six years. So, IU's quest for the first conference title in six years is over, and the chance for the first outright title since 1993 ended a few days ago. Still, if IU can win at Penn State, the #2 seed will be the Hoosiers' best seed in the 11 year history of the Big Ten Tournament. This team still has the opportunity to do some great things in both tournaments.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Kellen Lewis suspended.

Any IU fans hoping that the looming spring football practice period would, for once, provide a nice distraction from the basketball program, think again. As has been widely reported, Kellen Lewis is out, suspended for at least for the beginning of spring practice. The official word is the typical "indefinite suspension, violation of team rules," which could be just about anything. Mac624, an observer who seems to have connections to the program, reports that sources tell him that this is not a minor issue. Mac reports that based on what he has heard from multiple sources, he doubts KL will play football for IU again. Obviously, multiple sources can stumble across the same wrong information, as has been obvious during various coaching searches and other events, but obviously it is troubling. IU certainly will have a challenge replacing James Hardy in any event, but losing Hardy and Lewis's dual threat capability would be devastating. Hopefully Kellen will resolve whatever issues he is facing and resume his promising career.
EDIT: Just to be clear, I don't know what the offense was or who the sources are. I am simply passing on information/opinion from a blogger with generally reliable information.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Minnesota, take 2: Senior Night.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Current record: 18-10
Big Ten record: 8-8
Current RPI: 93
Current Sagarin: 54
2006-07 record: 9-22
2006-07 RPI: 191
2006-07 Sagarin: 167
Series: IU leads 86-63
Last IU win: 1/17/08 (65-60 in Minneapolis)
Last Minnesota win: 1/29/06 (61-42 in Minneapolis)
Last Minnesota win in Bloomington: 2/18/04 (74-71)
TV: 7 pm tonight, Big Ten Network
Minnesota is much improved this season, but the Gophers probably need to beat IU, beat Illinois, and advance to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers are 1-7 against the conference's top five teams, but are 3-3 on the road in conference. Had the Gophers been able to defend their homecourt a couple of times against IU, Wisconsin, or MSU (or, er, Illinois), Minnesota likely would be in the NCAA.
IU won the first game despite turning the ball over nearly 40 percent of the time. As before, Minnesota doesn't shoot particularly well and doesn't play particularly strong field goal defense. The Gophers win by maximizing possessions (offensive rebounding, taking care of the ball, forcing turnovers). IU's worst turnover performance of the season came at the Barn. Unfortunately, IU has almost uniformly struggled against such teams this year, and the Hoosiers will have to shoot well to win.
As for the Hoosiers, IU played its worst game in several years last Sunday. In the three games since Sampson's departure, IU has two close wins and one disastrous blowout. It is Senior Night for DJ White, Lance Stemler, Mike White, and Adam Ahlfeld. Senior Night usually means good things for IU, but this is a loseable game.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Big Ten Bloggers poll, Week 9.

1. Purdue (23-6, 14-2). Last week: 1. Purdue has a dangerous week (@OSU, @ Michigan), and probably can't count on Wisconsin losing.
2. Wisconsin (24-4, 14-2). Last week: 2. UW dominated MSU to nearly assure itself of a share of the title with only PSU and Northwestern remaining.
3. Michigan State (23-6, 11-5). Last week: 4. IU's resume is better, but the Hoosiers are being punished this week. MSU fans have been looking for the team that appeared on Sunday.
4. Indiana (24-5, 14-3). Last week: 3. IU hasn't looked impressive since the coaching change.
5. Minnesota (18-10, 8-8). Last week: 6. Minnesot can get back on the bubble with a win at Illinois and with a suddenly attainable win at IU.
6. Ohio State (17-12, 8-8). Last week: 5. The Buckeyes are falling apart, but with Purdue and MSU coming to town, can salvage an NCAA bid. Nothing suggests that they will, however.
7. Penn State (14-14, 6-10). Last week: 9. Solid homecourt week by the Lions, who will have a shot against IU on senior night.
8. Illinois (12-17, 4-12). Last week: 10. Not a great week, but the Illini move up because of the Iowa win and Michigan's loss to NU.
9. Iowa (12-18, 5-12). Last week: 8. Iowa has had its moments, but not in the last couple of weeks.
10. Michigan (9-20, 5-12). Last week: 7. Wait till next year.
11. Northwestern (8-19, 1-15). Last week: 11. A win, finally. At least they won't be the first winless Big Ten team since Northwestern did it in 1999-2000. Before that, it was Northwestern in 1990-91. Before that, Chicago in 1946. Something about the Windy City, I guess.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Michigan State 103, Indiana 74.

