Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Freshmen Key For Big Indiana Basketball Success

By now you know the Indiana Hoosiers are not considered the preseason basketball big dogs of the Big Ten. That honor goes to Michigan State and Michigan.

IU lost four thousand-point scorers -- Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Victor Oladiopo and Cody Zeller -- plus valuable reserve forward Derek Elston. A couple of veterans -- Remy Abell and Maurice Creek -- transferred.

Much of the burden for this year will fall to veterans Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey. Both got a big jump on that by playing for Team USA in the recently concluded World University Games in Russia. Sheehey, last year’s Big Ten 6th man of the year, displayed an improved offense that included scoring 20 points in the tourney finale. Ferrell showed he does have three-point range, although it must be consistent for him to be a dominant offensive player in the manner of, say, Trey Burke.

But when it comes down to it, the Cream 'n Crimson key is the newcomer impact.

Veteran Evan Gordon has one year to show that transferring to his third college was a wise move. He’s a career double-figure scorer who will provide much needed backcourt stability, leadership and production.

Still, just how good Indiana is this season depends on the six freshmen, who comprise a top-10 recruiting class. Forward Noah Vonleh has instant impact potential, which is what you’d expect from a top-10 recruit. He can rebound, block shots and play defense. If he’s not yet Cody Zeller’s equal in offensive skill, he just might be in work ethic.

There’s a lot of promise in Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, Luke Fischer, Devin Davis and Collin Hartman.

But since these guys train in private, we don’t really know how they’re doing. That’s where associate head coach Tim Buckley comes in. He has provided insight into what this freshman class could deliver.

“I’d say this group is more highly credentialed than any of the previous groups,” he said. “That’s why it’s important that this group continues to keep that edge to be great, because that’s what the other groups had. They had that edge.

“They love confrontation at the rim. They love to go after it, to try to block shots or take charges. It’s a very competitive group."

Then Buckley offered an assessment on each freshman.

“Starting with Noah. Physically, he’s college ready. He’s very strong. He’s very powerful. He’s very polished around the basket and explosive. He’s going to continue to develop his perimeter game. In my humble opinion, it was a great decision on his part to come here because that’s what we’ve been able to do. That’s where Cody will excel in the NBA because he was put on the perimeter to drive the ball and shoot. Those are areas he’ll continue to develop and grow.

“His attitude is as good as anyone I’ve ever seen, especially for someone as highly credentialed as he is. He wants to learn. He wants to get better. He wants to know, what more can I do.

“Stan Robinson fits the motor part. He’ll given you everything he has on a consistent basis. Sometimes he goes too fast, but it’s a lot easier to slow guys down than hurry them up.

“His skill level will get better. Right now he’s pretty left-hand dominant, but we’re going to continue to work on that right hand. I think he’s going to be a very good shooter once the repetition of his shooting exceeds the pressure of the game and the pressure of the practices. He’ll be a quality defender once he learns the schemes.

“Troy Williams is a spectacular athlete, but he is as good a passer as he is an athlete. It’s neat to watch. When he’s playing in 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 situations, he finds the open man and he sees things maybe a play ahead. Once he gets his rhythm down with his shooting that will improve. When he gets to point where people don’t know whether to close on him hard or back off, that’s when he’s really going to have the defense at his mercy.

“Devin Davis is a better player than most people think. He’s a hybrid, a mismatch type of guy. He’s more athletic than he looks. He’ll go up and dunk it and surprise you with that at times. He’s also pretty good at putting the ball on the floor. He does a great job of reading the defense as a freshman. He knows where you’re playing him and how you’re playing him, to spin or counter with another move.

“Collin is a knock-down shooter. He’s going to continue to expand his game a little bit. One thing he can’t get away from is making those shots when he’s open and when he’s available to take those.

“Luke Fischer has gotten bigger and stronger. He’s already put on seven or eight pounds since he’s been here. He’s a winner. Having gone undefeated the past two seasons (in high school in Wisconsin). He’s going to stretch and grow. He’s more likely, than the other big guys we’ve had here recently, to step out and shoot. He’s got to get better at it, but he seems more comfortable at it than some of the other big guys.”

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hoosiers Hot After Basketball Recruiting Prospects

So here was Tom Crean in Indianapolis, in Philadelphia, why not Georgia, and back in Indianapolis, all in the span of five days.

When you’re seeking to land another top-10 college basketball recruiting class, the frequent traveler miles add up.

The Indiana coach isn’t alone, of course. Coaches from all across America just wrapped up the first of July’s three five-day evaluation periods and there’s plenty at stake, which means every coach needs to spend lots of time sitting on uncomfortable bleachers being visible so teenagers will know they care.

Hey, earning millions of dollars a year has it’s glitches, not that we’ll ever know personally about that.

Anyway, the Hoosiers have just one committed player for the Class of 2014, and that’s guard James Blackmon, who pledged to the Cream ‘n Crimson before his high school freshman year.

They’re after a bunch of outstanding players, both in the Class of 2014, and beyond, and they are well positioned to land them.

They are taking a strong look at Michael Humphrey, a 6-10 Class of 2014 center from Phoenix (’s Jeff Rabjohns was the first to get this). They have joined powerhouses such as Kentucky, Kansas and Louisville in offering Stephen Zimmerman, the 7-foot Las Vegas center rated No. 2 nationally in the Class of 2016.

