Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The ugly story from Pomeroy, and other midterm thoughts.

IU opens the Big Ten season in Iowa City Saturday afternoon. Since this is a good breaking point, it seems worthwhile to see where the Hoosiers stand.

First, here is where IU’s Pomeroy scouting report stands at the conclusion of IU’s nonconference schedule. Sorry for the formatting. Column one is offense, column two is defense.

Raw Efficiency : 87.3 (309) 99.4 (155)
Adj Efficiency : 90.8 (284) 95.2 ( 89)
Effective FG% : 46.8 (240) 51.5 (260)
Turnover Pct. : 28.9 (342) 25.1 ( 30)
Off. Rebound% : 32.9 (190) 35.7 (248)
Free Throw Rate: 25.3 (148) 31.3 ( 82)
3-Point FG% : 28.6 (304) 33.5 (159)
2-Point FG% : 48.8 (145) 52.1 (293)
Free Throw Pct.: 65.6 (244) 65.1 ( 64)
Block Pct. : 14.5 (340) 6.8 (240)
Steal Pct. : 15.0 (343) 11.7 ( 70)
3PA/FGA : 34.5 (132) 30.2 ( 76)
A/FGM : 57.1 (106) 53.0 (133)

For reference, there are 344 schools in Division I. The D-I rank is in parentheses next to the stat. IU’s pace is at 69.1 possessions per game, faster than usual. A few observations:
  • This is truly a horrid team offensively. IU averages only .87 points per possession, near the bottom of D-I. IU turns the ball over more and has the ball stolen more than all but a couple of teams in the country. IU has lots of its shot attempts blocked. With 344 teams, that means that a ranking below 300 places a team in the bottom 13 percent of D-I teams. IU ranks below the 300 line in five of the 13 statistics tracked by Pomeroy.
  • The offensive stat line is not completely without merit. IU is slightly above average in two point field goal percentage (thank you, Tom Pritchard), is #106 in assists per field goal made, and is in the middle of the pack in offensive rebounding. Really, though, there isn’t much good to say about this team offensively.
  • On the defensive side, there are some positives. IU’s defensive efficiency numbers are pretty good despite less than overwhelming field goal defense. As poor as IU’s offensive turnover numbers are, the defensive turnover numbers are very good. IU forces turnovers on 25.1 percent of possessions, #30 nationally, and steals the ball on 11.7 percent of possessions, #70 nationally.
As for individuals:
  • Devan Dumes now leads IU in scoring with 13.6 points per game. He is shooting 52 percent from two point range but only 28 percent from behind the arc. Still, he has improved recently: he is shooting 37.4 percent from behind the arc in the last five games, and that includes a 1-8 performance against Kentucky.
  • Tom Pritchard, averaging 12.9 per game, is shooting 57 percent from the field, but only 60 percent from the line. He is IU’s only inside scoring threat, and so it will be interesting to see how effective he is during the Big Ten season.
  • Nick Williams, Verdell Jones, and Malik Story all have struggled to consistently contribute.
  • Kyle Taber, considering how thin IU is up front, is playing a surprisingly slim 20 minutes per game. According to Hoosier Scoop, Tom Crean had some surprisingly harsh words for Taber in his weekly radio show, suggesting Taber should be doing more to get his teammates in the gym to work on their own. I think Crean may be forgetting that while nominally IU’s lone senior leader, at this time a year ago Taber had spent his entire career as practice fodder.
  • Daniel Moore leads the team with 4.2 assists, and his turnover numbers have been steadily declining over the last few games (declining in the good way).
  • I expect Matt Roth to be a key contributor as his career continues, but it’s not surprising that a three point specialist would struggle to find shots under these circumstances. IU’s offense presents few tough decisions for opposing defenses.
So, there we are. As some of you may know, Pomeroy, in addition to logging a huge variety of stats, uses those stats to project records. Pomeroy currently projects IU to finish 7-24 (he doesn’t count the Chaminade game, I do) and 1-17 in the Big Ten. He also projects the individual game outcomes. While he does predict that IU will win a game, he doesn’t give IU better than a 22 percent chance of winning any particular game. According to Pomeroy’s model, IU’s best chances are: Penn State at home (22 percent); Wisconsin at home (14 percent); Michigan at home (13 percent); Iowa at home (12 percent); Minnesota at home (11 percent); and Michigan State at home (10 percent). All other games rate a less than tenpercent chance of victory. I don’t completely buy Pomeroy’s numbers this year. It will be an odd year indeed if Northwestern finishes several games ahead of MSU and Wisconsin. Still, the raw numbers suggest a very difficult season ahead.

The Northwestern story may be worth watching. Pomeroy currently projects Northwestern at 20-9, 11-7. If that happens, NU almost certainly will earn its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. We should know fairly early if the Wildcats are for real. After this afternoon’s game at Penn State, NU plays MSU at home, at Wisconsin, and Purdue at home. If the Wildcats start 3-1, look out. Given IU’s current status, I think NU may be my on-the-side rooting interest this year.

Well, this most unusual season moves to the next stage this weekend. I think I'm going to be prediction-free and will just let it play out.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lipscomb 74, Indiana 69.

IU's recent results have served to end any expectations that IU fans had for this season, however modest those expectations might have been. For the second straight game, IU jumped out to a nice lead against a mow-major program but ultimately was manhandled for the last 30 minutes of the game. Here's the box score. IU led 35-14 win 7 minutes remaining in the first half and was outscored 60-34 for the rest of the game.

