Hope for the best; brace for the slow

  • 02/07/2008 12:50 pm in

weber123.jpgDespite what most people will tell you, Indiana-Illinois has always been a rivalry, at least to some extent. That whole familiarity-breeds-contempt thing? I’m pretty familiar with Illinois fans; Illinois fans were pretty familiar with Bob Knight. The rivalry here is fun, but it is not new. Add a spice of Eric Gordon, and you’ve got yourself a game that will generate more hyperbole and angst than it will reason and consideration.

That’s to be expected, but context doesn’t make free throws, and it doesn’t run a motion offense. (Neither do the Hoosiers, but hey! I’ll be here all night!) Context is important, sure, but it’s never as important as what happens on the court. In that spirit, then, let’s figure out just why the Hoosiers have such a difficult time with the Illini — and why tonight could be no different.

The first problem here is the matchups. It’s not anything new, but while the Illini are a pretty bad offensive team, defensively they are almost perfectly suited to stop IU. 6’10 Shaun Pruitt is bigger than White and just as strong; he makes things difficult for D.J. even without a double team. The story is the same for Eric Gordon, who was defended admirably in the first matchup by the duo of Calvin Brock and Brian Randle. Both are athletic enough to stay close to Gordon on the perimeter without worrying about a blow-by.

As we’ve established recently, without Gordon and White at the peak of their game, the Hoosiers are toast. The Illini are lucky enough to match up well with IU at those two spots, matchups that level the star-power playing field on the offensive end of the floor.

Remember when IU used to trounce opponents with nothing more than brute athletic force? When Eric Gordon was invincible; when D.J. White was unstoppable; when the rest of the squad was perfectly formed to complement the team’s two stars; when a Final Four was surely imminent? It seems almost impossible to fathom now. Thanks to the last few weeks — a horrid loss at home to UConn, an ugly blowout in Wisconsin — the Hoosiers seem more realistic now, more scrutable. And we now know that they deficient in a variety of ways, not least of which is offensive organization.

The Hoosiers rarely run anymore. When they do, they’re still effective, but when they’re slowed down, their secondary break never really takes shape. (That was something Duke-UNC hammered home last night; those are two teams who know how to run a secondary break.) And the half-court offense, well, let’s not get started. Let’s agree to say frustrating isn’t quite strong enough a word, and move on.

This is made doubly worse against a team like Illinois, one that prefers a high-pressure, half-court man-to-man game. Where Tom Izzo’s varied offensive sets could work to free Gordon the way they free Neitzel, IU is instead pushed farther and farther from the hoop before anything resembling motion can get started. The man-to-man has always been susceptible to superior athleticism and/or an efficient motion offense. IU has neither.

Another concern for the Hoosiers is pace. IU’s attack is fairly versatile and not immune to the fast break, but the Hoosiers (68.6 possessions a game) are not immune to quick points. The Illini (63.8 possessions per game), on the other hand, seem to loathe high-tempo basketball. It would behoove the Hoosiers to get out and run on every Illini rebound and made shot to force Illinois to retreat as quickly as possible to set up in the half-court. As we’ve already said, IU’s offense vs. Illinois’ defense in a half-court game is not what the Hoosiers want. Of course, IU won’t do this, because this is not Kelvin Sampson’s style. Sampson’s style has long been a slow, grinding one, and only this year has the team picked up the pace slightly (perhaps as a secession to Gordon’s ability). So his team will remain caught in their weird pseudo-fast break: Not too fast, not too slow, and never really effective.

What does this all mean? It means we’re likely to see another close, ugly game from IU. Which team can be more offensively impotent? Which team will miss more shots? That will be the final arbiter here, no matter what the Orange Krush — or the brave crimson-clad souls in the Spaceship — will have you believe.

Filed to:

  • Travis

    Good analysis, except Chester Frazier did not play in the first game, it was the duo of Randle and Brock that defended EJ admirably. Might be to our benefit to have Frazier on the floor this time around, that guy is brutal.

