Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ohio State Preparation Doesn’t Stop Crean’s Future Emphasis

Tom Crean was on the recruiting road. Yes, there’s a HUGE game with No. 2 Ohio State coming, and heaven knows the Hoosiers need plenty of work, but passing on the future isn’t part of Crean’s plans. He’s a driven guy pushing to return the program to glory and the No. 1 key -- even more than Xs and Os, offense and defense, motivational methods and everything else -- is getting really good players.

Bob Knight didn’t set a record for victories by having mediocre players. John Wooden didn’t win all those national championships because of his pyramid of success. They had great players. NBA-caliber guys.

So Crean mixed practice with recruiting Thursday (he saw the Hall of Fame Classic in New Castle that included Washington standout Cody Zeller) as the team prepared for -- depending on your perspective -- a chance to make up for the Penn State mess or another reason to drive fans to party hard to drown out sorrows while bringing in the new year.

Second-ranked Ohio State is 13-0 and looking to crush the Hoosiers (9-5 overall, 0-1 in the Big Ten) like it has everybody else this season. It has veteran guys, big guys, super-talented young guys and good-shooting guys. What it doesn’t have is a game-changing point guard, a flaw that might cost the Buckeyes come NCAA tourney time.

In an ideal world, the Hoosiers could exploit that, but if you’ve followed them the last week or two, you know idealism isn’t part of the picture.

IU has to play tougher. It has to sustain what it does some of the time and make it all of the time. If it does, it can win. If it doesn’t, well, been there, done that.

Guard Jeremiah Rivers insisted the Hoosiers’ confidence is not shaken from their three-game losing streak low-lighted by their Big Ten-opening home loss to lowly Penn State.

“It’s the Big Ten season and we have 17 games left. It’s no time to hand heads. If we do it will have a snowball effect. The losses will rack up if we continue to pout, woe is me. Misery loves company. We have to come out (tonight) ready to kick some butt. That’s how I look at it.”

Here’s how Crean looks at it courtesy of an IU release:

“We have prepared mentally and physically to improve the last few days. Our players have a mindset to improve and compete. Our willingness to carry that over for 40 minutes is our biggest challenge.”

A cynic could argue that Ohio State itself is the biggest challenge with its superstar freshmen (Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas) and savvy veterans (Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, William Bufford and David Lighty).

You get no argument from Crean.

“They have anywhere from six players on up who will have the opportunity to play at the NBA level someday. They will be a challenge for 40 minutes.”

You can’t miss the “40-minute” theme here. Consider the Penn State loss. The Hoosiers rallied from a 14-point deficit to take a one-point lead, then faded down the stretch.

“With 2:28 left we lost, maybe ‘belief’ isn’t the right word, but our hope,” Crean said.

He’s seen that before, and he’s tired of it. So are Hoosier fans.

“A lot of progress has been made with this team,” Crean said. “We have to buy into the corrections. Get things corrected and keep moving forward. I’m looking to see that in our eyes.”

Here’s what we see in the Buckeyes. They are the Big Ten’s top scoring team (82.6 points) and stingiest defensive team (53.8 points). They also lead the conference in scoring margin (28.8), field goal percentage (50.0), rebounding margin (8.4), steals (9.08) and turnover margin (plus-8.23).

“Ohio State plays with great efficiency on both ends of the floor,” Crean said. “Their team defense and ball movement look to me to be as good as any we have watched live or on film. Their inside-outside attack is unmatched thus far in the season.”

IU can’t match that unless it plays to its potential and not its fears.

Crean calls these “effort and belief related mistakes.”

“We missed some big plays. That’s going to happen. A missed block-out on a free throw? That can’t happen.”

It did against Penn State. Now, if the lesson is learned, starting with Ohio State, then it’s a positive. If not, well, either Crean isn’t making the point strong enough or his players aren’t receptive enough when he is.

The Penn State loss personified the Hoosiers’ weaknesses. It changed everything. IU went from a team with NIT prospects (a natural progression in the massive rebuilding process) to, perhaps, another horrific Big Ten finish.

It’s not too late. The Hoosiers can grow up, man up and get it right.

The sooner the better.

IU’s New Offensive Coordinator Known For Offensive Firepower

Do you like explosive offensive football? Good. Brent Pease is right with you. Who is Brent Pease? He’s Indiana’s new offensive coordinator and he has a knack for offensive excellence.

Combined with new head coach Kevin Wilson, rated as one of the nation’s best offensive minds during his time at Oklahoma, the two should have Memorial Stadium’s scoreboard lighting up big-time in future years.

At least, that’s the plan.

Pease spent the last five years as the receiver coach at Boise State, the last four as assistant head coach. Boise State went 61-5 with a pair of Fiesta Bowl victories -– including a dramatic 43-42 shootout over Oklahoma.

Pease also spent 10 years as an offensive coordinator for Baylor, Kentucky, Montana and Northern Arizona.

He’s the first offensive coach hired by Wilson, who previously lined up most of his defensive coaching staff.

“Brent has coordinated in the Big 12 and the SEC, and he is coming from one of the most dominant programs in college football over the last decade in Boise State,” Wilson said in a university release. We look forward to integrating his offensive ideas into what we have done in the past.”

Pease brings an uptempo, big-play, attack-oriented philosophy that features a balance between the run and the pass. He even won a national championship, at the NCAA Division I-AA level, while with Montana in the mid-1990s.

“With what Coach Wilson brings from Oklahoma and the opportunity I received at Boise State,” Pease said, “we look forward to playing winning football and going to bowl games.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ohio State Or Not, It's Time for IU To Win

So now Tom Crean gets the Mike Davis treatment. He can’t coach. He can’t motivate. He claps too much instead of kicking somebody’s rump. Indiana can’t fire him soon enough.

A month or so ago, fresh off the recruiting success of landing Cody Zeller, among others, Crean could walk on water. Now people want to waterboard torture him.

Relax, everybody. This, too, shall pass. Crean didn't direct Marquette to the Final Four and win 190 games in nine seasons because he made a deal with the devil. He can coach. The Hoosiers will win.

See what happens when you make $2.2 million a year coaching a tradition-rich program. Patience has never been a virtue among fans, especially in this instant-gratification world, and after a pair of 20-loss seasons and now three straight defeats, nobody cares about the Kelvin Sampson debacle.

They just want tough-minded players who win –- NOW, not a year or two from now.

There’s no reason IU can’t win this year. It has the potential to be a NIT team, it has experience and talent, so play like it and bury the Penn State mess that fuels fear of a 1-17 (or worse) Big Ten record.

A victory over Ohio State would fix that. For a day, anyway.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Get the Buckeyes in Assembly Hall, pack about 17,000 amped up fans looking for something to cheer before the big New Year’s Eve bash, get the Hoosiers to embrace their inner warrior (assuming they HAVE an inner warrior) and win the freaking the game. Specifically, win the last freaking crunch-time minutes of the game.

By now you know the Buckeyes are ranked No. 2 in the nation, are 13-0 and have stomped opponents by an average margin of 29 points.

Well, we’ve got some good news -- sort of. You could argue that Ohio State is 13-0 because it fattened up on patsies. rates its schedule at No. 149. By comparison, IU is at 270.

Yes, that means the Hoosiers’ schedule is almost twice as easy as Ohio State’s.

But we digress.

The Buckeyes have won at Florida and at Florida State. That might not rate with road wins at Duke or Wisconsin, but it’s solid enough. Those teams aren't patsies.

Yes, Ohio State has talent. How does coach Thad Matta keep doing it? He gets one-and-done players, guys who leave before their four years are up, some wisely, some not, and the Buckeyes keep cruising (169-54 in Matta's seven seasons). Why? Because the guy can recruit. Every year Matta brings in studs.

Take this season. You have Jared Sullinger, a 6-9, 280-pound double-double freshman machine who, if he keeps up his averages of 17.5 points and 10.1 rebounds, might challenge for national player of the year honors.

Another freshman is Deshaun Thomas, an in-state kid who got away, the Indiana Mr. Basketball from Fort Wayne Bishop Luers who averages 11.7 points and 5.4 rebounds.

You throw in these guys with a veteran group from last year’s Big Ten tri-championship team (the others were Michigan State and Purdue) and it’s almost not fair.

Jon Diebler is ruthless from three-point range. He already has the Ohio State record for most three-pointers in a career. He shoots at a 47.4-percent clip from beyond the arc. David Lighty is versatile and tough and averages 13.2 points. William Bufford averages 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds. Dallas Lauderdale is tough and strong and has 32 blocks this season.

These are guys you can win with, and the Buckeyes do.

So what does IU have to do to win? For starters, don’t fall into the big early holes as has happened the past few games. It needs production from its inside guys. Somebody has to contain Sullinger or he’ll total 50 points and 20 rebounds. IU will probably have to guard him by committee. Bobby Capobianco seems certain to get every allotted foul. The guy is a foul magnet, but if he can use those fouls to beat up Sullinger, that’s okay.

Yes, you can talk about IU needing better ball movement, defending the pick and roll better, closing out on three-point shooters, and all those other things, but the bottom line is the Hoosiers need to get tough. They need to make plays when the game is on the line.

That, too, sounds easy. As anyone who has watched IU in the last week or so can say, nothing is easy with these guys.

Unless it’s Savannah State. Ohio State is no Savannah State.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Getting It Done -- Wilson Building A Football Staff For Success

Are you like us? Are you yearning for happy thoughts?

Do not -- repeat, do not! -- look at Indiana’s Big Ten basketball schedule. It’s too scary. Besides, it’s still the holiday season and there’s no sense obsessing over gloom and doom.

We’ll do that for you.

Instead, consider the defensive staff new football coach Kevin Wilson is assembling. In case you’ve forgotten, it’s Doug Mallory and Mike Ekeler as co-defensive coordinators, Mark Hagen as the defensive tackles and special teams coach, Corey Raymond as the cornerback coach.

