Friday, March 30, 2012

Hoosier Deep Throat, Christian Watford and the NBA

The ringing phone crashed against the peace of a summer-come-early spring night. It was Hoosier Deep Throat and his voice was as raw as fried cactus.

“We gotta talk,” he said, words slurring.

“Have you been drinking?” we asked, concerned.

“Have you been tweeting?” he asked, ticked.

“A little.”

“Watford,” he said.

When knew he referred to Christian Watford, Indiana’s 6-9 junior forward contemplating passing up his final year of college eligibility to enter the NBA Draft.

“What about him?”

“Meet me at the usual place,” Deep Throat said and hung up.

We arrived at an Indiana University parking garage just after midnight. Clouds cloaked the sky like a robe. Darkness settled deep and ominous. Someone coughed in the back of the garage. We edged closer hoping it was Deep Throat and not, say, a Silence of the Lambs wannabe.

“It’s about bleeping time,” a raw voice grumbled. A cigarette tip glowed from a dark corner, illuminating nothing except a shaky grip. A hand shot out of the darkness and slammed something onto the top of a garbage can.

“Is that a shot glass?” we asked.

“No, it’s an EMPTY shot glass,” Hoosier Deep Throat said. We noticed there were five just like it on the garbage can. Deep Throat was doing some heavy thinking.

“Watford’s leaving. He’s gonna try the NBA or wherever he ends up.”

“That’s not official. He can put his name in, get some pro feedback, and pull out as long as it’s by April 10.”

We heard a slurping sound. Another empty shot glass joined its brothers and sisters. “Dude is leaving. He doesn’t wanna finish what he started.”

We knew the decision Watford faced. Stay on a loaded IU team that will be boosted by one of the nation’s best recruiting classes, one that almost certainly will be a Big Ten and national title contender; or leave and –- maybe –- get rich. Watford is not projected as being drafted in one of the NBA’s two rounds, although he could change that with some strong workouts. The NBA’s developmental league or an overseas league are his likely best options.

“The guy wants to start his career,” we said. “He has that right.”

“It’s not about right,” Deep Throat said. “It’s about opportunity. How often do you get a chance to win a national championship? How often do you get to be a part of something really special, something people will remember for as long as there’s March Madness.”

“I’m not sure that’s at the top of his list,” we said.

“That’s the problem with people today. They don’t see the big picture. It’s an instant-gratification world. It’s all about now and money, rather than history and banners.”

“Seems a little harsh,” we said.

“I’ll tell you what’s harsh. Drinking this cheap-ass rock-gut whiskey.”

“Why drink it?”

“Because it’s better than crying.”

We answered with silence. Watford’s return would guarantee no championship. The Hoosiers will face plenty of obstacles and challenges, including whether coach Tom Crean can spread around the minutes so that everyone stays happy and focused on team success rather than individual glory.

“It’s been so long, I don’t even remember what winning a championship feels like,” Deep Throat said with a sigh sad enough to melt a stripper’s heart.

IU’s fifth and last national championship came in 1987. It came close in 2002 with a national runner-up finish. It reached the Final Four in 1992, but was done in during the semifinals by Duke and, some would say, referee Ted Valentine.

But when you consider a lineup of Cody Zeller, Watford, Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls and Will Sheehey from a 27-9 team that reached the Sweet 16, combined with nationally heralded newcomers such as Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Ron Patterson and Peter Jurkin, well, not even Kentucky would have more talent.

Still, no guarantees. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that second-seeds Duke and Missouri were bounced out of the NCAA tourney in their first games.

“Gordon Hayward passed on that chance,” we said, referring to the former Butler standout who entered the NBA Draft in 2010 rather than return for a possible second NCAA tourney title run.

“Yeah, but the guy went ninth in the draft, to Utah. Ain’t no way Watford goes that high.”

Somewhere beyond the garage a cock crowed. We weren’t sure if it was the first, or the third, time.

“Still,” we said, “Watford has that Kentucky beating three-pointer, and then a 27-point game in the Sweet 16 loss to the Wildcats. He was a first-half game-saver against VCU, and made the All-South Regional team. He could guard everybody from point guards to centers. He’s not the quickest forward in America and he might not be as explosive as, say, Victor Oladipo, but he’s as hot as he’s ever been, maybe than he ever will be. Next year he might stumble. He might blow out a knee like Verdell Jones or Purdue’s Robbie Hummel.”