Oddly enough, this loss came in a game in which IU improved on some long-standing flaws. IU's 19.8 turnover percentage was the best of the season against a D-I opponent. IU's 1.05 points per possession was among IU's top four outcomes of the season. Unfortunately, the previously respectable IU defense fell apart. IU allowed 1.12 point per possession to Lipscomb, third worst outcome of the season after Notre Dame and St. Joseph's, and worse than against Gonzaga and Wake Forest. Other than Northwestern State, no team has done better against IU than Lipscomb's offensive rebound percentage of 41, and IU's defensive OR percentage of 25 was the second-worst of the season. Despite shooting reasonably well and taking care of the ball, IU simply gave Lipscomb too many opportunities, most of which manifested themselves at the free throw line, where Lipscomb shot 16-20 to IU's 8-16. Also, Lipscomb did not turn the ball over very often.

A week ago, entering the Big Ten season with a 7-5 record seemed a reasonable expectation. Instead, IU now stands at 5-7 and will be an underdog in each of its remaining 19 games. There are no easy answers. Iowa is next.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Lipscomb game: final pre-conference "tune-up."

Lipscomb Bisons
Current record: 4-6 (1-1 in Atlantic Sun)
Current RPI: 336
Current Sagarin: 264
Current Pomeroy: 260
2007-08 record: 14-16
2007-08 RPI: 228
2007-08 Sagarin: 209
2007-08 Pomeroy: 195
Series: first meeting
Pomeroy scouting report
TV: 6 pm, BTN

IU, after its worst loss in recent memory, now plays the weakest team on the remaining schedule. Lipscomb's only foray into major competition was a 20 point loss to NC State, but IU, at #194 in the Pomeroy ratings, isn't looking terribly major. Fortunately, the Hoosiers now face a team that doesn't take the ball away and turns the ball over quite a bit. Lipscomb shoots reasonably well from the line and from two point range, gets to the line, and crashes the offensive boards, but that's about it. Meanwhile, IU remains one of the country's worst offensive teams and respectable defensively, somehow.

After this game, I'll put together some sort of comprehensive look at where IU stands now, on its own and in relation to other Big Ten programs before the Big Ten season begins this coming weekend.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Northeastern 55, Indiana 42.

Box score.

Yeah, I'll admit it. I was eyeballing the Big Ten scheduling, wondering about various home games against Big Ten opponents. No need for that. Any conference game that IU wins will be an upset. I certainly don't want to jump to too many conclusions after the worst effort of the season, but as I mentioned in the preview post, with the possible exception of St. Joseph's, all of IU's losses to this poin would have been defensible for a better team. In other words, even if IU were a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, the Hoosiers still might have lost to Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Gonzaga, and Kentucky (by lesser margins, but you get the point). The Northeastern loss is simply impossible to sugar coat. It wasn't a fluke. IU was manhandled by an average Colonial Athletic Association program.

The game was played on Northeastern's terms. As I indicated in my preview, Northeastern is very good at taking care of the ball and forcing turnovers. IU has been horrible at taking care of the ball yet fairly effective forcing turnovers. NU prevailed by this metric and most others. First, this game was played at NU's pace--the 58 possessions are even fewer than in NU's usual 61 possession game. John Lazkowski and others continue to focus on IU's per game turnover numbers, and IU's 21 is about average by that metric, but is simply horrendous in a 58 possession game. IU's turnover percentage of 36.1 was the worst of the season, worse even than the Wake and Gonzaga games. On the defensive side, IU forced turnovers on only 18.1 percent of possessions--only notoriously ball-conscious teams Notre Dame and IUPUI turned it over less against IU. IU rebounded reasonably well, particularly on the offensive end, where Northeastern grabbed only 23 percent of its misses. The obvious story from the box score is that IU failed to get to the line (Northeastern shot 20 free throws to IU's 6) and could not take care of the ball. As for the individuals:
  • Tom Pritchard was the sole bright spot for IU, managing 12 points on 6-8 from the field (but 0-3 from the line) and 14 rebounds. On the downside, he was responsible for nearly a quarter of IU's turnovers.
  • Dan Moore was more of an offensive presence, hitting a three pointer and turning the ball over only 3 times.
  • Verdell Jones hasn't found his game since returning from injury. Jones was 1-4 from the fueld and turned the ball over 5 times.
  • Devan Dumes led the team with 13 points but needed 12 shots to get there.
This probably was IU's worst non-conference loss in Assembly Hall history., or at least the worst since a loss to a horrid DePaul team in 1995, a game that ended an 11-year winning streak As the announcers noted last night, this is only the 19th time that IU has lost to a non-conference opponent at the Hall. Again, IU has played better against comparable competition, so I don't think last night's game was a representative performance. But it certainly fades any hope that IU fans might have had of winning a handful of Big Ten games. Every one will be difficult.

IU is off for another six days, and then plays Lipscomb on December 28 before beginning the Big Ten season on January 3 at Iowa. I do hope to take a long look at the nonconference season and overall numbers at that point.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Northeastern game.

