Sunday, October 31, 2010

Crean’s Recruiting Hot Streak Has Championship Possibilities

How much hotter can Tom Crean get in recruiting?

Hold on. Answer that after we hear about Cody Zeller.

In the meantime Crean just got a verbal commitment from super athletic Hanner Perea, the No. 10 player from the Class of 2012. That’s the same guy who was also interested in Baylor, until a reported text messaging mess from a Bears assistant coach caused a NCAA investigation.

Anyway, Perea took an unofficial visit to IU this weekend. He was there along with Zeller and 2011 commit Austin Etherington, and decided to not waste any more time. He likes the school and the program, but mostly he likes Crean and the way the Hoosiers want to utilize athletic, versatile big men.

Yeah, guys just like Perea.

He can jump, dunk and leap tall buildings with a single bound. Okay, that might be exaggerating things a little, but he is a human highlight film. He’s working on developing an outside game to complement his inside spectacle.

In other words, he’d like to be in a couple of years what Christian Watford is now. Look for the 6-9 Watford to have a more perimeter role this season –- assuming that he continues to rebound to Crean’s standards. Last year Watford averaged 6.0 rebounds. He’d like to be at 8.0 or 9.0 this season.

Perea, by the way, rates 10 spots higher than Zeller, although they are a year apart. Zeller is in the Class of 2011.

This continues Crean’s recruiting hot streak that started last summer. He’s also gotten Indianapolis Broad Ripple guard Ron Patterson and North Carolina forward Peter Jurkin, also from the Class of 2012. He’s gotten commitments from a pair of Class of 2014 standouts in James Blackmon of Fort Wayne Bishop Luers and Trey Lyles of Indianapolis Tech.

Crean also is in the hunt for two more Class Class of 2012 standouts in Indianapolis Park Tudor point guard Yogi Ferrell (No. 17 nationally) and Hamilton Southeastern guard Gary Harris (No. 24). Both rated among the top 25 players in the country in that class.

Perea is IU’s third commitment in the Class of 2012. He joins Patterson (he rates No. 78 nationally) and Jurkin. They can’t sign national letters of intent until November of 2011.

Ferrell is the big one for the Class of 2012 because he’s the point guard Crean needs to run the show. Consider a frontline of 6-10 Zeller, Perea, 6-11 Jurkin and 6-9 Watford, who would be a senior for the 2012-13 season. So would 6-8 Derek Elson and 6-9 Bobby Capobianco. That’s enough size for an NBA team. You’d have a backcourt that would include Ferrell, Patterson and Jordan Hulls. Ferrell would be the super-quick point guard. Hulls would be the veteran, calming, good-shooting influence. It might make a pretty potent 1-2 point guard punch.

This remains conjecture. Zeller is deciding between IU, Butler and North Carolina. Ferrell hasn’t committed. And guys can always transfer or turn pro.

But if everything keeps falling into place, the Hoosiers could have the talent lined up to contend for Big Ten and national titles, perhaps as soon as next season if Zeller commits and the current players keep developing.

After the last two seasons of basketball misery, and the on-going football disappointment, wouldn’t that be a welcome change?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Zeller Looms As Four-Year College Benefit

Nothing is guaranteed in the world of college basketball or cutting-edge blogging, but landing Cody Zeller could be a four-year benefit for Indiana.

Not many elite players stay four years anymore. The lure of a mega-bucks contract in the NBA is too strong, even for the likes of Butler and Gordon Hayward, who passed up his final two years of college to become a millionaire last summer.

Now Zeller is on the cusp of his big college decision. The 6-10 forward from Washington is a consensus top-20 player. He does not project as a one-and-done player, which is good news for whichever school lands him. If he stays four years in college, as Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson has done, who knows what he could accomplish.

Zeller is wrapping up his official visit to Indiana and then will decide if he wants to be a Hoosier, a Butler Bulldog or a North Carolina Tar Heel.

“One of the good things about the Zellers,” national recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons said, “is that they’ve been four-year players. Luke was at Notre Dame. Tyler will be at North Carolina. Cody fits the same mold.”

Indiana benefitted from Eric Gordon’s one year of college, although much of that was negated by former coach Kelvin Sampson’s NCAA-rules-violating ways. Gordon probably had the body and strength to handle NBA battles right out of high school. Cody Zeller, like his brothers, is slender and lacks the strength he’ll need to thrive at the highest professional level. A lot of time spent in a college weight training program will do wonders for him.

Indiana, in case you’re wondering, has a solid weight training program.

“He needs to get stronger overall, which he will in college,” Gibbons said. “Physical maturity will take care of itself.”

Zeller’s maturity showed itself over the summer in his overall game. He went from being a top-40 player to a top-20 one, with the chance to move even higher. That improvement got the attention of North Carolina coach Roy Williams, whose late push got the Tar Heels on Zeller’s finalist list.

“He made a quantum leap this summer,” Gibbons said. “He was on the same Indiana Elite team with Marshall Plumlee, who has committed to Duke. It was clear that although both are talented, Cody had a much higher skill set overall.”

Gibbons saw Zeller play in his Tournament of Champions last spring.

“He was a standout there.”

The key is to get Zeller to be a standout at IU. How likely is that?

“Each of the brothers has gone his separate way,” Gibbons said. “My gut feeling is that Cody will make his own mind up and do what’s best for him. I know his parents spent a lot of time getting acquainted with the Indiana program and the academics that would be available to him. They visited the business school.

“It will be interesting.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Is Zeller REALLY That Good? Expert Says Yes

Fans booed a declared pumpkin race tie. Yeah, it was a tough Assembly Hall crowd when it didn’t involve the Indiana Hoosiers and a certain prime time basketball recruit, but not for the reason you might think.

Fans are ready for a basketball winner, both for this season and for future ones. Nearly 8,000 people showed up for Night of the Living Red and it just wasn’t for the kid-friendly activities.

Not when Cody Zeller was there to woo.

So they chanted this Washington forward’s name and showed him love. They helped bring energy to a Halloween-themed spectacle.

Was it enough to convince the 6-10 standout to be a Hoosier?

We’re about to find out.

Butler and North Carolina are also in the mix. Zeller has already visited those schools. He’ll wrap up his IU visit this weekend, and then …

We’re about to find out

At Indiana, Zeller would be a superstar, a native son hyped to lead the Hoosiers to a Final Four Promised Land. Sure there would be pressure, but there’s pressure at every big-time program. Heck, there’s pressure just keeping a job to pay bills.

At North Carolina he’d be just another good player. At Butler, well, that, too, is an intriguing option.

Anyway, IU coach Tom Crean brought out all the big guns Friday night. NBA star Dwayne Wade, who played for Crean at Marquette, had a video message displayed on Assembly Hall’s massive scoreboard touting Crean as a coach. So did former Big Ten MVP Calbert Cheaney, who wore a Golden State shirt while delivering it.

The message was loud and clear -- Indiana in general and Crean in particular develops NBA stars

Just in case Zeller missed all the championship implications, Crean introduced a trio of former Hoosier standouts -- Jim Crews, Tom Abernathy and John Laskowski.

All this is fine, but is Zeller worth the trouble? The short answer is yes. The longer answer comes courtesy of Bob Gibbons, the publisher of All-Star Sports and one of the pioneers of basketball recruiting. He’s rated recruits for 30 years. Every year he and his staff go coast to coast evaluating more than 5,000 players. He evaluated Zeller’s older brothers -- Luke, who went to Notre Dame, and Tyler, who is at North Carolina.

Gibbons got a long look at the youngest Zeller when the 6-10 forward played at Gibbons’ spring Tournament of Champions. If ever there was an expert who could give a thorough evaluation of Zeller’s potential, Gibbons is the guy.

“He’s a highly skilled big man,” Gibbons said. “He has the size. All the Zellers run the floor very well for their size. He continues in that tradition.

“He can shoot from the outside. He’s an excellent passer. He has a high basketball IQ. He’s one of the most fundamentally skilled big men in the nation. He’s very versatile and multi-talented. He can play either forward position, and probably center. His probable best position in college is the 4 or power forward.”

Gibbons rates Zeller as the No. 16 player in the nation, and might soon rate him higher, “because of his skill set.”

Gibbons had more to say about Zeller. We’ll detail that in our next blog.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On Crean, Yoda, Chappell, Mom and Cody Zeller

Tom Crean is not Yoda. For one thing, he doesn’t lift space ships with his mind. For another, he’s not 2 feet tall and nimble with a light saber (although, given that most basketball practices are closed, do we REALLY know for sure?).

Anyway, Crean had a Yoda-like moment when asked during the Big Ten basketball media day gathering in Chicago the biggest thing he learned from his Marquette success (including a Final Four appearance) that he’s bringing to Indiana.