Mallory comes from New Mexico, Ekeler from Nebraska, Hagen from Purdue and Raymond from Utah State. Mallory has an extensive coaching background and plenty of success as a defensive coordinator. Plus, he’s the son of Bill Mallory, the winningest football coach in school history.

Ekeler will probably be the most passionate coach IU has had since Steve Addazio left for Florida and, now, Temple. He will pat you on the back, kick you in the tail and drive you to play with the controlled fire necessary for elite success.

One concern when Wilson was hired was the fact he didn’t have a staff to bring with him. The reason -- he didn’t have one. He was Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator. A head coach would likely bring much of his staff with him. For instance, it was among the reasons why Joe Tiller was able to have instant success at Purdue. He brought most of his staff with him from Wyoming.

Wilson offset that by hiring guys who had worked together before. Mallory, Ekeler and Raymond were all on the LSU staff before going their separate ways. Hagan worked with Mallory at IU and played for Doug’s father, Bill, as a standout Hoosier linebacker.

There also was a strong connection to the aggressive, attacking defenses used by Oklahoma and Nebraska, which rate among the nation’s best.

That’s an Xs and Os thing, but perhaps the No. 1 key is staff chemistry. The better that is, the better IU’s chances are of building a defense that can make a difference.

And if you’ve followed the Hoosiers, you know how much of a difference that can be.

“We need an environment where guys are good together,” Wilson says. “You don’t want a staff where guys are fragmented. A cohesive core will be stronger together than as an individual. That can’t happen if there’s a lack of chemistry.

“It will start with guys I’m comfortable with. If I’m comfortable with them, hopefully they blend in within themselves. Until you put the group together, you don’t know. Chemistry is always a big part of success, whether it’s coaching or playing.”

Wilson has one more defensive coach to hire -- someone to handle the defensive ends. There’s no rush for that position.

There’s nothing official as far as offensive assistant coaches, but reports are Boise State receivers coach Brent Pease might be a candidate. He helped with an offense that ranked third nationally in total offense and second in points thanks in part to standout receivers Austin Pettis, Titus Young and Jeremy Childs. He previously was the offensive coordinator at Baylor and Kentucky.

An article in the Wall Street Journal used information from Winthrop Intelligence to determine the nation's two best offensive coordinators not already locked into head coaching jobs as Boise State's Bryan Harsin and Stanford's David Shaw. Athletic directors use Winthrop Intelligence, a firm out of North Carolina, for background information when making hires.

Wilson, by the way, ranked second on that list of best offensive coordinators. Harsin was third and Shaw was fourth. Who was No. 1? It's Oklahoma State's Dana Holgorsen, who is moving to West Virginia as head coach in waiting.

Wilson has said he doesn’t want to be the offensive coordinator, but he will be a part of the offense, “Just not necessarily the guy in charge.”

Will anybody from Bill Lynch’s staff be retained? Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mark Canada already has accepted the position of offensive coordinator at Northern Illinois. Running backs coach Dennis Springer and receivers coach Billy Lynch have the best shots at staying, but nothing is etched in stone.

No matter how the staff ends up, the goal is to build a championship program. Yes, we’ve heard that before. But maybe this time, Wilson can make it happen.

“We’re at a place with a bunch of untapped resources and energy to build something strong,” he said. “I’ve watched a lot of people in this region do it. I don’t see any reason why we can’t. I’m excited for the opportunity. There might be some issues, but whatever issues there are, it’s a great opportunity to get it done.”

Monday, December 27, 2010

NIT Jolt -- Did IU REALLY Lose To Penn State

Kiss the NIT goodbye.

Is that right? Can we really say that just three days after Christmas?

Yes, we can.

Does it have to come true?

No, but something has to change.


Losing at home to Penn State, as Indiana did 69-60 Monday night in its Big Ten opener, has all sorts of implications, none of them good, except this one -- it had a chance at the end.

Okay, that’s the positive bone we’ll throw.

This was exactly what IU needed -- a cliffhanger ending that demanded crunch-time toughness. It got exactly what it didn’t need -- another soft-minded loss.

That’s three straight defeats, five overall, all with the Hoosiers within minutes of victory.

Can’t somebody make a game-deciding play?

“We have to hold each other accountable,” guard Jordan Hulls says. “We have players who can go one on one, but in some situations it’s not the best time to do that. When we move the ball and play good defense, that’s when we’re at our best. If people try to be the hero, the team chemistry isn’t as good. We have to play a full 40 minutes.”

How bad was this defeat?

You don’t need us to tell you, but we will with this thought:

Second-ranked Ohio State comes to Assembly Hall Friday, which is New Year’s Eve.

Oh no.

“Three in a row can become a snowball effect for us,” guard Jeremiah Rivers says. “It’s not the way we wanted to start (the Big Ten). We can’t hang our heads and get down about it. We don’t have time.”

Penn State was, by most non-conference measures, the Big Ten’s worst team. Given this might be the toughest conference in America, that designation was misleading.

Given Monday night’s performance, it’s also wrong.

The Hoosiers have earned that status. Other than maybe Iowa at Assembly Hall, IU won’t play a game as the favorite the rest of the season. It lacks a strong inside presence. Its guard play has been inconsistent. It has borrowed about 10 pages from Hoosier football’s can’t-finish playbook.

Does any team in America give up more wide open 3s than IU? The short answer is -- no. The long answer is -- absolutely no.

Nittany Lion forward David Jackson came in as a 27.6 percent three-pointer shooter and went 3-for-4. Penn State was 8-for-17 beyond the arc, 47.1 percent. It entered the game as the Big Ten’s worst three-point shooting team, at 31.8 percent.

Penn State also was the Big Ten’s worst-shooting team overall, at 41.7 percent. It shot 53.8 percent against the Hoosiers.

What does that tell you? IU is a mediocre -- at best -- defensive team. Yeah, it throttles the SIU-Edwardsvilles of the world. So what? It’s played five decent to good teams and lost them all.

Early on against Penn State Assembly Hall was as noisy as a library, as energized as a poetry reading. You can blame the students being on break, but that’s just an excuse. The Hoosiers didn’t give fans anything to cheer about. Penn State pushed to a series of 14-point leads.

That Nittany Lions forwards Jeff Brooks and Jackson scored in double figures wasn’t surprising. They average double figures. The fact they needed just 12 minutes to do it (about three times faster than normal) was surprising. They boosted Penn State to a 34-25 halftime lead.

It was a game that screamed for a fast second-half start and the Hoosiers delivered to take a 48-47 lead. They had momentum and the crowd. Did they have the toughness to take advantage?

You know that answer.

“There has to be pride individually” Rivers says. “Pride as a team. That’s where it starts.”

IU is 9-5 and needs seven Big Ten wins to be positioned for a NIT bid. Do you see that happening? Performance says no. Results scream it. And yet, the talent suggests, maybe.

The truth hurts. It also motivates. What will it do for the Hoosiers? Friday’s Ohio State game will let us know, one way or the other.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

With Blackmon and Lyles, IU’s Basketball Future Is Impressive

We have seen the future of Indiana basketball and it is impressive. Fort Wayne Bishop Luers’ James Blackmon Jr. is a smooth-shooting guard who, even as a freshman, is a man among boys as a scorer. He’s not as dominant as a defensive player, but who is? He had a game-high 23 points in a win over Indianapolis Arlington in last week’s IPSAC Challenge in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis Tech’s Trey Lyles also was impressive in the same event at John Marshall Community High School. The 6-9 freshman had 29 points and 11 rebounds against an aggressive East Chicago Central team. He even handled the ball against the press, and while you wouldn’t want to base an entire game on his ability to deal with that kind of pressure, his versatility will translate well to the college game.

IU coach Tom Crean wasn’t wrong in offering these guys scholarships before they had ever played a high school game. Both will have outstanding prep careers. If they stay healthy, both might even make a run at Damon Bailey’s state career scoring record of 3,134 points.

For the record, only two other Indiana high school players have broken the 3,000-point barrier. Lewisville’s Marion Pierce had 3,019 points. Bishop Luers’ DeShaun Thomas had 3,018.

Anyway, Blackmon and Lyles play on the same summer travel team, which is where Blackmon’s father, James Sr., got to know Lyles. The Luers head basketball coach is impressed with the caliber of player Crean is landing.

“When you get a kid like Trey Lyles, that’s another piece to the puzzle,” Blackmon Sr. said. “They had fun together (on the AAU circuit). They enjoyed each other. Not only is Coach Crean bringing in good athletes, but they’re also quality kids.”

The younger Blackmon can hit all the shots. He can bury three-pointers, drive to the basket and get inside the arc for pull-up jumpers. As a freshman he’s further along than his father, who wound up as the Mr. Basketball runner-up to New Castle’s Steve Alford as a high-scoring senior guard at Marion High School.

“The difference is he’s gotten to play early,” the father said. “He’s competing as a younger guy. He’s learning through mistakes.”

Most of the younger Blackmon’s mistakes come on the defensive end. Yes, he knows it.

“Sometimes people say when you’re young you don’t care for defense much. I have to step it up, stay down in a stance and work harder in practice. Sometimes I just don’t work as hard like I do on offense. I know I can score. That’s my best strength. I’m not bad on defense, but I have to work harder.”

Figure his father will ensure he does.

“Defense is effort,” Blackmon Sr. said. “Your body has to get physically stronger once you get to high school. With James, you’re talking about a freshman going against seniors. There’s going to be a difference.

“Right now we’re not lifting weights. We’re concentrating on pushups and situps. He’s going to get stronger. I’ll leave (weight lifting) to Coach Crean as far as putting on more bulk.”

The younger Blackmon averages more than 20 points for an unbeaten Luers team ranked No. 1 in Class 2A. The upgrade in competition hasn’t affected him.