Northeastern Huskies
Current record: 5-4
Current RPI: 92
Current Sagarin: 142
Current Pomeroy: 184
2007-08 record: 14-17
2007-08 RPI: 173
2007-08 Sagarin: 169
2007-08 Pomeroy: 157
Series: IU leads 2-0
Pomeroy scouting report
TV: 9 pm, BTN

A clear dividing line has emerged in IU's season. IU currently is 0-5 against the top 100 of the Pomeroy ratings (St. Joseph's is ranked lowest at #93) and 5-0 against 101 and below (TCU, at #102, is the highest ranked team that IU has defeated). Of course, IU was close to losing two of the sub-100 games (IUPUI and Chaminade) and hasn't come close to beating a team in the current top 100. The good news for IU is that Northeastern now ranks 181 in the Pomeroy ratings. The bad news for IU is that every Big Ten team is ranked #61 or higher, including four teams in the top 20 (yeah, I'm not sure if I believe in Northwestern, either, but the conference is going to be the subject of a post down the road). I'm glad to see the Big Ten on the road back to respectability, but the timing isn't good for this year's IU team.

In most respects, Northeastern's defense is nearly as bad as IU's offense. The exception, and a cause for concern for IU, is that NU forces turnovers on 24 percent of its defensive possessions, good enough for #40 in D-I. Consistent with that, NU steals the ball on 12 percent of its defensive possession. Still, opponents have shot fairly well against the Huskies, and they don't rebound well on the defensive end, either. On offense, Northeastern is a below average shooting team, but maintains a middle-of-the-pack offense (just over 1 point per possession, ranking 170 nationally in raw rating, 192 in adjusted) by taking very good care of the ball (less than 19 percent turnover percentage) and decent offensive rebounding (34 percent). Right now, IU's only defensive strength is forcing turnovers and steals. So, it will be interesting to see how each team response to the other team's defense.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bad Boys.

I haven't done as much as I had hoped with this off week for the basketball team, although the Indianapolis Star managed to fill the void with its interview of Eric Gordon, who confirmed long-circulating rumors about drug use on last year's team. I gave an interview on this matter to Chadd Scott of last night, and hopefully between all the throat-clearing and baby crying you will hear something coherent.

Of course, neither Gordon, nor Adam Ahlfeld, nor Jeff Rabjohns provided a ton of detail. I would be curious to know whether the problems related only to marijuana or whether they included hard stuff. Either way, if it was rampant enough to cause divisions between teammates, it was far too much, and yet another item is added to the bill of particulars against Kelvin Sampson. There is no college campus, and probably no basketball program, that is free of marijuana use (and that includes Knight's IU program), but again, there seems to have been a lack of focus by Sampson on anything outside of basketball. One of thing that I found refreshing about Sampson was that he wasn't a pretentious pseudo-renaissance man. For instance, Sampson would never appear in a credit coach claiming to be "a leader who happens to coach basketball." He was a pure gym rat who saw no dishonor in the title of basketball coach. But there is a flip side. This drug issue, and the phone calls, and the academic implosion of the program all show that he was doing a disservice to his players. Sampson was screwed as soon as the news broke in October 2007. But wouldn't Jamarcus Ellis, Deandre Thomas, Armon Bassett, etc. be better off if Sampson had cared a bit more about the other stuff?

Now, as if the football team was embarrassing enough on the field, redshirt freshman defensive back Cortez Smith was arrested for robbery. Unless this is a case of mistaken identity, it's safe to say that Smith's brief stay in Bloomington is over.

It would be nice to have something good to say about IU sports. I don't give much coverage to the women's basketball team, but they did recently finish the non-conference 7-2 and are ranked #23 in the RPI and #35 in the Sagarin. The women's team hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since its surprising Big Ten Tournament championship in 2002 (still the only such championship by any IU team) and hasn't received an at-large bid since 1995. Given the lack of suspense regarding the men's postseason prospects, this is worth watching.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Kentucky 72, Indiana 54.

Here's the box score. Neither the final score nor the overall stats capture how completely over this game was within the first ten minutes. Certainly, I'm proud that the team didn't give up after trailing so badly, but Kentucky was never seriously challenged. Kentucky led 32-6 with 8 minutes left. To the Hoosiers' credit, that 26 point lead was UK's high water mark, but IU never got closer than 15 (after two Verdell Jones free throws with 11:51 remaining in the second half).

As anyone who watched knows, the Wildcats, through some combination of IU's defense and a bunch of hot shooting hands, couldn't miss in the first half of the first half. If my math is correct, UK made 13 of its first 15 shots. IU turned the ball over 11 times in the first 12 minutes of the first half. The scary part is that Kentucky, also a turnover-prone team, wasn't much better: UK turned the ball over 7 times in the first 12 minutes and had 23 for the game to IU's 19. IU's turnover percentage of 25.4 percent, while not good, was IU's third-best of the season (behind the games against Chaminade and IUPUI). Still, by the time the Hoosiers began taking care of the ball (only 8 turnovers in the final 28 minutes) the game was over.

