Sunday, February 28, 2010

IU Hopes To Grind Out Success

So Indiana is not going to be the three-point-shooting kings of the college basketball world. Coach Tom Crean understands that. The Hoosiers, it seems, understand that.

With perimeter sharpshooters Maurice Creek and Matt Roth injured, IU is three-point challenged. Yes, Jordan Hulls and Devan Dumes can make them, but neither rates among the Big Ten’s best.

Here are the facts. In conference games Indiana ranks ninth in the Big Ten in three-point shooting. It is 10th in three-point baskets. It was 1-for-8 from behind the arc in Sunday night’s 73-57 loss at Iowa.

However, the Hoosiers are a decent free throw shooting team. Okay, they rank last in the Big Ten in free throw shooting in all games, but they are eighth when counting conference games only.

They were 20-for-25 against Iowa. Verdell Jones was 8-for-8. Jeremiah Rivers, who always adds a certain element of uncertainty to free throw shooting, was 2-for-2.

This is important considering IU ranks last in the Big Ten in field goal percentage in conference games.

“We’re not shooting very well and that’s obvious,” Crean said. “We’re not making a lot of shots, so we have to get the ball into the paint and get to the foul line. We’re one of the better free throw shooting teams in the league over the last month.

“That is the way we have to play. Our game is not built on three-pointers. We have to be in a grinder and that is the best way for us to compete.”

Yes, Crean is very much about competing given the Hoosiers are stuck in a 10-game losing streak that shows few signs of ending. They lost by 16 to Iowa, one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. They lose by that much, or more, agaisnt pretty much everybody these days. What will happen on Wednesday when they play at Purdue, one of the Big Ten’s best teams?

Yes, it will help the Cream 'n Crimson that Boiler forward Robbie Hummel is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. The Boilers had little offense in losing to Michigan State Sunday. Still, Purdue figures to have more than enough firepower to beat the Hoosiers, especially at Mackey Arena.

Crean hopes to counter that firepower with belief and attitude and perseverance. He wants guys willing to go the distance and, perhaps, just a little bit more.

“We were in a fight and our guys understood it,” he said about the Iowa loss. “That showed up with the way we played in the end. We look a lot better when we are there with a fighting spirit. That’s the way it has to be. That doesn’t excuse the fact we didn’t win, but we never backed away. That is what we have to continue to find ways to do.”

Fighting is fine, but finding is not guaranteed. Still, if the Hoosiers do one, perhaps they'll do the other.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hoosiers Chasing NFL Dreams

So here are Rodger Saffold (pictured courtesy of the IU athletics department), Nick Polk, Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton, hoping to follow in the NFL footsteps of Tracy Porter and Courtney Roby. The Indiana Hoosiers are at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and the next few days will go a long way toward deciding whether they are draft material.

At the combine they will be poked and prodded, tested and, for those with a cynical nature, tortured. NFL coaches will challenge then physically and mentally to see if they are worth investing several million dollars.

This is the third straight year at least one Hoosier has participated in the annual event. Last year it was receiver Andrew Means. In 2008, it was Porter (one of the heroes of the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl victory), Buffalo Bills receiver James Hardy and long snapper Tim Bugg.

Saffold, an All-Big Ten left tackle as a senior, has boosted himself to a possible third-round draft choice. He started 41 of 42 career games. Last season he was part of a line that allowed just 16 sacks, second best in the Big Ten. He helped his draft prospects with a solid showing in the East-West Shrine All-Star Game.

Kirlew was named team MVP for the second straight season. The second-team all-conference pick finished his career with 23 sacks (third most in school history) and 52.5 tackles for loss (second most in school history).

Middleton totaled 23 career sacks, including a school-record 16 as a sophomore to lead the nation. He had three sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss was a senior.

The versatile Polk played free safety and receiver for IU. He totaled 179 tackles, five interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He also caught 33 passes for 335 yards and one touchdown.

