The Morning After: That’s that

  • 03/24/2008 12:40 pm in

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College basketball seasons are long and dynamic things. They’re not like college football seasons, which require drilled excellence from the outset and where a midseason loss can kill your chances at winning a truly screwed-up national championship. They’re not like NFL or NBA seasons, where each team is basically what they are starting in training camp. They’re not baseball seasons, either, where the playoffs are such a comparably small sample size that all a fan can hope for is a division title — the rest feels like a crapshoot.

Instead, college basketball teams, the ones that compete in March, have similar blueprints: They roll the balls out in October, look terrible in November and December, coalesce in January, fade slightly in February, and, if they’re really good, peak in March when the games matter most. This blueprint hits close to home; just look at Michigan State this year. Or North Carolina. Or any of the teams still playing basketball next weekend. Or any of the 20 or so teams that lost last weekend that deserved to win. That’s the blueprint you’re supposed to follow.

I wish we could look back at IU’s season, as this TMA intends to, and say they followed the blueprint. A loss to a good Arkansas team under those auspices would have been OK. But we can’t say that. Instead, they didn’t push to the finish, or peak in their late games. They quit. They just quit. And for some reason, I’m not even mad.

What can you be mad about? Not at the players. I’ve said this before, but it’s like mom (IU) and dad (Sampson) divorced in the middle of high school. College basketball players aren’t so removed from their teenage years. How did you think they’d respond? How would you have responded?

You can get angry at the administration for bungling the situation on about 100 different levels, but you can’t really get angry at them for firing Sampson in-season. Fans were calling for his head, and to save their own face and improve the prospects of a top-flight coach coming to IU in the next few weeks, they had to act quickly and decisively. Sampson had to be gone. You can’t blame them for trying to end a bad situation as soon as possible.

If you want to get angry, don’t blame the players, and don’t blame the administration. (At least not for this. Fall break — now that’s an issue to get mad about.) Blame Kelvin Sampson. He ruined everything, not only for himself, but the players he claimed to love, and for the university he devoted himself to. He had the balls to sit in the office of the winningest coach of all time — a coach with his own flaws, but with high standards, too — and merely pay lipservice to the notions many fans hold dear to their hearts. But he didn’t get it. It’s not just talk. It can’t be, not at IU. That Sampson didn’t understand the difference, that he was simultaneously so audacious and dumb as to assume his words were nothing more than a pacifier to his constituent public — well, that’s why he deserves scorn.

He made the season a sad footnote, made Dan Dakich an ineffective interim babysitter, made the players wonder where their father was. That’s where the anger belongs, if you believe it belongs anywhere: at Sampson’s feet.

Me? I’m not mad at all, like I said above. Anything positive that would happened after Sampson’s departure would have been a bonus. What’s the point in being all pissed off about a season that ended eight games ago? All you can do is gear up for the coaching search, throw your support into one corner or another, enjoy the rest of the tournament, and move on. Here’s trusting IU won’t make the same mistake twice. Here’s hoping they get the right guy. And here’s saying goodbye to everything that came before, where we — because this is sports, and not real life — can say without a drop of cynicism that a new day is dawning. And who could be mad about that?

— As for Arkansas, there’s not a whole lot to add. Eric Gordon (more on him below) didn’t suddenly start hitting shots again; IU didn’t suddenly start defending again; Dakich continued to force them to play man-to-man, a style at which they were never adept. It was the same sad story as every other post-Sampson game. IU gave up 86 points — 86! — on 66 possessions, and though their offense was OK, it’s very, very difficult to win when you allow 1.3 points per possession.

Positives? They’re hard to find. Maybe Lance Stemler hitting a couple of shots? Maybe, um … I don’t know. That was probably it, and even that felt kind of bitter. (Stemler waits until now to start shooting. Fantastic.)

— Friday’s loss meant saying goodbye to both Eric Gordon and D.J. White, and I’d assume that most fans have remarkably different opinions of the two players. We all know D.J. White’s story, and we all know that he was really the only player on the team fighting for anything down the stretch, or at least the only player having success doing so. White’s legacy will be one of loyalty and devotion and unfulfilled promises, but he will be canonized in Hoosier lore in very positive ways. In four years of tumult, he was a constant. He deserves credit — and every IU fan’s best wishes for a profitable pro career — for that.

But what about Eric Gordon? What legacy does he leave?

