The Indiana Hoosiers have not been an easy team to root for this season. In their 11-game losing streak and Big Ten winlessness, they’ve struggled to inspire much of anything in the way of interest, or intrigue, or emotion, really. (With the exception of the Michigan game, that is. That sucked.)
By far the most satisfying part of the season has been watching Tom Crean, watching him both on and off the court. Watching him handle his business, watch him coach every game like IU has a Final Four shot, watch him prod players along without showing even the slightest hint of frustration, watch him work a Chicago crowd into a veritable frenzy. All the while, his former team, Marquette, has been running roughshod over the best conference in college basketball; they might get a No. 1 NCAA Tourney seed. Until last night, it was a question as to whether or not IU would win a single game the rest of the season.
Ah, but win they did. Ryan predicted it (he downplays his predictive abilities, but the man has a gift), as did Devan Dumes and Tijan Jobe (whose new nickname should be “prophet.”) It felt like it was time, didn’t it? An awful Iowa team playing Indiana at home. Indiana seeming to, in its last few games, pull things together a bit more. Last night was the night.
It’s not about us, really, but I’m curious: After the game, how did you feel? Excited? Relieved? Anything? I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t overjoyed or thrilled or cathartically relieved like I assumed. I thought I would be jumping up and down, or something. Instead, I was just kind of pleased — glad to know the Hoosiers won’t go the entire season without a Big Ten win, that Crean’s and his players’ hard work was rewarded, at least for one night. Not overjoyed. Just happy. That’s good enough.
Of course, though the result was the same, there was plenty about the game that had 2008-09 Hoosiers written all over it. Let’s take a look:
Just kidding. I’m not going to write about this dude anymore. The only thing worse than having to listen to him ruin a perfectly good IU win with non-sequitors and weirdness is stressing it too much the day after. Forget it.
TOM PRITCHARD, CORRELATION, AND CAUSATION
In all of IU’s Big Ten losses, Tom Pritchard played at least 24 minutes (and usually around 30), scored at least eight points, and, with the exception of IU’s loss to Northwestern, attempted at least eight field goals. Usually more. Last night, he played 14 minutes, attempted two shots, scored one, and that was that.
There’s no question Pritchard has been IU’s best player. This means nothing. It’s curious and funny to look at and it caught my eye this morning when I was looking at stats, but as they say, correlation does not equal causation. Pritchard playing few minutes last night was not why IU won. That would be funny, were it true. Alas, it is not.
(Note: Not that anyone actually thought this. Just pointing it out.)
Devan Dumes is Rex Grossman. Remember the “Good Rex, Bad Rex” thing he had going on in 2006, where he would be utterly brilliant for one game and then put up some of the worst, most incomprehensibly bad numbers the next? That’s like Dumes, except he does that every possession. Last night, he strung a really efficient, smart, incredibly well-shot game together, and he only turned the ball over twice. If he can re-create even a facsimile of that — maybe missing a few times, coming back down to Earth, whatever — and still protect the ball, he may have turned a corner. Maybe “Bad Devan” just needed a few games at the Big Ten level to get gone forever.
TEMPO-FREE IS THE WAY TO BE
(I don’t even know what that means.) Key to victory: Making shots and not turning the ball over. Seems simple enough. But usually IU is awful at both of those things, which is why they only score 91 points per 100 possessions (and that number is probably way lower during Big Ten play). Last night, they scored 1.7 points per possession, their best mark of the year and one so good that they didn’t need to really clamp down defensively. They allowed about as many points as they usually do. That mark will be difficult to keep up, but again, for one night, we’ll take it.
That’s my motto for Feb. 4, 2009: We’ll take it.