Saffold and Kirlew spent the last month or so training at the IMG facility in Bradenton, Fla. They would start around 7 a.m. and finish around 5:30 p.m. They would lift and run and prepare for interviews with coaches.

Saffold seems the most likely IU player to be drafted, although nothing is etched in stone. He’s talked with most of the teams, including the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers.

For those players not drafted, they can sign as free agents with a team and try to make the roster during summer camp.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Forget Patience -- Crean Wants Warriors

Tom Crean has gone edgy. Check that. He’s gone edgier, and not just because he’s gotten himself thrown out of his first Indiana basketball game.

His words are sometimes sharp enough to cut diamonds. So is his voice, although it’s so hoarse from non-stop coaching it's hard to separate edge from vocal cord exhaustion.

The man is tired of losing. He’s tired of telling his players to do “A” and watch them drift into “B” or “C,” either because they’re too young, stubborn, unaware or, well, just not his kind of player.

They’ll get it all sorted, one way or another. For now, all we have to go by are games, and after nine straight losses, you figure there’s GOT to be more to Big Ten life than being fodder for the Wisconsin Badgers.

IU goes to Madison and gets crushed by 28. Wisconsin comes to Bloomington and wins by 32 in sweeping the Hoosiers for the third straight season. How is that possible? Isn’t home court supposed to mean something?

It does, of course, and some day a Crean-coached team will prove it.

For now, as the season mercifully draws to a close, we get lessons. There’s been a season full of them, with a 9-18 record to show for it. Crean yearns for the day he can bench guys who don’t perform at the necessary level, not because he’s a jerk but because the bench is the most effective way to send players a message they’ll actually respond to.

“I’m not mad at anybody,” he says. “But I want guys to get better. If I get patient, it won’t serve them well, now or in the future.

“I don’t have patience in me. I have more than I thought, but I don’t like it. I want street fighters on my team. The more we can help develop that, the better we’ll be. And if it can’t be developed, we’ll have to move in another direction.”

Crean is implying -- okay, he’s saying very clearly -- that guys who don’t buy into his coaching and play with the necessary toughness need to move on. And his track record, including a Final Four berth, suggests not buying in isn’t very smart.

“You can’t win in this league, or any power conference, without guys willing to lay it out there, to play through adversity,” he says. “I want to recruit guys who have been through something in life that helps them understand that life is not easy. That’s the psychology part of it. We have so many lessons here and I want guys to come in with lessons, guys who understand life is not about swimming pools and country clubs.”

It’s no country club playing Wisconsin, or Michigan State or Purdue. It’s hard, demanding, grueling. And then, when officiating breaks seem to go to the other, older, better guys, well, sometimes getting ejected is the only way to keep fighting. It’s survival of the fittest and right now, that’s not the Hoosiers. Still, there are signs, the most recent being Derek Elston, who came off the bench against Wisconsin to total 12 points and seven rebounds.

That wasn’t enough to beat the Badgers, but it was enough to show how to do it if enough Hoosiers buy in. Eventually, enough will.

Eventually. Because like it or not, patience is a huge piece of this rebuilding puzzle.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Can IU Get 'Revenge' Against Wisconsin

When it comes to size, Verdell Jones will never remind anyone of, say, a Sumo wrestler or even LeBron Jones. He’s a slender guy who struggles to put on weight, a negative now, a positive if it stays after age 30.

The sophomore guard didn’t need the flu that slowed his February surge or the weight loss that limited his production against Minnesota. But then, getting what you need isn't always part of the college basketball deal.

“I lost so much weight," Jones said. "It’s going to take me a while to get it back. I got weaker. I got back in the weight room to get stronger, but it will take time. All those bumps you get in a game affects me more.”

Now No. 17 Wisconsin (20-7) is coming to Assembly Hall and Jones has to play well for the slumping Hoosiers (eight straight losses and counting) to have a chance. It was Wisconsin, after all, who buried IU by 28 points in Madison earlier this month.

Yes, the Hoosiers remember.