  • DavidC

    E, Frazier didn't play in the first meeting – he was injured.

  • Illini Visitor

    Just wandered over to see what Hoosier fans have to say about this game. Thanks for the post; you make good points.

    I'm curious about what IU fans think about the remainder of your schedule and your tourney chances (I'm living vicariously through our rivals for obvious reasons this season.)

    I notice that all seven of your wins in conference are against the bottom half. You seem to have a forgiving schedule this year because MSU / OSU / PU / Wisc (the top half ex-IU) account for only 7 of your 18 games. You have a brutal four-game stretch approaching after tonight.

    I also note that although Illinois' record is ugly our strength of schedule on Sagarin is #4 in the country while IU's is #150. And although we have no offense to speak of all of our BT losses (ex-OSU in the opener) are by fewer than 10 pts solely because of defense.

    I tend to agree that tonight will be a slow, ugly game. We're due to win one of those, especially after playing very well against Purdue on Saturday and losing because of a breakout frosh performance.

    Frankly I'm pretty surprised that IU hasn't thrashed more sub-par opponents (like the Illini) this season (though the Iowa win was pretty decisive.) Is the consensus, per this post, that Sampson isn't running an offense that employs his talent optimally? I've seen you against only Kentucky, Illinois and Wisconsin so far so can't really tell if this is the trend. I was rather puzzled at his substitution choices down the stretch against UCLA last March.

    How optimistic are fans about the NCAAs this year?

  • Good call, I always get the two confused. Fixed.

  • Illini Visitor

    Travis… brutal doesn't cover it; he's horrendous. Demetri McCamey (true frosh) has gotten increased amts of playing time since mid-January and is coming along. Not that it would take much but the Illini are much better now than they were when they played in Bloomington. Defense is most of what they have going for them; however, Pruitt and Randle have finally begun to score. If Gordon can't break free then Crawford or Bassett have to step up or IU will probably lose.

  • The Miz

    First of all I'd like to say I appreciate you coming here in a non-offensive, collected manner. To respond to your thoughts, I among plenty of other IU fans would have to agree with many of your points. The Hoosiers should be beating some of these teams by much more than they have been able to. I personally think that Sampson is a big part of the problem, and he has taken responsibility for it recently. We lose too many opposing players under the basket on defense, leading to a myriad of easy buckets. Our offensive scheme is either A) pick and pop for DJ or B) hope out athletic ability will free someone for something. Our schedule has been weak and we are starting, and will probably continue, to pay for it.

    All that being said, I can't agree with your assessment of our “forgiving” BigTen schedule. Granted, we play Purdue only once, but we play all the other teams at the top of the conference twice. Considering IU is in the top half of the BigTen, that eliminates the possibility of 2 games against conference leaders-being that we can't play ourselves.

    Unless the Hoosiers show dramatic improvement over the next month, we'll need a good draw and some luck to make it to the second weekend.

  • Illini Visitor

    Thanks. You're correct about the BT schedule… I was foolish not to recognize that you're in fact playing all the top teams twice (except for Purdue; you don't have to go to WL this season.)

    I focused on the lopsidedness of the slate… the fact that only one out of the first eight was against a top-five team and now you face six of the last ten against the cream (though four of those are at home.)

    On a positive note, however, this late-season rigor and the BTT will really toughen the team for March.

    Are you saying that Sampson in general lacks a systematic offensive set and largely ad libs to free Gordon? The criticism among Illini fans is that Weber has stubbornly run the motion variant without recognizing that he has no perimeter game this year and that he should instead ad lib the offense to an extent. And that he's inflexible about zone D. Echoes of Knight's influence, I guess.

  • Frankly I'm pretty surprised that IU hasn't thrashed more sub-par opponents (like the Illini) this season (though the Iowa win was pretty decisive.) Is the consensus, per this post, that Sampson isn't running an offense that employs his talent optimally? I've seen you against only Kentucky, Illinois and Wisconsin so far so can't really tell if this is the trend. I was rather puzzled at his substitution choices down the stretch against UCLA last March.