Other than grit, fight, or whatever, there isn't much positive to take from this game. I don't think Kentucky is a particularly good team. The Cats probably are better than St. Joseph's but certainly are a cut below Notre Dame, Gonzaga, and Wake Forest, in no particular order. Yet, the Hoosiers looked as helpless as they have all year in the early going.
  • Devan Dumes, God bless him, simply isn't a good enough shooter to shoot as often as he does. His numbers at Eastern Michigan and Vincennes make this clear. He's now shooting 38 percent from the field and 26 percent from three. He was 6-15 from the field and 1-8 from behind the arc on Saturday. I'm not sure this is even a criticism of Dumes. I don't know that we have a better option. It's not as if Tom Pritchard and Nick Williams are passing up open looks. Daniel Moore is ruining the reputation of undersized Hoosier schoolboys everywhere with his lack of long distance ability. Still, for this IU team to do anything respectable from here on out, we have to create something higher percentage than a Devan Dumes jumper. What, I have no idea. That's why Crean is getting the big bucks.
  • Another tough showing for Tom Prichard against a tough opponent. 2-8 from the field, no free throws, six rebounds, five turnovers (although I think a couple were on offensive fouls).
  • Daniel Moore scored five points on shot 2-5 from the field. He was in the positive range on assist-turnover ratio, with 5 to 3.
  • Verdell Jones was a bit rusty in his return to action: 1-5 from the field, no assists, 3 turnovers.
  • Malik Story couldn't reprise his fine performance against TCU: he was 1-5 from the field.
I don't want anything to sound like excessive criticism of any of these players. The composition of this roster just isn't fair to them. Most of the players, particularly Prtichard, Dumes, and Moore, are being asked to do more than is reasonable. And they are playing hard. During the last 15 years, IU is 3-12 against Kentucky, and while this is one of the worst UK teams of this era, several significantly more talented IU teams have mailed it in against the Wildcats. These guys didn't quit, and I hope that their dedication results in something other than a hideous Big Ten season. But that may be asking too much.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Kentucky Wildcats
Current record: 6-3
Current RPI: 83
Current Sagarin: 46
Current Pomeroy: 35
2007-08 record: 18-13 (lost to Marquette in first round of NCAA Tournament)
2007-08 RPI: 58
2007-08 Sagarin: 55
2007-08 Pomeroy: 55
Series: Kentucky leads 28-23
Last IU win: 12/8/07 (70-51 in Bloomington)
Last Kentucky win: 12/9/06 (59-54 in Lexington)
Last IU win over UK in Lexington: 12/20/88 (75-52)
Pomeroy scouting report
TV: 4 pm, CBS

No series has been more illustrative of the downturn of IU's basketball program in the last 15 years than IU's record against Kentucky. After IU upset #1 Kentucky in December 1993, IU led the all-time series with Kentucky 20-17. Since then, UK has gone 11-3 against IU, including 4-2 in Indianapolis, 6-0 in Louisville, 1-0 in Lexington, and 0-1 in Bloomington. IU now has won two of the last three, but will be a prohibitive underdog even against a so-so UK team. I don't have enough time for a full preview, but suffice it to say that Kentucky's tempo-free numbers are pretty solid on both sides of the ball with the glaring exception of turnovers. These are two of the most generous teams in the country, and if one or the other manages to keep turnovers in check, it could have a significant impact.

I had forgotten that Tom Crean's last win at Marquette was a first-round NCAA win over UK last season. That's the second time in five years that Crean and Marquette eliminated Kentucky, including a whipping of the top-ranked Wildcats in the 2003 regional final.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Wetzel column.

Since everyone is discussing this column, I suppose I should weigh in a few days after the fact. The long and short is that Dan Wetzel thinks that IU got off easy because of its power, Myles Brand’s position with the NCAA, and the NCAA’s improper consideration of the current condition of IU’s program. It’s fashionable, when responding to such a column, to say how much I ordinarily like Dan Wetzel’s work. I don’t. I used to like him, but now find him to be a pompous scold, a “look at the silly sports fans” sportswriter in the mold of Mitch Albom and Christine Brennan. I haven’t read any of his work in months, so there’s my bias. Here are the major problems with his column:

First, Wetzel latches on to a single line from the chairman of the infractions committee: “The committee did note the current condition of the program.” From that, single statement, Wetzel whips himself into a lather, noting that no NCAA bylaws “state ‘Indiana must field a winning basketball team.’” He notes that IU has nice facilities, a big name, a top flight coach, and so on. Frankly, I think Wetzel assigns the statement too much significance. If he wants to make an argument that IU’s sanctions were not sufficient in light of the facts and in comparison to other similar infractions case, he should make that argument (I suppose he tried with the Texas Southern stuff, which I will discuss below). But does he really believe that if Armon Bassett, Jamarcus Ellis, Eli Holman, and Deandre Thomas were still on the team, and IU were good enough for an NCAA bid, that the NCAA would have given IU a postseason ban or stripped more scholarships or something of the sort? I certainly don’t think so. Wetzel doesn't think the current roster deficit is related to any decision by IU to blow things up. I think he's wrong. The departures of Bassett, Ellis, Thomas, and McGee almost certainly were directly caused by IU's decision to fire the coach in the midst of the best season IU has had in 15 years. It was the right decision, and doesn't make up for the bad decision to hire Sampson. But I think many schools would have let it ride and tried to wring a long tournament run out of the team. IU didn't do that, and I'm glad IU didn't do that. But the team's academic and discipline problems resulted from IU's decision to can Sampson in mid-season and well before the NCAA's report came out. I don't know how Wetzel can escape that obvious fact.

Again, if Wetzel wanted to prove favoritism in favor of IU, he should undertake a detailed review of NCAA infractions cases. Instead, he latches on to a silly comparison to a case involving Texas Southern.