“He’s always played up during the AAU circuit,” the older Blackmon said. “He’s always played up against older guys. He doesn’t seem to get rattled. He can miss four to five shots and won’t get rattled. Defensively he can have a breakdown and he stays focused. One of his strengths to his game is his mental toughness as far as being poised and staying aggressive at all times.”

Blackmon and Lyles, who both rank among the nation’s top players in the Class of 2014, were among the flurry of high-profile recruits to commit or sign with Indiana since the summer.

Others include Cody Zeller and Austin Etherington in the Class of 2011, Hanner Perea, Yogi Ferrell, Ron Patterson and Peter Jurkin in the Class of 2012, and Collin Hartman and Devin Davis in the Class of 2013.

“It’s exciting now that they’ve got all those good players,” the younger Blackmon said. “I’ll be excited to get down (to Bloomington) with them.”

Blackmon and many of the other recruits will head to Bloomington for IU’s New Year’s Eve game against second-ranked Ohio State. They might not see a victory, but they will an opportunity for future success.


IU (9-4) opens Big Ten play tonight against Penn State. It’s coming off a 0-2 swing in Las Vegas that pleased no one. Here are a few of Tom Crean’s thoughts courtesy of a university release.

“We saw that we are a far better team when we play as one and within ourselves. We have a lot of guys who can do good things at any time, but we have to trust our system and, most importantly, trust each other. We don’t have anyone on our team that can carry the lead by themselves. When we try that, we don’t have the same success …

“Our maturity as a team took a step back at times in both games. We are going to learn from them.”

Penn State (7-4) poses a challenge with guard Talor Battler, the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer.

“They have one of the premier players in the Big Ten in Talor Battle,” Crean said. “There’s no doubt about that. From end to end his speed is amazing.

“They are far more than just a team driven by one player. They have Big Ten experience at every position.”

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Indiana Faces Early Must-Win Basketball Game

Here is Indiana, not even into January and facing must-win basketball pressure.

Yeah, it comes to that when you play in a powerhouse conference, favorite status is rare and you’ve lost a pair of winnable non-conference games to rip away any sense of momentum.

The Hoosiers are 9-4, one victory away from matching last year’s total, seven wins away from reaching postseason opportunity, and on the brink.

Can they get to the postseason (as in the NIT)? Absolutely. Will they? That is the million-dollar question.

Let’s take a look at what the Big Ten brings.

First, IU is 9-0 at Assembly Hall, 0-4 away from it. This is not exactly what coach Tom Crean was hoping for when he devised this user friendly non-conference schedule.

Losses at Boston College and at Kentucky were not unexpected, although a split would not have been Mission Impossible. Getting swept in Las Vegas by Northern Iowa and Colorado was a huge disappointment given the Hoosiers were, once again, in position to win both in the final minutes. They didn’t have to do anything super human, just get a few defensive stops, make a couple of free throws, set a few screens, and execute what they had already executed.

The key is doing it under crunch-time pressure, a skill they have yet to master.

Yes, if you’re wondering, that’s the same problem that torpedoed the football season.

Northern Iowa, by the way, beat New Mexico to win the Las Vegas Classic.

Anyway, the Big Ten season is here, starting Monday when Penn State (7-4) hits Assembly Hall. The Nittany Lions have lost two straight and have played only two games in the last two weeks. They will battle Iowa for the title of worst Big Ten team, although in high-scoring guard Talor Battle they have one of the conference’s best players.

Yes, coaches talk about conference parity and how there are no sure wins anymore, which is true, but in a conference that boasts five ranked teams and eight potential NCAA tourney squads, Penn State is as easy as it gets.

Which is to say, especially for Indiana, it isn’t easy at all.

Still, if IU is to get the 7-11 Big Ten record crucial to earning a NIT bid (that would make it 16-15 overall), it has to beat Penn State. This isn’t an option. If it can’t beat the Nittany Lions at Assembly Hall, who can it beat?

Consider the Hoosiers also play second-ranked Ohio State (12-0), Michigan (10-2), No. 21 Illinois (10-3), No. 17 Minnesota (11-1), Iowa (7-5), Northwestern (9-1), No. 14 Purdue (11-1) and Wisconsin (10-2) at Assembly Hall. Penn State and Iowa are the only teams IU will be favored to beat, although Purdue without Robbie Hummel could be vulnerable.

Remember, that’s COULD BE, although the way the Boilers play defense makes that a very difficult task.

As far as the road, IU doesn’t play at Penn State, which hurts, but it does play at Iowa. It also has to play at Purdue, at Minnesota, at Wisconsin, at Michigan State (8-4), at Ohio State, at Northwestern (9-1), at Michigan and at Illinois.

Yes, Michigan State has struggled this season, but it is hard to beat at the Breslin Center, although a good Texas team had the athletes to do it.

The Hoosiers will be lucky to go 2-7 on the Big Ten road and 1-8 is probably the best-case scenario. That means they need at least a 5-4 home record to reach 16 overall wins, which will be about as easy as intercepting Tom Brady.

Hey, Brady does have four interceptions, so it won’t take a miracle.

Still, this team has the talent to make the NIT and generate momentum for next season. That's the natural building progression.

The bottom line -- talent isn’t enough. It needs toughness and tenacity. It starts, and certainly doesn’t end, with Penn State.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vegas Blues -- IU Shows It’s Not Big Ten Ready

So what do we make of Indiana’s 0-2 Las Vegas trip?

First, the Hoosiers are not Big Ten ready. They can’t win away from Assembly Hall, they don’t play good enough defense and they lack the toughness necessary against good teams.

Northern Iowa and Colorado are decent teams, but they aren’t the caliber of what IU will face in the Big Ten. These were winnable games, so win them.

This was the worst possible result. The Hoosiers are 9-4 and need to go 7-11 in the Big Ten for a shot at the NIT.

How likely is that? We’ll explore that in a future blog.

Based on the Las Vegas results, it might seem obvious IU’s non-conference schedule didn’t prepare it for quality opponents. In fact, that’s true, but it was still the kind of schedule necessary for this program for this year.

Not in future years.

As coach Tom Crean has said, the Hoosiers needed early success to build confidence. The hope was the necessary toughness and execution would follow. It didn’t. At least, it hasn’t yet.

Future non-conference schedules absolutely have to have better opponents. Not in the excessive manner of Michigan State, but better than the likes of Savannah State, SIU-Edwardsville and South Carolina State.

Kentucky and Boston College were not enough.

IU has still not recovered from the mess of the Kelvin Sampson era. It is getting closer, but it’s still not there.

As usual, the Hoosiers played well enough to have a chance at the end against Colorado, but couldn’t finish. They rallied from a massive deficit to pull within three, but couldn’t make the crunch-time plays to win.

You’d like to think that this is just part of the growing process, that there will come a time they’ll learn from these losses and start winning close games. It’s the old cliché that if you keep knocking on the door long enough, you’ll knock it down.

There’s no guarantee that will happen.

In the meantime, IU has to find more consistency. Against Colorado, Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls were the offensive stars. Christian Watford scored, but struggled with his shooting. Verdell Jones lost his shooting stroke the moment he left Assembly Hall. Perhaps that reflects the ankle injuries he’s suffered. Whatever the reason, he needs to put extra time in the gym to regain his shooting stroke. The same is true for Maurice Creek, who has yet to return to last year’s form, which is what you’d expect from someone who suffered the knee injury he did. He might not regain his stroke until next season.

Still, if the Hoosiers can play strong enough defense, which means intensity, communication and all-out effort, they’ll have a chance, especially at Assembly Hall.

Their first two Big Ten games are at home. That’s the good news. Their first game is Monday against Penn State, which might be the league’s weakest team. That’s even better news. Their next game is New Year’s Eve against second-ranked Ohio State, the conference’s best team, with a veteran lineup and a superstar freshman center.

That’s bad news.

So where does this leave the Hoosiers?

With a ton of work to do.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hagen Is Again A Hoosier; IU Still Winless On Road

Kevin Wilson is buying into this Indiana tradition stuff. Yeah, maybe football hasn’t been a dynasty at the school, but that doesn’t mean the program hasn’t had its share of standouts in the century-plus it’s been around.

Case in point is Mark Hagen, who was very much a linebacker stud for the Hoosiers back in the Bill Mallory era. Now he’s a veteran coach, a strong recruiter and the latest to join Wilson’s rebuilding team.

Hagen, who has spent the last 11 years coaching at Purdue, will handle defensive tackles and special teams. He joins Corey Raymond, a former NFL player who spent the last two years coaching cornerbacks at Utah State. Raymond will coach cornerbacks for the Hoosiers.

That’s four defensive coaches hired by Wilson. The others were co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Mike Ekeler. Figure Wilson to hire one more defensive coach to handle defensive ends.

He has yet to hire an offensive coach, although his No. 1 priority on that side of the ball is the offensive coordinator.

Hagen thrived during his time at Purdue, which wasn’t surprising considering how good he was as a player. He was a two-time All-Big Ten choice as a linebacker, and a three-time academic all-conference player. He also was an administrative assistant at IU from 1992-95. During that time he worked with Doug Mallory, the Hoosiers’ secondary coach.

Hagen coached linebackers and defensive tackles during his time at IU. In fact, he was assistant head coach under Joe Tiller from 2005-2008. named him one of the Big Ten’s top recruiters and one of the nation’s top-25 recruiters. He coached 10 players who went on to play in the NFL. He made a big difference on special teams, an area the Boilers struggled in until he took charge in 2004. That included 19 blocked kicks from 2003 to 2008.

Hagen also coached defensive tackles for three years at Northern Iowa.

He has a lot of contacts in the state and around the Midwest. He knows the university and the Big Ten. And he likely will be able to provide some key insight into Purdue’s strategy under coach Danny Hope.

As far as rumors that Hagen used negative recruiting against Indiana and former coach Terry Hoeppner, forget them. He’s too good a recruiter to resort to that, especially against his alma mater.