    Yeah, that's the consensus. Unfortunately, IU is too often stagnant or one-dimensional on offense, and it's hard not to feel like Gordon's talent is being wasted at times.

    As for the schedule and hope for the NCAA's, there is a lot about this team that needs to improve. I think the Miz said it best just above.

  • Oh yeah, and thanks for not being a troll. No one likes trolls.

  • Illini Visitor

    Well, as I said above, given the hill you have to climb this month against the better teams in the BT maybe you'll find that the boys play to the level of their competition once they get used to being challenged. February is always the key month for teams like IU to get over the hump.

    I'm simply reduced to hoping that our freshman and sophs get lots of playing time from here on out. It has been along time since I felt that way in early February…

  • Illini Visitor

    I'm a guest here…

  • MLOVE

    Said it earlier on a different post, but dont you think Joey Shaw and even Keeling would possibly be helping this team right NOW?

  • xxZPxx

    An interesting point from the outsider. I dont believe we have ever brought up the fact that maybe our somewhat weaker schedule hasn't allowed us to mature the way we are capable of. After playing some tougher games maybe we will start to gel into the team we all know we are capable of being. It is hard to continually play weak teams and then play two tough teams like UCONN and Wisconsin back to back. I feel we will be a better team after these next 5 games and that is all that really matters. If we are up pto the challenge then maybe we can win the Big Ten, if not we will be stronger come March Your insight is welcome here Illini Visitor, but if your pal Bill shows up again…..

  • xxZPxx

    Not really but I think Eli would have helped us immensely (assuming he would have improved and adjusted by now)

  • MLOVE

    Well i think ELI would definitely be helping they could be using him like TABER. Ask him to play tough under the glass dont shoot unless it is a dunk put back and just take a large body out fo the paint

  • MLOVE

    JUST HEARD AJ RATLIFF IS NOT MAKING THE TRIP TONIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!????????????????????????????????

  • TheMiz

    Thankfully we don't have to go to West Lafayette. I don't think I could stomach all the trash talking my Purdue buddies would be giving out if we lost to them this year. Oh yeah the W at home is going to be far from easy anyways…

  • Joe

    E, spot on assessment of the game. I just hope Sampson can realize what we need to do also. I'm not really worried about Gordon being distracted. The only reason if he has a bad game is because of good d on him. Ratliff being out is going to hurt us. He provides us some needed length at the guard spot. I could see us playing a lot of zone.

  • Jerry

    I listened to the teleconf w Sampson and it is clear he has teh exact same assessment of the team as reflected by the folks on this site, namely

    1. additional scorers and he mentions Bassett
    2. area needign most improvement ==> defense
    3. what he is focusing on ==> effort and toughness

    I have been pushing the idea of zone for awhile now so I agree especially if they add a serious half court trap. This way I think we can play McGee and Crawford serious minutes to take our offense beyond 2 players

  • Don D

    I also read the Ratliff was not making trip with team tonight. What's up with this?

  • HoosierSmitty

    I have been pretty busy lately and haven't heard much about Crawford since he got injured. Is he 100% tonight? I heard he was limping around recently and that it swelled up pretty bad after the last game? What's his status? Seems like he's good to go, but just wondered what the official word was. As for AJ…who really cares? He hasn't shown up all year, other than to foul guys making 3s and miss his wide open looks for 3.

    I think it's going to be a tough one to win, but I think we squeak out with some FTs at the end.

    1. I really worry about DJ getting into foul trouble on the road. A lot of teams are flopping when he backs down in the post.
    2. Same goes for EJ, although he's been penetrating less and less aggressively as the year has worn on. He needs to get to the line, but he needs to be wary of charges.
    3. We have to watch out for Meacham. That little bastard can hit 3s, and I don't want to lose because we can't recover and defend the 3.

    Indiana 65
    Illinois 58

  • Travis

    Good analysis, except Chester Frazier did not play in the first game, it was the duo of Randle and Brock that defended EJ admirably. Might be to our benefit to have Frazier on the floor this time around, that guy is brutal.