“Yeah, and a comet could hit the earth,” Deep Throat said, “or the Mayan prophecy could come true. But the odds say the earth survives the season, and Indiana with Watford is better than without him. And you can’t tell me Watford won’t be a better player with another college year of development.”

Deep Throat took a deep drag from the cigarette until the glow faded like Robert Redford’s good looks.

“Besides,” he said, “it’s the second contract where you make the most money. You gotta produce for that to happen. Watford can’t produce if he sits the bench, which is the best he’ll do if he makes a NBA team, which he won’t next year. And playing in some developmental league outpost or in international obscurity won't be as big as another world-is-watching NCAA tourney opportunity.”

“Perhaps, but if Watford leaves, it solves the over-signed dilemma that has IU with 14 players and 13 scholarships,” we say, searching for a silver lining.

“Like that’s a major issue,” he said. “You know, money is temporary. Just ask Dennis Rodman and Mike Tyson. But a national championship, that’s forever.”

We heard a lot of slurping. This time an unlabeled bottle hit the garbage can top.

“Where did you get that stuff?” we asked.

“A friend.”

“What kind of friend makes rock-gut whiskey?”

“You ask too many bleeping questions,” Deep Throw said.

And then he was gone.


Verdell Jones can finally start the healing process.

Three weeks after he tore his ACL and ended his college basketball career, the senior guard had successful surgery to fix it.

Jones had the surgery Friday in Indianapolis by Thomas Klootwyk of Methodist Sports Medicine/The Orthopedic Specialists.

Jones, who hopes to resume his basketball career, averaged 7.5 points and 3.2 rebounds this season. He had one of the biggest assists in school history when he passed the ball to Watford for the game-winning three-pointer against top-ranked Kentucky.

Jones finished with 1,347 career points, 385 career rebounds and 389 career assists.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

NCAA Bound – Hoosiers Primed For Long Run

Can Indiana beat New Mexico State?

Or, for those who think outside the Cream ‘n Crimson box, can New Mexico State beat Indiana?

The answers to both questions are yes.

Yeah, it’s a lot like quantum physics, which basically states that really, really tiny particles are in two places at the same time, and that only the act of observing them locks them into place.

What does that have to do with the NCAA tourney?

Hey, we’ve had like two hours sleep in the last two weeks. It’s doing strange things to our thought process. We wrote a story calling New Mexico State the Lobos (which is actually the nickname of in-state rival New Mexico), which is almost as bad as calling Indiana the Boilers.

New Mexico State is really the Hoosiers.



They’re the Aggies. Seriously.

Anyway, New Mexico State went 26-9 in the WAC (Western Athletic Conference). It is an aggressive, athletic, diverse team -– coach Marvin Menzies has players from France, Canada and South Africa -- looking to make a name for itself and jump out of the shadow of its arch rival.

The Aggies earned an automatic bid into the NCAA tourney by crushing the competition in the WAC tournament. They beat Fresno State, Hawaii and Louisiana Tech in Las Vegas by an average of 17 points a game.

The motivation appeared to come from a series of players-only meetings, and boy did that work. New Mexico State out-rebounded its three opponents by 16.7 a game.

Technically, New Mexico State hasn’t won a NCAA tourney game since 1970. It did beat Nebraska in 1993, but that win was lost because of NCAA violations.

What does all this really mean? The Aggies are 1-6 against teams in the top 100 in RPI. That lone win came against New Mexico (they split two games with the Lobos).

They don’t shoot well (just 32.7 percent from three-point range), but they make up for it by attacking the rim and drawing fouls. They basically average 30 free throw attempts a game.

They defend the three-pointer really well, they crash the boards really well, and they get to the free throw line really well.

They also have a 6-6, 230-pound force of basketball nature in Wendell McKines, who averages 18.8 points and 10.8 rebounds.

Here’s how much he means to the team. He missed last season with a foot injury and the Aggies were 16-17. In 2010, with McKines, they made the NCAA tourney and nearly upset Michigan State in the first round, losing 70-67.

Then there’s 6-11, 245-pound center Haimidu Rahman (10.0 points, 5.9 rebounds), who shoots a ton of free throws (205), and makes about half. They have three players 6-10 or taller, so they are big.

Bottom line, if IU plays with poise, focus and intensity, tapping into the experience gained from Big Ten battles, it wins. If not, well, you know what that means.