Here’s his answer:

“Keep getting tough-minded players who have been raised on winning. I don’t think there’s anything even close. You have to have talent. Certainly you’ve got to have positions. But you have to get people who are raised on winning.”

Crean said he tries to recruit players from winning high school and travel programs.

“And if they played a different sport, which I always love, that they won in that.

“I think that competitive mindset is very hard to get if you don’t have it coming in. You can make it better. You can add to it, especially in the mental toughness realm. You can make them stronger.

“But you have to have people who have been raised on winning. I don’t think you can ever get away from it no matter what level you’re at. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that equation works, no matter what, no matter the level, probably no matter the sport.”

Yoda couldn’t have said it any better.

Wait. Actually, Yoda did say it better. When Luke Skywalker was struggling to use the Force to lift that spaceship, he said he was trying. Yoda said, in a paraphrase, there is no trying. Either do, or do not.


Ben Chappell’s good deeds are now earning him money as well as accolades.

No, this doesn’t mean a violation of NCAA rules.

The fifth-year senior quarterback is one of 16 recipients of the 2010 National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete Award. He gets an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship and is eligible for the 21st William V. Campbell Trophy that goes to the nation’s best scholar athlete. THAT award is worth a $25,000 scholarship, plus a 25-pound bronze trophy.

“Ben Chappell carries all the qualities we’re looking for in a student-athlete,” IU athletics director Fred Glass said in a university release. “He is an exemplary student, a leader on the field and a model citizen in the community. We congratulate him on this honor and are proud to have him represent Indiana University.”

Chappell is a three-time academic All-Big Ten selection who is working on his masters in business systems and accounting. He’s also the most accurate passer in IU history.

“There is not much else to say about Ben that hasn’t already been said,” coach Bill Lynch said. “This is an incredible honor. He means so much to our entire program and is a special young man.”


Was that Verdell Jones limping around on a walking book on his right foot during the Big Ten basketball media day in Chicago?

Yes, it was. While the junior guard is limited right now, he insisted he’ll be back in time for IU’s Nov. 12 season opener against Florida Gulf Coast.

Figure if it was a more serious injury, IU officials wouldn’t have taken him on the trip.


Thanks for the feed back on the Rating Big Ten Basketball blogs. Reasonable people can disagree, and that’s fine. Some of you were a little less enthusiastic than others about picking Indiana No. 6 in the Big Ten. It was similar to the feedback I got about a month ago when I voted unbeaten Boise State No. 1 ahead of then unbeaten Alabama. I was called, among other things, a moron, an idiot and an embarrassment to the journalistic profession.

And that was just from my mother.

Sorry. Only kidding.

Anyway, the Big Ten is going to be very, very good. Whichever teams survive will thrive in the postseason.

Does this mean the conference could send a couple of teams to the Final Four?

That is too early to say.


Oh, in case you've forgotten, Cody Zeller is making his official visit this weekend. Praying is optional.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rating Big Ten Basketball, Part III, and Zeller

It’s just a couple more days before Cody Zeller shows up at IU for his official visit in what’s certain to be the biggest thing to hit Cook Hall since the Media Challenge, so take a deep breath. Relax. You never want to pin all your hopes on the whim of a teenager, even if that teenager is considered one of the 20 best high school basketball seniors in America.

So let’s focus on the final installment of Rating Big Ten Basketball by considering this:

The Big Ten is back. Last year it won the Big Ten-ACC Challenge for the first time ever. This year the league is loaded even with the loss of Evan Turner to the NBA and Robbie Hummel to another knee injury.

You’ve got potential national champions, future NBA stars and the kind of intrigue certain to warm a cold winter’s night.

You can be a pretty good team and finish in the second division. How good? Let’s take a look.

The predicted top six teams, as detailed in earlier blogs, are Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.

Here’s a look at the rest:

7 Minnesota: The Gophers made the NCAA tourney last year, and just might return this season. They get point guard Al Nolen back after last season’s second-semester academic ineligibility and that’s huge. They’ve got impressive inside size with Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson. They’ve got strong outside shooters in Blake Hoffarber and Devoe Joseph. And they’ve got a coach, Tubby Smith, who knows how to win. If you like darkhorse candidates, this could be your team.

8 Northwestern: The Wildcats will go as far as forward John Shurna will lead them. Last season he averaged 18.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He also had a team-leading 32 blocks. Any time you have a senior point guard, as Northwestern does with Michael Thompson, set to become the school’s career assist leader, you’re in great shape. And look out for shooting guard JerShon Cobb, one of the most highly regarded freshmen in the country. The Wildcats just missed making the NCAA Tourney last year. They just might make it this season.

9 Michigan: John Beilein is on the coaching hot seat, and fate is not on his side. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are gone. Stu Douglass, Tim Hardaway and Zach Novak are back. It’s not a fair trade. Still, the Wolverines will have one of the Big Ten’s best freshmen in forward Tim Hardaway Jr., the son of former Golden State guard Tim Hardaway Sr. They also have freshman forward Jon Horford, the brother of Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford and the son of former NBA player Tito Horford. And don’t forward South Florida transfer Jordan Dumars, the son of Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars. If names and family could win games, Michigan would be in great shape.

10 Penn State: The Nittany Lions return high-scoring guard Talor Battle. They even have his brother, freshman Taran Buie. Bad luck hit when forward Sasa Borovnjak blew out his knee. That means 6-10 forward Andrew Jones will be the only true post presence. That’s not good in the rugged Big Ten. There’s significant experience with Battle and fellow seniors Tim Frazier, DJ Jackson, Jeff Brooks and Jones. Still, coach Ed DeChellis figures to have another tough season.

11 Iowa: New coach Fran McCaffrey thrived at UNC-Greensboro and Siena. Can he work the same magic with the Hawkeyes? Not this year. They have some talent off a 10-22 team with Matt Gatens (12.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists), Jarryd Cole (8.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 56.6 percent shooting), Cully Payne (8.7 points, 3.8 assists) and Eric May (9.0 points, 4.6 rebounds), but that’s not nearly enough to stay out of last place.

So there you have it. The absolutely, 100 percent guaranteed Big Ten finish.

How do we know?

Hoosier Deep Throat told us.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rating Big Ten Basketball, Part II

So here we are, Part II of Rating Big Ten Basketball, and suddenly there’s this huge unnerving Cream ‘n Crimson question:

What’s up with Verdell Jones’ ankle?

First, we know officially thanks to Indiana coach Tom Crean’s love of Tweeting that Jones sprained it. If it’s a regular sprain, the junior guard will return fairly quickly. If it’s a high ankle sprain, it will take a while.

The good news is it’s apparently not a season-ending thing in the manner of Robbie Hummel and his twice-blown right knee. A little less pounding now might pay big dividends in Big Ten play. Jones’ history has been relatively slow starts, fast finishes.

Crean tweeted that Jones was hurt during a Saturday scrimmage, saying that “He was playing at the highest level he has been at with us.”

Jones will be a three-year starter and, potentially, IU’s top scorer this season. Yes, Maurice Creek has more scoring ability, but he’s still on his way back from last year’s fractured kneecap. There’s no sense in rushing him, so Creek might not be back at full strength until the Big Ten season. It’s even possible he might not be fully recovered until next season.

Yeah, it was that challenging an injury.

Anyway, assuming IU gets to full strength, things are looking good.

How good?

Glad you asked.

In case you’ve forgotten (or don’t want to look at the previous blog), the absolutely, bet-the-house-accurate prediction for the first five Big Ten teams were 1 Michigan State, 2 Purdue, 3 Ohio State, 4 Illinois and 5 Wisconsin.

6 Indiana: The Hoosiers are ready to make a big jump back to the postseason. Jones is an All-Big Ten guard. Creek has similar ability when he’s fully healthy. So does forward Christian Watford. JUCO transfer Guy Marc-Michel has to develop the stamina to play with the necessary pace and intensity, but he’s really, really big at 7-foot and 277 pounds. He doesn’t have to be Mr. Offense. If he can rebound, play defense and block a few shots, he’s golden. There’s a ton of backcourt depth with sharp-shooting Jordan Hulls and Matt Roth, athletic Jeremiah Rivers and hustling Daniel Moore. The frontcourt is loaded with Derek Elston, Bobby Capobianco and Tom Pritchard. Freshman guards Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo have demonstrated the kind of early effort likely to produce plenty of minutes.

A realist would say IU should make the NIT, with the NCAA tourney returning the next season. An optimist would consider 20-plus victories and a NCAA Tournament bid this season.

So what are you?

Anyway, where does this leave the rest of the Big Ten?

That’s coming up.

Rating Big Ten Basketball, Part I

The Big Ten basketball order was recently rocked by the news that Purdue’s Robbie Hummel was out for the season with a second blown knee in nine months.