They are pushing hard for Quentin Goodin, a Class of 2016 Kentucky guard whose family allegiance is firmly split between Louisville and Kentucky. They are after Colorado forward De’Ron Davis and Colorado guard Austin Conway, both in the Class of 2015.

And they absolutely are all over Class of 2016 guard Eron Gordon, the younger brother of Eric and Evan.

Oh, yes. How can you pass up a chance to land a 6-10 power forward with the name of Goodluck Okonoboh? Crean can’t, and has a strong chance of landing this Class of 2014 standout. It certainly doesn’t hurt that his former travel ball teammate, Noah Vonleh, is now a Hoosier freshman.

And don’t forget talented Indiana Elite 2015 guards Hyron Edwards and Jalen Coleman. They helped Indiana Elite win the 16U division at Indianapolis’ adidas Invitational.

Yes, the competition for these players is strong, but IU under Crean has proven it can more than hold its own. Figure the Hoosiers will wind up with another top-10 class.

Of course, Crean and his staff haven’t forgotten the players already on campus. The players are engaged in a typically energetic summer of  strength training, conditioning, basketball skill development and playing.

That doesn’t include Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell, who helped the U.S. to a solid -- but not medal winning -- effort in Russia as part of the World University Games.

So how has the Cream 'n Crimson summer gone?

“It’s been amazing,” director of basketball operations Calbert Cheaney said. “We have all six of our freshmen in and also we have (Arizona transfer) Evan Gordon in. Workouts are going great. The kids are doing very well. They’ve adjusted to the educational part of it. Going to class and managing their time, so it’s been a very productive summer.”

We’ll have more on this in the next few days.


Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog. The reason -- too many projects, ranging from IU-related topics, to book writing (let’s just say it’s a challenge making the ancient Roman emperor Nero kid friendly) to sports videos to a quest to convince my son that there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom and much more.

A cynic could say, man up you lazy SOB, but who needs cynicism in a world that offers the Pittsburgh Pirates on pace to win 100 Major League baseball games.

Anyway, I will try to be more consistently from now on, although there might be a break at the end of the month when I take my annual trip to Colorado to do manly stuff such as hiking, biking, white water rafting and, of course, proving once and for all that Bigfoot is real and not a myth.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Does IU Deserve a No. 1 Ahead of Louisville?

If Jordan Hulls were the Czar of NCAA basketball, he knows exactly who he’d put as the No. 1 seed of all the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, that would be the Indiana Hoosiers.

Or course, that would immediately cause an outcry and calls for a federal investigation given Hulls is a senior guard for IU. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an opinion that starts with IU being a No. 1 seed.

“I think we are, but it doesn’t matter what I think,” he said.

Those who matter are part of the NCAA selection committee. Their job is to fill the 68-team tournament that is set to dominate the sporting world for the next three weeks.

IU is in position to be the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional, which almost certainly would mean opening round games in Dayton and then, if it wins those, a trip to Indianapolis for the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight.
In other words, given how well Cream ‘n Crimson fans will travel to those locations, the Hoosiers would have, in essence, four home games to earn a trip to their first Final Four in 11 years.

“That would be a good experience to stay close,” Hulls said. “Hopefully it does happen, but we’ve just got to get better.”

That’s an understatement after IU suffered a season-worst 68-56 loss to Wisconsin in Saturday’s Big Ten tourney semifinals. It is just 3-3 in its last six games. While the selection committee is supposed to look at the overall body of work, it won’t miss that closing streak in its deliberations.

REALITY CHECK: Those six games were against Big Ten teams, which are part of the best conference in the nation. In other words, that’s not nearly as bad as if it came against, say, Atlantic Sun competition.

Anyway, the Hoosiers have shown some vulnerability. That puts it on equal footing with the rest of America. Parity is everywhere you look and a dominate team doesn’t exist. The blather that Duke was unbeatable now that Ryan Kelly had returned took a big hit when Maryland upset Duke with Kelly in the ACC tourney.

So who is the best of the best? You could do a lot worse than the outright winner of the Big Ten, which IU is. Still, with Louisville winning the Big East tourney with an amazing comeback against Syracuse, the Cardinals could supplant the Hoosiers in the No. 1 pecking order.

What would that mean? You could have Louisville No. 1 in the Midwest, which would put it in Indianapolis for the Sweet 16. You could have IU No. 1 in the East, which would put it in Washington D.C. for the Sweet 16.

All that assumes, of course, that there are no major upsets.

So is Louisville better than IU? Specifically, is its body of work better than that of the Hoosiers?

Louisville has a strength of schedule of No. 8. Its RPI is three. It has a 9-4 record against RPI top-50 teams. It is 14-5 against the top 100 in RPI and its worst loss was to Notre Dame, which is No. 36 in RPI. It has beaten four top 25 in RPI teams, including two on the road.

Indiana has a No. 5 RPI, with a strength of schedule at No 11. It has a 9-5 record against top-50 teams, 13-5 against those in the top 100. Its worst loss was to Illinois (a No. 37 RPI).The Hoosiers also seven victories against RPI top 25 teams, including three on the road.

If you believe’s Joe Lunardi, Louisville will be No. 1 in the Midwest with IU No. 1 in the East.

The Hoosiers can’t do anything about that, but they can improve the flaws that erupted against Wisconsin. They can defend better, rebound better and just play tougher.

"We'll learn from it," said forward Cody Zeller. "We'll figure out what we did wrong. We'll make the corrections and get ready for next week because that's what's most important."

