Did anyone else get a minor chill seeing Doc Rivers in Assembly Hall? I can’t explain this at all. I don’t really like Rivers. I’m not sure he’s a great NBA coach so much as a decent NBA coach who happened to luck into Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen at the right time. And after the Bulls-Celtics series last spring, I’m kind of predisposed to hate everything to do with this current Celtics team.
And yet there I was, getting all goosebumpy as John Laskowski nervously interviewed Rivers at halftime. Rivers talked about his son, Jeremiah, his (Doc’s) excitement on his son’s announcement that he was considering Indiana as a destination, and his desire to just be a parent during IU games. He even had the IU hat on. It was pretty cool. And it was probably the most noteworthy thing about IU’s relatively lackluster win over USC-Upstate Monday night.
This year’s Hoosiers present a weird paradox. They’re not last year’s team, as much as Devan Dumes might wish they were. They’re definitely better — you can see the heightened level of play almost immediately, from Rivers to Christian Watford (man, is it nice to have an athletic big man with touch in an IU uniform again) to Derek Elston to Maurice Creek, who might just become my favorite player on this year’s team.
But this year’s Hoosiers are not a good team. There is a long way to go from “better than 6-25” to “good.” And so while last year a win like Monday night’s might have been cause for minor excitement — IU led by 20! IU scored 69 points! — this year, it feels harder to process. So, am I supposed to be excited that IU seems borderline competent again? Or should I be depressed by the fact that an 18-turnover game at home against USC-Upstate has me considering excitement? See what I mean?
It’s hard to know how to feel about these Hoosiers in the same way it’s hard to know whether or not any of them are good. It’s too early to know. Gauging college basketball teams early in the year is always a foolhardy proposition. Gauging a team that will play four freshmen and a transfer significant minutes is especially difficult. But here’s what I noticed so far:
• There’s a reason Christian Watford was such a big-time recruit. Imagine this guy in high school. He’s tall, athletic, he has touch around the rim, he can — gasp — dribble. I can just picture the rows of scouts drooling at his NBA workouts in (let’s hope) four years. But for all of Watford’s natural talent, bigger, stronger players are going to dominate him in the paint. He’s weak. He’ll get stronger; I hear IU has a pretty nice new weight room. In the meantime, though, tougher opponents are going to beat him up. You can already tell.
• I really like Maurice Creek. It helps that my roommate’s girlfriend goes by Mo, so we can call now start calling her Maurice Creek instead of Maurice Jones-Drew. It also helps that Creek has a pretty complete game, including a three-point stroke that’s just mechanical enough to reveal some serious coaching on the part of someone very dedicated along the line. Creek is like a way, way better version of Dumes: He doesn’t hesitate and he doesn’t rush. He knows what he’s supposed to do and he does it.
• Jeremiah Rivers is maybe a little shakier than you’d like. Rivers is a solid defender and a great passer, but other than that he’s a little more careless with the ball than a lock-down point guard is supposed to be. For a second there, I thought I was watching Daniel Moore.
• Hey, is that Daniel Moore? I didn’t recognize the long hair, man! Good to see you again!
• IU is still not in shape. This will come, but for now the Hoosiers are all about pushing the ball up the floor until the time comes to get back on defense. Transition defense is sloowwwww. It looked almost as bad as Kentucky, only IU doesn’t have an insane John Wall to bail them out of embarrassing home losses. (Or a third of the talent. But who’s counting.)
• Gus Johnson doesn’t yell for just anything. A few times I was hoping Johnson would let loose with some of his trademark hysteria, but not today. He was in full workmanlike Johnson mode. The man has range, people.
• Jordan Hulls could overtake Moore’s spot as IU’s most adorable, scrappy, lovable little white dude. It helps that he’s way better at basketball, too.
• Pritchard is still Pritchard, still sluggish around the rim on offense, still frustrating to watch in the pivot, still a surprisingly effective rebounder. He should be a good counterpoint to Watford’s streaky athleticism, but who knows, right?
• Tom Crean did not go to the dry cleaner this week. Come on, Tom. A gold and blue tie? Pulling from the back of the closet in the discarded Marquette collection already? For shame.
• But hey, at least he wore a tie. USC-Upstate’s coach rocked an open brown shirt with brown slacks and a brown coat. Tremendous look, really. He may have liked the way he looked; I did not.
• Oh, and one more thing: College hoops is back. Like, officially. Feels good, right?