“I’ve known Mark since my days and Northwestern and competing against his defensive fronts,” Wilson said in a university release. “His track record speaks for itself. Mark has developed a number of NFL players. His defensive linemen have always been excellent and he has great experience with special teams.”

Added Hagen: “Coach Wilson is in the process of putting a great staff together. There is a lot of talent in place. I have a lot of great memories from my time as a player and working with Coach (Bill) Mallory. One other highlight is the opportunity to work with Doug Mallory, who is like a brother to me. I think it is going to be a real special situation.”

Raymond played seven years as a cornerback in the NFL –- with the New York Giants from 1992-95 and the Detroit Lions from 1995-98. He had 279 career tackles with 11 interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.

He worked with cornerbacks and the strength and conditioning program for three years at LSU. The Tigers were 3-0 in bowls while he was there. During that time he worked with Doug Mallory and Ekeler.

“Corey came highly recommended,” Wilson said. “He was an excellent college player and he spent seven year in the NFL. He’s off to a great start in his college coaching career. He’s one of the great defensive backfield technicians in the country.”

Added Raymond: “We are ready to build a program that will compete week in and week out in the Big Ten. I can’t wait to get going.”


Indiana lost its chance to win a basketball championship because it hasn’t yet figured out how to finish a close game.

Three times it’s gone into the closing minutes of games only to lose. The latest example came with the 67-61 loss to Northern Iowa in the semifinals of the Las Vegas Classic.

The score was tied with 2:30 to play. Then the Panthers (8-3) scored five straight points to take control.

That negated strong performances from Christian Watford (23 points, 10 rebounds) and Derek Elston (19 points). The result was a lack of production from guards Jordan Hulls, Maurice Creek and Verdell Jones (2-for-18, 11 points).

IU (9-3) is 0-3 away from Assembly Hall. It lost its chance to play New Mexico (coached by former Hoosier All-American Steve Alford) in the Las Vegas title game. Instead, it gets Colorado tonight. A victory would be crucial for momentum entering Monday night's Big Ten opener against Penn State.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Inside Truth – IU Needs To Muscle Up For Big Ten

Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes you don’t want to hear it, didn’t ask for it, don’t need it.

Still, some people will tell you. Maybe they’re jerks, or insensitive or social misfits. Maybe they just can’t help themselves.

A person is overweight and somebody will let them know it. When you get over the implications –- why did they say it, what was the purpose, do they have foot-in-mouth disease –- the fact remains that person is overweight. And that person has to deal with that truth and either try to change it or accept it.

So we offer South Carolina State coach Tim Carter. He’s won nearly 200 college games, so while he is no threat to Bob Knight’s career victory record, neither is he clueless about the game. He’s been an assistant coach at Northwestern, Oklahoma State and Florida State. He’s coached at five different schools that have made postseason play.

Carter was talking about Indiana. His team had just been crushed. He was not pleased. Maybe he was ticked and needed to vent or lash out. Or, perhaps, he was just telling his version of the truth. Perception can be a fickle thing. Anyway, here is what he said:

“One thing we thought coming into the game was that their post players were not typical Big Ten post players, low-post offensive guys. I spent four years in the Big Ten. We thought they might not be as good on the low block as what most Big Ten teams are on the low block. I don’t think we tried to exploit that because they’re much bigger and stronger than we are. We just a little lucky, I think.”

Basically, he’s saying IU’s inside game isn’t up to Big Ten standards. Carter doesn’t see Derek Elston, Tom Pritchard and Bobby Capobianco in the same manner as Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson, Michigan State’s Draymond Green, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Illinois’ Mike Davis.

And he would be right.

The Hoosiers’ inside game was supposed to be anchored by 7-foot Guy-Marc Michel, the only true center on the roster. But the NCAA has ruled him ineligible; that he is, in essence, a pro player.

This hurts IU prospects, and the pain will be especially obvious against Big Ten teams.

So coach Tom Crean has improvised. Elston has become, in essence, a center, and he’s shown signs of being an inside force (although he has outside ability). He’s averaged 12.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in his last two games.

Granted, SIU-Edwardsville and South Carolina State will never be confused with Ohio State and Michigan State, but let’s not quibble over details.

Capobianco and Pritchard have been less effective. Capobianco averages 2.4 points and 1.8 rebounds for the season, 3.5 and 1.0 in his last two games. Pritchard is at 1.9 and 4.4 for the season, 2.5 and 3.5 in the last two games.

That’s a lot of numbers that basically means they aren’t producing much. They don’t have to because IU gets plenty from the other positions.

We aren’t including 6-9 Christian Watford in this inside discussion because he’s basically a perimeter player. He averages 18.3 points and 5.6 rebounds.

Here’s the deal. IU can thrive with this frontcourt production against this non-conference competition. Maybe it will be enough in the final two games of the Las Vegas Classic, starting with Wednesday night’s semifinal contest against Northern Iowa, and ending Thursday with either New Mexico or Colorado.

Everything changes once the Big Ten season arrives, starting Monday against Penn State. The Hoosiers are going to have to hold their own in the paint. If not, they’d better shoot 50 percent from the field and average less than 10 turnovers. Otherwise they’ll get hammered.

Maybe Crean can use Carter’s comments as a motivator to elevate the inside play. It certainly couldn’t hurt. Indiana is going to need an effective inside game, both for this season and for future ones. The sooner that happens, the sooner the Hoosiers get back to their championship-winning, NCAA tourney-thriving ways.

The truth, you see, doesn't have to hurt.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mallory, Ekeler Reflect Wilson’s Defensive Approach

So what should we make of Doug Mallory and Mike Ekeler becoming the first assistant coaches hired by new Indiana head football coach Kevin Wilson?

First, it’s important to understand Wilson’s defensive philosophy. Yes, he’s an offensive guy, and a very good one, and that means he knows what defenses are hard to beat.

In his view, power running football no longer dominates the college game. Sure, Wisconsin has thrived with that approach, and teams such as Nevada, Navy and Georgia Tech love to run, but basically the pass is king.

That’s why it’s no surprise that Wilson went for Mallory, a secondary guy, and Ekeler, a linebacker coach, to build his defense. They will be co-defensive coordinators with Mallory also handling the secondary and Ekeler coaching the linebackers.

“While some might think the Big Ten is more run-oriented and physical, the game has evolved,” Wilson said. “In college, it’s from the back (secondary) to the front (the line). You need to have someone who understands how to structure the secondary for run support.”

So what is Wilson’s defensive style?

“In my world, some three-men structures (a 3-4 defensive front) have been successful,” he said. “Some teams are heavy on zone. Some teams play a lot of man coverage in their schemes. The thing with 3-4 systems is that look is clean. I’ve had issues with all of them.”

That leads to Wilson’s top priority.

“You’ve got to understand how to kill the run. You try to get a team into being one dimensional.”

Mallory and Ekeler have one top priority, according to Wilson, and that is, “They need to understand how to play run defense. You do that so when you play Ohio State or Wisconsin or Iowa, the great run teams, you can move it into a back-end game.”

In other words, force those teams to throw. Don’t be surprised if IU uses a 4-3 defensive scheme to do that. It’s the system used at Nebraska and New Mexico.

Both coaches have had plenty of defensive success, although Mallory faced Mission Impossible while at New Mexico. The Lobos lost scholarships from the academic fraud that occurred under former coach Rocky Long. Plus, they had switched to a 4-3 defense from Long’s 3-3-5 approach, and the talent wasn’t up to the switch. Finally, they played a schedule full of strong offenses, including Oregon. The result –- they gave up 44.3 points a game, the worst in the nation, and went 1-11 this season.

Mallory had a lot more success during stops at LSU, Oklahoma State and Maryland. He also was the secondary coach for two years at Indiana under his father, Bill, the winningest football coach in school history. He was the defensive coordinator at Western Kentucky and an offensive line coach at Army.

Doug Mallory has coached in seven bowl games and was on LSU’s 2008 national title squad.

Ekeler was the linebacker coach at Nebraska the last three years. He also coached at Oklahoma under Wilson and at LSU.

“Both men bring unparalleled character, energy, experience, enthusiasm and winning attitudes,” Wilson said in a university release. “This is a great start to the foundation we are building here.”

Also, it looks like Mark Hagen, the former IU linebacker and current Purdue linebacker coach, will return to Bloomington.

Nothing is official, but Boiler All-America defensive end Ryan Kerrigan tweeted this -– “Sad to see Coach Hagen go but I wish him all the best. Thanks coach for getting me to Purdue.”

Hagan was an all-Big Ten linebacker at IU in the early 1990s. He coached at Purdue for 10 years. He also coached at Northern Illinois for three years.

According to’s Tom Dienhart, Hagen will coach the defensive line and special teams. Hagen previously coached special teams at Purdue.

Wilson said in an earlier interview that many of the IU coaches would contribute to special teams.

It’s no surprise all these guys are defensive coaches. Wilson wants to deal with the defense first because of how crucial that will be in turning the Hoosiers into a consistently winning program.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jones Lobbies, IU Rolls. What’s Next For the Hoosiers?

Beg? Let’s not go that far. Verdell Jones wanted to play. His sprained ankle was sore, but so what? He felt good enough to get in on the fun.

Indiana’s Hoosiers, by the way, are having a lot of basketball fun.

Jones mentioned playing a few days earlier with SIU-Edwardsville arriving at Assembly Hall. Put me in, he said. Coach Tom Crean said no. Indiana didn’t need him for that game, and Jones didn’t need to push it so soon against the worst team the Hoosiers would face all season. Some extra rest seemed the best action, and Crean is a best-action coach, especially with the Big Ten looming.

So here came South Carolina State and Jones pleaded his case. He lobbied that he was ready, proved it during Sunday morning’s walk-through and this time Crean bought it.

Jones could play.

“It was a very strong lobby on my part,” he said with a laugh. “Very strong.”