Zeller couldn’t be more right.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Indiana Necessity -- Beat Michigan, Save No. 1 Seed

The call came just before midnight. Hoosier Deep Throat, after a long break, needed to talk.

We met in a long forgotten basement hidden underneath what used to be called the HPER Building, and what is now called, well, whatever.

An obscure metal door (decorated by a faded black-and-white photo of a young Branch McCracken) led to a stairway that must have been old when Bob Knight was terrorizing elementary school classmates.

The basement was littered with a shattered TV, a busted radio and torn up Sports Illustrated covers of Kate Upton in Antarctica. Cigarette smell hung heavy in the air. A single light bulb swayed from either an earthquake or stomping feet.

Hoosier Deep Throat (above is one of the few known photos of him), it seemed, was ticked. We knew why.

“How could they have blown that game?” he asked from a dark shadow that revealed nothing.

“Perhaps a better question,” we said, pointing to the torn SI covers, “was how could you do that to Kate Upton?”

We heard a swallowing sound. An empty shot glass bounced our way. We smelled rock-gut whiskey. Hoosier Deep Throat was really taking this Ohio State loss hard. Or, less likely, he didn’t like our sense of humor.

“There’s no way, with an outright Big Ten title at stake, with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament at stake, you play like that!” Hoosier Deep Throat shouted. A match flared. The tip of a cigarette glowed almost as brightly as ESPN sideline reporter Sam Ponder’s diamond ring.

“Indiana got out-toughed, out-rebounded, out-hustled, out-played, out-executed, out-run, out everything!” Hoosier Deep Throat shouted. "It was out-scored 14-2 on fast-break points. That CAN'T HAPPEN!"

Another empty shot glass flew past us. It smelled like Schlitz beer, which was popular when Watergate was big news and women preferred 6 Million Dollar TV Men.

How do we know what Schlitz beer smells like and are we old enough to remember the 6 Million Dollar Man?

You ask too many questions.

“Maybe you should look at the big picture,” we said. “Indiana is 25-5. It’s been ranked No. 1 for a big chunk of the season. A win at Michigan might make it the best of the No. 1 seeds. It’s been a great year.”

Hoosier Deep Throat said nothing.

“You’re only as good as your last performance,” we added. We pride ourselves on the quality of our clich├ęs.

Hoosier Deep Throat’s glowing cigarette end shot off sparks of red and white.

"Indiana's season is like driving the length of the field in football," he said, spitting out the words like bullets. "You get to the 5-yard line, and you knock it in for a touchdown. You don't settle for a field goal or turn it over. You finish the bleeping job. You win the Big Ten outright and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tourney and the NCAA Tournament the right way. You don't back in because of a silly tiebreaker."

He paused. Somewhere in the basement darkness, a cricket chirped three times. 

“And then there was the net cutting deal!” He was raging now. “Are you kidding me? Whose knuckle-headed idea was that? They lost a bleeping game and a big bleeping opportunity. You wanna cut nets -- win. You wanna celebrate something -- win! Don’t do it after playing soft down the stretch. When it mattered most, Indiana had more turnovers than a bleeping bakery.”

Hoosier Deep Throat crushed out a cigarette and lit up another.

“Looks like I picked the wrong bleeping week to quit smoking,” he said. He took a deep drag.

"You know those things will kill you," we said.

"Watching another performance like Ohio State will do that first," he said.

The good news -- he was starting to calm down.

“According to Tom Crean, the net cutting was to honor the group that brought the program back from the Kelvin Sampson mess,” we said. “It was earned through a season of hard work, and school officials wanted to reward the players.”

“Reward them if they win, make them practice all night if they lose," Hoosier Deep Throat said. "That’s what Coach K did when Duke got hammered at Miami earlier this season. If you don't like it, join a knitting club.”

“We’re not even going to go there,” we said. “Look, everybody would have preferred a win, but you don’t always get what you want. Just ask the Rolling Stones.”

“Is that supposed to be bleeping funny!” Hoosier Deep Throat shouted so loud we thought his vocal cords would explode. We knew enough to shut up.

“Indiana’s been talking about winning a national championship all season,” Hoosier Deep Throat said. “It takes a special group to do that. A tough group. A group that peaks in March and the beginning of April rather than February. These guys ain’t been the same since winning at Michigan State. Maybe all the glory made them soft. Maybe they forgot where they came from.”

He stomped his cigarette to bits; lit up another.

“You know what boils my butt. It’s a two-point game with five minutes left Tuesday night, so make the plays and win the sucker. That’s what a national champion does, especially at home. They didn't come close to doing that.”

Hoosier Deep Throat began pacing, shadows swirling around him like storm clouds. So much for him calming down.

“Indiana can still win the Big Ten outright by winning at Michigan on Sunday,” we said, using the same soothing tone a dentist uses before tearing a tooth out of your jaw. “It can still earn a NCAA tourney No. 1 seed, get a close early round location, get a Sweet 16 berth in Indianapolis and wind up at the Final Four in Atlanta. It’s all there for the Hoosiers.”

Hoosier Deep Throat stopped pacing. Shadows thickened around him.

“I ain’t stupid. I know that. But that’s just talk. And there’s a bunch more talk about IU clinching the Big Ten tourney No. 1 seed if Michigan State beats Wisconsin tonight. All that does is weaken resolve. It ain’t about somebody else losing. It’s about you winning. We need to kick Michigan's bleep!"

He stomped his foot. The light bulb twirled as if caught in a tornado.