What about that Texas Southern case? Here’s the link to the Texas Southern report. The highlights:

This case involved the head coaches of the softball program ("former head softball coach") and the men's and women's tennis programs ("former head tennis coach") committing violations that went undetected by the institution. In the spring of 2004 the former head softball coach knowingly allowed an ineligible student-athlete ("student-athlete 1") to participate in 47 practice sessions and nine games. Student-athlete 1 also received almost $1,500 in impermissible benefits when she traveled with the team and received textbooks at no cost. She was ineligible for the benefits.
The former head tennis coach was in charge of two squads that were non-competitive until he began recruiting international student-athletes. In particular, with the large influx of international student-athletes during the 2005-06 academic year, the team improved markedly. However, the former head tennis coach enticed many of the international student-athletes with promises of full grants-in-aid, which he was unable to deliver once the prospects arrived on campus. To fund their costs of attendance, the former head tennis coach concocted a scheme in which he used legitimate institutional scholarship money, scholarship funds redirected from their intended recipients, personal funds and funds obtained from sponsors to pay the costs incurred. Inevitably, the funds ran short and serious student-athlete welfare issues arose, as some of the international student-athletes had no money for even basic human necessities. For example, during the fall of 2006 three of the international student-athletes faced eviction from their apartments and were reduced to subsisting on bread and water because they had no money for rent or food.

The violations went undetected because the institution's compliance system was inadequate, resulting in a lack of institutional control over the athletics program. The system relied upon coaches to supply accurate information to the athletics and institutional administrations, particularly in the areas of participation records, financial aid distribution and tracking travel expenses. No follow-up was done to confirm the information was accurate and the coaches were operating within the rules. Because of the lack of supervision, the violations came to light only when they were reported to the institution by an anonymous source (softball) and a tennis student-athlete.
Emphasis is mine. Texas Southern's self-imposed sanctions included the "death penalty" for the tennis program. The NCAA added four years of probation (just one year longer than IU) and a 2009 postseason ban for softball.

It seems to me that the NCAA always has been more harsh about paying players than about non-tangible recruiting advantages such as phone calls. Also, Texas Southern didn't self-report, and was found guilty of lack of institutional control. Finally, unlike most NCAA case, this one seems to have involved violations that literally threatened the health and welfare of student-athletes. It seems to me that the TSU case is distinguishable from the IU case in many ways other than the Big Ten/SWAC distinction. Indeed, except that both are cases involving "NCAA violations," I fail to see any way in which they are similar. Again, if there is a case in which a minor program was hammered harder than IU for violating the same bylaws, then find it, Dan? But the TSU case is not analogous.

So, neither his emphasis on the "condition of the program" statement nor the spurious comparison to a completely dissimilar case at Texas Southern are at all convincing. Wetzel also argues: "Its former campus leader is current NCAA president Myles Brand. Maybe that’s why the NCAA feels bad for Indiana’s current condition." Now, I've long detailed just how little I think of Myles Brand, how his post-Knight-firing speaking tour and short-notice resignation showed a disregard for IU's interests. But even if he were a beloved former leader who loved Indiana University, I would hope Wetzel would recognize the gravity of what he writes. This a very serious allegation, and Wetzel has no evidence to support the notion that Myles Brand influenced the process. In his column, Wetzel notes that IU is the only program from a major conference to have been found guilty of major violations in the last two years. While I make no excuses for what happened at IU, does anyone believe that IU is the only major conference school to have committed major violations in the last two years? If Wetzel wanted to write good column, he might wonder whether IU's phone call issues were really the worst thing that has happened in the BCS conferences in the last two years. Instead, he considers IU's status as the only sanctioned BCS school as evidence that...the NCAA is biased in favor of IU! This is some serious through-the-looking-glass bullshit, Dan.

My guess is that Wetzel has wanted to write this column for a long time. He's sure that BCS conference programs are favored by the NCAA and that minor programs are hammered. And he may be right. Unfortunately for Dan, IU is the only BCS level program that has been found guilty of major violations in the last 25 months, and so rather than keep the column in the can for a few more months, he decided to force a square peg into a round hole. It doesn't fit. If Wetzel wants to craft a case, based on NCAA precedent, establishing that IU deserved more than it got or that Texas Southern more than it deserved, I would gladly read it and respond to it. But this lazy and dishonest column doesn't come close.

Indiana 66, TCU 56.

The final score doesn't tell the story, but this was, at least for the first 38 minutes, IU's finest performance of the season. IU was ahead by 20 with 1:27 remaining, but turned the ball over on its last five possessions and allowed TCU to finish within 10. Certainly, a late-game collapse like that isn't to be completely ignored, but hopefully this young team learned some lessons in a win, for once.

As noted, IU played well for most of the game, particularly early in the second half. IU's 28.5 turnover possession (18 in a 63 possession game), isn't great, but still is above average for this team. Through the first 58 possession, IU had 12 turnovers, and that 22 percent rate would have been IU's best of the year against a D-I opponent. In addition to taking care of the ball better IU dominated the offensive boards, pulling down 50 percent of their own misses despite TCU's size advantage. TCU actually shot pretty well, but IU won on turnovers (TCU had 21), offensive rebounding, and free throw shooting.
The individuals:

  • Tom Pritchard was his reliable self: 15 points on 9 shots, 11 rebounds;
  • Devan Dumes scored 20 points on 12 shots;
  • Daniel Moore scored 4 points on 1-4 shooting, but had 7 assists to 4 rebounds;
  • Nick Williams scored 11 points on 6 shots and had 7 rebounds;
  • Malik Story couldn't reprise his Gonzaga performance: he scored 7 points on 2-9 from the field.

I'm afraid that false hope will be the main outcome of this game. This remains a flawed team. Still, I'm dreading the Kentucky game much less than I was a week ago.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The TCU game.