What does that mean for the Big Ten, the Boilers and Indiana?

Let’s take a look.

First, consider that the Hoosiers are primed for a comeback. Youth is no longer a factor. The lineup is deep and talented and full of guys who will be, in essence, three- and two-year starters. Coach Tom Crean is still pushing the gotta-get-tougher message, and these guys will buy into it.

There is plenty of reason for optimism. However, the Big Ten is loaded, so a much-improved IU could still struggle in conference play.

Enough of the preliminaries. Here’s how the Big Ten race shapes up. Today will be the top five teams. Tomorrow we’ll list the final six.

1 Michigan State: The Spartans return basically 72 percent of their scoring from a Final Four team. In fact, they’ve made the last two Finals Fours. They lost Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen, bring in freshmen Adreian Payne Keith Appling. Coach Tom Izzo, after briefly flirting with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, is back for the rest of his career. They’ll be tough, fast and rebound strong. Nobody will want to mess with these guys.

2 Purdue: Yes, Hummel is out in body, but not in spirit. He’ll help out as a quasi-assistant coach and leader. The Boilers still have a pair of All-Americans in JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. They’ve got a pair of solid point guards in Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow. They are deep and talented at every position, plus are motivated by all the talk about what they can’t do. If they can avoid further injury (a big IF in West Lafayette these days) and rebound better, they’ll challenge for Big Ten and national titles.

3 Ohio State: Sure, super versatile Evan Turner is gone. But coach Thad Matta brings in super freshman Jared Sullinger. The 6-9 center figures to have the biggest instant impact of any newcomer in the league. Indiana Mr. Basketball Deshaun Thomas from Fort Wayne Bishop Luers also will make a quick impact. There’s plenty of returning firepower with Jon Diebler, William Buford and David Lighty. By the end of the season, the Buckeyes will be Final Four contenders.

4 Illinois: The Illini could be scary good with a ton of returning players. They’ve got a pair of solid inside players in Mike Tisdale (the best outside shooting big man in the league) and Mike Davis. They’ve got a deep backcourt with Demetri McCamey, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. Their version of Assembly Hall is also an intimidating place to play. This is a group with Sweet 16 potential.

5 Wisconsin: It doesn’t matter if coach Bo Ryan loses everybody but the team managers, he’ll find a way to make the Badgers really good with relentless tough-minded defense and that swing offense. The Kohl Center is probably the toughest place to play in the country. That alone is worth 15 wins. Jon Leuer will challenge for conference player of the year honors. Point guard Jordan Taylor is one of the conference’s quickest players. Bet the house they’ll be in the Big Ten title chase into the final week.

So where’s Indiana in the mix?

Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Forget Excuses. IU Football Should Be Better Than This

So now we know exactly what Indiana’s football Hoosiers are.

It’s not a pretty sight.

The details were confirmed in the 43-13 loss at Illinois, but evidence had surfaced from the very first game, when the defense struggled by giving up big plays.

In Saturday’s defining game full of must-win implications, the 4-3 Hoosiers came up empty. They had two punts blocked, for goodness sakes. They overcame the first, gave up a safety on the second.

Their five turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns, offset a decent defensive effort. They held Illinois to 289 total yards. They basically out-gained the Illini by 100 yards and still got hammered.

You can blame coaches, players, injuries, youth, the full moon, Lindsay Lohan and the Wolf Man. It doesn’t matter. We’ve seen this too often over the years. The hope was we’d see less of it this season and the reward would be a bowl game.

So much for hope and reward.

Sure, Illinois (4-3) is improved, but it’s not the second coming of Oregon. It’s a decent team that can be beaten with solid execution.

IU wasn’t close to that.

Quarterback Ben Chappell, so impressive for most of the season, struggled with three interceptions and 26-for-48 accuracy, well below his career standard. A battered offensive line contributed to his inefficiency.

The schedule suggests there are three winnable games remaining, but the reality shows there are none.

Yeah, that’s a shame.

Northwestern (5-2), Penn State (4-3) and Purdue (4-3) are vulnerable. Iowa (5-2) and Wisconsin (7-1) are not. Those two games against ranked teams will be Ohio State ugly.

Northwestern is coming off a heartbreaking loss to unbeaten Michigan State. A good team would take advantage of that.

Don’t be fooled by Penn State’s win over Minnesota. This is a shaky group limited by the Big Ten’s worst offense. A good defense would dominate and dictate.

Purdue has had so many injuries it might be starting team managers by the time the Oaken Bucket battle begins on Nov. 27. A ruthless rival would exploit that.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. IU has spent seven games proving it is not capable of beating quality opponents. Nothing it has done suggests it can win any of its remaining games.

Forget the four wins over non-conference patsies. Those count for nothing but a padded won-loss record.

Yes, there is time to turn it around. A bowl season is still possible by winning at least two of the last five games.

But in your heart of hearts, do you believe it will happen?

We thought so.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Is IU Ready To Win Those Football Inches?

Get ready for the game that will, in all likelihood, determine Indiana’s football bowl prospects.

Yeah. IU (4-2) at Illinois (3-3) today is that big.

Here’s the deal. If the Hoosiers can’t win this game, they might not win another game until 2011. Check that. Penn State is really, really bad. Indiana has a chance to beat the Nittany Lions, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The Hoosiers don’t have the defense to handle Northwestern’s pass-happy attack or Wisconsin’s power game. Iowa is too physical. Purdue has basically owned Indiana over the last 13 years, and attacks quarterbacks as if that’s its birthright.

If this is going to be a special Cream ‘n Crimson season, it has to begin today.

In Champaign.

In so many ways, today’s game is strength against strength –- IU’s potent offense against Illinois’ unexpectedly good defense. The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in passing. The Illini are third against the pass. IU averages 34.2 points a game. Illinois allows 18.5 points.

It’s also a game of weakness against weakness –- Indiana’s vulnerable defense against Illinois’ mediocre offense.

Here’s the kicker –- the Illini have done this against the nation’s second-toughest schedule. The Hoosiers have thrived against patsies. Towson, Western Kentucky, Akron and Arkansas State are a combined 3-23.

Indiana should have beaten Michigan. That was a very winnable game. Ohio State was not. The Hoosiers weren’t going to win in Columbus. Wasn’t going to happen.

So now they face their last best opportunity. Are they up to the task? Perhaps coach Bill Lynch needs to channel the spirit of Al Pacino from the football movie, Any Given Sunday.

Pacino gave one of the great movie speeches of all time when he told his team, and we’re paraphrasing a little bit here:

“It all comes down to today. We’re in Hell, gentlemen. We can fight our way back into the light, one inch at a time…

“Life is a series of inches. The inches we need are all around us. On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves to pieces for that inch.

“Add up all those inches and it makes the difference between winning and losing, between living and dying.

“In any fight, it’s the guy who is willing to die for that inch.”

The Hoosiers don’t need to die, but they do need to tackle in space, make big plays in big moments and win those inches. If they do, they win. If not, they won’t.

Yeah, it’s as simple as that.


Thanks for those of you who pointed out the glitch (okay, it was a brain-dead moment) in the previous post. Cody Zeller will visit the weekend starting Oct. 29, which will feature IU's Night of the Living Red scrimmage. Coach Tom Crean is hoping for a huge fan turnout. The goal is that a huge crowd and warm reception for Zeller will help convince Zeller it's better to be a Hoosier rather than a North Carolina Tar Heel or a Butler Bulldog.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

July Basketball Recruiting, Cody Zeller, Tandon Doss, Banged Up Football Hoosiers

It might soon get tougher for college basketball coaches to recruit. Why? Because according to’s Andy Katz, the Conference Commissioners Association is recommending to the NCAA that the July evaluation period be eliminated. That means coaches could no longer watch recruits play in all the camps and travel events in the month. It could happen as soon as 2012.

Coaches already can’t attend travel events in April and May. If the recommendation is passed, coaches could only evaluate prospects in workouts at the high schools and in high school games.

The goal would be to reduce the influence of AAU coaches and others on the travel circuit and return it to high school coaches. It is, in effect, an attempt to clean up some of messiness involved with summer recruiting.

One consequence would be to make it harder for college coaches to see for themselves how recruits stack up against the best competition.

Coaches invest a lot of scholarship money on players. The more times they see guys play, the better they’re able to determine which players are the best fit for their programs. College coaches often don’t have time to make a lot of high school games, and even when they do, the competition is often weaker than what players see over the summer.

However, the daily structure and demands associated with high school ball are closer to what is seen at the college level.

In July, coaches can see a lot of games and a lot of players in a short period of time. It saves time and money.

That’s why the NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) is against the proposal.

Coaches prefer seeing players in both a high school and travel setting to get a better feel for how recruits handle both environments.