“This is head knocking time," he said. "And if the Hoosiers don’t start knocking some bleep, they’re gonna end up a No. 2 or No. 3 seed at some place that sells Schlitz by the bleeping wine glass!”

A deep, uncomfortable silence followed. It was the kind you hear when an adult admits to being a Justin Bieber fan, not that we’re admitting we know what that actually sounds like.

“Look the Big Ten is brutally tough,” we said. “Look what happened to Michigan at Penn State or Wisconsin against Purdue. The selection committee understands that. A potential 14-4 record in a conference this strong will go a long way with them. So will a 13-5 mark. And no matter what happens on Sunday or in the Big Ten tourney, IU will be VERY well prepared for any team and situation in the NCAA Tournament. All things are very much possible.”

A wine glass rolled toward us. Silence followed. Hoosier Deep Throat was gone. His message, however, was not.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

'Locked-in' IU Set To Clinch Outright Big Ten Title

Do not think, for one minute, that Indiana is going to blow this Big Ten opportunity.

The Hoosiers understand the opportunity. Win tonight at home against Ohio State and they earn their first outright conference title since 1993. Win Sunday at Michigan, where no visiting team has won all season, and they almost certainly clinch the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tourney.

First, though, comes the No. 14 Buckeyes. IU smacked them around last month in Value City Arena. They’d love to return the favor tonight, especially on Senior Night in the final home games for Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Derek Elston.

That won’t happen.

The Hoosiers reached this position last weekend after beating Iowa on Saturday, and then, just as practice was beginning on Sunday, learning that Michigan State and Wisconsin had lost. That meant IU had a 13-3 Big Ten record with two games to go, while Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan were tied for second with 11-5 marks. Indiana had clinched at least a co-championship, its 21st. Only Purdue, with 22, has won more in Big Ten history.

Crean watched Michigan hold off Michigan State in his Cook Hall office as his players were warming up, then joined them with the news.

"We're extremely excited about the fact that we have clinched at least a share of this going into this week, a big week obviously with a home game against Ohio State and a road game to finish up the regular season at Michigan," Crean said. "The great thing about our guys is once they learned it, they were excited, but within minutes went right back to work inside of practice. It is kind of a microcosm of how this season has gone. They've really been locked into moment and what's most important, which is getting better.

"We're excited to be where we are at but we know there's a lot more things to accomplish, and I think that's what makes it exciting to go through with this group because they really want to improve and get better."

That starts with beating Ohio State (21-7 overall) to avoid having to share the title. Michigan State was in the same position last year with two games to go and lost them both.

“It’s something that we’ve been working for all year, so it’s obviously exciting for us,” forward Cody Zeller said. “But it’s only a share of the Big Ten championship. We were right back to work to getting this win and having it all to ourselves.”

That it would also mean a lot to the seniors, who endured so much losing in their first two seasons, is another motivator.

“They just deserve it the most of pretty much anyone on the team,” freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell said. “Just what they’ve gone through, to do something we haven’t done in so many years, to win this for them is gonna feel special to us, but to them too.”

Added Zeller: “It would mean a lot, because we’ve only heard stories of all the stuff they’ve gone through before me and Yogi were here. I know it would mean a lot to them.”

IU’s loss last week at Minnesota knocked it down just one spot, to No. 2 behind Gonzaga.

Crean was asked during the Big Ten teleconference if he was surprised that such a tradition-rich program as Indiana hadn’t won an outright conference title since 1993.

"I don't really think of it like that. I think it shows it's a hard league and all we can focus on is what we have in the seasons that we've been here," Crean said. "When you think about 1993, all the things that have transpired in the league, it goes to show how great this league has been over a period of time.

"There's been a lot of great teams, and Indiana has been one of them for a long time. Our focus has been: How do we keep doing what we've been doing and how do we do it even better? There's not been a lot of time spent on what didn't happen before we were here."

Crean has endured his own Cream ‘n Crimson tribulations. IU had three straight 20-loss seasons, the worst stretch in a program history that stretches well past a hundred years, as he rebuilt from the Kelvin Sampson mess.

The Hoosiers went 27-9 and reached the Sweet 16 last year. Now their 25-4 overall and positioned to win a national championship.

"The one thing that all of us have learned that came from different programs and came to Indiana and dealt with everything that happened is you never take winning for granted,” Crean said. “Ever. When you lose it, it is so hard to get it back. You have to work that much harder to get it back. Our fans need to really look at it as there's a ton of excitement around it right now, let's remember where we were. Let's not take anything for granted and let's keep building on what's been happening."


Big news for Indiana’s football program: it has landed a four-star receiver in Taj Williams from Florida. He’s part of the 2013 class. That means coach Kevin Wilson now has five four-star players in this 23-player group.

The 6-4 Williams is rated as the nation’s No. 25 receiver according to, a national Internet recruiting service that first broke the news. He picked Indiana over Notre Dame, Alabama, Florida, Florida State and others.

Monday, March 4, 2013

IU Clinches Big Ten Title -- Now Keep Going

Indiana won a championship by doing nothing.

In a manner of speaking.

The Hoosiers earned their 21st Big Ten title on what was, at least from a game standpoint, a day of rest. When Wisconsin lost a stunning home game to previously struggling Purdue, when Michigan State lost at Michigan, both happening on Sunday, IU clinched at least a tie for the conference crown.

Indiana, of course, did its job by beating Iowa on Saturday.

It is 13-3 with two games remaining -- Tuesday against Ohio State at Assembly Hall; Sunday at Michigan.

Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan are all 11-5.

The Hoosiers haven’t won any kind of Big Ten title since 2002, when under coach Mike Davis they went on to the national championship game, losing to Maryland. Their last outright Big Ten crown came in 1993. They can duplicate that by beating the Buckeyes or the Wolverines.

Beat the Buckeyes and get it over with.

All this is great. It’s a major accomplishment given where the program was just a couple of years ago, when Kelvin Sampson ruined things with his phone call habits and his knack for recruiting, at least in part, the wrong kind of guys.

Only Purdue, with 22 Big Ten titles, has won more than Indiana.

So now let’s get to the big picture -- win these last two games and clinch a No. 1 NCAA tourney seed.

That’s the ultimate goal. A No. 1 seed gets you to opening round games in either Dayton or Lexington. Assuming IU would be No. 1 in the Midwest Regional, it would then play Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in Indianapolis.

The Final Four is in Atlanta.

The Hoosiers don’t want to add uncertainty by losing. If they would lose at Michigan, which is undefeated at home this season, and then lose in the Big Ten tourney, that very well could knock them to a No. 2 NCAA tourney seed.

Yes, you could argue that IU (25-4 overall) already has done enough to earn a No. 1 NCAA tourney seed. It is 5-0 against ranked Big Ten teams and is 6-2 on the conference road.

That’s especially impressive given the Big Ten is, by far, the best conference in America.

Still, if the Hoosiers would lose at Michigan and then in the conference tourney in Chicago, coupled with last week’s loss at Minnesota, that would given the NCAA selection committee a chance to move another team into a No. 1 seed.

For now, it seems Gonzaga and Duke are No. 1 locks.

Gonzaga is 29-2 and 11-2 against teams in the top 100 RPI. Its only losses are to Illinois and Butler (on a last-second shot at Hinkle Fieldhouse).

Duke is 25-4 and just got forward Ryan Kelly back from a foot injury. That’s the same Kelly who scored 36 points to beat Miami in his first game back.

If Indiana stumbles down the stretch, it could get passed by Kansas (25-4), Georgetown (23-4), Louisville (24-5) or even Michigan (24-5).

The best Cream ‘n Crimson scenario is to win this week’s games and make the Big Ten tourney irrelevant as far as the NCAA selection committee is concerned. That would mean IU would have won its last three games and seven of its last eight, including a road victory at Michigan. It would provide just the kind of momentum you want entering postseason play.

The Hoosiers are right where they want to be. They just need to finish the regular season job.

That starts Tuesday night against Ohio State.


Indiana has opened its spring football practice. Optimism is high the Hoosiers can finally return to bowl relevance by winning at least six games.

They return a ton of players (including quarterback Tre Roberson). They went 1-11 in coach Kevin Wilson’s first season, 4-8 in his second. They lost heart breakers to Ball State, Navy and Michigan State – and that was despite not having Roberson (he missed most of the season with a broken leg) and a ridiculously bad defense (it gave up 163 points in its last three games and allowed 231.3 rushing yards in every game).

IU will open its season on a Thursday night when it hosts Indiana State on Aug. 29. It’s the third time the Hoosiers have opened on a Thursday night. They beat Eastern Kentucky in 2009 and Towson in 2010.

They also have eight home games. The others are Navy (Sept. 7), Bowling Green (Sept. 14), Missouri (Sept. 21), Penn State (Oct. 5), Minnesota (Nov. 2), Illinois (Nov. 9) and Purdue (Nov. 30).

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Indiana Rules -- No Hypothetical If Beat Gophers; Mark Deal Honored

If you’ve seen the Big Ten basketball standings lately, you know Indiana rules. It has a two-game lead with four games to play. It is poised to achieve its No. 1 regular season goal – well, an unbeaten season would have been nice, but those days are long gone in this era of extreme parity – by winning its first conference championship since 2002 and its 21st overall.

SMALL FACT: in a Monday column, and because of our inability to count, we had IU with 18 Big Ten titles instead of 20. A WHOLE bunch of people let us know the error of our ways.

Anyway, controlling your own destiny is nice, unless you let yourself get caught up in all the excitement and, yes pressure.

Coach Tom Crean isn’t about to let his No. 1 Hoosiers, the guys with the 24-3 record, 12-2 Big Ten mark and four-game winning streak, to get distracted by all of that. He understands tonight’s challenge at Minnesota, a former top-10 team that has lost its way.

“If you start focusing on hypotheticals and where you’re sitting rather than where you’re going, you’re asking for trouble,” he said. “(The players are) like anybody else. They know what the standings are. They know who’s playing who. They know who’s playing when.

“We know we’re playing (tonight) against a really good team. These guys have done a phenomenal job of staying with that all year.”

Like Indiana, Minnesota has had a week off since its last game. Unlike IU, the Gophers have sprung a bunch of leaks, much of it centered on an offense that, to be blunt, stinks.They haven’t broken the 60-point barrier in five games. They’ve committed 41 turnovers in the last two games, both blow-out road losses.

Still, Minnesota is back home now, at ancient Williams Arena with its raised floor. It is 13-1 at home and has such formidable players as double-double threat Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams and Andre and Austin Hollins.

They play a variety of defense and thrive with full-court pressure, especially when the stakes are high.

With an 18-9 record, 6-8 in the Big Ten, and NCAA tourney prospects in doubt, the stakes are very high.

“They present a ton of problems when they’re allowed to get out and press and spread out and get into you,” Crean said. “We’ve got to prepared for that. We didn’t deal real well with that here. We wpent a lot of time preparing for that.”