Jones made the most of it. He came off the bench for 13 points, three assists and just one turnover, huge given he’s been a turnover machine this season. He was 4-for-5 from the field and 5-for-5 on free throws. He did all this in 18 see-I-told-you-I-was-ready minutes and wanted more before Crean pulled him back in as IU cruised to a 102-60 victory in the second round of the Las Vegas Classic.

“It felt real good to be back out there,” Jones said. “I missed it a lot. The last game (SIU-Edwardsville) was hard to watch because I wanted to be in there so bad. I’m glad the team took care of it, and now I’m back.”

He’s back, and if he’s not at full health, he’s close enough.

“It’s not 100 percent. I can’t put a number on it. It’s getting better and hopefully soon it will be 100 percent.”

Jones was part of an IU juggernaut that was slow to start (credit South Carolina State for much of that) and furious to finish. The Hoosiers won the second half 59-25. They scored 82 points in the last 28 minutes.

They had 24 assists against a season-low eight turnovers. Their previous low was 10 against Boston College.

“We were running,” Jones said. “We had a lot of fast-break opportunities. We were driving and kicking it, making the extra pass. It was beautiful to see us do that.”

Beauty had one ugly flaw. Guard Jeremiah Rivers, who is playing the best of his college career, injured his leg in the second half. He crumpled to the court and had to be helped to the locker room by two teammates. At that point Rivers had eight points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

Crean said “It’s too early” to tell the severity of the injury. Rivers flew out with the team to Las Vegas Sunday night.

So now the Hoosiers (9-2) have a chance to win a non-conference tournament championship for the first time since the 2002 Maui Invitational.

Yeah, that would be huge. It would mean beating Northern Iowa (7-3) and probably Steve Alford-coached New Mexico (9-1), although Colorado (7-3) would slip in there.

Remember, IU is 9-0 at Assembly Hall against a lineup that was designed to build their confidence. The best team it played at home was Evansville, which later beat Butler, but the Aces remind no one of, say, Ohio State.

Still, the Hoosiers won the games they were supposed to win, and did it convincingly (every victory by at least 16 points). Now they have to prove they can win outside of Assembly Hall. They are 0-2 on the road, but the Vegas games are neutral contests.

At least, they’re supposed to be.

Right now IU looks like a NIT team. But if it wins this tournament and finishes at least 8-10 in the Big Ten, it has a NCAA tourney shot. A slim shot, but still a shot given the Big Ten ranks with the Big East as the nation’s best conference.

The Hoosiers need a marquee non-conference achievement. You can debate how marquee this event is, but it’s the only one they have let. They might as well make the most of it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Unofficially Official – Could A Mallory Be Back At IU?

Is a Mallory returning to Indiana?

All signs point to it.

No, it’s not Bill, the former Hoosier head coach and the winningest coach in program history. He’s retired and living in Bloomington.

His son, Doug, is reportedly coming as IU’s new co-defensive coordinator. He will share the duties with Nebraska linebacker coach Mike Ekeler on new coach Kevin Wilson’s staff.

Nothing is official yet, but if you believe, which is usually accurate, expect it will be soon.

Mallory spent the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator for a New Mexico team that went 1-11 this season and allowed 44.3 points a game.

Does that worry you?

Hold that thought.

Before that Mallory was the defensive coordinator at Louisiana State. He’d previously been the secondary coach at LSU, Oklahoma State and Maryland. From 1994-96, he was the secondary coach and special teams coach under his father at Indiana. He also spent three years as the defensive coordinator at Western Kentucky and one year as the offensive line coach at Army.

Okay, back to New Mexico. It allowed at least 40 points seven times this season. That might make you think, what the heck is Wilson doing? Consider that the Lobos have never been a powerhouse, and weren’t exactly loaded with talent this season, so don’t hold that against Mallory.

What can you hold him to? Well his LSU secondary led the SEC in pass efficiency in 2005 and ’07, finished second in ‘07. That ’07 defense allowed just 182.7 passing yards and intercepted 23 passes, fourth in the nation.

The Tigers won the national championship in 2007.

The 2006 pass defense allowed 145.7 passing yards, third in the country. They were No. 4 in scoring defense (12.6 points) and allowed 11 passing touchdowns in 13 games.

In other words, Mallory is pretty good when he has talent to work with.

Mallory has strong Big Ten connections. He was a four-year letterman at defensive back at Michigan, earning honorable mention All-America honors as a senior.

His two brothers also coach. Curt is the co-defensive coordinator at Illinois. Mike is the special teams coach for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.

Bill Mallory won 69 games in 13 years at Indiana with six bowl games. He won 165 games overall.

Yeah, bringing the Mallory name back to IU would be a good thing.

Ekeler has worked with Wilson before. He was a defensive graduate assistant at Oklahoma in 2003 and 2004 while Wilson was the offensive coordinator there. Indications are he’ll join the Hoosiers after Nebraska’s Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl game against Washington.

Ekeler is in his third season at Nebraska. The defense allowed 17.2 points and 304.2 yards this season en route to a 10-3 record.

Before that Ekeler spent three years at LSU as a graduate assistant coach and intern. In each of those years the tigers defense ranked third in total defense.

Ekeler was a four-year letterman at linebacker at Kansas State. He also played on a high school state title team in Nebraska.

All this reflects Wilson’s emphasis on surrounding himself with coaches and players from winning backgrounds.

Again, while nothing is official, Ekeler told the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star that, “I can’t comment until it all becomes official at Indiana.”

That’s about as unofficially official as you can get.


It looks like the Big Ten will reconsider the “Legends” and “Leaders” names for its new football divisions. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany didn’t expect the negative backlash those names generated. The conference is likely to take another crack at it. Will they get it right this time? We’ll have to see.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Crushing Hoosiers – What’s Next For Indiana Basketball

No, Indiana didn’t go all Wisconsin football on SIU-Edwardsville. Tom Crean is as competitive a coach as you’re likely to see, but he doesn’t have the beat-you-into-the-dirt mentality that makes Badgers’ Bret Bielema the coach you least want to fall behind.

Friday night was a fool’s gold victory, by an 88-54 score, not because the Hoosiers didn’t play well (they did), but because of the weakness of the opponent.

SIU-E’s deer-in-the-headlight showing was amplified by IU’s go-for-the-jugular approach. The Hoosiers had spent the week fueling up from their 32-minutes-of-glory, eight-minutes-of-fade performance at Kentucky. They needed interior toughness and rebounding and relentlessness because that’s what it will take to beat the Michigan States and Purdues looming in their future.

Crean’s emphasis on rebounding was so emphatic he even had the team work on it Friday morning. Why? Because it absolutely has to become part of their basketball mindset.

What did Friday night’s victory mean other than IU can crush a 2-10 patsy? Not much. This game had nothing in common with what the Hoosiers will face next week in Las Vegas and once Big Ten play begins a few days after that.

IU couldn’t have dominated more than if it had faced the Ghost of Christmas Past. SIU-E missed its first 15 shots and most of them weren’t close. It had no answer for anything the Hoosiers did no matter whom they did it with. The Cream ‘n Crimson shot 68 percent in the first half and 61.5 percent for the game, including 56.3 percent from three-point range. They might never see such numbers the rest of Crean’s career.

Hold on. South Carolina State is next, another patsy in the waiting, coming Sunday to Assembly Hall. It is 4-5 and coming off a loss at Northern Iowa.

That’s the last patsy this season, if you’re interested. From then on it gets as tough as IU can handle, tougher in some cases.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

So what did the Hoosiers take from crushing SIU-E? Here’s guard Matt Roth with that perspective.

“It shows how focused we were all week. We’re playing with an edge. We’ve come together. We didn’t always have that in the past.”

That’s true. The last two years were about as far removed from what Indiana basketball should be about as you can get in this universe. It takes time to build from the rubble left by the Kelvin Sampson disaster.

The Hoosiers are building, just don’t let Friday night make you think they’re complete.

Hey, let’s nickpick. IU had zero offensive rebounds in the first half. Why? Mainly because it only missed eight shots. It finished with four offensive rebounds, just one by forward Christian Watford.

Yes, Crean has mentioned that to him.

Oh. After bolting to a 24-0 lead, Indiana played SIU-Edwardsville to a near draw the rest of the first half, winning the final 11 minutes just 23-20. The letdown had Crean getting all feisty to ensure players kept their edge, but it wasn’t unexpected. Only the most mature of teams can sustain its intensity in such a situation and the Hoosiers still have work to do in that area.

Oh, yes. Did you notice that Tom Pritchard hit his first free throw of the season and if he’s now 1-for-8, why be negative?

Oh, no. Watford fouled out with 8:28 left after totaling 18 points in 19 minutes. What’s up with that? Well, Crean did briefly have him play point guard. That’s right. The 6-9 sophomore has gone, in one year, from a power forward to a perimeter forward to a point guard. What’s next? New football coach Kevin Wilson was in the stands, so maybe there’s a future gridiron role.

So now the Hoosiers are 8-2, 8-0 against Assembly Hall fodder, 0-2 against road quality.

This was the year for home-court dog opponents because IU needed to learn how to win and build confidence. From now on it needs to do that by beating solid teams.

Next week against Northern Iowa, and either New Mexico or Colorado, would be a great time to start.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Basketball Flash -- IU Hopes To ‘Rebound’ Against SIU-Edwardsville

Indiana coaches had a message for Indiana players this week in practice -- rebound.

Yes, the Hoosiers have heard this all season. But after the way Kentucky manhandled them on the boards, the message took on extra urgency. And since IU had basically a week between that loss and tonight’s SIU-Edwardsville game, the coaches had plenty of time to make it a point of emphasis.

“As bigs we have to get a little stronger,” forward Derek Elston said. “That’s what we worked on all week. We kind of battled. I feel good about it.”

Specifically, this was the practice deal. Four players had to crash the boards on every shot while one player dropped back on defense. No exceptions. No excuses.

