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

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