I, for one, welcome our new Spartan overlords. As my preview indicated, I approached yesterday's game with restrained optimism. While I thought it more likely than not that MSU would win, I really expected IU to compete with this something-is-missing version of the Spartans. Instead, MSU played extremely well and IU rolled over, and MSU handed IU its most lopsided loss in the history of the series (previous worst: the eventual NCAA champion Spartans defeated the eventual NIT champion Hoosiers 82-58 in East Lansing in 1979). By my rough count, IU has now played a total of 1393 games against Big Ten opponents. Yesterday's game was only the 30th time that a Big Ten opponent had scored 100 or more points against IU. Of those 30 games, 25 were played between 1957 and 1971, the "Hurryin' Hoosiers" era of Branch McCracken and Lou Watson. Yesterday was only the 6th time since Bob Knight's arrival in 1971 that a Big Ten opponent has scored 100 or more points against IU.
After yesterday's game, it's fair for IU fans to question whether this season that began with such promise has any chance of extending to the second week of the NCAA Tournament. While it's unfair to blame Dakich, in the three games since Sampson's ouster IU basely beat Northwestern and Ohio State and lost quite badly to MSU. As well as MSU shot, the Spartans probably would have won no matter what. But IU's NBA All-Star Game-caliber defense turned a loss into a humiliation. I try not to get in to intangibles "hindpsychology," so please understand that I'm not accusing the players of quitting. But yesterday's game had the feel, from a fan's perspective of the late-Knight-era NCAA beatdowns at the hands of Colorado (1997) and Pepperdine (2000).
As for the game (box score), there's not much to say. This was a fast game, 71 possessions per. IU's offensive numbers were roughly average. Defensively, IU's 1.44 points allowed per possession was the worst total of the season by far. Entering this game, IU had not allowed an effective field goal percentage of more than 58.8. MSU was at 71 yesterday. The Hoosiers shot well in the second half, 53 percent, and managed to pull within 17 points at the 10:36 mark, but a turnover and a mini-run by MSU ended any hope of a Kentucky-LSU type comeback. Certainly, it wasn't enough to offsets MSU's 75 percent shooting in the first half. IU actually did hold MSU to ten percentage points below its season offensive rebounding percentage, but MSU missed too few shots for that to matter. As for the individuals:
  • Eric Gordon was respectable: 22 points on 7-14 anf 7-9, only 2 turnovers.
  • Armon Bassett scored 13 points on 12 shots.
  • Jordan Crawford scored 12 points on 8 shots.
  • DJ White had a rough day: another double-double, but 5-13 from the field for 12 points.
  • Everyone, everyone, everyone played poor defense.

Dan Dakich has a tough task. IU's schedule now eases up, with the home finale against Minnesota and a road trip to Penn State. Still, considering IU's performances at Northwestern and at home against Ohio State, losses are not out of the question. A similar defensive effort in either game could spell IU's demise.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Michigan State game, part 2.

Michigan State Spartans
Current record: 22-6
Big Ten record: 10-5
Current RPI: 15
Current Sagarin: 18
2006-07 record: 22-11 (8-8)
2006-07 RPI: 24
2006-07 Sagarin: 20
Series: IU leads 64-42
Last IU win: 2/16/08 (80-61 in Bloomington)
Last MSU win: 2/24/07 (66-58 in East Lansing)
Last IU win in East Lansing: 2/28/91 (62-56)
TV: 2 pm today, CBS
Yeah, my multiday preview didn't pan out. If you missed it, here's my post from Thursday discussing IU's 13-game, 17-year losing streak in East Lansing.
Before I discuss the game, let me address the article that the Indianapolis Star passed off as a preview of today's game: Terry Hutchens wants to know whether this year's team is as good as the 1992-93 Hoosiers. Perhaps the Star needs a comedy section, or some sort of a sarcasm label. This can't be for real. To be clear, I love this year's team. DJ White is enjoying perhaps the best season by an IU player since Calbert Cheaney graduation, Eric Gordon has been great, and the team has done a great job of staying together under tough circumstances. But let's consider the 1992-93 Hoosiers. That year, IU returned six of its top seven scorers from a Final Four team. IU finished the season ranked #1 after going 31-3 against a tough schedule that included five games against eventual Final Four teams, and other games against top teams Florida State, Seton Hall, and Cincinnati. IU won the Big Ten by two games with a 17-1 record, including a season sweep of what may have been the most talented team in Big Ten history, the sophomore version of the Fab Five. Had Alan Henderson not injured his knee, IU would have been the favorite to win the NCAA title and likely would have gone 18-0 in the Big Ten.
Dan Dakich was wisely politically correct, but this IU team, even if it wins out, is looking at no better than a two seed, and the most realistic projection is a #4 seed. That anyone is even considering this comparison shows just how far IU's program has fallen and just how badly we need a coach who can restore greatness. It also shows, as does the continuous employment of Bob Kravitz, that the leaders of the Indianapolis Star hate central Indiana sports fans for some reason. Dennis Ryerson, what have we done to deserve this?
As for the game, the Spartans' disappointing decline has continued. Statistically, the Spartans look fine. They are, in typical Izzo fashion, among the nation's leading offensive rebounding teams and two point field goal percentage. They don't take care of the ball and don't force turnovers. Everything else looks fine. Still, MSU's early departure from the Big Ten race happened because the Spartans can't win on the road. MSU is 8-0 at home in the Big Ten and 2-5 on the road. The losses at IU, Purdue, and Wisconsin are excusable enough, but the road losses to Iowa and Penn State are not. And while MSU is 8-0 at home, the Spartans' games against Minnesota, Purdue, and Ohio State were fairly competitive. What's interesting about MSU's road losses is that while other statistics are all over the map, in the three losses to IU, Purdue, and Wisconsin, MSU has been far below its average in offensive rebound percentage (21.4, 20.8, 26.4). As KJ of Spartans Weblog pointed out before the last game, MSU's two point field goal effectiveness is mostly based on offensive rebounding. Accordingly, a team that can stop MSU from grabbing offensive boards will be in a great position to defeat MSU. An 14th consecutive loss at Breslin won't surprise me, but this is, it seems to me, IU's best chance in years to end the slide.