Let’s say you have the urge to enter a NCAA tourney backet pool. Or, heaven forbid, want to BET on the NCAA tourney.

Not, of course, that we are promoting or endorsing such things.

But if you are of the mind to do so, consider that RJ Bell of, a nationally renowned sports bettor on what is promoted as “the largest sports betting news website compliant with U.S. law,” picks Indiana as an 80 to 1 shot to win the national championship.

Kentucky is the favorite with 3 to 1 odds. North Carolina is next at 7 to 1. Ohio State, which is a No. 2 seed in the tournament, is the third favorite at 8 to 1.

And, if you’re wondering, Purdue is a 200 to 1 shot.

Also, if you’re filling out a bracket, consider that No. 16 seeds are 0-108 in tournament history (actually, since 1985), while No. 15 seeds are 4-104.

Finally, more than $12 billion is expected to be wagered on the NCAA tourney, with $3 billion of that involved with tournament brackets.

Apparently a struggling economy has no affect on things that really matter.


IU is looking for a new women’s basketball coach. After three straight losing seasons, including a 6-24 disaster this season, the worst record in school history, Felisha Legette-Jack was fired.

Legette-Jack was a passionate, caring, charasmatic presence who couldn’t transfer that into on-court success. She wasn’t able to get the best in-state players to come to Indiana, a task made even more difficult with national powers Purdue and Notre Dame around.

Legette-Jack was on the edge after last season, but in a final effort to help jump start the program, athletic director Fred Glass gave her a two-year contract extension.

It didn’t help.

“After a deliberate and thorough review of all aspects of the women’s basketball program, including meeting with Felisha and interviews with all current players, I have concluded that under the current circumstances Felisha is no longer in a position to turn the program around,” Glass said said in a university release. “Delaying the inevitable isn’t fair to her, the program and its fans, and most importantly the student-athletes on this team.

“Felisha is a wonderful person who did many good things for our program, the University and the wider community. We all wish her much success in her future endeavors.”

Legette-Jack had success in her first three seasons, going 19-14, 18-15 and 21-11. That last season tied the school record for victories. IU just missed getting a NCAA tourney bid, but did reach the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT).

After that, IU went 14-16, 9-20 and 6-24. At one point the Hoosiers lost 18 straight Big Ten games.

Legette-Jack is owed $780,000 over the final three years of her contract.

“I am mindful that just last year I provided Felisha a two-year contract extension in the belief that such support would help her get the program going in the right direction again,” Glass said. “In retrospect, I was wrong. However, I am not going to compound that mistake by refusing to make the decision that now needs to be made.”

Glass will lead the search for IU’s next women’s basketball coach with the assistance of his staff, particularly Senior Associate Athletic Director Kevin Clark, who is the Sport Administrator for women’s basketball, and Senior Associate Athletic Director Julie Cromer, who is the Senior Women Administrator for the department. As always, Glass will also consult with the Athletics Committee of the Bloomington Faculty Council and many others including current and former players, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, the Black Coaches and Administrators Association, the Big Ten Conference and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Pending the appointment of a new head coach, Glass has organized a transition team to help oversee the women’s basketball program comprised of: Senior Associate Athletic Director Kevin Clark (Chair), Assistant Athletic Trainer Robert Black, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Tom Morris, Assistant Athletic Director for Academic Services Kelly Noonan and Academic Advisor Lorian Price.

IU women’s basketball has always been a challenge. Can Glass find someone up to the task? We’ll have to see.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

IU Postseason Prospects – Play Like It’s Assembly Hall

So here’s the deal as IU braces for the one-and-done pressure of postseason basketball –- can it play at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and every NCAA tourney site it gets, as if it was playing at Assembly Hall?

If the Hoosiers do, they can go a long, long way this March.

They should get at least a No. 4 NCAA tourney seed, perhaps even a No. 3. That means they would be positioned for at least a Sweet 16 berth.

“Positioned,” of course, guarantees nothing in this annual event. You never know when you’ll run into the next VCU, which stunned everybody -– including IU rival Purdue -– by reaching the Final Four.

VCU is back in the NCAA tourney field, by the way.

Still, IU has the potential to go far.

