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.
That is the question heading into Friday’s Big Ten Tournament opener for the Hoosiers (which yours truly will be attending, by the way). Indiana interim coach Dan Dakich suspended Ellis for Sunday’s game at Penn State for what was described as “disciplinary reasons.” Translation: Ellis wasn’t listening to Dakich.
Anyone who watched the previous four games could see that Ellis wasn’t the same player as he was under Kelvin Sampson. In the Northwestern game he nearly started a fight after Jordan Crawford was fouled and there were instances where Ellis was talking back to Dakich on the sidelines. So Dakich did what he had to do to establish order in a tumultuous situation: he put Ellis on the sidelines.
I’ve read quite a few comments criticizing Ellis for his behavior since Sampson left and rightfully so. However, I also think it’s important to keep things in perspective. I had the opportunity back in August to chat at length with Ellis and came away very impressed with what he had to say. One thing I think a lot of us forget when we talk about Ellis is how strong his loyalty to Sampson really is. Ellis originally signed with Texas A&M and was essentially told by then coach Billy Gillispie to hit the road after he didn’t qualify academically as a freshman. Although I didn’t include that part of the interview in my original post back in August, it was apparent to me that Ellis put a lot of trust in Sampson after being burned by Gillispie. His words, if I recall them correctly, were that Sampson “always stuck with him.”
Bad decisions. If you can boil down IU’s entire struggle with injured little meek please-govnah-don’t-hurt-us Penn State yesterday, that was it. Bad decisions.
Bad decisions from the three-point line. Bad decisions in the post. Bad decisions on defense. Whatever bad decision Jamarcus Ellis made in between now and last Wednesday. Most especially, bad decisions in the final minutes of overtime, a time when inside buckets could have helped keep the Hoosiers afloat. Bad decisions when IU opted for three-pointer after three-pointer. Bad decisions that neglected D.J. White too often and made IU look too little like the team it could have been on the eve of the Big Ten Tournament.
— The optimist in me wants to ignore the various deficiencies today. Instead, it would be just as easy to chalk this game up to late-season fatigue and apathy, similar to the ugly first 30 minutes of Wednesday’s win over the Tubby Gophers. Sunday’s first half was a display of rampant sluggishness, followed by a second half of disorganized frenzy. Both halves yielded very few made shots for IU. Neither of those things are necessarily an indictment of the team if they happen once or twice in a row, but now, since Kelvin Sampson was fired, they have happened five straight times.
We’ve been over this before, but let’s look at it again:
— Win at Northwestern, in a game that makes NU’s gimmicky offense and Kevin Coble look like UNC and Tyler Hansbrough. Lucky that Northwestern’s defense is just incompetent enough to keep IU in the game throughout.
— Win over Ohio State at home in a game that, as you were watching, felt like the Hoosiers should have been playing far more convincingly. That’s gut-feeling stuff and admittedly not very tangible, but you know what I’m talking about. (Though with Ohio State’s win over Michigan State, at least the Buckeyes look like a tournament team again.)
— The drubbing at Michigan State. Let’s not review that one again.
— Ugly 30 minutes vs. Minnesota. Eventual win thanks to briefly revived offense.
— Sunday’s loss.
See what I mean? There’s a trend there, a trend of serious systemic defensive problems, of sporadic offensive lapses, and of playing down to the level of the opponent. To chalk that up to bad shooting is to do a disservice to just how mediocre IU has been over the past three weeks. Three in a row is a trend. What does that make five?
Now that I’ve had a couple of hours to digest the debacle earlier this afternoon at Penn State, I’ve collected my thoughts on the game, the direction of this team and the program.
E will weigh-in with more in The Morning After, but this was a game the Hoosiers needed for NCAA seeding purposes as well as confidence. Five games in, it is clear that the Dan Dakich era is not going well. A lot of people are commenting that Ray McCallum should have been the choice to replace Sampson, but that move wasn’t made because IU didn’t want to chance having McCallum’s name show up later in any NCAA allegations.