Texas Christian Horned Frogs
Current record
: 7-3
Current RPI: 70
Current Sagarin: 106
Current Pomeroy: 97
2007-08 record: 14-16
2007-08 RPI: 200
2007-08 Sagarin: 181
2007-08 Pomeroy: 169
Series: IU leads 2-0
Last IU win: 12/27/1993 (81-65 in Indianapolis)
Last TCU win: never
Pomeroy scouting report
TV: 8 pm, ESPN2

TCU, like IU, is a program in transition. Jim Christian, formerly of Kent State, took over for Neil Daugherty, who had only one winning season (2004-05) in six seasons. After a 1-3 start, TCU has won six in a row, including against Big 12 cellar-dweller Colorado and the recently prominent Wichita State of the MVC. As the numbers above show, TCU is a borderline top 100 team at this point, and so this will be an important test. IU has defeated all worse teams and has lost badly to all better teams. The Frogs are led by senior Kevin Langford and junior college transfers Edvinas Ruzgas and Zvonko Buljan. Buljan was a teammate of Devan Dumes at Vincennes last season.
Like IU, TCU is more impressive defensively than offensively. TCU gets to the line and shoots free throws well, but doesn't shoot well and turns the ball over quite a bit. Defensively, TCU's tempo-free numbers are above average except for two point field goal defense. They force turnovers at a reasonably high clip, 23.5 percent of possessions. IU now ranks #343 in Division I in turnover percentage, ahead of only lowly Arkansas-Pine Bluff. IU turns the ball over on 29.8 percent of its possessions, a number that has to improve.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that Verdell Jones will be back anytime soon and therefore won't be taking the burden off of Daniel Moore in the near future. The Hoosier Scoop reports that Jones is cleared for non-contact work only, which makes me speculate that it's unlikely Jones will play against Kentucky on Saturday.
Again, offensive turnovers have been IU's biggest problem and defensive turnovers have been TCU's strength. An improved TO number by IU would be some cause for optimism, but also will be a tall order.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Blogpoll draft ballot, final regular season.

1 Texas 1
2 Florida 2
3 Oklahoma --
4 Alabama 3
5 Texas Tech 1
6 Southern Cal 1
7 Penn State --
8 Utah 3
9 Ohio State 1
10 Boise State 2
11 Oklahoma State 2
12 Georgia Tech 11
13 Cincinnati 5
14 Oregon 5
15 Georgia 2
16 TCU 2
17 Michigan State 3
18 Missouri 10
19 Boston College 2
20 Pittsburgh 4
21 Northwestern 1
22 Mississippi 3
23 Brigham Young 3
24 Florida State 3
25 Virginia Tech 1

Dropped Out: Ball State (#15), Oregon State (#16).

Here it is. I don't think the software is right. None of the up and down numbers make sense, as you will note if you scroll down and review last week's ballot. So, ignore the up and down numbers. As for my top four, I have Texas-Florida-Oklahoma-Alabama. My Big XII rationale is the same as last week. I don't think Oklahoma should have been in the title game over Texas, so I'm not going to give excessive credit for whipping a team that Texas whipped once and probably would have again. As I said last week, I'm a big believer in using head-to-head results among fairly comparable teams, and I'm also generally opposed to conference rematches in bowl games unless there is a really compelling reason. So, why Texas over Florida for #1? It could have gone either way. Each team's signature win was nearly identical to the other's: Texas beat OU by 10 on a neutral field, Florida beat Alabama by 11 on a neutral field. Texas Tech's loss, in the final seconds on the road against one-loss Texas Tech, was more excusable than Florida's loss at home to Ole Miss.

Gonzaga 70, Indiana 54.

Here's the box. IU lost by 16, but was within 9 points with under four minutes remaining, so obviously on a superficial level, IU exceeded expectations. I would love to claim this game as significant progress, but I think it had more to do with an uncharacteristically awful shooting performance by Gonzaga. The Zags shot 45 percent from the field but only 3-16 from behind the arc. Unfortunately, IU's shooting was even worse, 30 percent for the game, although the Hoosiers stayed in it by shooting 6-12 from behind the arc in the second half. If there was any bright spot for the Hoosiers, that was it: maximizing possessions by taking care of the ball and making three pointers is IU's only hope for respectability. Unfortunately, the second part of that equation, taking care of the ball, was as bad as ever. IU turned the ball over 25 times in a 69 possession game. That 34 percent turnover percentage is IU's worst of the season, which is saying something. Verdell Jones missed his second consecutive game after an apparent concussion in the Cornell game, and could have been used to spell Daniel Moore, who turned the ball over 7 times in 37 minutes of play. Tom Pritchard played well, although he spent most of the game in foul trouble. Malik Story emerged, scoring 14 points on 11 shots, but there weren't too many offensive success stories for the Hoosiers.
IU enters an interesting stretch of the schedule. The Hoosiers play TCU at home on Wednesday before playing a spotty Kentucky team on the road. I don't expect a win at UK, but a competitive game might be a positive sign, while a loss to TCU probably spells disaster.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Gonzaga game.