“I’m a lot better,” Jones said. “I’m healthy and ready to get a little revenge.”

He laughed. There’s a line that revenge is a dish best served cold, but basically the Wisconsin game is not about revenge but playing well, defending relentlessly, moving the ball consistently. It’s about 40 minutes of mental and physical effort.

Oh, yes. And winning.

The Hoosiers insist they do that in practice. Coach Tom Crean joked that if he wasn’t “such a jerk,” he’d open practices so the media could see. Someday, when the time is right, he said, he’d open a practice. Of course, everything would be off the record. Wisdom and insight, it seems, come with restrictions.

No matter. Jones insisted improvement has come because, “We’re getting after each other in practice. At the beginning of the year we were afraid to hurt each other’s feelings. Now, we’re fed up with losing. We’ll do whatever we have to do to stop it.”

That feeling first surfaced after the Loyola loss in December, he added, but really kicked in during this losing streak of double-digit defeats.

“Some of these losses were embarrassing,” Jones said. “We shouldn’t lose games like we’re losing. Our pride is starting to kick in. We had the talent that we could match some of these teams’ talent if we had played hard.”

Crean doesn’t want embarrassment, he wants wins. He longs for the day when IU’s depth is to the point where he can bench players who don’t produce. He called it a coach’s No. 1 motivational tool. Jones agreed.

“It’s a great motivator,” Jones said. “It really gets you into the game and makes you give it your all because you don’t want to be on the bench.”

Jones’ father did it to him when the elder Jones was coaching an AAU team several years ago. The team was facing an opponent that had a strong guard. Jones and the guard were good enough to draw college coaches. But when Jones failed to do what was necessary, his father benched him.

“It showed me a lesson,” Jones said. “He made a point. I was heated about it, but it worked.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

IU Basketball Recruiting Focus Goes Big

For all of you who have been wondering about Tom Crean’s focus on recruiting guards (backcourt players Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey comprise the Class of 2010 so far), consider Moses Abraham, a big guy with a Biblical name who just might help lead some college team to the Promised Land.

Sorry. We couldn’t help ourselves.

Anyway, Abraham is a 6-9, 237-pounder from Maryland out of Nigeria being recruited by a ton of big-time programs such as Connecticut, UCLA, Texas, Tennessee, Georgetown, Maryland and, now, Indiana.

Here’s the deal. Crean went to see Abraham and his Progressive Christian team play last Thursday. Abraham scored 11 points in a 55-50 loss, but that wasn’t the point. His ability to rebound and defend and play hard and be a physical presence inside -– and to perhaps do it next year as opposed to being a project player -– caused Crean to reportedly offer a scholarship right away.

There is a note of caution here. Abraham is listed as a four-star player by, a national Internet recruiting service, but he is not ranked among Rivals’ top 150 players or among the best at his position. It’s the same with, the other major national Internet recruiting service.

As a reader has noted, the lack of ranking comes because Abraham hasn't been in the country long enough to get rated. Still, it's uncertain where he would rate once he has been in the country long enough.

That doesn’t mean Abraham won’t be a college standout, but he likely won’t be the second coming of Greg Oden.

But then, who is?

The original plan was for Abraham to attend Thursday night’s home game against Wisconsin. If so, he would have been able to see right away how much playing opportunity he’ll have next year if he becomes a Hoosier. He almost certainly would have experienced a rocking Assembly Hall crowd and IU's rich basketball tradition that might help knock Georgetown from atop his reported favorite’s list.

Hey, the Hoosiers already have a Hoya connection with Jeremiah Rivers, so anything is possible.

However, Abraham is now not expected to make it for the Wisconsin game. But hopes to visit soon.

Still in the picture for 2010 is Florida forward Will Yeguete. He's a 6-7 three-star player who also is not ranked in anybody's top 150. Again, that doesn't have to be a negative as long as he develops into a physical, tough-minded college player.

But we won't know about that for a couple of years.