Tonight, of course, it gets the Big Ten tourney and Penn State, a team it’s already beaten twice. What makes the Nittany Lions dangerous is point guard Tim Frazier. He might be the quickest guard in the Big Ten, if not the nation. He will penetrate and get in the lane. If he is hitting his floater, and if his teammates make shots when he drives and dishes, the Hoosiers will be in trouble.

If they contain him, they’ll cruise.

Forward Christian Watford, all 6-9 of him, will get his shot at stopping Frazier, as will Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey.

“Frazier looks to score almost every time he has the ball,” Watford said. “Their offense runs through him. There’s no time to relax. He’s not looking to set up anybody else. It’s all him.”

Watford isn’t quick enough to stay with Frazier, but he can get physical with him.

“Yeah, if I catch him down in the paint, I will,” Watford said. “But when I’m out there (on the perimeter), you have to move your feet and try to beat him to the spot.”

IU has lost six straight Big Ten tourney games, two in the last three years to Penn State. The time has come to change that.

“(Winning a tourney game) would be big for us,” Oladipo said. “It’s been a while since we’ve done it. For what this program has gone through, it would be big.

“At the same time, if we win one, we can’t be satisfied. It would be just the beginning. But right now we’re focused on Penn State.”

Look for that focus to produce a double-digit victory.


So we know that Indiana will join with UCLA, Georgia and Georgetown to form the foundation for next November’s Legends Classic, which will allow those teams to play a few home games against what we assume will be patsies, then head to Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Barclays Center to a championship round against each other.

This 12-team event will give IU the best of both world’s -– pad the Assembly Hall record and do a bit of travel for a couple of neutral site contests.

Georgetown is a traditional power with 27 NCAA tourney appearnces. Under coach John Thompson III, the Hoyas are ranked No. 13 this week, just ahead of IU.

UCLA has won 11 national titles and made 18 Final Four appearnces. A few years ago it reached three straight Final Fours, but has struggled since then (although it did make the NCAA tourney field last year). Unless the Bruins win this week’s Pac-12 tourney title, they will miss the NCAA tourney. A blistering Sports Illustrated article suggested coach Ben Howland’s program has a lot of problems, so we’ll see where all that leads.

Georgia went to the NCAA tourney last year.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Izzo Over Crean – What’s Up With That?

Let’s just say the people at IU are not happy that Tom Crean did not win Big Ten coach of the year honors.

Michigan State’s Tom Izzo did via a vote from conference coaches and a conference media panel.

Izzo won because the Spartans shared the Big Ten title with Ohio State and Michigan. Usually, but not always, the coach of the championship team gets the award.

Based on that criteria, you could argue that Michigan’s John Beilein deserved it more. His Wolverines did more, with less, than Izzo and Ohio State’s Thad Matta.

All three teams tied at 13-5 in Big Ten play. Ohio State is ranked No. 7 with a 25-6 record. Michigan State is No. 8 with a 24-7 record. Michigan is No. 10 with a 23-8 record.

None of these coaches did as much as Crean did. The program was decimated after the Kelvin Sampson mess. IU lost 66 games in the next three years, including last year’s 12-20 mark.

Crean and his staff built up the talent (let’s just say the recruiting has been outstanding), developed the players and coached them into an impressive group. Adding Cody Zeller this season was the final piece.

Zeller, by the way, was league coaches’ pick as the Big Ten freshman of the yeare. The media panel picked Michigan point guard Trey Burke.

Anyway, Indiana was a force all season. It started 12-0, beat No. 1 Kentucky, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 5 Michigan State and No. 15 Michigan (those were the rankings at the time IU played them).

If not for a late meltdown at Nebraska (a REALLY bad loss) and poor play at home against Minnesota (the only Assembly Hall defeat) the Hoosiers would have tied for the league championship. They finished 24-7 (yes, the same overall record as Michigan State), 11-7 in the Big Ten. They are ranked No. 15.

Yes, we know. Every team can point to a loss or two that could have been a victory, but that misses the point, which is IU has come a long, long way. Nobody except the guys in the Cream ‘n Crimson locker room expected this kind of turnaround for this season.

Without Crean, this doesn’t happen.

During Crean’s Monday night radio show, assistant coach Steve McClain addressed that topic, and the fact Zeller wasn’t a unanimous freshman-of-the-year choice.

He called the coaching choice a “popularity contest.” He said, “There’s no question, when you look at where we’ve come, making the biggest improvement of a BCS school in the country, that’s disappointing.” He even suggested this is part of an overall mindset that was happy IU struggled and didn’t want to see the program return to national prominence.