Recruiting, of course, remains an inexact science. But the more information you have, the better choices coaches –- and players –- can make.


If nothing else, the Cody Zeller recruiting saga is hitting North Carolina’s travel recruiting budget a lot harder than it is Indiana’s.

Tar Heels coach Roy Williams flew a private plane to an airport near Washington Wednesday night so he could attend Zeller’s early Thursday morning workout at the high school, then flew back in time for his own practice that afternoon.

Yes, that means Williams is very, very serious about Zeller.

So is Indiana’s Tom Crean. He and assistant coach Tim Buckley drove to Washington to see Zeller work out early Tuesday morning.

Zeller, of course, will make his official visit to IU next weekend. If he has a great visit, figure the Hoosiers win the prize. If disaster strikes, well, you can figure it out.

Crean, by the way, opened a practice to the media for the first time in his Indiana tenure Thursday afternoon. Everything was off the record, but he did talk to the media afterward.

The gist of his message was the same as it's always been -- IU has to develop a fierce competitiveness and mental toughness to do what needs to be done regardless of the quality of the opponent or the difficulty of the situation.

It remains, Crean said, a work in progress.


Receiver Tandon Doss continues to play like a guy who will one day earn a living in the NFL.

For the second time this season the IU junior has been recognized with one of Paul Hornung’s Most Versatile Performances of the Week honors. This weekly award highlights top performances from the previous week that best display Hornung’s versatility.

That versatility, by the way, requires a long memory. Hornung won the Heisman Trophy in 1956 on a bad Notre Dame team as a do-it-all quarterback. He later became a runner-kicker-receiver on Green Bay’s NFL championship teams.

Anyway, Doss won it after totaling eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas State. He added 121 kick return yards, plus 17 rushing yards. That gave him 241 all-purpose yards. It’s the fourth time in the last eight games he’s surpassed 200 yards.

Doss, also honored after the Michigan game, leads the nation in all-purpose yards (202.0 yard a game). He has 32 catches for 438 yards and two touchdowns.

He will need to have a huge game if Indiana (4-2) is to win at Illinois (3-3) Saturday and snap a 12-game Big Ten road losing streak.


In an ideal world, Indiana would be totally healthy entering this crucial stretch of Big Ten football games that will determine its postseason future.

This, of course, is not an ideal world, certainly not for the Hoosiers.

Tailback Darius Willis is out for the season with a knee injury. Now we find out offensive lineman Josh Hager also is out for the season with a knee injury. He was hurt early in last Saturday’s Arkansas State victory.

Safety Chris Adkins (ankle) and cornerback Richard Council (knee) are still out with injuries, but are expected to return. Also out but expected to return are offensive lineman James Brewer (ankle), kicker Nick Freeland (hip), safety Lenyatta Kiles (groin) and tailback Nick Turner (concussion).

Kiles was IU’s third safety. Figure redshirt freshman Lawrence Barnett will move into the role Saturday at Illinois.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Who Are The Football Hoosiers? We’re About To Find Out

That gift wrapped non-conference football schedule is in the books. Indiana is 4-0 beyond the Big Ten, 0-2 in it.

Now comes a six-week run of Big Ten muscle, starting with Saturday’s game at Illinois, and offensive lineman Justin Pagan (pictured left) understands the stakes.

“This is where we find out who we are.”

Who are these 4-2 Hoosiers? For one thing, they’re a dynamic offense and a struggling defense. For another, they’re a program that has lost 12 straight Big Ten road games, not that we’re counting.

Anyway, they face a surprising Illinois team (3-3) that scares nobody with its offense. Its 21.3 scoring average ranks only ahead of Penn State (18.2) in the conference.

This is a good thing because Indiana’s defense rates among the Big Ten’s worst. In fact, it ranks 89th in the nation by allowing 400.7 yards a game.

The good news -– that only ranks ninth in the Big Ten. Minnesota (414.3 yards) and Michigan (441.0 yards) are worse.

Despite that, IU is improving defensively. Yes, it was hard to notice when Arkansas State pushed the Hoosiers to the limit before losing 36-34 last Saturday. Still, they held the Red Wolves to 61 rushing yards (their previous best was 130 yards) and didn’t allow the big plays that had killed them in previous games.

Check that. They didn’t allow OFFENSIVE big plays. They did get burned on kickoff returns, which is why they’ve made that a point of emphasis this week.

Credit the defensive improvement to the maturation of the linebackers. Strong-side linebacker Tyler Replogle (pictured right) has been a rock this season, but the improvement of Leon Beckum and junior college transfer Jeff Thomas have made the biggest difference.

Beckum had nine tackles (three for a loss and one sack) against Ohio State, then followed that with seven tackles against Arkansas State. Thomas, who arrived in the spring after playing at Foothill (Calif.) Community College, had six tackles and an interception against Ohio State, seven tackles against Arkansas State.

For the season Beckum has 36 tackles and Thomas has 33. Replogle leads IU in tackles with 41.

“We think we have the linebackers in the right spots now with Tyler (strong side), Jeff (middle) and Leon (outside) all playing at the same time. We also have the right depth behind them.

“I think Chad Sherer will be a very good inside guy playing behind Tyler. Same thing with Griffen Dahlstrom. All the reps he’s getting in practice playing behind Jeff are important. And then Damon Sims on the outside. We have the older guys playing and the younger guys backing them up, which is an ideal situation.”

Thomas was brought in from junior college to make an immediate impact and has delivered.

“Jeff’s improvement doesn’t surprise me,” Lynch said, “because he is one of those guys who loves football and it is very important to him. He is very talented and is getting more comfortable each game. There is an adjustment going from junior college football to Big Ten football. He is an aggressive, get-after-it player.”

As far the improvement in preventing big plays, Lynch said it started with better execution.

“We could show them with the two losses in a row (to Michigan and Ohio State) that it was the big plays that were getting us beat. We have to take better (tackling) angles. We’ve worked very hard in practice on our drill work and tackling at the near hip. That’s all we really did. We didn’t do anything different from a philosophical or scheme standpoint. We just executed the fundamentals.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

Inside Or Outside, IU’s Watford Is A Big Key

Maybe you saw Christian Watford confuse himself with Steve Alford at Hoosier Hysteria. Suddenly there was this 6-9 forward draining 35-foot wing jumpers with the greatest of ease.

Watford nearly won the three-point shooting contest. This is not what you’d expect from Indiana’s leading returning rebounder. It is not what coach Tom Crean expects once the season starts.

Yes, Watford has the green light from three-point range if he’s open and it’s a good shot. He did make 15 three-pointers last year, although his 31.9 percent shooting from that range did not make him IU’s No. 1 long-distance option.

Who was? Guard Maurice Creek shot 44.8 percent from three-point range. Jordan Hulls shot 40.2 percent.

Anyway, Crean wants to push the offensive pace this season and he’d like to do it with fewer set plays. That can only happen with good decision making. Having a 6-9 guy launch 35 footers on a regular basis does not necessarily reflect a good decision.

Taking high percentage shots does. Watford is more than capable of that. He averaged 12.0 points last year. He could be a double-double guy this year if he hits the boards with the necessary passion and plays with consistent effort.

“We need him to score,” Crean said. “He can be an inside-outside, outside-inside guy. It depends on what the situation calls for.”

Watford was a strong free throw shooter last year (a team-leading 80 percent) who sometimes struggled with overall accuracy (37.5 percent from the field). No matter. He’s worked on improving that accuracy and will play a huge role in IU’s drive for a winning record and postseason opportunity.

“We’ve got to score more and the way to do that is with better ball movement, more offensive rebounds, getting the break started more. Most importantly, not give a team easy possessions. At the same time, we have to take possessions away from people and create more turnovers.”

This is the blueprint Crean is working from behind the shelter of closed practices. On Friday, Oct. 29, we’ll get the first public peak of what it will look like. Throw in a Cody Zeller sighting (it’s part of his last official visit before making his college choice) and it could be a heck of a night.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Starters Or Spots, IU's Crean Wants Results

The record shows that Indiana returns six basketball starters from a 10-21 team. This is a good thing. Experience always matters, especially when you’re trying to become a factor in what looms as a grueling Big Ten race.

After consecutive seasons 20-plus-loss seasons, the Hoosiers seek to move up in a big way. Youth was a major factor in the struggles. That's no longer true. They've got a roster full of one- and two-year starters. It will make a huge difference.

Yes, they do have one starter too many, but Jeremiah Rivers’ role is likely to change from to more of a key reserve.

Guard Maurice Creek started all 12 of his games last season before shattering his knee cap. Assuming his knee can handle the load, he'll return to the starting lineup, although that might take a while. Coach Tom Crean will not rush Creek before he's ready. It might be January before that happens.