IU Keys To Beating Wisconsin

Sometimes, if you’re Tom Crean, small is better, mixing defense is crucial and ball movement is Priority No. 1.

What does this have to do with Wisconsin?

Perhaps the keys to victory.

Yes, the struggling Hoosiers (9-17) will not be favored in Thursday’s game. The Badgers (20-7) have already hammered them in Madison and are building toward a postseason run. Indiana, meanwhile, has a ton of vulnerability only time, experience and recruiting can make go away.

Still, there are signs of what is coming once Crean has everything in place.

For instance, take the offense. It’s no secret IU has struggled in this area. A lot has to do with the injuries to guards Maurice Creek and Matt Roth. Creek was the Big Ten’s top-scoring freshman when he went down just before the start of Big Ten play. Roth, a strong three-point shooter, hasn’t played all season after off-season surgery.

A deep, veteran team could overcome those injuries. The Hoosiers can’t. But guard Verdell Jones has elevated his game (although the flu has limited him the last week), Christian Watford is benefitting from his baptism of fire and Devan Dumes shows flashes of big-play potential.

The key is moving and passing, aspects Crean has pushed all season. Sometimes the players get it. Sometimes not. In the second half of the Minnesota loss, with Crean going with small ball, they got it. They moved and passed and scored and if it didn’t produce a victory, at least it showed promise of future success.

“Even though we really didn’t threaten (in the second half), I did learn a lot and see a lot,” Crean said. “It’s like I told these guys, I’m not going with traditions, I’m going with energy and that’s the only way we can really attack.

“The more we move the ball, the more the ball reversed, the better we are. There’s nobody faster defensively than the speed of the ball.”

So what does this have to do with Wisconsin? First, being at Assembly Hall gives IU an edge. The Badgers are only 3-5 on the road.

If the Hoosiers tap into the energy they showed against Purdue, if they move the ball and attack, if they rebound and contain the dribble penetration of Badgers guards Trevon Hughes and Jordan Taylor (easy to say, not to do, which is why IU will mix man and zone defenses), if they play with 40 minutes of toughness, all things are possible.

If not, well, we’ve seen that before.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Price of Greatness

So what does $15 million buy you these days? For Indiana, it’s a big jolt for its new multi-million-dollar basketball practice facility. It comes courtesy of the Cook Group, which delivered the biggest gift in the history of the school’s athletics department.

The practice facility, which is set to be completed this spring, will be known as Cook Hall. It’s named for Bill and Gayle Cook, who founded the company and who have been huge contributors to the university over the years.

Cook Hall, which is part of the overall sports complex project that included the renovation to Memorial Stadium, is a 67,000-square-foot testimony to the state-of-the-art sports enhancement.

In other words, it will be big for recruiting. The only thing better would be building a new basketball arena. That would probably run about $150 million and is a down-the-road project, according to athletic director Fred Glass.

Back to the practice facility, which is next to Assembly Hall and will include practice courts for the men’s and women’s programs, locker rooms, coaches’ offices (these offices will have windows, something Assembly Hall offices lack), player lounges, meeting rooms, a training room, a weight room and a Star Trek transporter room to get teams to road games fast.

Sorry. Only kidding about the transporter room. The facility also will feature a Legacy Court that will celebrate IU’s basketball tradition.

Glass said university officials looked at Florida football and North Carolina basketball versions of a Legacy Court, then tried to top it.

If you want to take a look, try the virtual tour at http:/ at Cooks’ contribution -- which will come in $1-million-a-year payments for the next 15 years -- was geared to specifically boost women’s sports.

This certainly pumped IU women’s coach Felisha Legette-Jack, as upbeat a coach as you’re likely to meet.

“With (the Cook family’s) generosity, we are going to continue to grow our program into one of the best in the nation,” she said in a university statement.

Men’s coach Tom Crean, who could really use the second coming of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, also appreciated the donation.

“The Cook family is one of a kind in what they have done for this state, this community, this university and what they plan to do to help our basketball program and athletic department to take steps forward, which will allow us to do great things,” Crean said.