“(Coaches) said, if you’re not going (to the boards), we’re going to stop and run,” Elston said.

Running (or the threat of running) can be a wonderful motivator and, in this case, Elston said, it worked.

“We got better. The big thing is to go in there to rebound. Go in there with a purpose. Everybody got to the point where it’s locked in your mind that when the ball goes up, we’re just going.”

Locking it in practice is one thing. Doing it in games sometimes becomes a different animal.

It likely won’t make much different against SIU-Edwardsville, a team in transition, a program in flux. For years it was a solid Division II program as part of the Great Lakes Valley Conference. Then it decided to move to Division I and life got more complex. It won 10 games two years ago, five last season. This year it is 2-9 and has as much chance to beat the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall as the New York Jets suspended strength coach has of winning NFL Man of the Year honors.

You won’t hear that from the Hoosiers. If you did, you wouldn’t see them in the game. Instead, they’d probably be running laps around Cook Hall. Elston, for one, wants to play. He calls SIU-E a “Good team. They like to run. They have a lot of guys who can shoot. We’ll try to stick to our game plan.”

The plan includes beating SIU-E, then doing the same to South Carolina State on Sunday. Then it’s off to Las Vegas and a game against Northern Iowa on Wednesday and either New Mexico or Colorado on Thursday.

All this is part of the Las Vegas Classic, a non-conference tourney that offers four games (coach Tom Crean is big on that) and a chance to play two of those games at home (at least for the Hoosiers).

“This is fun,” Elston said.

IU will have two days in Vegas to prepare and fun needs to be tempered at a place known as Sin City, where temptation is a 24-hour-a-day concern.

Hey, we’ve seen, “The Hangover.” Do you want the Hoosiers involved in something like that?

Anyway, they certainly won’t be practicing all that time and, because the semester is over, there is no studying to do. So what will they do to occupy their time?

For now it’s a mystery.

“They haven’t told us what we’re going to do,” Elston said. “It’s a business trip, so we’ll just win some games. See what happens after that.”

Here’s what needs to happen first -- beat SIU-Edwardsville.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wilson Still Searching For Right Coaching Fits

Eventually Kevin Wilson will name his football coaching staff and the Hoosiers will really begin a new era.

For now, he’s still in the search mode, and priority No. 1 is a defensive coordinator. Why? Wilson has plenty of experience on the offensive end (he’s been the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Northwestern and Miami of Ohio), and it’s the defense that will determine how successful he is in Bloomington and whether or not he’ll get an extension on his seven-year, $1.2-million-a-season contract.

“I’m concentrating on the front end with the defensive guys,” he said. “I’ll start with the defensive leadership. Who’s going to direct that?”

Wilson has contacted Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, Arizona coach Mike Stoops and Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.

“I tried to talk to a number of defensive guys and get thoughts,” he said. “I need someone who will be pretty good there.

“I’ll start with the defensive leaders and give those guys a chance to give their thoughts as we piece that side together. Once we get rolling over there, I’ll flip it back over to the offense.”

Wilson figures to have five defensive coaches and four offense coaches with Wilson as one of the offensive coaches. He doesn’t plan to be the offensive coordinator, but he will give offensive input.

“I would be best served by trying to be a part of our offense, but not necessarily the guy in charge of it,” he said.

Wilson has $2 million to pay for a new staff, and while expertise is important, so is overall staff chemistry.

“We need an environment where guys are good together,” he said. “You don’t want a situation where guys are fragmented. A cohesive core will be stronger working together than as individuals.

“It will be interesting as we put it together to see how the personalities mesh and jell. It will start with guys I’m comfortable with. If I’m comfortable with them, hopefully they’ll blend in. Until you put a group together, you don’t know, but chemistry is always a big part of a team, whether it’s the coaching team or the football team.”

Many members of former coach Bill Lynch’s staff are still on the job. Some might be retained by Wilson, but all that is up in the air.


Tight end Ted Bolser was named to’s Freshman All-America team. Bolser, receiver Duwyce Wilson and kicker Mitch Ewald were named to’s Big Ten All-Freshman Team.

Bolser set a school tight end record and tied for sixth nationally with five touchdown catches. He also set an IU freshman tight end record with 27 catches for 407 yards. He had the most reception yards for a Hoosier tight end since 1991 and the most catches since 1992.

Wilson totaled 32 catches for 488 yards and three touchdowns. His 15.2-yards-per-catch average led the team.

Ewald went 16-for-19 on field goals. That’s tied for the third most field goals in a season in school history with Bill Manolopoulos. He was 33-for-33 on extra points. He had the game-winning field goal in overtime to beat Purdue.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Indiana Insight -- What Does Wilson Want In A Recruit?

Okay, we’re going to concentrate on Indiana football and not make fun of the Big Ten’s new Legends and Leaders division experiment because everybody’s doing it and we refuse to stoop to that level.


Anyway, word is out that Kevin Wilson isn’t done with his Oklahoma job. He’ll work the Fiesta Bowl battle with Connecticut, but not in his previous capacity as offensive coordinator (quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel and receivers coach Jay Norvell have been promoted to co-offensive coordinators). Instead, he’ll coach tight ends and fullbacks.

Does this hurt Indiana? Not really. IU is in finals week, so players soon will be gone until the second semester begins in January. There’s also a recruiting dead period from Dec. 20 to Jan 3. So there’s not a whole lot going on for a team not in a bowl game.

Now, a cynic might say Wilson could spend the time hiring his staff (right now the number stands at zero), but that wouldn’t include athletic director Fred Glass. He figures Wilson will get some national exposure during a major bowl game, which can’t hurt the program.

In the meantime, IU’s commitment list for the Class of 2011 is down to 19 from a high of 22, with two going to Northwestern and one to Nebraska. Will more likely bolt before the February signing period? Probably. For instance, four-star athlete Raymon Taylor just visited Iowa and could end up a Hawkeye. Until Wilson gets his staff in place, there will be plenty of uncertainty around the program, and other schools are taking full advantage. This reflects the quality job former coach Bill Lynch and his staff did in lining up a strong class other programs want pieces of.

Anyway, Wilson is trying to keep as many commitments as he can, and perhaps get a few others depending on scholarship availability. So what does he look for in a recruit other than the obvious requirements for each position?

Glad you asked.

“It’s nice when you have a quarterback coming off a winning team, a championship team,” he says. “I like to have guys as much from a winning background as possible. I know there will be a lot of talented guys whose seasons didn’t go well, but the more you get guys used to coming out of winning environments, the better. They’re used to working hard. Their expectation level is high. That would be helpful.”

There’s more.

“The hardest thing to judge is a guy’s attitude, his ability to work hard, the talent of working hard. That’s a unique skill. It’s a skill we need to embrace. It’s also the hardest thing to measure.

“You can see if a guy is tall or can jump high or is fast or hits hard. Some things are obvious. But attitude is a hidden talent. In our limited amount of contact that’s the hardest thing to gage.

“You hope you’re getting a good character kid who had discipline. A do-the-right-thing kind of guy. A guy who comes from structure, who is used to working hard and doing things right. How do we judge that? There’s no stop watch for that.”

There is a stop watch for speed and Wilson will seek guys who have it. That means going outside of Indiana, to the southeast, Texas and even the West Coast. How hard will Wilson hit those areas?

“If you’re hitting them super hard all the time, how well are you doing locally? You need to look at that. We’ll take a smart look. We don’t want to do too much and spread ourselves so thin we’re not doing anything.

“We’ll evaluate that once the staff is here. If we have ties to certain areas where they think they might do some good work, we’ll go there. I’ll leave that open ended.

“I have some ties in Texas. That doesn’t mean we need to get in there. The Georgia area is good. It’s not that far away. So we’ll see. I’ll have a better idea once we get a staff.”

So there you have it. There’s more and we’ll fill you in with upcoming blogs.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What's In A Big Ten Name And Logo?

Okay, we get it. It’s about history, core values and tradition. Still, when the Big Ten announced that it was calling its new divisions “Legends” and “Leaders,” we didn’t know what to say.

We still don’t.

Nobody divides its conference into divisions and come up with names like this. Of course, the Big Ten has never followed the norm. It’s always been about that bold new frontier, except when it comes to a college football playoff, when it turns into Scrooge, regardless of commissioner Jim Delany’s spin.

The word was the league considered calling the divisions Schembechler and Hayes after Hall of Fame coaches Bo Schembechler of Michigan and Woody Hayes of Ohio State, but figured that unnecessarily highlighted them over so many other outstanding contributors.

So the LEADERS division will consist of Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.

The LEGENDS division will have Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern.

“‘Legends’ is a nod to our history and to the people associated with our schools who are widely recognized as legends -– student-athletes, coaches, alumni and faculty,” Delany said in a Big Ten release. “‘Leaders’ looks to the future as we remain committed to fostering leaders, the student-athletes who are encouraged to lead in their own way for the rest of their lives, in their families, in their communities and their chosen professions.”

League officials had months to come up with this. It was last summer when Nebraska bolted the Big 12 for the Big Ten to give the conference 12 teams and the option to divide into divisions and host a conference championship game.

That game will come next December at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium.

“When we announced football division alignments in September, other associated decisions had not yet been made,” Delany said. “We wanted to take some time to listen, carefully consider and make choices that would best honor our history and traditions, reflect our core values and characteristics, and tell our story. We involved many thoughtful, dedicated professionals. We listened to many ideas from our member schools, alumni and fans.”

Also, the Big Ten came up with 18 trophies to honor coaches, teams and players, starting next season. Indiana is represented by the Dungy-Thompson Humanitarian Award for former IU All-America tailback Anthony Thompson, plus the Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the year for former Big Ten MVP and Hoosier quarterback Antwaan Randle El.

Finally, there is the new Big Ten logo that was developed by the international design firm Pentagram. We’ll let the release explain it.