Guard Verdell Jones started all 31 games. So did forward Christian Watford. Forward Tom Pritchard started 22 games. Guard Jordan Hulls started 17 times.

This might suggest to you that some guys are locks to start.

You would be wrong.

“I don’t remotely look at it that way,” Crean said about returning all those starters. “We’ve got five open spots. Every day the competition has to be high. The level you bring has to be high."

In other words, players will earn minutes through performance, not reputation.

“Are we ready for that yet?" Crean asked. "We’re not even close to just going at it every day, but we will be. That’s how you build the program back up to where it needs to be.”

IU is dominated by the sophomores and juniors. The only senior is Rivers. So if the Hoosiers are to finish with a winning record and earn a postseason bid, those are the guys who must thrive.

“I would hope they expect more from themselves all the time,” Crean said. “That’s where expectations start. The bottom line is they have to carry a big load for us.

“At the same time we have two freshmen (guards Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey) and a junior college transfer (center Guy Marc-Michel) and they all expect to play right away. They will compete to play. That’s what we want.”

What IU really wants is a return to national relevance and postseason success. In a couple of weeks, we’ll start seeing how realistic that is.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Zombies, Zeller And Halloween Thrills

Is Cody Zeller a fan of Night of the Living Dead, the classic 1960s’ zombie movie that gave eating out a whole new meaning?

Or is Tom Crean’s newest twist on a Halloween basketball scrimmage theme just a way to tap into his inner child?

That, it seems, is the intriguing mystery in the announcement that IU will host a Night of the LIVING RED scrimmage on Friday night, Oct. 29.

As it just so happens, that’s the first night of Zeller’s official visit to Indiana. Zeller, in case you’ve spent the last few months refereeing the chats between that Chilean miner’s wife and mistress, is a 6-10 forward from Indiana rated among the nation’s top-20 players. He would be a huge recruiting coup for Crean for the Class of 2011.

Anyway, Night of the LIVING RED (last year it was called Haunted Hall of Hoops) is designed to be an intense public scrimmage as different from the Hoosier Hysteria event as filet mignon is to ground chuck. Crean is trying to sharpen his team for the season and the stakes go right where a guy can feel it –- in his stomach.

“It will be coached to win,” Crean said. “Somebody will eat soggy hotdogs and somebody will eat steak.”

Crean enjoys Halloween themes. He wants kids to come dressed in whatever goes bump in the night. It’s designed for fun, fear and, yes, finalizing.

“It’s going to be very important,” Crean said. “I want our team to go after it in front of a juiced up crowd.”

NCAA rules prohibit Crean from mentioning Zeller, or any recruit, but he did say that in events such as Night of the LIVING RED, “recruiting always factors in.”

Zeller, of course, missed Hoosier Hysteria because he was in North Carolina listening to coach Roy Williams’ sales pitch. Before that he was at Butler where he, if you believe internet reports, went to church, played video games and visited a class.

Come on! Is it just us or does that sound NOTHING like a typical college weekend? Not that there’s anything wrong with doing those things, but, well, it IS wrong. College is where boys and girls become men and women and that only happens when they experience EXACTLY what college life is like.

Yes, a zombie movie.

Anyway, Crean asked the 13,100 attending Hoosier Hysteria to jam Assembly Hall for Night of the LIVING RED. Yes, it will inspire the scrimmaging players. More importantly, it would, in theory, help show Zeller just how fun being a Hoosier can be.

Build a better team and land a big-time recruit.

Who said Halloween has to be scary?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hoosier Hysteria, Oladipo Live Up To Hype

Are you kidding me? Did Victor Oladipo really leap over a bunch of grade school kids on a dunk? Did he follow that up with a ridiculous twisting between-the-legs jam?

Yeah, we’d heard about the leaping ability of this 6-4 freshman guard from Maryland. Hearing is one thing. Seeing is another. Oladipo proved the reality to all the hype with a Hoosier Hysteria performance that left no doubt who has the best hops on the team.

Coach Tom Crean expected nothing less.

“Everybody knew what was coming and he didn’t disappoint,” Crean said. “I haven’t seen anybody jump over eight to nine people like he did. I don’t care how young they were. It was pretty impressive.

“When he was getting ready to dunk, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen more camera phones and cameras lifted up to get a picture. Everybody knew what to anticipate, including the recruiting section. They all had their camera phones going.”

Oladipo arrived on campus over the summer without all-world hype. But his work ethic and attention to detail has convinced Crean that Oladipo will see substantial playing time this season.

“He has a tremendous personality,” Crean said. “We’re talking about a kid who had 380 young men in his high school. He was one of 10 people who had lunch at the White House with the President. He has some special qualities. People will see that in him. It’s the same with (fellow newcomers) Will Sheehey and Guy Marc-Michel. Those three guys have come in and set a standard for what young guys should look at, the way they work their bodies and their games and what they do academically.”

While Oladipo impressed with his dunking and scoring (he had a game-high nine points in the scrimmage), Matt Roth thrived with his three-point shooting. The junior guard, who basically missed all of last season with a broken foot, impressively won the three-point shooting contest, although he needed a shootout to beat out forward Christian Watford. Roth nailed a couple of half-court shots to win.

“I probably could have stepped back if I needed to,” Roth said. “I tried to make one (half-court) shot in each round.”

Roth showed no sluggishness from his year layoff because of the foot or from a concussion that sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

“I was anxious to get back out there. It went well.”

One surprise Friday night was the appearance of Taylor Wayer as a walk-on. The 5-11, 172-pound freshman guard from Indianapolis Bishop Chatard averaged 18 points and three assists last season. He had three points in the scrimmage, witnessed by 13,100 fans.

IU practiced for an hour and 40 minutes before Hoosier Hysteria. Crean scheduled two-a-day practices for today and Sunday.

“We’re trying to build a personality with this team,” Crean said. “We want a mindset on a daily basis. Before they earn victories they have to believe they’ll get them. The only way to believe is through hard work. Through competition. In every practice. That’s the mindset they have to have.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What’s Next For IU Without Darius Willis?

Are you like me? Do you hear, “Darius Willis is injured,” and think of “Mario Andretti is slowing down.” Both suggest vulnerability, inevitability and plain old bad luck.

For those not familiar with Indy 500 auto racing lure, Andretti was the charismatic driver forever doomed to suffer busted engines, blown tires, bad breaks and just about every other disaster you could think of whenever he raced in Indianapolis.

He won the race in 1969 and challenged in seemingly every one after that for the next three decades. Something almost always would go wrong, hence the famous “slowing down” label. It was used so often, it almost became part of his name. You know, “Hi, I’m Mario Andretti Is Slowing Down,” but call me Mario for short.

Anyway, Willis has injured his patellar tendon in his knee and will undergo surgery next Wednesday. The sophomore tailback is expected to make a full recovery just in time for next season’s injury.

The guy has seemingly been jinxed from the moment he arrived on campus. Banged up body parts include knee, groin, hamstring and ankle, and those are just the ones we know about. He’s been hurt so much, he might as well move into the training room. When he’s healthy, he’s a big play waiting to happen. He’s 6-foot and 225 pounds with a sprinter’s speed. He can run you over or run by you. He’s a solid receiver and blocker.

Last year, he rushed for 607 yards and six touchdowns while missing three full games, and parts of others, with injuries. This season, in four games, he rushed for 279 yards and four touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 102 yards and a TD.

As for exactly what happened to his knee, that remains a mystery as tantalizing as that giant, Egyptian-like statue on the TV show Lost. Willis missed the Ohio State game with what was described as a groin injury. Earlier this week he was listed as doubtful for Saturday’s Arkansas game with a knee problem. Coach Bill Lynch described it as a nagging injury that had been bothering Willis for a while.

Nagging turned into season ending when doctors decided surgery was needed.

What does this mean for the Hoosiers? They lose their best tailback, a guy who excelled at blocking and picking blitzes as well as catching and running. Willis was a threat to make a big play every time he touched the ball. He did, after all, earn Mr. Football honors as a senior at Franklin Central by rushing for 1,728 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Without Willis IU will likely go to a running-back-by-committee approach with senior Trea Burgess (83 rushing yards, one touchdown), redshirt freshman Nick Turner (45 yards, one TD) and true freshman Antonio Banks (42 yards, one touchdown).

Of course, the run wasn’t a big part of the offense given the success quarterback Ben Chappell has had throwing to receivers such as Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher. Indiana ranks last in the Big Ten in rushing and first in passing.

Oh, yes. The Hoosiers’ offensive line is battered. That would make improving the running game difficult even with a healthy Willis.

That leads to a final question –- will IU ever see a healthy Willis for an entire season? Recent history suggests no. Running back is a brutal position and Willis seems to have a knack for breaking down.