And if the price of greatness is $15 million, well, have you seen the men’s team play lately.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Watching IU Is Getting Painful

Sometimes, when you watch Indiana play basketball, you just want to turn the channel. Maybe to the Discovery Channel. Maybe the Food Channel. Maybe Housewives of Atlanta. Anything other than the misery that is the Hoosiers.

Take, for instance, IU’s 81-58 loss to Minnesota. It was another example of how far the program has fallen, how far it has to go and why the heck was Kelvin Sampson ever even in the discussion for coming to Bloomington.

It wasn’t about effort. The Hoosiers played hard. They just couldn’t shoot or defend.

Williams Arena has that affect on visiting teams. Just ask Wisconsin.

You might survive this if you’re a veteran team at home. An inexperienced team on the road? You have no chance.

But then, as the season slides to its painful conclusion, chance succumbs to reality.

Here was Saturday’s reality. Minnesota, an average three-point-shooting team, suddenly seemed intent on setting a NCAA accuracy record. It hit its first five shots from beyond the arc. It was 7-for-11 on three-pointers in the first half before cooling down to finish 9-for-20.

The Gophers shot 55.4 percent overall. They had 23 assists against 11 turnovers. What does this mean?

Mostly, it means IU can’t play defense. It compounded that problem by shooting just 32 percent. It really compounded that problem with bad post defense. Statistics show Indiana has allowed a thousand post points in the last four games.

Wait. It only seems like a thousand. It’s really like 150, still WAY too much.

On a positive note, the Hoosiers only had nine turnovers against a turnover-producing Minnesota defense. They also got a season-high 20 points from Devan Dumes, and if he launched a few shots not normally associated with a disciplined offense to do it, well, at least he scored.

Starting forwards Christian Watford and Tom Pritchard were a woeful 2-for-14 from the field for a combined five points. Watford, at least, still managed nine rebounds. Pritchard managed four fouls.

And yet, Bawa Muniru and Tijan Jobe barely played, which shows you how vulnerable IU’s inside game is. Maybe coach Tom Crean should just play five guards.

Sorry. We’re just getting a little grumpy, although probably not nearly as grumpy as Crean, whose IU record is now 15-42 overall, 4-28 in the Big Ten. Indiana (9-17) has lost eight straight with six of those losses by 14 or more points.

Remember, this is the same guy who took Marquette to the Final Four. He CAN coach. This will get better. How? Crean offered one way.

“I told (our players) that if we don’t get better defensively and they can’t do a better job of guarding their man, guarding the dribble and getting up into shooters, they are not going to be a part of this moving forward. I don’t have any patience for lack of getting up into people defensively… I do not understand when we don’t have the heart and the desire. That is what we have to get established.”

Until then, anybody want to watch Sponge Bob?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Now IU Gets Minnesota

It doesn’t seem fair. Indiana keeps taking basketball body blows and the punishment never ends.

Now the reeling Hoosiers travel to Minnesota, a place they used to own back when basketball shorts were way too short. Now the Gophers have the edge, with eight wins over IU in the last 10 meetings at Williams Arena.

As if that isn’t bad enough, Minnesota (15-10) regained its mojo by torching Wisconsin there Thursday night. This is the Gophers’ last chance to make a NCAA tourney at-large bid push and it seems unlikely they will take IU lightly.

That means the Hoosiers (9-16 with a seven-game losing streak) must play their best game of the season. They must be patient on offense, rebound like they did against Michigan State, defend like they did, well, like they haven’t all year.

Mostly, though, they can’t get into a turnover tailspin. Minnesota thrives on forcing turnovers, especially at home. They will full-court pressure, trap and, in short, do everything they can to make IU play to its inexperience.

Yes, you could argue that after 25 games the Hoosiers are no longer inexperienced, but arguments won’t win at Williams Arena.

Tenacious play will. If Indiana has it, it has a chance. If not, well, maybe it’s best not to think about that.