Crean referred to last month’s 88-1 win at Assembly Hall. IU built a 52-29 halftime lead, then held on at the end.

“We’ve got to be good with meeting our passes, dealing with the pressure,” Crean said. “We have to attacking the press the way we want to. Don’t get back on our heals.”

As far as the week of preparation, Crean said it was spent, “Getting ready, not only for Minnesota, but to sharpen our game up and make sure our skill levels continue to rise. We’ve had a good week of practices. Minnesota will be another one of those high energy, high intensity Big Ten battles.”

Here’s the bottom line. After tonight IU hosts Iowa and Ohio State, then ends the regular season at Michigan. The Hoosiers seem a lock to win their final two home games -- or at least as much of a lock as you can get in the rugged Big Ten. So if they win tonight, they basically clinch a conference championship.


Just don’t expect to hear that from the Hoosiers. They’re too busy doing what needs to be done.


Nobody is more passionate about Indiana than Mark Deal, a former Hoosier assistant football coach and player. The current assistant athletic director for alumni relations with the football program is set to be inducted into the IU Football Hall of Fame in December.

Here’s the official release:

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Former Indiana football player and assistant coach Mark Deal will beinducted into the state of Indiana Football Hall of Fame on May 5, 2013. Deal is currently an assistant athletic director for alumni relations with the IU football program.

Deal’s brother, Mike, is also a member of the induction class and their father, Russ, was inducted in 1976.

Prior to his current position, Deal served as an assistant director of development with Indiana’s Varsity Club. He played from 1975-78 and coached in 1979 and from 1996-99 for the Hoosiers.

Deal played center and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant in 1979 under head coach Lee Corso. The 1979 squad finished with an 8-4 record, including a Holiday Bowl victory over Brigham Young University, 38-37.

In 1980, Deal was named the linebackers coach at Wabash College. He spent four years at the Division III school, including the 1983 season, which he spent as the team’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

Mike played on IU’s 1967 Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl team. He played from 1966-69 and served as a graduate assistant in 1970.

Former Hoosier Randy Beisler (1962-65) will join the duo in the class. Beisler was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles and played nine seasons with the Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Can You Handle the Truth on Zeller-Nix Contact?

Today we’re going to solve, once and for all, the mystery that is, for want of a better term, Package Gate.

Yes, we mean the drama swirling around Tuesday’s late-game contact between Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Michigan State’s Derrick Nix.

Was it just inadvertent contact, as the officials decided after reviewing a monitor replay? Was it something sinister, as the Cream ‘n Crimson faithful shout? Or, was it something sneaky or devious, as some Spartan supporters and radio personalities suggest?

It all comes down to a video and perspective.

The ESPN video replayed during the game indicated Nix initiated the contact, which left announcer Dick Vitale pontificating that a grave injustive had been done to Zeller and that there’s no place in college basketball for such behavior (Vitale later tweeted that he went too far). Another video, which received HEAVY emphasis Wednesday afternoon by ESPN announcer and Indianapolis radio host Dan Dakich, showed Zeller grabbing Nix’s arm, pulling it toward him and then, well, perspective is everything.

It looked like Zeller pulled on the arm and Nix’s hand bumped Zeller’s sensitive area. Zeller buckled in a scene familiar to any guy who has ever had his, well, sensitive area hit.

That’s when controversy broke out. Some insisted Zeller intentionally caused the contact trying to draw a foul. Others insisted it was Nix’s way of retaliating for an earlier drive and contact by Zeller.

No way, Zeller said.

If you’re a guy and you’ve ever been hit in that area, you’re not going to want to hit yourself in that area,” Zeller told Gottlieb.

Zeller added that, “I guess that stuff happens. I’ve just come to expect it because I’m kind of the marked guy.”

To find the truth, we had a national expert in such matters analyze the video. For security purposes, we’ll call him Jack Bauer. Here’s the transcript  of our ABSOLUTELY true interview.

HH: Did you look at the video?

JACK BAUER: When will I get my check? My fee is $10,000, plus expenses.

HH: It’s in the mail. Did you see the video?

JACK BAUER: Of course. But I need to talk to the players. I’ll get the truth out of them.

HH: How will you do that?

JACK BAUER: Let’s just say I invented the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

HH: That’s way too extreme. The NCAA tourney is coming up. You’ll have to base it on the video.

JACK BAUER: If you look at the facial expressions, it’s obvious Zeller was in real pain and Nix was really surprised. Nix’s hand is unclenched. If you’re going to hit a guy there, you’ll make a fist. There was no fist. Therefore, there was no intent. For him, at least, it was an accident.

HH: So you’re saying Zeller did this intentionally?

JACK BAUER: No. Only a provocative person, or a highly biased person, would say that. Zeller grabbed Nix’s arm, which probably happened a couple dozen times in the game. You can tell he pulled on the arm. Again, that probably happened a couple of dozen times before. But this time, Nix’s hand accidentally hit Zeller’s private area. There was no intent from Zeller. There was no dirty move. 

Here's the bottom line. There was no conspiracy. The no call was the correct call.

HH: So you’re saying this was just a bunch of hot air or, perhaps, a radio publicity stunt?

JACK BAUER: Not exactly. If you look in the background, on the court behind Zeller, you’ll see who the REAL instigator is.

HH: Who is that?

JACK BAUER: Look at the video.

And then he was gone.