“The new Big Ten logo was developed to symbolize the conference’s future, as well as its rich heritage, strong tradition of competition, academic leadership and passionate alumni, designer Michael Gericke said. “It’s contemporary collegiate lettering includes an embedded numeral ‘10’ in the word BIG, which allows fans to see BIG and 10 in a single word. Memorable and distinctive, the new logo evolved from the previous logo’s use of negative space and is built on the conference’s iconic name, without reference to the number of member institutions.”

In other words, no mention that the Big Ten actually has 12 teams.

“The new logo provides a contemporary indentifying mark unifying 12 outstanding institutions,” Delany said. “It conveys some elements from the past while simultaneously introducing new features. We think the new logo is fun and has something for everyone.”

Is it? What do you think of the new logo and division names? Do they sound cool or cheesy? Let us know.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bet The House -- Here’s How IU Will Finish The Non-Conference

For today’s community service, we’re going to tell you exactly how Indiana’s remaining non-conference basketball schedule will play out.

Can you handle the truth?

We will use our decades of journalistic experience, combined with decades of covering Indiana basketball, to do the job.

Sure, you’re probably asking yourself, how do you have so much experience when you’re only 29 years old?

The answer, of course, is oatmeal.

Eat enough oatmeal and it cleans the arteries of cholesterol and defies time.

Or maybe leaves us confused.

Anyway, for the record, Indiana (7-2) has beaten the teams it was supposed to beat, lost to the teams it was supposed to lose to. It has four remaining non-conference games. All are part of the Las Vegas Classic, which is one of those tournaments where the Hoosiers get to play the first two games at home, then head to Sin City where, you hope, they will avoid temptation and play well enough so that what happens in Vegas DOESN’T stay in Vegas.

IU opens with SIU-Edwardsville (2-9) on Friday. On Sunday it hosts South Carolina State (4-4). Then it heads to Vegas where it will face Northern Iowa (5-3) on Dec. 22. The next day it will play either New Mexico (7-1 with Steve Alford as head coach) or Colorado (5-3 and the former employer of current IU assistant coach Steve McClain).

And that’s it. The Big Ten season starts Dec. 27 when Penn State comes to Assembly Hall. It won’t make for much of a Christmas break for the players, but that’s the price you play for major college opportunity.

Now to the details. There is zero chance the Hoosiers lose to SIU-Edwardsville (which not too long ago was a NCAA Division II program) and to South Carolina State.

That will make the Hoosiers 9-2. Northern Iowa has had a solid program over the years, but it seems less solid this year. It got crunched by Syracuse, whipped by Iowa and edged by Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The Hoosiers will win to get their first victory outside of Assembly Hall and that is very important given all the road challenges that await them in the Big Ten.

That will leave a final game showdown with New Mexico, which will beat Colorado.

The Lobos have a pair of high-scoring guards and a coach who knows how to use them. They got beat by 25 at California, but have cruised the rest of the time. Figure they will beat Indiana, which will give the Hoosiers a 10-3 non-conference record.

That means they need at least a 6-12 Big Ten record to position themselves for a NIT bid.

Is that realistic?

Of course it is. We’re 29 years old and we eat oatmeal. How could we be wrong?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fighting The Good Fight Doesn’t Give IU The Reward – But It Will

Okay, so Indiana didn’t pull off what would have been a program-resurrecting victory. IU still fights the good fight, but doesn’t get the reward.

At least we can see where this Tom Crean vision thing is heading.

The Hoosiers played fearless in their 81-62 defeat at No. 17 Kentucky. For 32 minutes, they were at least the equal, if not slightly more, of the Wildcats. They were aggressive and passionate and relentless. They were on the verge of getting their first road win against a ranked opponent since winning at No. 13 Iowa in 2002.

What in the name of Dick Vitale was going on?

“We did things that certainly we haven’t done in our time here,” Crean said. “They’re things we’ve got to do more of as we continue to get better.”

Then they wilted. Kentucky showed the necessary resolve, shot making and rebounding. Sure, the Wildcats had the benefit of home court advantage and a large disparity in free throw shooting, but don’t blame this on the refs. Indiana gave itself a chance and didn’t finish. The same thing happened at Boston College.

In fact, the same thing also happened last year against Kentucky. The Hoosiers had a second-half lead, only to get buried by an 18-0 Wildcats run.

Somehow the Hoosiers have to find the toughness to win the crunch-time minutes. It’s a mantra we heard from the football Hoosiers, and it never materialized. Maybe basketball will be different.

In fact, it almost certainly will. Forward Christian Watford just missed a double double with 19 points and nine rebounds. Give him one more year and he might challenge for Big Ten MVP honors. Victor Oladipo continues to show he’s going to be a future star. Jordan Hulls played steady.

The Hoosiers had a chance even with a banged up Verdell Jones (he hurt his left ankle that already was gimpy and didn’t play the final 15 minutes) and despite Maurice Creek’s struggles (foul trouble and shooting woes made him basically a non-factor).

Yes, IU continues to be fodder for the Wildcats, who have won 16 of the last 20 meetings between the rivals, but now there’s hope for better days. What’s it going to take? Better players would help. Some of that will come from the maturity and continued development of its underclassmen. Indiana will add Cody Zeller and Austin Etherington next year. It will only lose senior Jeremiah Rivers. Everything seems to be in place for big things next season, but who wants to wait that long?

IU (7-2) has four non-conference games remaining. All are part of the Las Vegas Classic, although only the last two are in Vegas. In the meantime there is finals week to deal with and practice to focus on. Jones has to get healthy. Somebody besides Watford needs to emerge as a consistent rebounder. The Hoosiers need to rebound better and defend longer. More and more, it looks like that’s going to happen.

Sooner would be better than later.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kentucky Just ‘Another Game?’ Don’t Believe It

So here is Matt Roth (pictured right courtesy of IU athletics), an Indiana Hoosier who knows what it’s like to play in Rupp Arena, who was there when the Cream ‘n Crimson got pulverized by what would be an under-achieving Kentucky team.

Those were the pre-John Calipari Wildcats, who while talented, didn’t have anywhere near the NBA-caliber firepower that now seems to be their destiny as long as Calipari runs the show.

IU gets another shot and the odds once again are not in its favor, but you won’t hear that from Roth.

“It will be a great opportunity,” he says. “It’s a very tradition-rich program. We know the fans will be there. It will be a great road test. It will be a lot of fun.”

Fun depends on perspective and for these nothing-to-loose Hoosiers, it’s a motivational weapon. IU is 7-1, with the seven wins coming against creampuff competition, all at Assembly Hall, and the loss coming on the road against Boston College, a good but not great team. It is still growing from the NCAA-sanctioned abyss of the Kelvin Sampson years and this early schedule is designed to teach the team how to win again.

Kentucky, meanwhile, was an early top-10 team that has regained its way after a loss at under-achieving North Carolina. It beat a good Notre Dame squad with the kind of unfair freshman talent that will, apparently, forever be a Calipari trademark. It is 6-2 and ranked 17th.

“We’re a basketball savvy group,” Roth says. “Our players understand what Kentucky is all about. The history and tradition they have there. It’s similar to what we have here.

“We know it will be a hostile crowd. It’s always tough to go on the road.”

Roth talks as if he’s dodging verbal landmines, as if one even slightly inflammatory word could ignite an overwhelming UK response. He doesn’t guarantee wins or provoke controversy. He understands that the Boston College loss could have provided the right lesson for a Kentucky victory.

If the lesson was learned.

“It will help a lot having been on the road for the ACC,” Roth says. “To learn from that, make changes and move forward. To have that test in our back pocket will help.”

Conventional wisdom would demand Indiana patience when it shows up at Rupp Arena. You know, work the defense, pass the ball, cut hard, don’t settle for a decent shot when a good one is a very seconds away.

But that’s not Tom Crean’s style, not with these Hoosiers. He wants to attack the rim, punish the defense, get to the rim if it’s there, kick to a guy on the wing if he’s open.

Crean is an aggressive coach and he likes aggressive offense. He hasn’t yet assembled the talent to make it run, but as every Cream ‘n Crimson knows, the talent is coming.

That doesn’t mean IU doesn’t have the talent to win this time. Forward Christian Watford is a big-time player, guard Maurice Creek (pictured courtesy of IU athletics) burned UK for 31 points a year ago in Assembly Hall (his surgically repaired knee is getting better), guard Verdell Jones always plays better in the second half of the season and Jordan Hulls is one of the Big Ten’s best three-point shooters.

Yes, the Wildcats ferociously defend the three-point line (teams average ? against them), mostly because their long, athletic, quick and good.

“They have drive-and-kick players,” Creek says. “Drive-and-kick players. That’s what they like to do. They rebound. They play hard. They’ve got people who can shoot the three. That’s what they like to do. We’ve got to be ready to go. Be ready to compete.”

IU has had a week to prepare for this game. Kentucky beat Notre Dame Wednesday night. Depending on your perspective, it can give either the Hoosiers or the Wildcats the advantage.

“It helps a lot,” Creek said. “We know what they like to do. They like to drive and kick. That’s what we have to stop.”

The Hoosiers insist this is just another game, one of 13 on the non-conference schedule. They say it so often you almost believe them.


“It’s a rivalry game,” Creek says, “but it’s just another game.”


“It’s a game of competitiveness, but at the same time, it’s another game.”

In fact, it's not another game, and if the Hoosiers want to win, they have to play like it's something really, really special.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Big Decision -- IU Football Staff Hires Will Set A Tone

In the end, new Indiana football coach Kevin Wilson will be defined by the quality of his staff.

Sure, recruiting is huge, and that will reflect his assistant coaches. They all need to be great recruiters, guys who can sell a vision. Does it help that IU has the best facilities in school history? You bet. So does the fact the state produces better football players, and more of them. It’s much easier getting a good to great in-state kid to come to Indiana than one from, say, Florida.

Still, that's not enough.

Wilson needs good Xs and Os guys, coaches who can teach and develop and inspire. He will set the tone, but he can’t do it himself.