Maybe that will change by next year, and Willis will add durability to his other attributes.


In the meantime Burgess, Turner and Banks will need to make enough of an impact to take some of the heat off Chappell. The Hoosiers (3-2) can get away with one-dimensional offense against Arkansas State (2-4). They’ll have no chance with that against the remaining Big Ten teams on the schedule.


Oh, thanks to those of you for catching the typo TEST/TEXT in my previous blog. Perfection, it seems, remains as elusive as Willis' good health.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hoosier Hysteria, James Blackmon, Greg Lewis, Hanner Perea And Baylor Woes

Of course James Blackmon expects to make Friday’s Hoosier Hysteria. It’s part of his basketball future -- the Assembly Hall crowd, the Indiana tradition, the chance to mingle with potential teammates.

Granted, it won’t involve any of the current players. Blackmon is four years away from being a Hoosier. Heck, he’s a month away from playing in his first high school game. It doesn’t matter. He’s committed to the program and now that practice is set to begin -- as televised spectacle and fan entertainment more than actual preparation -- he’s ready to be a part of it as a spectator.

He won’t be alone. Plenty of IU recruits are set to be on hand. Players such as Austin Etherington, Yogi Ferrell, Ron Patterson, Brenton Scott, Bryson Scott, Jeremy Hollowell, Darryl Baker, Trevon Bluiett, Bryant McIntosh, Zak Irvin, Basil Smotherman and even fellow committed high school freshman Trey Lyles.

A new name is 6-9 forward Greg Lewis of St. Francis Academy in Baltimore. He’s rated as the No. 130 player in the Class of 2011 by Indiana is one of five finalists along with Maryland, South Florida, Rutgers and UNC-Wilmington.

No, Cody Zeller won’t be at Hoosier Hysteria. The Washington star forward will be taking in the sights of North Carolina’s version of Hoosier Hysteria. He’s already visited Butler. Then comes his official visit to Indiana, and the announcement that will make or break Hoosier hearts.

What will recruits and fans see Friday night? Some basketball drills, a dunk contest, a brief scrimmage and a chance to get autographs, not only from the current men’s and women’s teams, but also such former Hoosier greats as Damon Bailey, Archie Dees, Brian Evans, Jimmy Rayl, Matt Nover, Wayne Radford and Landon Turner.

This reflects coach Tom Crean’s desire to reconnect with Indiana’s basketball past while building toward a brighter future. He’s ready for the losing of the past two years -- the consequence of the NCAA sanctions from the Kelvin Sampson coaching era -- to end and the title-winning ways to begin.

“We’ve got to aspire to get back to that,” he said. “Maybe the greatest opponent we face is that people have gotten used to seeing Indiana struggle. Our opponents like us down.

“For decades Indiana was terrorizing opponents. We were dominating opponents. I can’t stomach somebody, anybody, who doesn’t want to be in that fight to get back to that. The drive to get better, to go above and beyond. That’s the only way make it in this program.”


It seems the mess surrounding Baylor basketball, assistant coach Mark Morefield and some not very nice text messages will not affect the college eligibility of highly regarded recruit Hanner Perea. reported that the NCAA is investigating Baylor coach Scott Drew and the program for apparent text messages sent by Morefield to Perea’s AAU and high school coaches in July that violated NCAA rules.

Perea, who is from Columbia, but who now attends high school at LaLumiere in Indiana, has narrowed his college finalists to Baylor and Indiana. He is a highly regarded member of the class of 2012.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Football Depth Crucial to Indiana’s Bowl Hopes

If you’ve followed Indiana football over the years, you know the months of October and November are often unkind to the Hoosiers.

There are lots of reasons for this, the No. 1 being Big Ten firepower. IU, like many programs, loads up on weaker non-conference opponents, then struggles against the better conference teams.

Yes, the Hoosiers have certainly struggled in their 0-2 Big Ten start, losing a cliffhanger to Michigan, getting crushed by Ohio State.

However, injuries and lack of depth also have contributed to October and November struggles. IU has a hard time matching the depth of the Big Ten powers. Starters can often stay with the conference’s best, but when injuries hit, the talent drop off is too extreme for the Hoosiers to compete.

Why is that relevant? Because depth was an issue in the Ohio State loss.

IU faced Ohio State without two offensive line starters -- right tackle James Brewer because of an ankle sprain, right guard Marc Damisch because of the death of his father. During the game, center Will Matte and left tackle Andrew McDonald got hurt.

As a result, reserve linemen Pat McShane, Jordan Marquette, Colin Rodkey, Josh Hager and Chris Ahlfed all saw extensive action.

In previous years, this might have meant disaster. While the offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Ben Chappell and open holes for the running game last Saturday, much of that had to do with the quality of Ohio State’s defense rather than the poor play of the line.

The reason came down to preparation. IU coaches, recognizing the importance of depth, gave the second and third string players lots of practice time in training camp rather than send them to the scout team to mimic the plays of opposing teams.

“One thing we did this summer on purpose, probably more so than any team I’ve been around, is that we repped our two’s and three’s a lot,” coach Bill Lynch said. “We did it with this in mind, as injuries mount, we want guys who have been working in our offense for a long time.

“At some places, the one’s (starters) and two’s (backups) are the only guys who get the work. Studying our past, we have run into some injuries or some depth situations, so we want guys who have run our offense and not calling guys back from the scout field who haven’t run our offense since the third week of camp.

“We want to make sure they understand all the calls, the blocking and protection schemes. I feel good about that. We had guys in there that had practices and there weren’t any mental mistakes or breakdowns that way.”

In other words, Hoosier reserves might have gotten by beat better Ohio State starters, but they didn’t beat themselves by making silly mistakes or not knowing what they were doing.

Let’s face it, even with a fully healthy team IU wasn’t going to win at Ohio State. It has lost 16 straight to the Buckeyes, most by a wide margin. The last time the Hoosiers played them close was in 1993, when they lost 23-17.

The potential silver lining is that the experience gained by the reserves, and all the backups who played Saturday, could help in future games.

Could, of course, doesn’t mean will. But it does suggest that maybe, just maybe, these guys can develop and sustain enough to win the four more games necessary to guarantee a bowl bid.

It starts, and certainly doesn’t end, with Saturday’s Homecoming game against Arkansas State.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

IU Basketball Strength Coach Making His Mark

So here is Je’Ney Jackson, the man in charge of Indiana’s basketball strength and conditioning program. It’s quite a job given the strength deficiencies that have plagued the program in recent years because of the team’s youth.

Jackson’s goal is simple -- turn IU from one of the Big Ten’s weakest teams into one of the strongest. He previously was a strength coach at Wyoming and Kansas. He also coached cornerbacks at Kansas and Southern Mississippi.

Jackson arrived in July and didn’t waste any time setting a tone.

“We hit the ground running, which was good,” he said. “From Day One, boom, we we’re rolling. Right off the bat it was like, This is what we’re doing. This is the direction we’re going. That’s the way it’s going to be.”

NCAA rules prohibit coaches from monitoring players in the off-season, but not strength coaches. That means guys like Jackson can have a major impact on players.

“As far as my philosophy, my whole thing is to enhance their performance, period. Especially with basketball, I’m not trying to make you into a weight lifter. We use weight lifting as a means to help you perform better.

“Are we going to focus on technique? Of course we are. Am I going to get guys who are 7-feet tall to put 500 pounds on their backs to squat? Definitely not. You enhance performance through a lot of multi-joint movements.”

IU’s youth means there’s still a lot of work to do to match the strength of players from Michigan State and Purdue.

“We’re a very young team,” Jackson said, “so you have to attack it in different ways. Our training age is young, so the program has to fit that.”

Jeff Watkinson, the previous strength coach, left last summer to become the personal trainer for former Hoosier standout and current NBA star Eric Gordon. Jackson said he kept some of Watkinson’s ideas, but also made a lot of changes.

“I’m pretty much my own guy and I want to do my own thing.”

Cook Hall, with its state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, made the transition easy.

“When you have all the tools to help kids be successful, that’s a huge benefit,” Jackson said. “You don’t have to figure out different ways to get things done. We have the things these guys need. Cook Hall was a huge factor in my coming here.”

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Chappell Will Bounce Back From Ohio State Struggles

So Ben Chappell won’t win the Heisman Trophy, won’t be named first team All-Big Ten, or any of the other lofty honors that goes with being the nation’s best quarterback.

Yeah, getting overwhelmed by Ohio State can do that to you.

Still, Indiana’s fifth-year senior quarterback will continue to have an outstanding season. He’s too accurate with too many receiving weapons.

Chappell just ran into a Buckeyes defensive buzz saw, which is no surprise. They have a way of turning even the best quarterbacks into mush even with a healthy offensive line.

