If there is anything we know about the Hoosiers this season, it is that we know nothing. As much as we may have seen Tom Pritchard in his ESPN game last year as a senior in high school, or as much as we saw Kyle Taber rebound and play oh so hard defense as a Hoosier last season, we know nothing.
Watching the Hoosier Hysteria video, I felt like a bartender. All the regulars patrons had left my stools belly up at the bar, replaced by a bunch of riffraffs and vagabonds. (In this scenario, I own an Irish pub and wear a bowler hat and have the best fish and chips in the city.)
However, I think we can all agree on one thing: we aren’t going to be good at all this year. This is OK; we are in the stages of rebuilding and Tom Crean has done a pretty fantastic job with the 2009 class. Expectation are low, and I think we’re all still excited for the season, as bad as it may end up being.
So, on this brisk October morning, I pose this to you: what qualifies as a successful season for these Hoosiers, one that surpasses these low expectations? My thoughts: .500. That is a success. A huge success. Anywhere in the ballpark of 10-13 wins is what I’d call hitting expectations. But besides wins and losses, where can we turn?
A few other thoughts: Beating Illinois at home, going a whole year without any drama or suspensions and stealing a game somewhere and ruining a contender in the Big Ten’s quest for a title. Also, hitting a shot with 1.5 second remaining in the Big Ten tournament to beat Indiana. (OH WAIT NEVERMIND.)
J.D. Campbell, the Director of Media Relations from IU, sent the following release earlier this evening:
Indiana University senior Kyle Taber injured his knee last week and will undergo surgery tomorrow. He is expected to be out for 10 weeks.
“This is very unfortunate for Kyle,” said IU Coach Tom Crean. “He has been a strong presence and has done things the right way for us since we arrived here. We will move forward and help him through his rehabilitation and look to him to provide us with the leadership that is expected from a fifth-year senior at Indiana.”
He started four games last year and averaged 1.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in 22 games.
So instead of Indiana starting the season with one returning scholarship player, it’s looking like they’ll start the season with zero. In fact, Brett Finkelmeier will be the lone returning player on the roster when Hoosier Hysteria kicks off in October. Despite all of the recent optimism around the program, make no mistake about it, it’s going to be a rough season in Bloomington.
Don’t let this post distract you from the real issue at hand, which is the voting we’re doing just down the page. That’s the democratic process at work. This is just a sarcastic post about Kyle Taber. Anyway, Jeff Goodman from Fox Sports talked with the senior about last year’s team, and this year’s team, and the fact that this year’s team is pretty much Taber and bunch of new guys. Sentences like this are enough to make an IU fan more than a little squeamish:
Now Indiana has actually become Kyle Taber’s team.Let’s put this into perspective. This is a 6-foot-7 forward who averaged 1.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in a little more than 11 minutes per game a year ago.
If Crean has to rely on Taber, then the Hoosiers are in major trouble.
I’m not saying Taber has to go out and become a combination of Gordon and White, but he’s the face of the program and the likely leader of a team with seven new faces.”He’s grown up being appreciative of what Indiana basketball is all about,” Crean said, “He realizes that it’s a real honor to be here and he’s got a chance to provide leadership and have a senior year to be remembered for in this state for a long, long time.”
There’s not a whole lot else in the story — Taber refused to confirm or deny the drug-use rumors that surrounded the team last year — but the general gist is terrifying. Kyle Taber is an OK player, and a seemingly nice dude, but he is not a Division 1 centerpiece. I hate to be pessimistic, but items like this are like a slap of reality: IU is going to be really bad next year. Sigh.
— Tom Crean was on the ‘Front Row Ticket’ on 93.9 FM on Thursday afternoon and here is a quick recap of what he had to say:
Crean has spoken with several former Indiana players including Dane Fife, Quinn Buckner, Ted Kitchell and Scott May. He plans to talk to Kent Benson in the near future.
Crean is normally not the type to attend a lot of meetings, but most of his first week in Bloomington has been spent in various meetings. He reiterated that there is a lot of work to do academically and although the team had a 3.0+ GPA the first semester, things have slipped dramatically this semester. Crean isn’t exactly sure why the grades have fallen so quickly.
Still no definitive word on Armon Bassett or Jamarcus Ellis. One interesting observation is that he mentioned Bassett by name but did not mention Ellis. Not sure if I’m reading into that too much, but we’ll see how it plays out in the coming weeks. Crean did say he knows Armon pretty well having recruiting him while at Marquette.
Crean won’t be able to attend Little 500 due to prior commitments in Milwaukee involving his kids.
