Looking past Northwestern for just one moment

  • 02/08/2010 4:02 pm in

Big Ten Tournament: Indiana Hoosiers v Penn State Nittany LionsUnderstatement of the new year: This was not a banner Saturday-Sunday (or just Sunday, really) for many of you, and it’s probably even worse to think about the fact that, not only did IU lose at Assembly Hall north, but the Colts were undone by a former Hoosier and a former Boilermaker together.

In acknowledgment of your fragile state of mind, (and also because I don’t want an angry mob outside my apartment tonight) the references to any certain Super Bowl that may have been played in the last 48 hours will end here. But I did want to touch on the Northwestern loss for a moment, because it sparked within me some food for thought.

By now, I think it’s fair to say that we can generally agree that Verdell Jones looks like a candidate to be considered one of the Hoosiers’ team leaders next season. He’s increased his scoring by almost four points per game, he’s got a better assist-to-turnover ratio and he’s rebounding the ball better compared to last season.

More than that, Jones is one of the few Hoosiers who appears to be comfortable being a vocal leader — shots of him getting in teammates’ faces after fouls or poor decisions, or explaining things in tense situations against Minnesota would be examples of this.

I’ll also throw into the conversation the fact that, at his current pace, Jones will improve in several categories, including scoring, in Big Ten play, when competition is supposed to be tougher. In fact, his top five scoring performances have all come in conference play.

All of this is a precursor to the primary point of the argument: Indiana is starting to look like a team with a future. Not just a future in which something will happen because it must, but a predictable, discernible forward path, with more positives and compartmentalized negatives.

I ask you to look with me past getting handled at Northwestern and another season as the Big Ten’s doormat, and consider the bigger picture.

Imagine a team, next year, that can start Jones and Maurice Creek on either wing, with Jeremiah Rivers at the point and Christian Watford down low. Find ways to get meaningful minutes from some combination of Tom Pritchard, Bawa Muniru, Bobby Capobianco and Derek Elston at the fifth spot, draw solid bench minutes from Jordan Hulls and maybe Matt Roth or one or two of the incoming freshmen, and suddenly, you’ve got a basketball team.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t problems that need fixing, and that others won’t arise along the way. To continue the example, Verdell Jones’ defense needs all kinds of work. Jeremiah Rivers desperately needs to improve his free-throw shooting if he’s going to continue to be a driving point guard that can draw fouls. Tom Pritchard … well, let’s just be honest and say that whole foursome of post players really needs some work.

Slowly but surely, however, a sense of normalcy is returning to Indiana basketball. The catastrophe, the confusion, the utter despair I’m sure some of you felt, it’s quietly subsiding, and we’re actually just left with a regular basketball team with regular basketball team problems, and hope for a better future.

Where this future will take them, I cannot say. Like Verdell Jones, the Hoosiers sit squarely on the fence right now between just possessing some decent talent and actually making legitimate and necessary improvement. But compare that to where this program was four months ago, then tell me how you feel.

It can’t be much worse than last night.

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