The time for improvement is nigh, as Big Ten season looms

  • 12/24/2010 11:18 pm in

BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 23: Tom Crean the Head Coach of the Indiana Hoosiers gives instructions to his team during the game against the North Carolina Central Eagles at Assembly Hall on November 23, 2010 in Bloomington, Indiana. Indiana won 72-56. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)Until about 24 hours ago, the doubt was cautious, compartmentalized. It’s now more general, and it’s spreading.

When we started talking about Indiana’s 2010 non-conference schedule, the conversation generally split games into two categories: the eggshell-soft home slate and the foggy tests away from Assembly Hall. Trips to Boston College and Kentucky, and games against Northern Iowa and either Colorado or New Mexico — that, it was reasoned, was where we would be able to form some sort of opinion about this year’s Indiana basketball team.

For two years, Indiana faithful lamented a schedule far too grand for its charges. In addition to its two ACC games and the annual rivalry with Kentucky, Indiana played in the Maui Invitational, a tournament in Puerto Rico, Gonzaga in Indianapolis and Pitt in Madison Square Garden, in addition to competing in an ever-improving Big Ten.

And the Hoosiers didn’t always come out better on the other side. But there were bright spots, like the home win against what we now recognize as a strong Cornell program, or winning the aforementioned game in New York.

Now, did this season’s non-conference home schedule weaken Indiana to the point of failure on its bigger stages? It’s doubtful that it’s so black-and-white, if only because nothing is.

But there’s evidence to at least suggest it hasn’t overly helped. Too many of this team’s strengths are bound, right now somewhat irretrievably, to its weaknesses.

Verdell Jones’ scoring potential on a team still sorely lacking it practically requires minutes – when he’s healthy – as does his leadership. But he’s also averaging twice as many turnovers (four per game) as anyone else on the team, a problem for a player whose best work is done with the ball in his hands.

Jordan Hulls has been as lights-out a shooter as Indiana has had in recent memory, when he’s been able to get off his shots. So why is he a distant fourth on the team in field goal attempts (70), behind Watford (160), Jones (115) and Creek (102)?

It’s too easy for defenses to remove Hulls from the offense – Hulls has taken more than seven shots just twice in IU’s 13 contests, when he scored 18 against Florida Gulf Coast, and 17 against Colorado.

We don’t need to chronicle Maurice Creek’s struggles, but would do well to point out something Dr. Greg Estes, an orthopedic surgeon at the Indiana Orthopedic Center in Indianapolis, told our friends at the Scoop directly following his injury last winter:

“With any kind of knee injury, whether it’s an ACL tear or a knee fracture or anything, that first season back, you can tell they’re just not their old self. It’s usually not until their second season that they’re back to what they used to be. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s a pretty common thing.”

It’s unfortunate, and maybe unfair, but Creek is shooting south of 40 percent, and his scoring average has dipped under 10 points per game.

The list could go on, but it would simply belabor the point. Indiana’s non-conference schedule would only hurt if the Hoosiers let it, if they did not use the easier games to work out the kinks in preparation for the hard ones.

And so we find ourselves here, on the precipice of Christmas, with Indiana basketball 9-0 at home against mostly non-descript opponents, and 0-4 on the road and on a neutral floor against the more easily recognizable ones. That statistic is one from which there is no escaping.

There’s still plenty of season, and there’s still plenty of hope. In many ways, Penn State is probably the ideal conference opener for the Hoosiers – a team that’s never performed well against the Hoosiers and especially inside Assembly Hall, their last Bloomington trip excluded.

But the Hoosiers need to find their inflection point quickly, the one at which potential will finally give way to performance. That is the only way, in the end, in which teams are finally judged.

That moment needs to come now. They’re good enough. It’s time.

Non-sequitir: Merry Christmas and happy holidays. Thanks for making my first year at Inside the Hall immensely enjoyable and rewarding.

Filed to:

  • IUJeff

    I love the character of the kids we have at IU. IU fans need to come to grips and realize that the whole will have to be better than the sum of the parts this year for us to be successful. Let’s get back to supporting our kids and coach and offer advice as to how we can improve. Go hoosiers!!

  • Anonymous

    What have we learned from our four losses? Against BC we were killed from the 3-pt line, on FT%, and on TO; against KY we were killed from the 3-pt line, rebounds, blocks, on TO, and on fouls; against Northern Iowa we were killed from the 3-pt line and on FT%: against Colorado we were killed on FG% and on FT%. But the real common denominator is that we do NOT make winning plays when the game is in the balance. We do not hit the key shot, 3-point shot or FT, we do not get the rebound or the loose ball, we do not make the key defensive stop. We have no leadership on the floor that demands that each player make the TEAM play that wins the game. IU breaks apart into individual plays by isolated players that are too easy to defend, that are poor decisions, that are forced efforts doomed to failure. Indiana does not know how to win against a quality, solid opponent. It is not a talent issue. It is a team identity issue! It is a team leadership issue! IU should have won two of these four games.

  • Anonymous

    You may be right, but it looks to me like you get into early foul trouble and give up lane penetration to good guards, cutting inside of the big.