Gonzaga Bulldogs
Current record: 5-0
Current RPI: 2
Current Sagarin: 3
Current Pomeroy: 2
2007-08 record: 25-8 (lost to Davidson in first round of NCAA Tournament)
2007-08 RPI: 34
2007-08 Sagarin: 29
2007-08 Pomeroy: 30
Series: IU leads 2-1
Last IU win: 3/15/2007 (70-57 in first round of NCAA Tournament, Sacramento)
Last Gonzaga win: 3/18/2006 (90-80 in second round of NCAA Tournament, Salt Lake City)
Pomeroy scouting report
TV: 1:30 pm, BTN

IU won the last matchup between these two teams, in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. The Zags have lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in the last two years, but hopes are high this year. Gonzaga's starting backcourt in that 2007 game, Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin, remains intact, and 6-11 forward Josh Heytvelt, who was suspended for the previous meeting with IU, remains. As the Kennel Report noted, Gonzaga has a balanced attack, with six players averaging between 9.6 and 15 points per game. And as the Pomeroy scouting report indicates, Gonzaga has excelled at nearly everything except rebounding and free throw shooting. Everything else is great: shooting, field goal defense, taking care of the ball, forcing turnovers, you name it.

At this point, IU has defeated, with varying degrees of ease, every low major opponent, but has been humiliated by every major or borderline major program on the schedule. Gonzaga may be IU's toughest opponent to date, although Notre Dame and Wake are very good. I hate to consider anything a moral victory, but a competitive loss would be a sign of significant progress for this team. I don't expect it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Wake Forest 83, Indiana 58.

I'll hopefully get a Gonzaga preview up before tomorrow's game, but first thing's first. Here's the box score from the latest of IU's blowout losses. I didn't see much of this one (operator error by my wife re: Tivo, although that 15 minute block of ESPNNews was fascinating). It sounds as if I missed the best part. The game was tied 20-20 after the first 10 minutes of the game, but Wake Forest outscored IU 27-11 for the rest of the half, and that was that. I was hoping that perhaps IU took good care of the ball during that stretch, but I count 8 turnovers in the first 10 minutes. Mostly, it seems that Wake was even sloppier, with nine TOs in that stretch. Indeed, Wake was nearly as sloppy, turning the ball over 24 times to IU's 26. Even the rebounding numbers weren't in Wake's favor: the teams had identical offensive rebounding percentages. The difference is that Wake scored at will, shooting 60 percent to IU's 37 percent on nearly identical shot totals. Quite simply, Matt Roth's 12 points on 4-5 from the field were IU's only offensive success story.

There's not much to be said about this one, except that IU still hasn't shown an ability to compete with even a lower tier Big Ten team. And it may not get better soon. IU plays Gonzaga, TCU, and at Kentucky in the next eight days.

Q&A with The Kennel Report.

I exchanged some questions with The Kennel Report, a Gonzaga blog. My answers to their questions, as well as answers to the same questions by Inside the Hall, are here. Maybe next time I'll proofread a little better, and my answer to the question about defense makes clear that I didn't see the Wake game. I asked a shorter set of questions, and TKR's answers to mine are below:

1. There have been many flash-in-the-pan programs that have made a run to the Sweet 16 and quickly fell back to earth. What is Gonzaga's secret? Is it just Mark Few, or is there some other reason that the Zags have become a legitimate national power?

Wow, this is one of those questions that is probably in the eye of the beholder but Gonzaga's success has to stop and start with Mark Few. Dan Monson was the head coach when the Zags went to the Elite Eight in '99 but bolted to Minnesota the next year. Since then Few has led Gonzaga to the tournament in every year since. A big part of Mark Few's tenure at Gonzaga has been about developing talent. Guys like Ronny Turiaf, Adam Morrison, and Blake Stepp weren't huge on the recruiting scene but they blew up upon their arrival in Spokane. The staff has done a great job at recruiting this untapped talent and putting out a team that buys into the 'team' concept. The Zags have kind of left those days behind. They now recruit at a high level and it should be interesting to see how the coaching staff adapts to being a power school because the days of sneaking up on teams are long gone.

2. What should IU expect from this team? Strengths, weaknesses, concerns, etc.

We're extremely excited about this team so these answers could be a little bit swayed in the positive side...

The major strength of this team is experience and depth. People around the program know that if there is a year for the Zags to make a final four run, this is it. Jeremy Pargo, Micah Downs, and Josh Heytvelt are all seniors who have been around the program for a while. They are all playing at extremely high levels. Pargo is near the top in assists per game, and Downs and Heytvelt are leading the team in scoring. Along the same lines, Gonzaga has five players averaging double figures in points so far in Pargo, Downs, Heytvelt, Matt Bouldin, and Austin Daye. Steven Gray is averaging 9.6 points a game so I expect him to join the group soon. With that kind of experience and depth, there is no doubt that on any given night, a different player can score twenty points for Gonzaga. This is a much needed change for the program because for so long we relied on that one player to win games for us (see Adam Morrison, Ronny Turiaf, Derek Raivio etc etc..)

The thing you will notice right away is the size and length of this team. Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo start at the guard spots for Gonzaga and look like they should be playing linebacker for the University of Washington. They are both around 220 pounds so they can not only play on the outside but they can also go down low and back you down. The front line for the Zags is extremely long. Micah Downs is 6'8'', and Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt are 6'11''. They are all tremendous shot blockers and, aside from the Tennessee game, have rebounded very well. Mark Few has got a couple of 7 footers on his bench as well in Rob Sacre and Will Foster. You'll probably see Sacre early and often but Foster, who is 7'5'', has only really played in garbage situations.