Here’s specifically what he said on the radio show:

“What gets lost is you forget about the win at North Carolina State; you forget about the Kentucky win; the Notre Dame win; you forget about our start. Forget where we were a year ago to where we are today. It’s a popularity contest.

“There have been a lot of people who have enjoyed having Indiana down. All of them knew the day Tom Crean was hired, it was coming back. Maybe that doesn’t make some of those people happy.

“Whether it’s the all-conference teams, whether it’s the coach of the year, that’s what this team is. It’s a team. Cody, Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls.

“It amazes me that Cody is up for three national freshman of the year awards, but yet the media didn’t vote him as one of the best freshmen. Sometimes I don’t get all those things.

“There’s no question, when you look at where we’ve come, the biggest improvement of a BCS school in the country, that’s disappointing.”

Is there a conspiracy? It doesn't matter. The best thing IU could do is use that disappointment to fuel a long, long postseason run

It starts Thursday at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse against Penn State, a team the Hoosiers have beaten twice.


Zeller and Burke both had great performances last week and, as a result, shared Big Ten freshman of the week honors. Zeller averaged 15.5 points and 5.5 rebounds to lead the Hoosiers over Michigan State and Purdue. It was his seventh freshman of the week award.

Burke averaged 20.0 points, 3.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds as Michigan beat Illinois and Penn State, both on the road, to share the Big Ten title with Michigan State and Ohio State.

It’s the third straight week he won the award and his seventh of the season, as well.

As far as who had the better year, you could call it a wash.

Zeller leads IU in scoring (15.4 points), rebounding (6.4) and shooting (63.5 percent) and is on pace to break Matt Nover’s school record for accuracy (62.8 percent) set in 1993.

Even though he has yet to take a three-point shot, Zeller’s inside presence has helped the Hoosiers go from 162nd in the country last year in three-point shooting to third this season, at a Big Ten-leading 43.2 percent.

“When you talk about Cody’s impact,” coach Tom Crean said, “a lot of it doesn’t show up statistically. So much shows up in how we’ve played. It’s a lot of the same players getting better, but a lot is Cody making others better.

“It’s unique when somebody can play the position he plays, fill a stat sheet like he does, impact a game on both ends of the floor, and can make everybody better. All you have to do is look at our record a year ago (12-20) and what it is now. He’s the one who has played the most of anybody new on the team. That impact speaks for itself.”

Burke also made an impressive impact. As a freshman, he took over running the Michigan show even though this was a veteran group. He averaged 14.5 points and was second in the Big Ten in assists. That is EXTREMELY difficult to do.

As Purdue coach Matt Painter said, “Both are great players. It’s a great argument on which is better.”

Zeller and Burke also made the Big Ten all-freshman team.

Victor Oladipo made the Big Ten all-defensive team, as he should have. He led the team in steals (46) and in defensive deflections. He always guarded the opposing team’s best perimeter player.

Plus, he became a primary ballhandler down the stretch and really picked up his offense, averaging 14.8 points in the last seven games. That earned him Big Ten honorable mention acclaim.

Also making honorable mention were Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. Watford ranks second on the team in scoring (11.8) and rebounding (5.6), while shooting 79.3 percent from the line. His buzzer-beating three-pointer defeated No. 1 Kentucky 73-72 in December. He has 1,199 career points.

Hulls averages 11.1 points and 3.4 assists. He ranks second in the Big Ten in three-point shooting (48.0 percent). He’s among the league leaders in free throw shooting (88.9 percent). Hulls also was named IU’s Sportsmanship Award winner. He’s a finalist for the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

On Beating the Boilers; Senior Goodbyes; Anonymous Comments

The Hoosiers get a chance to earn a No. 5 Big Ten seed, and a likely Thursday Big Ten tourney showdown with Penn State, by beating Purdue tonight.

Given the way they’ve played at Assembly Hall this season, especially last Tuesday’s win over Michigan State, they should win.

Still, the Boilers (20-10) are surging at the right time. They have won five of their last six games, and the home loss to Michigan State came without Kelsey Barlow and D.J. Byrd because of a West Lafayette bar incident.

Barlow was kicked off the team and that’s been a Purdue boost because it’s given more time to sophomore guard Terone Johnson, who has responded very well. Byrd is back after that one game suspension and has rivaled standout forward Robbie Hummel as the team’s best player in the last month.

