Monday, January 3, 2011

IU Won’t Back Down From Minnesota Size

It's not fair, this Minnesota size that doesn’t seem to end. How do you combat it?

It starts, Christian Watford says, by not backing down.

“You go at them. There’s no way around it. They are going to block some shots. You know that going in. They’re a very long, athletic team. You have to keep coming.”

Length is not necessarily an Indiana strength these days. Its inside game remains a work in progress, and progress is not guaranteed. Given the way Derek Elston, Tom Pritchard and Bobby Capobianco foul, the Hoosiers (9-6) might end up with a four-guard lineup tonight while facing the Gophers (11-3) in Minneapolis.

Minnesota, under the direction of veteran coach Tubby Smith, boasts 6-11, 241-pound Ralph Sampson, 6-10, 258-pound Colton Iverson and 6-10, 289-pound Maurice Walker. The Gophers also have one of the Big Ten’s most imposing inside presences in 6-8, 240-pound forward Trevor Mbakwa.

Mbakwa, who once played for IU coach Tom Crean at Marquette, averages 13.4 points and 9.9 rebounds. He’s had eight double-doubles this season, which ranks 13th nationally. He shoots a Big Ten-leading 61.7 percent.

Sampson averages 11.4 points and 5.9 rebounds. Iverson averages 6.6 points and 5.8 rebounds.

These are big, powerful men and the Hoosiers have nobody who can matchup with them. At the same time, the Hoosiers like to dribble, drive and attack the basket. They will go right at that size.

“It’s going to be very challenging,” Watford said. “We know they’re a tough team. They’ve got a great inside presence with Mbakwa and Sampson. We have to keep them off the glass and play hard.”

How do you do that?

“You fight,” Watford said. “That’s the main thing we have to do. We do it and we’ll be successful.”

One thing you don’t do is play timid around the rim.

“You don’t want to do fade-aways,” Verdell Jones said. “It’s a low-percentage shot. You go at them by bringing their bigs out. We’ve got bigs who can drive. We have Christian who can drive.”

You might think the Hoosiers are demoralized by a four-game losing streak that includes a very bad home loss to Penn State.

At least publicly, you would be wrong.

“We’re still very confident,” Watford said. “We felt we should have gotten some games we lost. It came down to a couple of plays.”

Priority No. 1 is improving a porous defense.

“Eighty percent of our practices have been on defense,” Jones said. “We’ve been working our butts off.”

It starts with team defense, help defense, the kind of rock-ribbing defense that can push offenses into irrelevance.

“Our individual defense hasn’t been very good, so our team defense has to be great,” Jones said. “Our helps side has to be great. That’s our biggest weakness right now.”

That weakness showed when Penn State and Ohio State combined for 21 three-pointers against the Hoosiers last week.

So what was the problem? Crean said it was a “lack of retention of technique and footwork.”

In other words, the coaches show the players the proper way to do things, and then the players forget once the game starts.

We thought memory only became a problem when you turn 40, not that we're admiting we're anywhere near that old.

“You cannot play the ball with your feet even,” Crean said. “You cannot play the ball with your feet outside of your shoulders. You cannot play the ball with your hands in tight.”

So what can you do? Crean offered a quick coaching clinic.

“All you have to do to be good is guard one dribble. If you want to be great, guard two dribbles. If you want to get drafted, guard three…

“You have no chance if your footwork’s not right.”

The Hoosiers are working for a chance. Maybe this time, they will get it right.


Tandon Doss isn’t waiting, not for Kevin Wilson to implement his vision of the Hoosiers football future, not for an uncertain offense that might not have a Big Ten-ready quarterback

So Doss, the All-Big Ten receiver is skipping his senior year for a shot at NFL riches. He wants to help his mother, Nikki, and his brother, Anthony. He’s not interested in being part of a new era.

“While my experience at Indiana was great, my decision came down to the fact I could not pass up the opportunity to start my professional career,” Doss said in a university release. “Entering the NFL Draft was the best decision for myself and, most importantly, for my family.

“My experience at IU was great and helped lay the foundation for my future. I will work hard and represent Indiana in a first-class manner.”

Doss hopes to get drafted in the first couple of rounds, although much can change between now and the April draft.

So what will IU do without Doss and his 63 catches for 706 yards and seven touchdowns, without his 1,016 kickoff return yards, without his 175.8 all-purpose yards?

IU still has receiving depth, starting with Damarlo Belcher and Duwyce Wilson. First, however, it has to settle on a quarterback.

Gone is All-Big Ten quarterback Ben Chappell. A pair of inexperienced quarterbacks, Edward Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel, are the leading contenders for next season.

Don’t forget Tre Roberson out of Lawrence Central High School. He was named Indiana Mr. Football and is considered the state’s No. 11 prospect by But he won’t arrive in Bloomington until the summer and it’s rare that a true freshman can handle the complexities of the college quarterback position right away.

Anyway, that will be sorted out by August. There’s also uncertainty about the offensive line and just the overall adjustment to a new system.

So Doss is outta here.

Also, Northwestern receivers coach and passing coordinator Kevin Johns will be IU’s new receivers coach. He worked with Wilson while the two were at Northwestern from 1999 to 2001.

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