The glaring weaknesses for Gonzaga is their reliance on the three point shot and foul problems on the front line. As I mentioned earlier, Gonzaga has players that can shoot from all over the court and during some games, they all try to take over and shoot the long ball. The only player whose three point shot is his biggest strength is sophomore Steven Gray. He lives around the three point line and is a dagger shooter. Everyone else is a marginal three point shooter but is better at something else. This nearly killed us against in the Old Spice Classic. Another thing which has frustrated the Gonzaga faithful is sloppy fouls by our bigs. Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt have been taken out of some games early for some bad fouls and that really hurts our depth. Our front line is big but aside from Daye and Heytvelt, not very offensively gifted. Rob Sacre is coming off injury, Ira Brown is a a great role player, and Will Foster hasn't made any huge stride in his three years at Gonzaga. If they get in foul trouble early, we will be forced to play small and that is something we don't want to do.

3. Is there any discontent among Gonzaga fans? I would guess that the program's current status is beyond the wildest dreams of fans who followed Gonzaga before 1999. But is there any grumbling about not yet reaching the Final Four, for instance?

That's a great question and something I have been trying to figure out for awhile. Gonzaga has a weird fanbase because you have the older fans who have seen the crappy days when Gonzaga was terrible and you have newer generation fans like myself who have only seen Gonzaga dominate their conference and make the tournament every year. I think I would have a great answer to your question after this year because this is the make or break year for the Zags. They have no reason not to at least make the Elite Eight and if they don't, Mark Few is going to hear it from some of the fans. After this year their will be a huge transformation in the program because Pargo, Downs, and Heytvelt all graduate along with Ira Brown. Austin Daye may bolt to the draft as well.

As of right now, you can almost taste the fear floating around Spokane right now. Everyone knows this is a talented team but is worried about the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully the Old Spice Classic victory will ease some tensions but I would have to characterize the mood in Spokane as being cautious enthusiasm.

Not to mention the fact that Gonzaga has the weight of Washington sports on it's back. The football season wasn't kind to the state of Washington, I believe the Seahawks, Cougars and Huskies have 4 wins combined between the three teams. It's basically 'Zags or Bust' up here.

Thanks, guys. I would wish you luck, but luck can only work against Gonzaga in this game.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Wake Forest game.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Current record: 6-0
Current RPI: 61
Current Sagarin: 22
Current Pomeroy: 38
2007-08 record: 17-13
2007-08 RPI: 103
2007-08 Sagarin: 74
2007-08 Pomeroy: 68
Series: Wake Forest leads 1-0
Pomeroy gameplan
TV: 4 pm, BTN

Wake Forest is tall. IU is not. Of the 9 Demon Deacons who play 10 or more minutes a game, six are 6-9 or taller. Three are 6-11 or taller. IU, of course, has only three scholarship players taller than 6-6: Tijan Jobe, Tom Pritchard, and Kyle Taber. IU is so small that 6-5 guards Malik Story and Verdell Jones count as "size," but Jones seems unlikely to play after getting his bell rung against Cornell.

Unfortunately, I have little time for a true preview today, but it will be very difficult for IU to compete in this game. While IU's earlier opponents have tended to be offensive juggernauts, Wake is by far the best defensive team that the Hoosiers have faced. Wake is allowing only .78 points per possession (#7 nationally), and really limits opponents' opportunities in nearly every way imaginable: they force turnovers, play excellent field goal defense, rebound really well defensively, and block tons of shots.

IU's only previous meeting with Wake was under similar circumstances. In the 2003-04 Big Ten ACC Challenge, IU lost at Wake 100-67 on the way to IU's only losing record of the last 40 years. Oh, and IU's other trip to Winston-Salem? The 1997 NCAA Tournament, in which IU mailed in an 80-62 loss to Colorado. Lawrence Joel Coliseum has not been kind to the Hoosiers, and I don't expect that to change tonight.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Indiana 72, Cornell 57.

Andy Bernard no doubt had a relapse during this one, which amounts to IU's best win of the year. Cornell has nothing approaching Big Ten talent, but won the Ivy League last season with a perfect record and is favored to win again. My pregame concern was in part based on ignorance: I didn't realize that two of Cornell's best players were injured and unavailable. I also didn't expect Verdell Jones to miss the last 30 minutes of the game after being knocked cold by a (clean) Cornell screen. (By the way, I hope it was out-of-state students booing the Cornell player in question, Jeff Foote. I would like to think that native Hoosiers would recognize the excellence and appropriateness of that screen).

Here are the stats. This was a 68-possession game, and so IU generally is playing a bit faster than last season's much more talented team. Cornell's vaunted offense played a horrible game. The Big Red shot 33 percent from the field and managed only 9 offensive rebounds. Ryan Wittman scored 28 points for Cornell, but he needed 22 shots to do it, and was only 8-22 from the field. Even that less-than-efficient performance was above average compared to his teammates. IU, in the meantime, shot over 55 percent from the field, 79 percent from the line, and was more effective than usual on the boards. Tom Pritchard excelled: he scored 23 points on 7-7 from the field and 9-13 from the line. IU's rebounds were well-distributed. The bad news? Turnover problems continued, and against a team not known for its defense. IU turned the ball over on nearly 30 percent of its possession, second-worst on the season after the St. Joseph's game. Most importantly, IU finished strong. After blowing big leads against IUPUI and Chaminade, it was encouraging to see IU finish an opponent that was on the ropes.

In sum, IU played reasonably well against a tall but not particularly aggressive team. This doesn't give me much hope that IU will be competitive in upcoming games against Wake Forest, Gonzaga, and Kentucky, but this was IU's most complete effort of the season, and so I'll take it.