The Hoosiers line, by the way, is not healthy.

Mammoth offensive lineman James Brewer was sidelined with an ankle injury. At 6-8 and 331 pounds, he’s one of the biggest linemen in school history. Losing him hurts. IU also lost right guard Marc Damisch, who missed the game in the wake of his father’s death.

That forced the Hoosiers to scramble their line lineup, which is a major problem given how important continuity is to that area.

The result -– Ohio State put non-stop pressure on Chappell. It hit, hurried and harassed him. He wound up 16-for-26 for 106 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He came in averaging a Big Ten-best 342.5 yards passing a game.

Indiana (3-2), meanwhile, went 0-2 in its back-to-back games against Michigan and Ohio State. A lot of teams would do the same thing, of course. So what did the 38-10 loss tell us about the Hoosiers?

For starters, they still need to develop more depth, play better defense and keep tailback Darius Willis healthy. He missed the Buckeyes game because of a groin injury.

They won’t need Willis for Saturday’s game against Arkansas State. They will need him for the stretch that includes games at Illinois and at Wisconsin, home contests against Northwestern and Iowa.

Oh, yes. There’s a neutral-site game with reeling Penn Stat, and the annual showdown with arch-rival Purdue.

All that’s for later. For now, IU needs to get back on track, and it starts Saturday with Arkansas State.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Crean Challenge Survivor, Doss Honored, Waltman Hired

It’s easy to see why Tom Crean hired Je’Ney Jackson as his basketball strength and conditioning coach. The guy is really good. He makes hard work, conditioning and strength training fun.

We got an up-close-and-personal look at Jackson’s approach during this week’s Survivor-Crean and Crimson Media Challenge. Conceived by IU assistant athletic director for media relations J.D. Campbell and endorsed by Crean, it was a chance for 25 media members who regularly cover the Hoosiers to showcase their fitness and athletic skills.

Or, for some, their lack of it.

IU basketball players helped out. Guard Jordan Hulls worked specifically with our group. He is, like all the players, a great guy.

Everybody seemed to enjoy themselves except for team trainer Tim Garl, who, for good reason, worried about somebody getting hurt, being hospitalized or worse.

We did sign a waiver absolving IU from responsibility in the event something bad happened.

In the end, nothing bad happened except for a few sore muscles and bruised egos. We lifted some weights, did some agility drills, ran a little, sweated a little and kept alive our dream that the 2012 Olympics is not out of reach

We told you Je’Ney is good.


What’s it like to be Tandon Doss these days? Indiana’s junior receiver just got honored by the Biletnikoff and Paul Hornung Awards, which leads to an obvious question -- what are the Biletnikoff and Hornung awards?

The Biletnikoff Award goes to the nation’s top receiver. The Hornung Award goes to the nation’s most versatile player. Doss was honored by both in the wake of his jaw-dropping performance against Michigan.

Doss had 15 catches for 221 yards, the biggest day any college receiver has had this season. He also added 21 rushing yards (he runs the Wildcat formation), 111 kickoff return yards and 10 punt return yards. The total of 363 all-purpose yards was a career high. He’s second nationally by averaging 211.0 all-purpose yards a game.

For the season Doss has 23 catches for 323 yards and one touchdown in three games. He certainly can’t complain that IU coaches don’t use him enough.

Figure he’ll get used a ton as the Hoosiers (3-1) try to upset No. 2 Ohio State (5-0) in Columbus.


In case you missed it, former IU assistant basketball coach Royce Waltman is the new addition to the Hoosiers’ radio broadcast team. He’ll join Don Fischer and Joe Smith in covering basketball games.

Waltman coached at Indiana under Bob Knight from 1982-87 and was on the Hoosiers’ 1987 national title team. He was the head coach at DePauw from 1988-92, the head coach at the University of Indianapolis from 1992-97 and the head coach at Indiana State from 1997-2007. He won more than 100 games at each school and led each to the NCAA tourney.

He recently returned to high school coaching as an assistant coach at Indianapolis Roncalli.

“Royce is one of the most highly respected coaches in his profession,” Fischer said in a university release. “His knowledge of basketball and his background at almost every level of the game will add much to our broadcasts.”

Waltman replaces Todd Leary, the former Indiana player whose broadcasting duties ended after his arrest last February for, and subsequent guilty plea to, a multi-million-dollar mortgage fraud scheme.

“As an assistant basketball coach at IU, I gained great admiration for the program and all its tradition,” Waltman said in the release. “It’s with great player that I return to the IU family.”

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Scoop On Cody Zeller’s College Choice

The call came just past midnight. The voice was a harsh whisper on the phone. Hoosier Deep Throat with another scoop.

“Meet me in the parking garage by the Wells Library in 30 minutes,” he said. “Tell no one.”

The garage was packed with shadows. The glowing end of a cigarette in a far corner told us where to go.

“It’s been a long time,” we said.

A figure moved in the shadows, but did not emerge. Hoosier Deep Throat. He took a final drag from the cigarette, dropped it to the concrete floor and crushed it out.

“Those things will kill you,” we said.

“So will losing 20 games a year.”

A cell phone rang nearby. It came from a student crossing a nearby street.

“We don’t have much time,” we said. “What’s the scoop?”

Hoosier Deep Throat sank back deeper into the shadows.

“Cody Zeller,” he said. “It’s a done deal.”

“A done deal for what?”

“He’s coming to Indiana. He’ll wear the Cream ‘n Crimson starting next year.”

We knew this was big. Zeller was a top-20 player, an in-state kid from nearby Washington. Fans believe he could be the centerpiece for a national title run. He would be, without a doubt, the biggest recruit of coach Tom Crean’s Indiana run. It would solidify the growing recruiting momentum that, in a few short months, had turned Cream ‘n Crimson gloom into blinding optimism.

“How do you know?” we asked. “Do you have any proof?”

Hoosier Deep Throat laughed and lit another cigarette. For an instant in the flash of light we saw a face before darkness swallowed it up. It was too fast for recognition. And yet …

“Proof will come when he signs the national letter of intent,” he said.

We knew Butler and North Carolina were still in the mix. Even if Cody had made his decision, nothing was etched in stone until he signed.

“Butler was the biggest basketball story of the century last year," we said. "North Carolina would be hard for anybody to resist. Sean May couldn't do it. The older Zeller couldn’t do it.”

Hoosier Deep Throat took a drag from his cigarette. “Cody is made of stronger stuff. His last official visit is at Indiana. You don’t think that’s a coincidence, do you?”

“We’d heard that’s just the way the schedule worked best.”

“You heard wrong. A coach will tell you, you want to be first or last on official visits. Never in the middle. The best position, by far, is to be last.”

Hoosier Deep Throat took another drag.

“Cody has made several unofficial visits to IU,” he said. “He’s not doing that because he likes to dodge deer on the drive up from Washington. Besides, North Carolina already has an inside commitment from 6-8 James McAdoo, the No. 8 guy in the Class of 2011.”

“And that means what?” we ask.

“You’re a big boy. You figure it out.”

We didn’t know what to say, so we said nothing. Silence enveloped us like a security blanket. Hoosier Deep Throat crushed out his cigarette with a stomp of his left foot.

“It’s a done deal,” he said, “and come November, you’ll see.”

And then he was gone.

His words, and their significance, lingered.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Protecting Ben -- Line Keeps QB Up and Throwing

Lost amid all the hoopla surrounding Indiana’s dominating passing attack is this key fact -– the offensive line is protecting quarterback Ben Chappell like he’s never been protected before.

He’s only been sacked four times in four games, which is impressive considering IU averages 42.2 passes a game, by far the most in the Big Ten. He threw 64 times against Michigan.

This is key because Chappell will never remind anyone of Antwaan Randle El. He’s very accurate and not very mobile. His inability to run was one of the reasons why IU switched from the spread attack to the pistol formation last season.

That’s not a knock, by the way. Chappell is a true pocket passer who, when given enough time, is as accurate as any quarterback in the nation. The line is giving him time and that’s a big reason why he’s thrown 12 touchdown passes and one interception.

“I’ll take Ben over anybody, but he’s not a running quarterback,” coach Bill Lynch said. “Teams have a pretty good idea where he’s going to be.

“When you throw it that many times (against Michigan) and to be sacked only twice, I thought the line really battled.”

The line of center Will Matte, guards Aaron Price and Justin Pagan, and tackles Andrew McDonald and James Brewer has been healthy and solid all season.

“I’m really proud of the way our offensive line’s played,” Lynch said.

If one of the linemen gets beat, tailback Darius Willis is often there to back them up. The sophomore has become especially good at picking up blitzes.