As far as his staff goes, Crean is looking for guys that knows the type of players he wants to bring into the program since he cannot go off campus until August due to recruiting restrictions. However, IU will be looking to add to the 2008 class this spring. He didn’t give a timetable for the announcement of his staff, but early next week is my guess for an announcement on that front.
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.
I don’t think it takes any sort of expert in the field of season definition to tell us the overriding adjective to describe IU’s 2007-2008 season. If Big A were to put up a poll over on the right sidebar there, I have a feeling “disappointing” would win going away. This has been a disappointing season. We know this.
But this is not a post to lament the troubles of Kelvin Sampson, Eric Gordon’s recent struggles or Dan Dakich’s inability to get this team to play anywhere near the level Sampson had them at before he took his final bow. Oh no, this is a post to rally us all in one nation under Indiana hoops. So in an effort to convince myself we can actually win tonight — on the whole I’m not an overly positive person when it comes to this stuff so this is really a stretch — here are some quick, not-thought out-at-all positives. Because let’s be positively positive tonight, OK?
Eric Gordon. Yes, I know what you might be saying right now: “How can I possibly be relying on advancing to the second round of the tournament by way of Eric Gordon? The turnover machine? The guy that hasn’t hit a three since like, January?”
Let’s spin it this way, kids: isn’t he due for a big game? A game in which he’s raining threes from half court? In which he’s drawing defenses to him when driving — driving under control, might I add — to the hoop, handing off easy dishes to the rest of the squad. I’d say he’s been due for a few game to show us what he’s really made of. So why not tonight? (Just picture it in your mind for a second. Doesn’t it feel good?)
Strong out of the gate: In each of IU’s last three losses, they’ve trailed at halftime and in two of the games (Michigan State and Minnesota), they’ve trailed big early. Playing from behind is not advisable for anybody in the NCAA Tournament. And for a team that has struggled as badly of late as this one, another slow start could be a recipe for catastrophe.
Establish D.J. White: With IU’s recent struggles from the perimeter, it’s essential to establish White in order to free up some open looks for Armon Bassett, Eric Gordon and Jordan Crawford. Bassett and Gordon are shooting a combined 18.3 percent from three-point range on their last 53 attempts. As Terry Hutchens pointed out in today’s Indianapolis Star, White took just three shots in the first 12 minutes against Minnesota and in the Penn State game, he took just two shots in the first ten minutes. That’s not acceptable for a player shooting over 60 percent from the field.
Big game for Gordon: It’s been a while since the freshman had a solid shooting night. In fact, the last time he shot better than 50 percent from the field was on February 16 against Michigan State. In other words, he’s more than overdue for a hot shooting night. Gordon knows this is likely his only chance to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. It’ll be important to get him a couple of open looks early to establish his confidence. If the Hoosiers can get him going, the combination of White and Gordon is as good as any in the country.
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?
This is weird. Isn’t it? Isn’t it strange to be in this position right now? To gather, as I did last night, with friends at a bar, to celebrate another game with a Fat Tire and a sandwich, and to know all along that no matter what happens, your team’s coach is going down? He can beat your most hated rival (who just so happens to be the Big Ten’s top team) and still, against his will, it will be the last win of his tenure.
That’s two such wins now. The first was Saturday against Michigan State, a dominating performance that showed a resilient team rallying around their coach. The second was last night. Was it me, or did the focus seem to shift? Maybe it was because I was in a bar and couldn’t make out the commentary very well, but did last night’s audience — swept up in an important rivalry atmosphere — seem to forget about the sanctions for 40 minutes? I know I did.
It will be jarring to lose Sampson on Friday, but at this point, I’m not sure his presence is needed on the sidelines anymore. Stay with me here. It’s hard to complain about distractions after two very solid wins, but Sampson’s saga is a distraction. His assistants have been coaching this team all year; no doubt IU’s players feel just as comfortable with each of them as they do with Sampson. (Perhaps moreso, given the player-assistant-as-friends dynamic a lot of teams have.) It will be a difficult adjustment, seeing Dan Dakich running up and down the sidelines, but if the Hoosiers showed anything last night, it was a level of maturity and self-definition that gives me confidence in the coming games.
But that confidence doesn’t mean part of me won’t miss Sampson. He’s only been here for two years, yes, and even if this eulogy is premature (we still think Sampson’s going to be suspended Friday rather than fired), it will be a different place without him. He’s a frustrating coach, but if the past two years have taught us anything about his style it’s that his teams improve. They get better. They can make you miserable in November and December and even January, but come February and March they coalesce. They play hard together. They defend. And they’re fun to watch.
It’s a shame we can’t have a third year, but it’s a self-inflicted shame. And we know what we have to do. The dog might be cute. You might love the dog. But if the dog can’t control his bite, you put him down. It sucks, and it’s sad, but it’s best for everybody.