Oh, yes. IU's win over Minnesota at Assembly Hall last month will have no bearing on this game. The Gophers are far better at Williams Arena.

“We have to play hard and compete,” coach Tom Crean said. “That’s what it’s about. We have a lot of spirit and toughness inside and we have to bring it. We practice that way. We need to play that way.”

What's Next For Mitchell Evans?

Mitchell Evans, Indiana’s Football Mr. Versatile, is heading to safety. Yes, the guy who has already played every position except center (could that be next?) is looking to make impact on defense, where IU needs it most.

Okay, a cynic might say IU most needs help in basketball right now, but do you really want to by cynical right now?

First, though, Evans has to get healthy from hip surgery. He won’t practice in the spring, but should be ready to go for next season.

Last year Evans was everywhere. He was the Hoosiers’ Wildcat offense specialist. He rushed for 131 yards (averaging 4.0 yards a carry). He completed 3 of 7 passes for 21 yards. He caught 33 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns. He punted once for eight yards (okay, maybe he’s not much of a punter). He also recorded eight tackles.

As of right now there will be two other position changes -- receiver Matt Ernest is going to cornerback and safety Shane Covington is moving to tailback.

Ernest, who had seven catches for 69 yards and a touchdown last season, is a busy guy. He also plays baseball and is with the baseball team on its trip to San Diego.

“Matt has done really well in his conditioning,” coach Bill Lynch said. “He has developed into quite an athlete. I know (IU baseball coach Tracy Smith) has been happy with him, but now he has to see how he does against live pitching.”

As far as Covington, Lynch said, “Shane has developed. He’s a physically strong guy.”

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Offer Too Good For Johnson To Refuse

Bobby Johnson got lucky, unless he just is good.

Actually, it’s a little bit of both.

Johnson (photo is courtesy of IU athletics) is heading to Buffalo. He was hired as an assistant line coach for the NFL’s Bills and it’s a big move up.

Dream jobs are sometimes like that.

Johnson has been Indiana’s offensive line coach for the last five years. The line has been decent, but not great, mostly because its offensive linemen have been decent, but not great. It did have Rodger Saffold, if you consider 6-5 and 306 pounds to be massive, who is set to be taken in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Who knows? Maybe by the Bills.

Johnson has coached at the college level for 15 years and like many guys, wondered what it would be like to work at the next level.

Now he’ll find out courtesy of new Buffalo coach Chan Gailey and new Bills offensive line coach Joe D’Allesandris.

Johnson had met D’Allesandris about three years ago at an Atlanta high school while on the recruiting trail. D’Allesandris was then the Georgia Tech offensive line coach. They talked briefly and that was it. They ran into each other again earlier this month in Cleveland while Johnson was out recruiting. Then Gailey wanted to interview Johnson and, bam -– he’s now on the same team as former IU receiving star James Hardy.

All this is fine with IU coach Bill Lynch, who now must find a new coach. That search already has begun.

“There are some good candidates and I don’t want to get too far into it right now,” he said. “Sometimes you feel like you’ve got to do something as fast as possible, but with this one I’m taking my time. I want to make sure we get the right guy.”

That right guy will be hired by the time spring practice begins next month.

“We’re looking for the guy who can come in and be a great teacher and fit with the staff.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

IU Basketball -- It's Gonna Get Better

It is going to get better, this Indiana mess of a basketball season. The Hoosiers won’t be fodder for Michigan State and Ohio State forever.

For now, though, it’s tough, watching IU up and down its way through the season, pretty much exclusively down the last month.

The Michigan State loss showed the Hoosiers can occasionally do some good things, even rebound. Yes, IU did actually out-rebound the Spartans, the best rebounders in the Big Ten. It did make free throws at an impressive rate (25-for-28).

But the Hoosiers couldn’t defend well enough because they had no answer for the likes of Kalin Lucas, Raymar Morgan, Chris Allen or, well, any of the Spartans.