“That’s why Darius is such a good player,” Lynch said. “He’s not about his numbers or anything like that. He played over 70 plays as a tailback (against Michigan), and he pass blocked on probably 40 or more of them. He’s a very smart player, so he recognized the stunts. He’s done a good job.”

The Hoosiers will need that, and a lot more, to beat No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday. They haven't won at Ohio State since 1987 and have lost 15 straight to the Buckeyes.

Still, if ever there was a recent IU team that could beat the Buckeyes, this is it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Receiver Commits to IU, Council Injured, Pryor Healthy

If you’re a standout high school wide receiver, why wouldn’t you want to play at Indiana?

You’re going to get a ton of opportunities, as veterans Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher can attest.

Those opportunities were among the reasons by Dayton (Ohio) receiver Cody Lattimer has orally committed to the Hoosiers. He is extremely versatile, a trait IU coaches seek. He also plays quarterback and running back for Jefferson High School. Last year he caught 45 passes for 960 yards and eight touchdowns. He also rushed for 270 yards and six TDs. He even found time to play linebacker and recorded a team-leading 95 tackles.

At 6-3 and 210 pounds, Lattimer runs a 4.45-second 40-yard dash, has a 38-inch vertical jump and bench presses 325 pounds.

If he can tackle in open space, look out. ranks Lattimer as the No. 16 player in Ohio. He’s a three-star recruit.

IU now has 22 commitments for the Class of 2011.

On the Hoosiers injury front, cornerback Richard Council is out for “an extended period of time” according to coach Bill Lynch after injuring his knee on Michigan’s last pass play.

Yes, that’s the same play that basically gave the Wolverines the victory. Lynch did say on the Big Ten teleconference that Council will not miss the rest of the season.

In the meantime, cornerback Adrian Burks is Council’s likely replacement, although Andre Kates and Greg Heban also are in the mix. Not in the running are Lawrence Barnett and Lenyatta Kiles. Both started the season as cornerbacks, then were switched to safety after Chris Adkins was injured.

Whoever starts seems certain to get tested at Ohio State on Saturday. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor has put up similar numbers to that of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.

Yes, that is scary.

For the record, Pryor completes 65 percent of his passes for 1,015 yards (eight yards more than Robinson), 12 touchdowns (five more than Robinson) and three interceptions (two more than Robinson).

Oh, and just in case you thought Pryor would be limited because of a leg injury suffered against Illinois last Saturday, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said the quarterback will be fine for the game.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Doss And Receivers Want To Bear Indiana's Burden

After four games, there is no doubt -– Indiana has to win with its passing game.

Receiver Tandon Doss has just one thing to say about that:

Bring it on.

“I love it,” he said. “As receivers, we want to put the team on our backs. I hope we keep doing it.”

Doss has a lot of love to give after his record-setting effort against Michigan. He caught 15 passes for 221 yards. He added 21 rushing yards, 111 yards on kickoff returns and 10 on punt returns. That gave him 363 all-purpose yards, which is the third best in school history.

That leads to the obvious question -– who are the two people ahead of him?

First is tailback Anthony Thompson. He had 416 all-purpose yards at Wisconsin in 1989, 377 of them via the run. Receiver Thomas Lewis had 367 yards against Penn State in 1993.

Oh, Doss’ 15 catches were one off the school record set by Jason Spear against Purdue in 1997.

Doss’ receiving yards rank fourth in school history. Can you name the three people ahead of him?

Take a deep breath.

Third is Nate Lundy. He had 256 yards at Colorado in 1980. Can you guess the other two?

Take a moment.

Second is Tyrone Browning. He had 258 yards against Western Michigan in 1998.

Are you ready for the record holder? It’s Thomas Lewis. He had 285 receiving yards against Penn State in 1993.

Doss, by the way, is the new main weapon in the Wildcat formation, and if it didn’t do much against Michigan, figure it will in the future. Doss might even throw from it given he played some quarterback while at Indianapolis Ben Davis High School. IU quarterback Ben Chappell said Doss has a strong arm, although it might not always be the most accurate one.

Joining in on the receiving fun against Michigan was Damarlo Belcher. He had 10 catches for 91 yards. Terrance Turner had seven catches for 56 yards. Tailback Darius Willis had seven catches for 53 yards.

This means that Chappell isn’t shy about spreading around the wealth. It also means that teams can’t just target one receiver because the Hoosiers have too many weapons for that to work.

All this is great if you’re a Cream ‘n Crimson fan, but IU still lost a winnable game to Michigan. The defense isn’t good enough, and that’s a shame, because this really could be a special Hoosier team with even decent defense.

Can it be fixed? In simple terms, yes. As senior linebacker Tyler Replogle said, “It came down to tackles, angles and execution. We can get better.”

We’ve heard similar themes for 15 years, with no success. Indiana seems as likely to thrive on defense as the Buffalo Bills are to win a game. Sure, there’s always hope that something will kick in, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s game at No. 2 Ohio State.

We’ll believe it when we see it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

IU-Michigan Draws Basketball Recruits

You’d better believe Tom Crean used the IU-Michigan game as a chance for unofficial basketball visit mania. Why wouldn’t he? A sell-out crowd, a festive atmosphere, a chance to showcase a Cream ‘n Crimson vision where football matters and glory is just a few plays away.

In the end, of course, it was Michigan that made the plays that mattered most, but that doesn’t diminish the message. Crean wants recruits on campus because he believes it’s a huge selling point. Recruits such as Washington’s Cody Zeller (yes, this is a very good sign), La Lumiere’s Hanner Perea and Hamilton Southeastern’s Gary Harris, experienced those points this weekend. So did Devin Davis and Darryl Baker, plus verbal commitments Peter Jurkin and Austin Etherington. Players participated in an open gym.

Crean, of course, continues to seek out the young and talented. Now offers to the Class of 2014 include Indianapolis Park Tudor guard Trevon Bluiett and Brownsburg guard Jaraan Lands. It’s these players’ first offers, although they are being recruited by Purdue, LSU and Illinois.

Crean had earlier offered and received oral commitments from Fort Wayne Bishop Luers guard James Blackmon and Indianapolis Tech forward Trey Lyles.

Lyles, by the way, is ranked as the nation’s No. 1 player in the Class of 2014 by ESPN. Blackmon is No. 7 while Bluiett is No. 22.

At this rate, Crean will have offered a hundred players in the Class of 2014 by December. Of course, he doesn’t have 100 scholarships to give. At the moment, he has two, but over-offering is standard operating procedure in recruiting these days. It will all work out in the end, especially given it’s four years before that end.

Crean’s approach is simple and increasingly effective. Get after players at a young age, show them you care, tell them why Indiana is their perfect choice, showcase the university’s facilities and atmosphere, and let nature take its course.

Basketball nature has taken a Cream ‘n Crimson turn after a couple of years in NCAA sanction-filled purgatory. Crean is getting commitments and building a recruiting foundation to exploit the continued run of strong in-state talent.

As for the football Hoosiers (3-1), well, they’ll have to regroup quickly in the wake of their 42-35 loss to Michigan. Once again they failed to take advantage of opportunities. Yes, there might have been some missed Michigan holds on the final drive, but IU was in position to make game-changing defensive plays and did not. This has been a long-term problem that has to end. Is this group capable of ending it? Another opportunity comes Saturday at No. 2 Ohio State.

That will likely be another loss. After that there’s a home game against Arkansas State, and three other winnable contests -– Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue. IU can reach seven victories if it sweeps these games. It has a chance if it can play just average defense.

Is that asking too much?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Replogle's Return Fuels IU's Prospects

Here’s all you need to know about Indiana’s chances of beating No. 19 Michigan today and, perhaps, alter the direction of the program for the next decade:

Tyler Replogle is back.

The senior linebacker missed last Saturday’s win over Akron as a precaution for a concussion and he still leads the team in tackles. In two games he has 19. Safety Mitchell Evans and linebacker Leon Beckum both have 17 in three games.

Replogle is the key to IU’s defense. He’s the tough-minded soul of a unit that has not played to its coach’s belief. That has to stop. Replogle has to lead the way be word and deed.

If that sounds like too much pressure for a guy who is not the second coming of Ray Lewis, well, somebody has to step up and no defensive player fits the role as well as Replogle.

With him IU can beat Michigan. Without him, it ain't happening.

The Hoosiers, of course, can’t beat Michigan by just defense. They have to score, punish with the run, control with the pass. They need balance and imagination and the tenacity to take the Wolverines’ best shot with a better shot of their own.

The game looks to be a sell-out, and that’s as it should be. This might not be a perfect football team, it has flaws and areas of weakness and inexperience. But it has enough to win with, certainly at home in front of a raucous, supportive crowd.

This is the moment, the team and the opponent. It’s time, at long last, to show these are the new, for real Hoosiers.

It’s time to win.