Thursday, February 3, 2011
Can IU Make The NIT? Wilson’s Take on Football Freshmen
Do you wake up feeling all tingly? Does the air seem warmer, the day brighter and the economy better?
Of course you do and it does. You’re a Hoosier fan and suddenly hope is everywhere you don’t see someone talking about the weather, the Super Bowl and the best beard in sports.
In case you missed it, Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel has a beard to die for, unless you’re his wife, who already has bought him the razor to shave it off with. He has, daringly, ignored her not so subtle hint. He’ll wait until after the Super Bowl to deal with it.
But we digress.
Suddeny Indiana basketball is hot. The Hoosiers have won their last two home games, both against ranked teams (Illinois and Minnesota) and nearly won at Michigan State.
It seems the more guys get hurt, the better they play. That makes you wonder how much further they can take this next-man-up approach.
Anyway, now comes the thought that maybe they can make the NIT, which seemed a realistic goal at the start of the season before they bumbled their way through late December and most of January.
It took a whupping at Iowa to finally convince them to buy into Tom Crean’s coaching, and since they did, they are fun to watch. They still mess up some, but they play hard, make plays and make you think a return to glory is just around the corner, perhaps as soon as next year.
Hey, why not this year, starting with the Big Ten tourney and …
Hold on. Take a deep breath. Let’s not get carried away.
IU is 12-11 and basically needs four more victories to clinch a postseason berth. The Hoosiers have eight regular-season games left. Finishing 16-15 entering the Big Ten tourney would almost certainly land them in the NIT.
How likely is that?
Let’s take a look.
IU has four games at home and four on the road. Two seem unwinnable -- at No. 11 Purdue and at No. 1 Ohio State. Given the fact the Hoosiers haven’t won away from Assembly Hall this season and have just one road victory in Crean’s three seasons, the other two road games (to Michigan and Illinois) are huge hurdles.
Still, IU has beaten both of those teams already. It wouldn’t take a miracle to win at least one of them.
The home games are against Iowa Saturday, Northwestern Feb. 19, Purdue Feb. 23 and Wisconsin March 3.
The way the Hoosiers are playing now, they’d be favored to beat Iowa and Northwestern, and will push Purdue and Wisconsin hard. Going 3-1 against those teams is realistic. So if they could get just one road win (Michigan seems the most likely), they’ll reach that magic No. 16.
And if they do that and get hot in the Big Ten tourney, well, in case you’ve forgotten, the Big Ten’s automatic NCAA tourney bid goes to the conference tourney champ.
Anything is possible. So go ahead and enjoy that tingly feeling. It just might last a while.
Kevin Wilson won’t wait on the future. He doesn’t want his players to wait, either. He’ll play the best guys and as far as redshirting freshman, that’s the last option.
“My thing is competition is a great deal,” he said. “We can redshirt all we want, but we have guys getting up early every day running and lifting and practicing hard. You’re asked to stay in the summer and workout, and if you never play, it’s frustrating.”
Former coach Bill Lynch’s approach was that if you’re a freshman and are good enough to start and play a lot, you play. Otherwise, you redshirt and concentrate on getting bigger, stronger and better, plus get a solid academic base. He believed a roster full of five-year players was the best way for a school such as Indiana go.
Wilson doesn’t disagree with that, but he wants to raise the stakes for everybody, from freshmen to seniors. Everybody gets a chance. However, if a freshman isn’t ready, he won’t play.
“I didn’t make a guarantee to any of these guys that they would play,” Wilson said. “I guarantee we’re going to put some good guys around them, and academically we’re going to put everything in front of them to get their degree.
“Football comes back to them. My goal is every freshman plays until he shows he can’t. That increases the competition and I think it increases their athletic ability. I think socially they do better. I think academically they do better.
“All players like to play, so we’ve challenged them all to do everything they can. I’d like to play guys, but if they can’t play, we’re not going to waste a year.”