  • DavidC

    E, Frazier didn't play in the first meeting – he was injured.

  • Illini Visitor

    Just wandered over to see what Hoosier fans have to say about this game. Thanks for the post; you make good points.

    I'm curious about what IU fans think about the remainder of your schedule and your tourney chances (I'm living vicariously through our rivals for obvious reasons this season.)

    I notice that all seven of your wins in conference are against the bottom half. You seem to have a forgiving schedule this year because MSU / OSU / PU / Wisc (the top half ex-IU) account for only 7 of your 18 games. You have a brutal four-game stretch approaching after tonight.

    I also note that although Illinois' record is ugly our strength of schedule on Sagarin is #4 in the country while IU's is #150. And although we have no offense to speak of all of our BT losses (ex-OSU in the opener) are by fewer than 10 pts solely because of defense.

    I tend to agree that tonight will be a slow, ugly game. We're due to win one of those, especially after playing very well against Purdue on Saturday and losing because of a breakout frosh performance.

    Frankly I'm pretty surprised that IU hasn't thrashed more sub-par opponents (like the Illini) this season (though the Iowa win was pretty decisive.) Is the consensus, per this post, that Sampson isn't running an offense that employs his talent optimally? I've seen you against only Kentucky, Illinois and Wisconsin so far so can't really tell if this is the trend. I was rather puzzled at his substitution choices down the stretch against UCLA last March.

    How optimistic are fans about the NCAAs this year?

  • Good call, I always get the two confused. Fixed.

  • Illini Visitor

    Travis… brutal doesn't cover it; he's horrendous. Demetri McCamey (true frosh) has gotten increased amts of playing time since mid-January and is coming along. Not that it would take much but the Illini are much better now than they were when they played in Bloomington. Defense is most of what they have going for them; however, Pruitt and Randle have finally begun to score. If Gordon can't break free then Crawford or Bassett have to step up or IU will probably lose.

  • The Miz

    First of all I'd like to say I appreciate you coming here in a non-offensive, collected manner. To respond to your thoughts, I among plenty of other IU fans would have to agree with many of your points. The Hoosiers should be beating some of these teams by much more than they have been able to. I personally think that Sampson is a big part of the problem, and he has taken responsibility for it recently. We lose too many opposing players under the basket on defense, leading to a myriad of easy buckets. Our offensive scheme is either A) pick and pop for DJ or B) hope out athletic ability will free someone for something. Our schedule has been weak and we are starting, and will probably continue, to pay for it.

    All that being said, I can't agree with your assessment of our “forgiving” BigTen schedule. Granted, we play Purdue only once, but we play all the other teams at the top of the conference twice. Considering IU is in the top half of the BigTen, that eliminates the possibility of 2 games against conference leaders-being that we can't play ourselves.

    Unless the Hoosiers show dramatic improvement over the next month, we'll need a good draw and some luck to make it to the second weekend.

  • Illini Visitor

    Thanks. You're correct about the BT schedule… I was foolish not to recognize that you're in fact playing all the top teams twice (except for Purdue; you don't have to go to WL this season.)

    I focused on the lopsidedness of the slate… the fact that only one out of the first eight was against a top-five team and now you face six of the last ten against the cream (though four of those are at home.)

    On a positive note, however, this late-season rigor and the BTT will really toughen the team for March.

    Are you saying that Sampson in general lacks a systematic offensive set and largely ad libs to free Gordon? The criticism among Illini fans is that Weber has stubbornly run the motion variant without recognizing that he has no perimeter game this year and that he should instead ad lib the offense to an extent. And that he's inflexible about zone D. Echoes of Knight's influence, I guess.

  • Frankly I'm pretty surprised that IU hasn't thrashed more sub-par opponents (like the Illini) this season (though the Iowa win was pretty decisive.) Is the consensus, per this post, that Sampson isn't running an offense that employs his talent optimally? I've seen you against only Kentucky, Illinois and Wisconsin so far so can't really tell if this is the trend. I was rather puzzled at his substitution choices down the stretch against UCLA last March.