Dakich suspended Jamarcus Ellis for today’s game in a move that many are interpreting as the coach trying to “get control” of the team. Ellis was somewhat of a loose cannon in the Northwestern game and just hasn’t been disciplined since Sampson left the program. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds to the suspension and if he’s in uniform on Friday. IU is certainly a better team with Ellis, but if he’s a detriment to the team, it’s hard to justify keeping him around. No one, after all, is bigger than the program.
This team still has a chance to salvage the season, but to be perfectly honest, how can we expect this to end well? The energy and enthusiasm on the court has plummeted since Sampson departed. This is clearly a different team. The intensity on defense is sporadic at best and there is no sign of a structured offense being executed. Perhaps more concerning is the body language of the players during timeouts. Even Adam Ahlfeld has lost some pep in his step. The “us against the world” attitude that many of us expected to kick in has yet to materialize. Most of the players look like they’re ready for the nightmare to be over.
Looking to the future, it is clear that Indiana needs to make a home run hire this time around. Mike Davis and Kelvin Sampson both set the program back and another mistake would be catastrophic. Out of respect to the team, we’ve done our best to keep the coaching talk to a minimum. We’ll get into it full bore once the season ends and when speculation merits discussion.
For now, I’m interested in hearing how you feel about where this team is headed. Do you have any optimism that this team can make a run? Or is a first round loss in the NCAA Tournament on the horizon? Thoughts in the comments, por favor.
According to a report by theIndyChannel.com, the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs have hired former Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson as an adviser. Here are the details:
The San Antonio Spurs have hired Kelvin Sampson as an adviser, days after he resigned as Indiana University men’s basketball coach amid allegations he committed major NCAA rule violations, 6Sports Director Dave Furst reported Thursday. Sampson was in San Antonio’s arena during the Spurs’ 108-97 win over the visiting Indiana Pacers. He is expected to advise the defending NBA champions for the next few weeks, Furst reported. Hiring advisers is nothing new for Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. He has hired several coaches in this capacity through the years.
I’m not exactly sure what an “adviser” does on an NBA team. Considering most NBA players don’t even like to be coached, the role of an “adviser” can’t be too important. There had been speculation ever since Sampson’s resignation/firing that he’d land in the NBA and if this report is indeed accurate, it sure didn’t take long. Sampson is said to be a good friend of Popovich and this gig should keep him occupied until he faces the music in front of the NCAA in June.
The Indianapolis Star also has a report on this with some quotes from Sampson. In usual Sampson fashion, the quotes reveal next to nothing. Shocking!
Should IU ever be happy about squeaking things out against Northwestern? Probably not. Given that the Hoosiers are 12-2 in the conference and the Wildcats are 0-14 (!), a sloppy, grind-it-out win in Evanston is probably not something anyone at IU should be too happy about under normal circumstances.
But these are not normal circumstances. The past two weeks have been strange, ridiculous, odd, crazy, emotional — they’ve veered into apathy, to anger, to resignation. A group of young men lost their father figure. Their father blew his shot at one of the best jobs in college basketball. And an assistant coach that looks a lot like a high school gym teacher — in a good way! — took over despite the threat of a boycott by his All-American center. These are not normal circumstances.
Those circumstances will linger for a while. They’ll give things meaning that might not normally have them, like D.J.’s hug for Dan Dakich last night. Any other time, that’s a hug merely of exhaustion. Last night, it was the ultimate sign of solidarity, acceptance, and a willingness to soldier on. That undercurrent will be there for a while, but if last night proved anything, it’s that there’s life after Kelvin Sampson. Basketball players play; coaches coach. That’s all it is, really.
So last night’s win was a relief. It was pure: basketball as it should be. Ball on court. Defense on offense. It was a shoddy defensive effort, a sloppy offensive one, and an all-around ugly game portending defensive weaknesses for IU. And I’m not even mad at all, because basketball is back.
Statement via Indiana Media Relations from former head coach Kelvin Sampson:
I have made the very difficult decision to leave my position as head coach of the men’s basketball team at Indiana University. While I’ m saddened that I will not have the opportunity to continue to coach these student athletes, I feel that it is in the best interest of the program for me to step aside at this time.
I wish my players and staff nothing but the best for the remainder of the season. They are all truly incredible people. As I have previously stated, I welcome the opportunity to go before the Committee on Infractions in June. I look forward to getting back on the basketball court in the very near future.