Yes, we know that you know that Victor Oladipo is really good. His performance in Tuesday night’s win at Michigan State was yet another example of that. He had 19 points, nine rebounds and five steals. He went over 1,000 career points.

But mainly, though, Oladipo was the catalyst for the victory that stamps Indiana as THE national title favorite.

Let’s face it. You win at the Breslin Center, which is so hard on opposing teams that the Hoosiers hadn’t won there since 1991 before Tuesday night, and you’ve made a major statement.



The Hoosiers did, and Oladipo gets plenty of credit. He’s one of the nation’s top defenders. What makes him so good? Here is a coach Tom Crean response from one of his recent radio shows:

“It’s instincts. It’s continuing to build his knowledge. It’s continuing to build his knowledge that go into his instincts. It’s determination. There’s no question it’s athleticism. He’s got a strong determination, will. He wants to be great at that.

“He’s a very good anticipator and is getting so much better off the ball. The athleticism and the ability to move his hands, his head, his feet and keep his body in front, and then have that quick mind that comes from his instincts and then adding knowledge from film work is really a big part of it.”

Here's the bottom line in all of this: Oladipo will win Big Ten player of the year. It's a no-brainer.

As for national player of the year, he's become a front runner, although when asked about it after the Michigan State game, he deferred to Zeller (who also went over 1,000 career points in the game).

“It’s a blessing,” Oladipo said. “But at the same time, I already know who the Player of the Year is, and that’s Cody Zeller. There’s no question. Without him, we couldn’t win. Without him, I wouldn’t be successful. Nobody here would be successful. Indiana basketball wouldn’t be back without Cody Zeller. He’s the Player of the Year in my eyes.”

Zeller basically said the same thing about Oladipo.

“He’ll be the Player of the Year. He can have it. . He would think that I would want it, but I think he deserves it.”

Sunday, February 17, 2013

No Way IU’s Oladipo Misses Michigan State Game; Crean Milestone

Victor Oladipo is gonna play at Michigan State.

No way the junior guard misses this game, which just might very well determine the Big Ten champion.

Yes, he sprained his ankle late in the first half against Purdue. Sure, he didn’t play in the second half, but that was the smart thing. Indiana didn’t need him against the Boilers. The Hoosiers will absolutely need him at Michigan State on Tuesday night.

Oladipo seemed fine after the game, and the Hoosier medical staff, including veteran team trainer Tim Garl, will ensure he’s fine for Tuesday night.

Here’s what coach Tom Crean had to say:

“I would say right now I would go between precautionary and day-to-day in the sense of just wait and see. He did some things in the back, and I just don't think that any of us were comfortable enough to say, ‘Let's go do it’.

“I don't think he…he sprained his ankle, which you saw there…he wanted to go back in, but we just weren't going to do that at that point. I don't think anybody felt medically that it was the best thing to do at that point.

“I hope he is going to be okay. He think he is going to be okay, but it's going to be a lot of time spent in this building getting it back to where it needs to be. So wishful thinking would be that he will play, but we've got to wait and see how the next…I'd say the next 24 to 36 hours or so…how those turnout.”

Here are the stakes. IU and Michigan State are tied for the Big Ten lead with 11-2 records. IU is 23-3 overall and ranked No. 1. Michigan State is 22-4 and ranked No. 8. The Hoosiers already have beaten the Spartans once, so another victory would give them the tiebreaker edge, which means, in essence, they’ll have a two-game lead.

Indiana and Michigan State already have a two-game edge on the rest of the field, so there’s a built-in margin for error.

As far as who has the toughest remaining schedule, it’s hard to judge. After Tuesday’s game, IU is at Minnesota, hosts Iowa and Ohio State, and is at Michigan. Michigan State plays at Ohio State and at Michigan, then hosts Wisconsin and Northwestern.

The Big Ten championship, and the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tourney, perhaps even a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney, could come down to Tuesday night’s game. Yes, that’s a lot at stake.

IU will need to be at full strength to beat Michigan State. It will be.

Victor Oladipo is gonna play.


There once was a time when Tom Crean was winning at a Roy Williams pace.

In his last seven seasons at Marquette, he never won less than 19 games. He had three seasons of at least 25 victories, including the 27-6 Final Four squad of 2005 led by Dwyane Wade.

Then Crean came to the train wreck that was Indiana in the aftermath of the Kelvin Sampson sanction-filled era and everything blew up. Players left. Players were kicked off. Players, well, let’s just say nobody could have won with what Crean was left with.

And he didn’t win.

IU went 6-25 in his first season, 10-21 in his second, 12-20 in his third. It was the worst three-year stretch in school history. It was enough to make a coach consider a career in telemarketing, although to be fair, given Crean was making $2.1 million a year, that switch probably wasn’t happening.

Last year, things turned around fast. IU went 27-9 and reached the NCAA tourney’s Sweet 16. This year it is 23-3 and ranked No. 1. It has positioned itself for a Big Ten championship, and a lot more.

The Hoosiers are 50-13 in the last 15 months. That’s enough to even Crean’s Indiana record at 78-78.

He’s going to win a lot of games in the seasons ahead. He’s too good a coach, too good a recruiter. He won’t let the program slip again.

Those are our thoughts. Here are his:

“When you're a younger coach and you look at those things and you do know what you're averaging win-wise for your program and things, but coming in here and dealing with what we dealt with, I got over personal goals really quick because if I didn't I was going to be depressed…and I wasn't looking for that. I have no trouble being driven and motivated by the fact that we had such tough times early on.