I think it’s safe to say, as the year closes, that Gordon is still vastly overrated in a variety of ways … but not as overrated as the last few games would make him seem. It’d be easy to jump on without remembering that Gordon is a freshman, and that freshmen are prone to injury, wear and tear, streaky shooting, and turnovers. We saw all of that in Gordon. We also saw some remarkable potential that he can fill, potential that might yet make him a slightly bigger version of Ben Gordon. The shame is that we won’t get to see what Gordon might have done with a year under his belt, what his progress as a sophomore might have been, if he could have competed for national awards commensurate to his obvious ability.

His legacy is mixed. It’s a shame — though an entirely justifiable one — that it’s also so short.

— As for the rest of these players, I’ll be the first to say I’m glad Jamarcus Ellis is going to come back, and I’m glad he seems to be saying the right things in regard to dealing with a new coach. Next year is Ellis’ shot — as a Juco guy, he only gets two — and he’d do well to make use of it. Same goes for DeAndre Thomas. Thomas needs to continue to shed pounds and to work on his vertical jump and strength in the post. He could be a valid contributor next year.

Armon Bassett was perhaps this season’s most pleasant individual surprise. He unveiled a truly consistent outside jumper, showed lots of defensive progress, and developed as a “true” point guard. Here’s hoping the new coach does enough to win him over before Bassett is swooned by a big program in need of a dead-eye shooter.

Lance Stemler was Lance Stemler. Lance was always asked to do things he had never done before in his life, so I will always appreciate his willingness to do so to find a spot at a higher level. If only he had been the shooter we were all promised; turns out, he was a volume guy, and there was no reason to give Stemler volume, like, ever.

Jordan Crawford was also a pleasant surprise this season. Crawford is a much more typical freshman than Gordon or Derrick Rose or any of the other super-frosh heading to college these days, but a few years ago, when the rest of those players would have gone pro, Crawford’s game would have been even more highly touted. All told, he’s a good shooter, a creative offensive player, a decent, if turnover-prone, passer, and a really bad defender. In other words, he’s a freshman. It’d be great to see him blossom over four years, but you couldn’t blame Crawford if he found somewhere else that recruited him a year ago. He has a bright future ahead.

Farewell, Mike White. We hardly knew ye.

Kyle Taber found a home this year. So long as he never, ever shoots the ball outside four feet — something Taber understands well, which is refreshing — I’ll be glad to have him back.

Eli Holman says he’ll be back. Please, Eli — harness that athleticism. Please.

And everyone else: It was a season. It was OK at points. Bad at a lot of others. But like I said above, a new day is dawning. Let’s try to have some fun with it.

Editor’s Note: You can read more of PostmanE’s take on college basketball at the Dagger on Yahoo! Sports.

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  • Ryan_Btown

    Great post…couldn't agree more with just about all of it. Let's turn the page and hope that Armon and Jordan want to come back. If that happens, and possibly one of the two biggest recruits decide to stay, or there are some significant JUCO transfers, they'll still do alright next year. And what if…what if Eric Gordon stayed one more year. Doubt it, but that would be pretty sweet. I know he was awfully tough to watch down the stretch, but I'd take him back in a heart beat.

  • Yeah, this was terrific. Good work as always, E.

    '08-'09 team slogan: FREE ELI

  • BrianBridgePro

    In spite of all the denials, I can't help but think that Eric Gordon's injury is rather more then has been reported. You don't go from the smoothest ball manipulator since Pistol Pete Maravich to the out-of-control Hope to God I get fouled again lumbering down the lane player that Eric has become.

  • tberry

    It's Coach Time. IU better get it right. I'm have to admit, I am so glad this season is over. IU needs a rest and a new start.

    I hope IU will hire our coach real soon and we can all start healing.

  • Willis

    Amen. Great post, great slogan.

  • Excellent work as always E. Enjoyed reading the Morning After all season.

  • Kelin Blab

    Good work E, I wish you has slammed sampson some more but I will take what I can get…..this was my most difficulty IU season EVER.

    07-08……..slogan……….”Failure is just one phone call away”
    07-08 number 2…..slogan………”At least we beat Purdue”

  • xxBHxx

    Great article and sum up of this season E. Look foward to next years morning after sessions.

    Good work to all ITH staff.

  • JerryCT

    All the players and maybe even Gordon will stay when the new coach is announced and has a chance to talk to the team. He will also have recruits.