Certainly the need for a good defensive coordinator can’t be over-emphasized. IU’s consistent lack of defensive success is the main reason for years of mediocrity.
In the last 11 years the best the Hoosier defense has ranked nationally is 71st in 2007. The worst was 112th in 2000. In fact, in this decade IU has ranked 101st or worse five times. This season they ranked 89th, giving up 410.2 yards a game.

That can’t continue.

Wilson needs a coach with great schemes and imagination. A guy who can confuse quarterbacks and disrupt offenses. A guy who can get players to not only to be in position to make plays, but to actually make them.

So who will that be? As Wilson said, “If you want to speculate and name drop you can, but I don’t have a clue. I’m going to take some time and get the right guy. It is a huge hire and we’re going to get someone good.

“I need to get the right guy. That’s a very open-ended process. There’s no one set at any position except me. We’re going to evaluate what we have, what we need, what we’re looking for and try to get the right fit.”

The right fit also includes an offensive coordinator. Wilson called the plays at Oklahoma, but he’s not sure if he’ll do that at Indiana. Some head coaches do it with a lot of success. Some can’t because it’s too much with all their other responsibilities.

“I’m an offensive guy, so to have a strong person there will be a key hire,” Wilson said. “There are going to be several key hires.”

It’s going to cost money for this and athletic director Fred Glass said he has the full blessing from IU President Michael McRobbie to spend what is necessary. The coaching change will cost IU an extra $2 million a year, which will come from a renegotiated media and marketing deal with Learfield Communications, plus extra revenue from the Big Ten Network that will become even more lucrative thanks to money coming from the new conference football championship game (estimated to be somewhere between $130 million and $150 million).

Wilson, in case you’ve forgotten, is making $1.2 million a year for seven years.

Wilson is a no nonsense guy who is committed to his family and his profession. He has a strong background and more resources than any IU coach has had in years, perhaps ever. He’ll need it because the Big Ten is a powerhouse conference that will be more of a powerhouse once Nebraska arrives next season.

The challenge is formidable, but the reward, if it happens, will be great. For now, that’s all we know for certain.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hitting Hard – IU’s Wilson Is A Football Coach’s Coach

Kevin Wilson didn’t come to Indiana to offer peace on earth and good will towards men. Yes, he’s going to represent the university well, do things the right way, preach integrity and discipline and unity, but that’s not enough to make the Hoosiers a Big Ten football success.

You’ve got to smack somebody, hit somebody, intimidate somebody. You’ve got to be big and bad to sometimes be beautiful in a Ray Lewis, James Harrison kind of way.

If you don’t like it, knit a scarf.

So when Wilson met with his new players for the first time, he delivered a message that could have rung true in ancient Sparta, in Army basic training and at a Rocky fight film festival.

“I had a quick meeting to set a positive attitude, some energy, some excitement, some enthusiasm. We need a brand of toughness, a brand of doing things the right way, a brand of being a man. It’s a man’s game. You have to work and act like a man.”

It almost makes you want to pump some iron instead of reaching for that spiked holiday eggnog, not that we’re admitting we do that.

Anyway, we’ve basically heard this message before from newly introduced Indiana coaches. Then it turns into a bad joke when wins don’t come and defeats multiply, when games come down to making just one more play and it’s the other guys doing it.

Yes, Hoosier players were upset when Bill Lynch was fired, but the No. 1 thing they want is a coach who can get them to a bowl game. Wilson is determined to be that guy, sooner rather than later, and work begins now.

“We’ll make some judgments on what we have, but it’s more about here’s where we’re starting, here’s where we’re going, and let’s get this ball rolling forward so we can put it together,” he said. “We’ve got some seniors who aren’t looking for a three- and four-year process. In fairness to them, we’re going to put as strong of a product as we can as fast as we can.”

It sounds good, but the product is only as good as the materials you put into it and that starts with quality players. One of Wilson’s main priorities is to re-recruit the 20 committed players (he was on the phone right after his Tuesday press conference) and he starts with a strong message.

“They picked a great school in the first place, and they’ve not picked a school that’s also hopefully going in a direction to make it, no disrespect, stronger than it was.

“(As far as committed players changing their minds), that’s their right and commitments are no different than getting engaged. We can all bail out when you want to until you walk down that aisle.”

It looks like Lawrence Central do-everything-quarterback Tre Roberson isn’t bailing. Neither, apparently, is four-star recruit Raymon Taylor from Detroit, and defensive end CJ Robbins from Illinois.

“I think they’ll be excited about what we’re putting on the field, the kind of offense we’re going to play, the competitiveness,” Wilson said. “I mean, we’re going to max it out. We’re going to max those kids out. We’re going to play some great football.”

Achieve greatness means out-working the other guy, or at least trying to. It means consistency and competitiveness and tenacity. It’s a message basketball coach Tom Crean preaches every day. Wilson appears built from a similar mold.

“I understand the Big Ten. I’ve been around the league and recruited it on a daily basis, competed against it. I understand the region, the environment and what it takes to build a successful program. We’re ready to build something special.

“It’s a daily process. It’s a winning process. You don’t win some of the time. We’re not winning next year if we’re not winning today. One of our themes will be, ‘Win Today.’ It is attack. It is competitive. We’re going to learn how to win on a daily basis.”

And if that means going all Ray Lewis on somebody, go for it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

All Things Possible For New IU Football Coach

For some, Kevin Wilson walks on water. He can do no wrong. He is Indiana’s latest football coaching Chosen One, the Right Fit who will lead the Hoosiers to the Promised Land and for now, it is all sunshine and rainbows.

There is nothing wrong with this. Wilson arrives from powerhouse Oklahoma bringing the hope that all things are possible. And maybe they are. This is the era where Temple, of all schools, wins big and if it gets screwed out of a bowl game, well, nobody said we live in a fairy tale.

Wilson looks like a football coach. He is stocky of build, square jawed of face. He talks of toughness, discipline and physical play. The goal is to build a championship program and you don’t do it by conceding.

He is asked about Nebraska, the team his Sooners just beat to win the Big 12 championship. It is a historic rivarly and, just a few weeks ago, one that Wilson would no longer be part of because the Cornhuskers have joined the Big Ten. But now he’s in the Big Ten and IU and Nebraska will play, although that won't happen for a couple of years.

Or will it?

“Now we can play them in the (Big Ten) championship game," Wilson said with a hint of a smile, "so if they are good enough to win their division, we could see them the next two years. So we’ll see if they can get there.”

Wilson implies the Hoosiers will win their division, finishing ahead of Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State.

Who needs reality when you have nearly 10 months of honeymoon bliss?

Except, of course, there is no bliss, although there is a seven-year, $8.4 million contract. Some fans grumble. A few see Wilson as someone who will join the long line of failed Hoosier coaches. They are unhappy with the way fired coach Bill Lynch was treated and the fact Wilson has never been a college head coach and lacks the defensive background crucial to turn Indiana into a consistent Big Ten contender.

They are the naysayers of a negative age, where anger roils just below the surface and you turn the other cheek only because somebody smacked it that way.

But at least some of those who played the game see it differently. Take Anthony Thompson, the former IU All-America running back who attended Wilson’s introductory press conference.

“You could tell by his body language there is a sense of toughness,” Thompson said. “He has a tough-guy demeanor, like Coach (Bill) Mallory, and I think the team will take on his personality. He talked about how we’re going to compete every day. I liked that because the kids get a sense of that.”

Athletic director Fred Glass got a sense of it during his coaching search.

“I needed to focus on guys who have done it on a big stage,” Glass said. “(Wilson has) done it in the Big Ten. He’s done it at a place like Oklahoma. I’m very confident that he’s ready for the top job.”

Wilson is an offensive coach who understands the important of defense, who pushes it from a high-scoring pedestal because that’s what Oklahoma does under coach Bob Stoops.

“Nine years of going up against Coach Stoops every day you learn that you’ve got to play great defense and you win the Big Ten and you win championships by being able to play ‘D,’” Wilson said. “We’re going to play some great defense. We’re going to be a team that plays hard, that plays smart, that plays disciplined. That doesn’t take a lot of talent, but that is the talent of winning. That’s what it’s going to take to win.”

Wilson talks about winning right away. That next year’s seniors don’t have time for a multi-year building program, and neither does he.

IU returns eight offensive starters and nine defensive starters, but it has a huge hole at quarterback and hasn’t shown it has the powerhouse offensive linemen needed for a consistently productive running game. An inexperienced quarterback and no running game -- we won’t dwell on the forever struggling defense -- suggest more struggles are coming.

But Wilson is an offensive guy who likes a multiple, diverse attack geared toward its players’ strengths. So maybe he can take what appears a weakness and make it a strength.

He has a background in recruiting football-rich Ohio (he coached at Miami of Ohio for nine years, much of that along with former IU head coach Terry Hoeppner). He will take the next few weeks to assemble a staff and set the course for a new Hoosier era. He might still coach the Sooners in next month's Fiesta Bowl, although that decision rests with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

Wilson has paid his dues. He’s 49 years old, coached at two of the nation’s best conferences, thrived at one of college football’s traditional superpowers, been passed over for head coaching jobs a handful of times (Iowa State, Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State). He was voted America’s best assistant coach in 2008 after directing the most explosive offense in history, one that averaged 58.5 points and scored at least 60 points in five straight games.

That those Sooners lost to Florida 24-14 in the national title game is yet another indication that defense, rather than offense, wins championships.

Wilson gets that.

“I think it’s time,” he said about becoming a head coach. “I think it’s been time. It just hasn’t been the right place. For years it has been time. My job has been so good it has been hard to leave.”

Wilson did leave. He doesn’t have to walk on water at Indiana. He just has to do what the Northwesterns and Temples do these days, what Bill Mallory once did while becoming the winningest football coach in IU history. What Bill Lynch, who did everything else right, couldn’t do.