The Morning After: Illinois

  • 02/08/2008 2:22 am in

Come again, Bruce? Something about fisting?

As my victorious, gloating post just demonstrated, I am incredibly happy to have won tonight. At some level, it’s not about winning in a quality way, or looking good while doing it; it’s just about winning games on the road when the wins are possible. Thanks to Illinois’ horrendous shooting and forgiving crunch-time antics, Thursday’s was one such game.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to bitch a whole lot about it. Let’s be frank: IU looked just as disorganized and weak as they have in their past three games, and the fact of the win aside — it could just have easily been a loss, and probably should have been — doesn’t mean we should be satisfied with this performance or this team.

Still, before the complaining commences, let’s just say this: Thank God we won. And that Illinois lost. There are few pleasures so sweet.

And now, onward with the bitching:

— At some point, you have to start to wonder what, exactly, Kelvin Sampson has contributed to this team as a game coach. (We know what he’s contributed as a recruiter, obviously.) The Hoosiers are defensively lazy, offensively isolationist, disorganized, and clumsy. What’s worse, none of those conditions have improved over the year; if anything, they’ve gotten worse. Sampson has totally bungled A.J. Ratliff’s senior season — you’re telling me we couldn’t have used Ratliff last night? And worse, he’s done little or nothing that’s visibly improved Eric Gordon’s glaring weaknesses: turnovers, ballhandling, and the lack of a midrange game.

This is not how I remember Sampson’s teams performing at Oklahoma. I remember them being hard-nosed, physical teams. I remember Sampson’s maximization of junior college and four-year talent, the way he turned guys like Hollis Price into college stars by utilizing them in an intelligent system. I remember the way his teams always seemed to get better as they matured together. At the very least, they fought hard; they mimicked Sampson’s own bulldog-esque charisma. And damnit, they defended!

Where did all that go? This year’s Hoosier team is probably the most talented Sampson has ever coached, but where is the physicality? Where is the intelligence? Where’s the efficiency? Where are the kinds of adjustments you expect any coach, let alone one at Indiana University, to make? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

The season isn’t over or anything; it’s just incredibly frustrating to have such an obvious talent disparity wasted — against Illinois, no less — thanks to a disorganized, sloppy performance.

— Speaking of which, Sampson seemed truly dedicated to his zone tonight, as if giving up on the notion — which would have been advisable the minute Demetri McCamey decided to have the game of his life — was some sort of surrender. Eventually Sampson lightened it up, and three’s were fewer and farther between for Illinois. It was obvious this team isn’t experienced enough to run the zone against a good passing team, but it was good experience nonetheless. Maybe another time.

— I truly enjoy Eric Gordon’s game, and I love when he’s on, but the past three games have exposed serious flaws in his repertoire. As mentioned above, Gordon is not a good ballhandler — hence his high turnover rate, the highest on the team. Gordon is also totally bereft of a midrange game. He either drives all the way to the hoop (where, at this point, he is usually fouled), or he takes a 25-foot three-pointer. On the occasions when he does pull up for a jump shot, he almost looks like a different player. That smooth, robotic perimeter stroke is replaced by a fading, jerky jumper. It looks bad, and it never goes in. Never.

Anyway, Gordon’s not going to stay, so my criticism of him isn’t some sort of double mind-meld that I hope will lend to a consensus that he should return for his sophomore season. He won’t, and he shouldn’t. He should get that money. But pro teams beware: Gordon’s good, but he’s not a slam dunk. Not yet.

Still, Gordon’s game is better than just about any guard’s he plays against, even when he is defended well. Free throws — free throws are his savior. Even when he’s totally off, his free throw shooting saves him from irrelevancy. Thankfully.

— I feel kinda bad for Shaun Pruitt. I know I probably shouldn’t, because he plays for public enemy number Bruce, but I couldn’t find myself truly hating him like I hate, say, Chester Frazier (more on that below). Pruitt seems like a decent kid. Sucks that he lost his proverbial legs at the free throw line like that; you don’t wish that kind of embarrassment on anyone. Except Chester Frazier.

— Jordan Crawford is another truly flawed freshman, but for all his faults, grant Jordan this much: He is not afraid. He will chuck under any circumstances, and he’s a good enough shooter to back up his confidence. Without his two three’s in the first overtime last night, IU probably doesn’t make it to the second.

— Chester Frazier, I truly love you. When you decided to shove Eric Gordon in the pre-game handshake — a fair-play gesture supposedly above the frivolous hatreds people bring to sports — you officially confirmed your d-bag status for life. What’s worse, you’re not even the kind of d-bag one can take seriously, or get mad at. You’re the type of d-bag that’s just so silly and ridiculous that all one has to do about you is laugh. You’re the guy at the HPER who wants to fight everybody. Yeah, Chester. You’re that guy. I hope you enjoy yourself; you’ll never not be that guy for the rest of your tiny little life.

Too bad about the ankle, though.

— Chester Frazier Honorary D-Bag of the Week Award: The Illinois genius patrol that threw stuff at Eric Gordon’s family. You disgrace your entire clan, idiots. Congrats: D-bags of the week!

— Hey, did you guys hear Brian Randle fouled out? That never happens!

— I want to like Jay Bilas. I really do. But when he goes on and on about a player having “courage” because that player has tape on his ankle and is still, somehow, defying all the laws of physics and science as we know them and is, is playing … well, Jay, THAT IS NOT COURAGEOUS. THAT IS CALLED PLAYING BASKETBALL. Scrappy? Yes. Hard-nosed? Certainly. Courageous? No Jay. No. A thousand times no.

— All that aside, like I said: It’s a win. And it’s a win over Illinois. Might as well enjoy it, even if it’s impossible to shake off concern for IU’s underlying issues.

As always, your thoughts and further analysis in the comments.

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