Hummel, by the way, is playing as good as anyone in the conference, including likely MVP Draymond Green of Michigan State.

Plus, coach Matt Painter has really pushed how badly the Hoosiers out-hustled the Boilers at Mackey Arena last month. His teams have always been known for playing hard, and when another team comes in and plays harder, as IU did (Painter said the Hoosiers played “like it meant more to them”), well, he’s used that as a motivational tool.

This is going to be a feisty, furious, ultra-intense game. The Assembly Hall crowd is really going to be into it.

Here’s what Crean had to say about that:

"I think the atmosphere will be incredible. It will be one of the best that we've witnessed and deservedly so. Our fans are excited. They've been phenomenal for four years, let alone this year, so I think it will be a tremendous atmosphere. One where we've got to stay really focused on what we're doing -- which is the game plan and how hard you have to play and how tough you have to be. That's what our focus is more than anything else."

In other words, it’s a game to see who’s going to be more man than the other guy.

You gotta love it.


Tonight will be the last home games for Verdell Jones, Tom Pritchard, Matt Roth, Daniel Moore and Kory Barnett.

Yes, that means they will be giving post-game speeches, so brace yourself for a long night.

Jones will go down as one of the top scorers in school history. He could break into the top 20 all-time with 62 more points. He’s at No. 23 with 1,340. Ahead of him are Uwe Blab (1,357), Andrae Patterson (1,365) and Jimmy Rayl (1,401).

Pritchard will finish with around 300 career points and more than 250 rebounds. If it's not quite what you expected after a freshman season in which he averaged 9.7 points and 6.4 rebounds, he's still been a solid contributor for a team that is headed for NCAA tourney opportunity.

Oh, yes. He's had a couple of monster dunks.

Here’s what Crean had to say about them”

"They epitomize what happens when you really stick with it, when you work hard, when you're dedicated, when you don't expect things to be handed to you. I don't know all of the Indiana tradition, but I would think that the one thing that this group has done that stays constant with the Indiana tradition is none of them were ever handed anything. They've had to earn everything.

“No matter what the tradition was, no matter who was here, no matter what the records were -- if you come to Indiana, you have to earn your way in and I think that's exactly what our guys have done.

“They've just continued to get better and better. They've been excellent citizens. These guys have continued to respond to everything that's been thrown at them and everything that they've been asked to do and they just continue to improve on it."


By now you’ve probably seen the Seth Davis’ column that used anonymous Big Ten assistant coaches to analyze each team. The Sports Illustrate piece addressed Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, Verdell Jones and Jordan Hulls.

The comments about Watford had to be made before Tuesday’s Michigan State game, during which Watford scored, rebounded, defended and did everything else but get Rush Limbaugh to shut up.

It said, “he’s been struggling lately. I don’t think he’s playing with confidence anymore.”

That might have been true for the Iowa and North Carolina Central games (during which he went a combined 0-for-13 for three total points), but it’s not true now.

It said Verdell Jones “has been in the doghouse,” apparently because he’s not starting anymore. He’s not starting because Victor Oladipo has become a primary ballhandler (and is playing like one of the Big Ten’s best guards) and because Will Sheehey is defending out of his mind. Jones still gets about the same 25 minutes per game he has all season.

It said Zeller’s “moves are pretty predictable, but he’s a tough kid and he’s relentless. He’s as good a freshman as I’ve seen. He does everything and he’s got a little nasty in him.”

Predictable moves or not, Zeller is, along with Michigan’s Trey Burke, a favorite for Big Ten freshman of the year. Either one is worthy. Given the importance of point guards in today’s game, you could make the argument that Burke should get it. But when you consider the overall impact Zeller has made -– he’s helped dramatically improve IU’s three-point shooting because of his inside presence even though he hasn’t taken a three-pointer all year –- it would be hard not to pick him.

Oh, maybe it’s about time Zeller at least tried a three-pointer. He made them in high school and travel ball. It would give defenses something else to worry about, which might come in handy in the postseason.

Just a thought.

Finally, the Davis column wasn’t nice to IU’s defense in general, that of Hulls in particular. It said, “I don’t think they defend.” Then it said, “Jordan Hulls might be the worst defender in Division I.”

