Friday, September 10, 2010
IU's Rivers Faces Fierce Competition
As Indiana’s only basketball senior, as the only one on the roster to play in a Final Four (at Georgetown) and to have a father coaching in the NBA with a world championship on his resume (Doc Rivers with the Boston Celtics), you’d think Jeremiah Rivers’ spot in the starting lineup would be secure.
You’d be wrong.
Competition is the name of the Hoosier game these days and it’s fierce at the guard spot.
Rivers’ prospects were uncertain even before a severe ankle sprain over the summer set him back.
Verdell Jones, Jordan Hulls and Maurice Creek (assuming he’s fully recovered from last year’s shattered kneecap) are likely ahead of Rivers in the IU scheme of things. Veteran Matt Roth (he’s recovered from last year’s foot surgery) and newcomer Victor Oladipo are also in the backcourt mix.
At 6-5 and 210 pounds, Rivers is the biggest and probably the most athletic of the guards. When he transferred after two years at Georgetown, he seemed poised to be the backcourt leader IU needed.
It didn’t quite happen.
You didn’t want him shooting free throws at crunch time. Decision-making could sometimes be a problem. And the kind of follow-me-or-else leadership you need from a veteran player was lacking.
Rivers had no problem getting to the rim. Finishing was another matter.
He had a team-leading 106 assists and a team-leading 41 steals. He also had 86 turnovers. He shot 40.4 percent from the field and was 0-for-5 from three-point range. Add the 57.8 percent free throw shooting and you have a 6.0 scoring average.
For comparison sake, let’s look at the numbers of Jones and Hulls. Are we doing this to stir things up? Of course we are. As long as we do, we don’t have to rake leaves.
Jones had 105 assists and 87 turnovers, which means he was a tad worse than Rivers. He shot 39.9 percent from the field, also worse than Rivers. However, he was 27.3 percent from three-point range (not great, but better than zero) and was a 75.8 percent free throw shooter. As a result, he averaged 14.9 points.
Hulls shot 40.6 percent from the field, 40.2 percent from three-point range. That will earn you lots of playing time, which is why Hulls averaged 25.1 minutes as a freshman. He also averaged 6.4 points. However, his 45 assists against 37 turnovers isn’t quite the ratio you’re looking for.
So what does IU need from Rivers?
“He’s aware of what we need from him,” coach Tom Crean says. “It’s different than what needed in the past. He’s in a fight for minutes. No question.
“I feel bad for him. He had a severe ankle injury right after we got back for the second summer session. He wasn’t able to play. That sets him back.”
For much of last year, Rivers played point guard. Don’t expect a repeat.
“I don’t see him at the point,” Crean said. “He’s got to get defensive rebounds. He has to move the ball. End to end we don’t have any body faster.”
In fact, that speed does give him a chance at a limited point guard role.
“The best way for him is to get a defensive rebound and go,” Crean said.
“He’s got to be an outstanding defender. That’s something he got away from a little bit. I know what he’s capable of defensively. That’s what I expect him to be. I expect him to hold his own. He’ll have to earn his way. That’s not any different than anybody else who has to fight for minutes.”
Rivers, of course, could fight beyond his previous performance. He could become a dead-eye free throw shooter, an outstanding ballhandler and passer, a leader in every sense of the word. He will get his starter shot. If Crean sees in November what he didn’t see last year, anything is possible.