    Clearly IU is aggressively trying to return to championship quality 1) hiring KS, 2) building new facility etc . As such only a tier #1 coach will be hired like Bennett, Wright, Pearl, Miller, Few. We can forget the tier#2 coaches like Grant, Davis, Brownell, Drew.

    I think the players come back with a ” can't wait ” attitude and we are back to winning and perhaps even playing a major schedule for a change.

  • JerryCT

    Is it me or can you look at the current WSU team and see IU next year ?

    Weaver – played by Ellis
    Baynes – played by Thomas
    Cowgill- played by Holman
    Low – played by Bassett
    Rochestie – played by Crawford

  • Raymond219

    Fantastic post. This University now needs to prove to its fans and supporters that for once we can make an intelligent hire other than Terry Hoeppner and forget our Cameron, Dinardo, Biil Lynch Davis & Samspson decisions. (I cite football to prove how inept our athletic department is)

    IU for once needs to do EVERYTHING they can to get their man and restore morale and our program. Remember, we hired Sampson after we went after other coaches and wouldn't do what it took to get them. THIS TIME WE NEED TO DO EVERYTHING IT TAKES TO GET OUR MAN, OUR #1 CHOICE.

  • BrianK

    The depressing thing is I think back to being at Hoosier Hysteria dreaming of how this season was supposed to be and now to be sitting here with how it actually turned out. I can't wait for rumors etc to start flying even more abotu a new coach and hopefully we land one in the next 3-4 weeks as soon as the tourney is over.

  • Kelin Blab

    The longer IU waits, the less likely it is Keno Davis, Anthony Grant, Scott Drew, Brad Brownell……and the longer it smells like Sean Miller, Bruce Pearl…..and Izzo maybe? I like it…..

    Big A…..are you guys waiting and wishing on taking down Devin Ebanks as and T. Holloway as recruits until the sign with someone else?….Kelin…..

  • Kelin,

    Until they announce for another school, we'll probably leave them as IU signees.

  • ChiCityHoosier

    not sure how long ITH has been around, but i became a religious visitor this season and this post is by far one of the best. keep up the amazing work, PostmanE, PostmanR, and BigA. i'll keep reading (and praying for a great coaching catch and an awesome 2007-08 season). cheers.

  • Thanks ChiCity. We launched back in June and we're planning on keeping this thing going as long as the community enjoys reading.

  • bz

    great post e. i will disagree with you on one point. i don't know that i'm angry with the players, but i am close. the reason is that no matter how difficult things got (and the phone thing and ks leaving WERE difficult), i can understand the players not playing as well, but i can't accept their obvious lack of effort. over the last eight games there were too many examples of a lack of hustle and too many players whose body language gave away the thoughts in their heads. when things get bad, the basketball court is supposed to be the one place where they can forget their problems for 40 minutes and just do what they do best. i equally blame dd for not doing whatever it takes to get the guys to play with an “us against the world” mentality, but at the end of the day it's the kids that have to give it their all on the court, not dd.

    i'm really hoping for a head coach who is a supreme motivator; someone who can come in and get the players to buy in to a “we're not rebuilding, we're already good” mentality. (is it a sign of nerdness if i used a semicolon on a blog comment)? i can't get visions of bruce pearl walking in to a recruit's family room in a crimson sport coat out of my head.

  • dabig

    I can't blame the kids, because they're kids. Sampson is the adult, and he blew the best gig of his life.
    It was a hard season. But, you can't keep a good program down. It may take a few years, but we'll be back.

  • BTOWN40

    That was one of the best post ever, worthy of a pulitzer prize. very classy

  • Kelin Blab

    Chicity….ITH has saved me some cash from joinging peegs or nation, good websites, but I get the same info here and some helluva bloggers who run this thing too. Good guys who post on here also……the amazing thing about Indiana basketball is, it is year around, once a coach is hired we will be on here thrilled and singing his praises or bitchin' about greeny and the blue ribbon panel…..

    Then we will look at the recruiting class, summer teams, etc. It just keeps rollin'

  • Kelin Blab

    bz….I can see pearl on the sideline sporting a Plaid Jacket luring bob out of his bunker and renaming the court or the new facility after him…..whether he is there or not……

  • BrianK

    Love it lol that would be awesome

  • Strike that, they've both been released. So they've been removed.

  • Agreed. Great Read.