Sophomore guard Verdell Jones has turned into a warrior. He totaled 20 points and four rebounds to continue his February dominance. He got some help from freshman forward Christian Watford (14 points, six rebounds) and a bit off the bench from Devan Dumes (six points).

That, of course, wasn’t nearly enough.

IU needs a true point guard, somebody can handle the ball, pressure the ball and do what needs to be done against the Lucases and Evan Turners of the Big Ten world.

Mostly, though, it needs a strong big man. It would be nice if Tom Pritchard or Bawa Muniru could develop into that, and maybe they will, someday. For now, though, the Hoosiers continue to get hammered inside.

Tom Crean didn’t suddenly turn stupid. He was a good coach before he came to Bloomington and still he, but there’s not enough talent and experience to survive in the Big Ten. That needs to change. Figure it will change.

Tom Izzo insists that it will, and said as much after his Spartans beat IU.

"When there are major, catastrophic issues, whether they're academic problems or violations or whatever, they really decimate a program, and it doesn't just bounce back like that," Izzo said. "If you looked at this (IU) team and added (Maurice) Creek, that's a big difference. You're looking at a guy who lost Kalin Lucas for two games and we looked like a fish out of water -- and we have a lot more depth than they do."

He paused.

"I will say this, and I've said it since the day he (Crean) got the job: He'll get it turned," Izzo said. "Look me in the eye: He'll get it done and he'll get it done sooner than most, as long as they don't have the major injuries. It doesn't come back overnight."

The bottom line -- it will come back. This mess of a basketball season won’t last forever.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Growing Pains of Christian Watford

Christian Watford is not yet the Second Coming of Alan Henderson, but let’s not rush things.

Watford is a talented freshman forward with a huge upside. If he was playing on a veteran team that could take off some of the pressure, who knows what he could be doing.

As anyone who has followed the Indiana Hoosiers knows, Watford doesn’t have that luxury. He bears a heavy inside burden made more suffocating by the inconsistent play of sophomore forward Tom Pritchard and IU’s overall struggles.

Still, the 6-9 Watford averages 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. He’s producing even as the Hoosiers bumble through their worst stretch of the season.

Oh. Did we mention Michigan State was coming to Bloomington Tuesday night?

But back to Watford. Coach Tom Crean is trying to fast forward his development, which means putting him in uncomfortable situations and making him work his way through them.

Take the end of last Saturday’s Wisconsin game. IU was long since beaten and Crean pulled all his starters except for Watford. He wanted Watford to get past the mental barrier that anchors him to freshman inconsistency when senior reliability is needed, the sooner the better.

“We needed Christian to play through because Christian needed to see that he’s not tired,” Crean said. “I wasn’t taking him out whether we were up 40 or down 40. He’s got to play through things. It’s such a mental game for a young guy. He’s capable. He’s got t play through is and learn to be a workhorse.

“There are so many things he’s capable of doing. It’s scoring. It’s facilitating. It’s being a playmaker. He has to become a complete player.”

So Crean plays him, pushes him, has long post-game talks with him. Trying to get a guy ready before his time is not fun for all parties concerned. But if the Hoosiers are to have any chance to win another game before next season, if they are to make a run at upsetting Michigan State, Watford will have to reach the Alan Henderson zone.

Is that fair? Not a chance, but remember, Watford was IU’s highest rated recruit last year. Kentucky coach John Calipari, among others, wanted him. Watford has ability. Someday, when ability matches experience, look out.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dumes Out for Wisconsin?

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse for Indiana, here comes the news that senior guard Devan Dumes is sick and likely won’t make Saturday’s trip to Wisconsin.

Granted, this isn’t like Evan Turner being out for Ohio State, but Dumes is a perimeter threat who, when hot, is capable of providing much needed offense and taking some of the scoring load off of leading-scorer Verdell Jones. He has come off the bench to score in double figures eight times, with a high of 15 at Penn State.