“I do think to get it back there it's nice, but coming in to Indiana I gave up on all those things that…winning percentages…and individual goals…and will you win X amount of games in this amount of time.

“There was a time when I was interested in that. We had it going at Marquette. If we would have stayed there, my odds are good we would've kept building those wins, but we didn't. We chose to come here, and when you get into it you do it for what is most important, which is making sure that you're developing a program, getting it back where it needs to be, and that every player continues to develop.

So in one sense it's nice. It says a lot about the fact that this group has won 50 games in the last year-and-a-half. But again, when it comes down to me personally, I gave up on that…somewhere along the line in that first year I realized that wasn't going to be important anymore in my career.”

Monday, February 4, 2013

IU's Crean On A Roll; Zeller Honored; Phantom Punch

 Tom Crean has had one heck of a last couple of days.

First, his Indiana Hoosiers beat then No. 1 Michigan in as thrilling a college basketball game as you’re likely to see in as spectacular an atmosphere as you’re likely to experience.

Then, his two brothers in law -- Jim and John Harbaugh -- went at it in the Super Bowl. Jim coaches the San Francisco 49ers. John coaches the Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens held on to win as dramatic a Super Bowl as the sport has ever had.

Finally, the Hoosiers regained the No. 1 ranking they’d held for the first five weeks of the season. IU is 20-2 overall and, at 8-1 in the Big Ten, and has a one-game lead over Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State at the midway point of conference play.

Crean and his family flew down to New Orleans, the site of the Super Bowl, on Sunday morning. His wife, Joani, is the sister of Jim and John Harbaugh. They met with Joani’s parents, Jack and Jackie.

The Crean’s spent Sunday night in New Orleans watching the game and celebrating afterwards with John, commiserating with Jim. Crean flew back to Bloomington Monday morning and attended IU’s practice that afternoon. He had given the players Sunday off, although given the hard-working nature of his players, most of them probably worked on their own.

Even during the most hectic moments of the last few days, Crean didn’t lose sight of his preparations for yet another big basketball week -- IU plays at Illinois on Thursday and at No. 10 Ohio State on Sunday. He watched film on the plane ride to New Orleans and again on the plane ride back to Bloomington.

Still, Crean made sure he enjoyed the moment.

“It’s so unique,” he said. “It’s been a short night. You’ve got one family member you’re overwhelmed with happiness for. There is such a great joy and pride. You’ve got another one that it’s close to heartbreak that you can feel. It’s difficult. It’s hard for Joani and her parents.”

Crean is friends with Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. One of his sons, Jeremiah, played for Crean at IU a few years ago.

“Doc Rivers sent me a text last night,” Crean said. “I gave it to Jack. It said, ‘As a parent you’re only as happy as your unhappiest child.’

“That’s an amazing statement. It’s one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard, and it probably fits what Joani’s parents are going through.”

Still, the opportunity to attend one of the world’s great sporting events, the chance to have access few people will ever get, left Crean absorbing as much of the experience as he could.

“It could be a once in a lifetime thing,” he said. “There is incredible joy in being able to be part of it, to see it. I got a chance to be around some great people. My children and wife got to participate in something that was incredible. They got to be around some great people. It’s something that will be full of incredible memories.”

Through it all, Crean’s didn’t lose focus on his coaching duties, and the quest to find an edge that could put the Hoosiers into Final Four territory.

“Your mind is never too far from what’s next,” he said. “I had my notes in my back pocket. I got five to six pages of notes ready to put into form when I get back to Indiana. It’s been unique.”

In the end, you see, Crean used the Super Bowl as a learning experience.

“Absolutely,” he said. “No question,” he added. “Having the vantage point we had, to have the access we had, to be behind the scenes and be on the field, was incredible. I could watch how the Ravens and 489ers do it and how they prepare.

(Former Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks coach) Pat Riley was there. I got to spend a minute with (former NFL coach) Bill Parcels (who just got selected for the Hall of Fame). Those are two of my coaching idols. I’ve gotten to know both through coaching. They were coaches I always looked up to long before I became a Division I coach.

“Something like this gives you a chance to pick brains of leaders -- business leaders, political leaders. It inspires you to think more creatively, to look at things differently, to pick up the interactions.

“We were in the commissioners’ box when the power outage came on. I watched the Commissioner (Roger Goodell) deal with that with such grace and calmness under pressure … it was amazing. That all applies to everything we do in life. No question things like this can only make you better.”


Who said Cody Zeller is slumping?

The Indiana sophomore forward bounced back from a couple of sub-par games with a pair of big ones last week. He led IU over Purdue and Michigan, averaging 19.0 points and 10.5 rebounds. That earned him co-Big Ten player of the week honors with Michigan’s Trey Burke.

It was Zeller’s first conference player of the week award this season and the second of his career.


Ah, the drama we must deal with.

Now there’s the Twitter-fueled controversy about whether Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III punched Jordan Hulls late in Saturday’s game.

Robinson’s hand/fist did hit Hulls in the jaw. The Indiana senior guard did get staggered for a few seconds, but was not seriously injured.

Video replays indicated contact between Christian Watford and Robinson might have inadvertently led to Hulls getting hit. There didn’t seem to be anything vindictive or nasty or unsportsmanlike about it, although some will disagree.

Anyway, the Big Ten will likely look into it. Crean didn’t address that topic during his Monday night radio show. It was probably a good move.

He's got enough on-court drama to deal with.