  • JerryCT

    Loop:

    1) Yes DE and BC are vulnerable to the inside splitting due to their positioning of their hedge when they jump out . I think this can be corrected. Teams have tried 100’s of times to beat TP off the roll and they rarely succeed due to the technique of his hedge

    2) Fouls this year, IMHO. on the hedge are due to confusion over whether we are switching or ‘help & recover”. Maybe for TP no switching but for DE switching works , I donot know.

    3) I saw and replayed several possessions where Jones ended up defending 3 different CU players within 10 sec because he “wants” to switch …………… this is disaster as we end up with a purposeless double team

  • JerryCT

    Loop: I think we have players that can make plays on offense when the game is on the line and that includes Jones who has proven as much ( not Creek however ) .

    We are really missing players who can get defensive stops when the game is in the balance. Lets face it we are usually playing from behind so trading points will not win it and the opponent begins a relentless focus on their “go to” players and sets.

    We have one “go to ” defender in JR and MAYBE in the wings WS, VO, TP. The remaining players are targeted as “victims” at end of game .

  • IUJeff

    Enuff with the negative stuff. You guys are wearing it out. We all know by now what the shortcomings of this team are. We know we have no superstars this year but we can still be successful if we work as a team. Maybe not .500 in the big ten successful. We need to offer solutions folks not more hating. I vote for some solid motion offense and screens for our shooters to solve the problems on that end. Better recognition of where their 3 shooters are on the other end would help. I still think we can cause some teams trouble in the big ten this year but I will call a 16-15 record a success.

  • Anonymous

    This tweet is a small example of a the problem I’ve been seeing with VJ. To me its not so much about the poor performance, its more about the poor attitude he is carrying with it. Most players in his position on most teams in most sports and at most levels would be getting the same heat he has been getting. I don’t understand why he thinks it would be different with him. And why even tweet something like this? It’s not going to do anything. It actually comes off to me as a little whiny and a little selfish. Sorry to come off as mean or negative when your post is trying to limit it, but that’s how he has been coming off for me. Last year he was my favorite player and Rivers one of my least. This year Rivers is becoming a favorite and VJ not so much and its not as much because of performance – it’s more about the attitude. I like VJ and I’m rooting for him to turn things around for the betterment of him and more the team.

    I think him and the team just needs to start trying to have more fun.

  • Anonymous

    You are right about Jones. He is terrible on defense. He backs so far off of his man that he can not go through-outside of the screen. In fact he is so far back that he just screens our big man away from his man on the recover. Someone needs to light a fire under Jones-if you don’t play tough, in your face defense, challenging everything, then you SIT!

  • Anonymous

    Jerry, I respectfully disagree. Our go to players are Watford and Jones. Neither understands the concept of team offense at game winning time. They each try to force the issue for their own scores (they each have some talent and might hit the shot 25-33% of the time, but that means that you lose 3/4 or 2/3). Each is an easy double team TO or poor % shot taker. At least Oladipo understands the concept of following your shot to get a miss and put it back in. Hulls, Roth, Elston, and Sheehey are all better % shooters for game winning and victory earning shots because no one will double team them. IU needs a floor leader to direct the offense when you MUST score or lose the game!

  • Anonymous

    I have seen no evidence to indicate Crean has asked for Knight’s advice. Have you? I believe IU has made overtures to Knight.

  • MillaRed

    I’ve seen worse attitudes. Much, much worse attitudes in the college realm
    over my time.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t say I had any evidence to indicate anything. All I said was we don’t know if he has reached out to Knight already. Doesn’t matter, it appears to be a pointless discussion because Knight currently wants nothing to do with IU. He is not likely to want to help this program return to the levels he had it. The time to focus on Knight passed when IU offered him a return and he declined. If he wants to come back and be involved, tremendous. I don’t see it happening in the near future.

  • Anonymous

    Creek needs to practice for the sake of keeping his game-shape in order, but more than anything he needs to be in the weight room doing leg extensions at every spare moment. Until his muscles in the injured leg are equal in strength to the other leg (if not exceed it–I remember when I tore cartilage in my knee and I was told they generally want you to build your strength up to a point where that leg is even stronger than the other,) he is little more than a jump shooter who is a defensive liability on a team that already has far too many defensive liabilities.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with CreamandCrimson, and I would venture to say that if Crean contacted Knight and didn’t get a response he would be wise and classy enough to just stick that call in his back pocket and forget about it rather than to tell the general public “I tried to talk to him and he wouldn’t answer me.”

  • WALT

    Great observations. Your comment “isolated players that are too easy to defend” is right on. A lot of it is a confidence factor, very talented athletes, whether it is VJ or C-Wat or others, just appearing unmotivated, uninterested. Not always just enough in the stretch of the game to really hurt. Places in the game where you want to see Hulls, Roth or who ever on the team has been having the “hot” hand shoot. I am in Illanoys, so do not know–Is there a time during practice or during the week when FT’s are practiced?

  • WALT

    Again, good observations. In these last few minutes of games we have lost, after doing so well during the rest of the game, we need to run the “picket fence”, and have Jimmy Chitwood take the last shots. There are some messages later on here about possibly bringing Norman Dale back aka (RJK) as an adviser. Having said that, a few wins will probably change a lot of this thinking and Watford and Jones are going to be heavily in the equation in a positive way. IMO only.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks it looks like we see similar things. Indiana needs to forge an “identity” for this team. Team defense, team offense, solid on court leadership, toughness, a refusal to not make the winning play, etc.