“We went through this last year,” coach Tom Crean said. “There’s nothing you can do about sickness and injury. When things come up, things come up. I can’t dwell on that.”

Here’s something else not to dwell on -- IU is 9-14 and has lost five straight games. Eleventh-ranked Wisconsin is 18-6 and is coming off a rare home loss, which means the odds of a Hoosier upset are on par with Kentucky guard John Wall transferring to Indiana.

“We don’t have a lot of margin for error anyways,” Crean said. “You just have to keep creating opportunities for other people. That’s what people committed to winning do – they see an opportunity, take advantage of it. That’s what you hope to get. If you don’t get it, you hope you are that much closer to having it the next time.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tom Pritchard, The Enigma

What happened to the Tom Pritchard we saw against Purdue? The guy who played so well then (13 points, five rebounds) has reverted to his season-long funk. Against Ohio State he was a non-factor with six points and two rebounds in 23 minutes. Against Northwestern he had four and four.

On Wednesday night Pritchard brushed the front of the rim, but did not airball, a free throw. He clanged the second off the back of the rim. He was 0-for-4 from the line and none of the attempts were close.

Yeah, it was that kind of night.

At least there was a Bawa sighting in IU’s 69-52 loss.

That would Bawa Muniri, the 6-10 freshman from Ghana courtesy of Mt. Zion Academy. Before Ohio State he had played a total of 46 minutes, 15 in Big Ten play. Against the Buckeyes he had one rebound and one foul in four minutes.

And what of Tijan Jobe, you ask? The 7-foot senior from Gambia played the last two minutes against the Buckeyes and totaled one rebound and two missed shots. He’s played 12 minutes in 11 Big Ten games.

Here’s the deal. IU has two really big guys on its roster and neither is good enough to play. This should be great news for any big high school players looking for instant playing time on a major-college stage. It’s bad news for the rest of this season.

But then, you probably already knew that.

Signs For An IU Victory?

Bobby Capobianco needed a shave -– again. Jeremiah Rivers strode into Assembly Hall’s media room shoeless.

Is this a sign the Hoosiers are ready for No. 13 Ohio State?

Perhaps, although signs won’t help much. Performance will. Indiana’s four-game losing streak isn’t the kind of momentum you want before facing a team that crushed you by 25 points a month ago.

“We know how talented they are,” Rivers said. “The game at Ohio State was real rough for us. I think we’ve grown and learned a lot. I don’t think we’ll have that lack of energy and effort.”

Effort and energy are the keys given Ohio State has gone to a seven-player rotation, and basically plays its starters as much as the foul situation allows. In theory at least, that gives the Hoosiers a chance to wear out the Buckeyes and force them to use their bench.

“That gives us the opportunity to do some things to help us expose that,” Capobianco said. “We want to make him go to his bench.”

Wanting isn’t the same as doing. As coach Tom Crean has said, Ohio State might have the best starting five in the conference, so getting into that bench will be difficult.

But it’s likely IU’s best way to victory.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What's Up With Matt Roth?

Could Indiana use another long-range shooter now that Verdell Jones seems to have found his be-the-man-every-night mojo?

You bet.

Could that someone be the long-healing Matt Roth?

Don’t bet on it.

Roth continues to recover from foot surgery to repair a broken foot and while he’s getting close to a return, so is the end of the season. Is it worth losing an entire year for the nine or so remaining games?

Probably not, but coach Tom Crean continues to leave all options open.

“He’ll be looked at again and we’ll have a clearer view,” Crean said, “but every time we go down the line the more it makes it harder to think he’ll come back. We’ll wait to see how the next round of exams go.”

Roth, a 6-3 sophomore guard, hurt his foot in practice during November’s Puerto Rico Tipoff and hasn’t played since. He was a 37.3 percent three-pointer shooter as a freshman with a 29-point effort against Ohio State.

Jones had a career-high 28 points in Sunday’s loss at Northwestern. In his last three games he’s averaging 24.0 points. The other guards combined for just 13 points.