That seems harsh because it is harsh, but here’s the truth –- Hulls lacks the lateral quickness to defend good Big Ten guards. Let’s face it, there are a lot of really good Big Ten guards. That’s why, whoever he is guarding will attack the rim.

IU counters by putting him on guys least likely to drive, but you can only do so much.

Hulls always tries. When he’s really focused and dialed in, he can slow guys down. But to do it for 40 minutes, well, it ain’t gonna happen.

No matter. He does enough other good things -– like shoot, pass and lead -– to make up for it.

He'll prove it tonight against Purdue

Friday, March 2, 2012

No-Brainer – Crean Should Be Big Ten Coach of the Year

The regular season ends Sunday, which means Big Ten awards are coming, and one of the biggest will be coach of the year.

In the Big Ten, the choices seem clear –- Indiana’s Tom Crean, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Michigan’s John Beilein.

All three men have directed their teams to top-20 status. All have done what all good coaches do –- get their guys to play to their potential and, at times, just a little bit more.

Let’s look at the credentials of each.

Izzo has won before and will win again. He’s a strong recruiter who constantly mines the strong talent of Michigan, and occasionally taps into that of nearby states.

Yes, that means Indiana. This year Gary’s Branden Dawson is a freshman. Hamilton Southeastern’s Gary Harris is coming next season.

Last year the Spartans grossly underachieved. Not this season. They are the only Big Ten team to be undefeated at home. They have won at Ohio State and at Wisconsin. When is the last time somebody has done that in the same season?

They have do-everything forward Draymond Green, who should be the conference MVP. They have a bunch of big, strong, fast, athletic guys who understand how to play the game. They have won close and won by blowout. They are, by far, the league’s best rebounding team, and that intensity is a direct reflection of the passionate Izzo.

Michigan State is 24-6 overall and 13-4 in the Big Ten. It already has clinched a share of the conference title and can win it outright with a home victory against Ohio State this weekend.

Michigan (22-8, 12-5) can win a share of the Big Ten title if it wins at Penn State this weekend and Ohio State beats Michigan State. It’s done this with a freshman at point guard. Yes, Trey Burke is no ordinatry freshman, but still. To have the poise, patience and vision to put up the kind of numbers he has -– he’s second in the Big Ten in assists (4.8) and in the top-15 in the league in scoring (14.2) –- is impressive.

Beilein is a veteran coach whose unique approach to offense and defense makes his teams hard to beat. He’s dialed back the 1-3-1 zone he’s used so often in the past, but still relies heavily on three-pointers. He wants a team full of guys who can consistently hit from beyond the arc. He’s also ratcheted up his recruiting, which in part reflects the way Michigan has ratcheted up its facilities.

The Wolverines are poised to be really good for a really long time.

That leaves Crean. The guy is reaping the rewards after enduring three straight seasons of misery. He stayed true to his beliefs and approach, and payoff has arrived a year early.

The Hooisers are 23-7 overall and 10-7 in the Big Ten. They have won six of their last seven games. If they beat Purdue on Saturday and make at least the semifinals of next week’s conference tourney, they might earn a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

IU has beaten No. 1 Kentucky, No.2 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan State, plus No. 15 Michigan. Yes, all were at home, but how many teams could do that?

Remember, the Hoosiers opened the season 12-0 and soared to No. 7 in the country before Big Ten reality hit them, as it has every team this season. There’s a reason why the Big Ten is considered the nation’s best conference.

Indiana is a year ahead of schedule. After three straight 20-loss seasons, by far the worst stretch in school history, logic suggested a NIT berth this season, and then start rolling.

But the Hoosiers wanted no part of logic. They believed in their improvement and the impact freshman forward Cody Zeller would have. They wanted to win big now and they have.

This is a direct reflection of Crean's coaching.

Crean has upgraded the talent, and when you look at his continued recruiting, shows no signs of slowing down. Like Michigan, IU is poised to be really good for a really long time.

The bottom line -– the Big Ten coach of the year is a no-brainer. It has to be Crean. You can make a very strong argument that he should be national coach of the year.

In fact, we just did.


Thanks for all the comments letting me know that Crean did not mean “WARDROBE” but “WAR DRILL” when he talked about Michigan State and its “infamous war drill comes to life.”

Most of the comments nicely corrected us. One was not so nice. It happens.

When you reach a certain age, what you hear and what is said can get confusing. In fact, a lot of things get confusing.

At least, so we have been told.

Just who know that it would happen at age 29?