    Yeah, that's the consensus. Unfortunately, IU is too often stagnant or one-dimensional on offense, and it's hard not to feel like Gordon's talent is being wasted at times.

    As for the schedule and hope for the NCAA's, there is a lot about this team that needs to improve. I think the Miz said it best just above.

  • Oh yeah, and thanks for not being a troll. No one likes trolls.

  • Illini Visitor

    Well, as I said above, given the hill you have to climb this month against the better teams in the BT maybe you'll find that the boys play to the level of their competition once they get used to being challenged. February is always the key month for teams like IU to get over the hump.

    I'm simply reduced to hoping that our freshman and sophs get lots of playing time from here on out. It has been along time since I felt that way in early February…

  • Illini Visitor

    I'm a guest here…

  • MLOVE

    Said it earlier on a different post, but dont you think Joey Shaw and even Keeling would possibly be helping this team right NOW?

  • xxZPxx

    An interesting point from the outsider. I dont believe we have ever brought up the fact that maybe our somewhat weaker schedule hasn't allowed us to mature the way we are capable of. After playing some tougher games maybe we will start to gel into the team we all know we are capable of being. It is hard to continually play weak teams and then play two tough teams like UCONN and Wisconsin back to back. I feel we will be a better team after these next 5 games and that is all that really matters. If we are up pto the challenge then maybe we can win the Big Ten, if not we will be stronger come March Your insight is welcome here Illini Visitor, but if your pal Bill shows up again…..

  • xxZPxx

    Not really but I think Eli would have helped us immensely (assuming he would have improved and adjusted by now)

  • MLOVE

    Well i think ELI would definitely be helping they could be using him like TABER. Ask him to play tough under the glass dont shoot unless it is a dunk put back and just take a large body out fo the paint

  • MLOVE

    JUST HEARD AJ RATLIFF IS NOT MAKING THE TRIP TONIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!????????????????????????????????

  • TheMiz

    Thankfully we don't have to go to West Lafayette. I don't think I could stomach all the trash talking my Purdue buddies would be giving out if we lost to them this year. Oh yeah the W at home is going to be far from easy anyways…

  • IndianaJoe

    E, spot on assessment of the game. I just hope Sampson can realize what we need to do also. I'm not really worried about Gordon being distracted. The only reason if he has a bad game is because of good d on him. Ratliff being out is going to hurt us. He provides us some needed length at the guard spot. I could see us playing a lot of zone.

  • Jerry

    I listened to the teleconf w Sampson and it is clear he has teh exact same assessment of the team as reflected by the folks on this site, namely

    1. additional scorers and he mentions Bassett
    2. area needign most improvement ==> defense
    3. what he is focusing on ==> effort and toughness

    I have been pushing the idea of zone for awhile now so I agree especially if they add a serious half court trap. This way I think we can play McGee and Crawford serious minutes to take our offense beyond 2 players

  • Don D

    I also read the Ratliff was not making trip with team tonight. What's up with this?

  • HoosierSmitty

    I have been pretty busy lately and haven't heard much about Crawford since he got injured. Is he 100% tonight? I heard he was limping around recently and that it swelled up pretty bad after the last game? What's his status? Seems like he's good to go, but just wondered what the official word was. As for AJ…who really cares? He hasn't shown up all year, other than to foul guys making 3s and miss his wide open looks for 3.

    I think it's going to be a tough one to win, but I think we squeak out with some FTs at the end.

    1. I really worry about DJ getting into foul trouble on the road. A lot of teams are flopping when he backs down in the post.
    2. Same goes for EJ, although he's been penetrating less and less aggressively as the year has worn on. He needs to get to the line, but he needs to be wary of charges.
    3. We have to watch out for Meacham. That little bastard can hit 3s, and I don't want to lose because we can't recover and defend the 3.

    Indiana 65
    Illinois 58