Thursday, January 31, 2013

Indiana positioned to knock off No. 1 Michigan

Are you like us? Did you see the news-breaking story that Heidi and Spencer reveal how they blew $10 million and ask yourself, who the bleep are Heidi and Spencer, and who gives a bleep about their irresponsible spending habits.

Sorry. We sometimes get carried away in these giddy times, when Indiana appears set to rule the college basketball world.

GameDay is coming to Bloomington on Saturday. So is No. 1 Michigan and the odds are that ranking won’t last the night.

You won’t hear that from Tom Crean and his No. 3 Hoosiers, of course. They’re WAY too smart and mature for that, but we don’t have that burden. In a month or so we are going to celebrate our 29th birthday for like the 200th time and, as such, we can afford to be a little mouthy.

Sorry. Maybe we’ve spent too much time around Will Sheehey, who has been known to incite, say, Purdue’s Paint Crew, among others, with his passion and energy.

Crean is cool with that, by the way, as long as Sheehey doesn’t go over the top with it and, say blow $10 million with Heidi and Spencer.

See how it all connects.

Anyway, IU played its most complete game of the season Wednesday night. Granted, Purdue helped by playing submission basketball, but that misses the point, which is the Hoosiers sustained their level of play throughout the game. They’ve struggled to do that this season, especially against Big Ten teams. Remember that awesome first half they played against Minnesota, only to almost give the game away in the second?

Anyway, there was none of that at Mackey Arena, and Crean, for one, was pleased.

“Our guys never took their foot off the gas pedal, so to speak, which is really, really important for us as a team to take the next step,” he said.

IU knows all about getting buried by teams. The Hoosiers were everybody favorite patsy in the aftermath of the Kevin Sampson era. It took Crean three years to turn it around, and now he has a squad powerful enough to contend for was a victim off that

“We have had enough of a viewpoint of some of the great teams in this league like (Purdue coach Matt Painter’s) have been when you had guys like JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, Lewis Jackson, all those guys that just kept going and going and going and getting better as the game went on,” Crean said. “When you see enough of that over a period of time, you either become that or you keep getting it done to you.

“Our guys have really learned to become that type of team, and the growth process for us continues, but I loved how they approached this game, and we got a really good result because of it.”

Indiana wants another good result during Saturday’s heavily hyped game courtesy of ESPN and its PR machine. IU is 19-2 to Michigan’s 20-1, which is the Wolverines’ best start in school history. They are tied for first in the Big Ten with Indiana, both at 7-1.

IU has lost once at Assembly Hall, last month to Wisconsin. There’s no way it loses twice.

No way.

Heidi and Spencer, by the way, couldn’t agree more.


Here are some more honors for Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Yogi Ferrell.

Zeller and Oladipo are among 12 players mentioned in a mid-season watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, a national player of the year award presented by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

Ferrell is one of 12  players on the Wayman Tisdale Memorial Trophy for freshman of year.

Oladipo, as you know, has put himself into position to be a first-round draft choice next season, perhaps in the top 20 (although not a lottery quick). He thrives all over the court, and has a passion for the game that will translate well at the next level.


So what’s up with Peter Jurkin? If a guy can’t play in the 37-point win over Purdue, when you think you’d want to empty your bench to give everybody a chance, when can he play?

Against the Boilers Raphael Smith played. Jeff Howard played. In all 13 Hoosiers played.

But not Jurkin.

Now, Jurkin might be hurt. He’s wearing an air cast on his left leg, and Crean has mentioned some minor injury issues, but nothing specific.

The 6-11 freshman has played in only three games since returning from a nine-game suspension for impermissible recruiting benefits. He’s played a total of seven minutes and his stat line consists of one missed field goal attempt. Everything else is zeroes.

A more likely reason for Jurkin’s lack of playing time is that he’s just not ready. Yes, he is tall and runs well and has athleticism, but he struggles to catch the ball during pre-game warmups. You can only imagine how much more magnified that is in practice, and would be in games. He lacks the fundamentals necessary to compete in the Big Ten.

He might someday be able to help the Hoosiers in a reserve defensive role, but at this stage it doesn’t seem likely it will get beyond that.


If you believe the Indianapolis Star’s Kyle Neddenriep, and there’s no reason not to since he does a great job in recruiting, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard’s Joe Fagan will be a preferred  walk-on next season. A separated shoulder has limited the 6-4 guard to eight games. He averages 14.1 points and 7.0 rebounds.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bottom line – Indiana has to beat Purdue tonight

Brian Evans and Joe Hillman know. They’ve been through the Indiana-Purdue basketball wars, winning their share, losing a few.

Forget the blather about treating every game the same. Rivalries are never the same, whether it’s IU-Purdue, Duke-North Carolina, Kentucky-Louisville and more.

IU coach Tom Crean knows this. He also knows his freshmen won’t really understand what they’ll face tonight until they experience Mackey Arena in all its gold-and-black passion. The students, called the Paint Crew, end every timeout at every game with a chant certain to come with the Hoosiers on the floor:

“IU sucks!”

Still, Crean wanted to give his young guys an edge. He had Evans and Hillman talk to the team Tuesday afternoon before they boarded the bus for the trip to West Lafayette.

The message, senior guard Jordan Hulls, was clear:

“It’s a rivalry game. Throw everything out the window. You’ve got to bring it no matter who you’re playing. It will be hostile out there.”

Teammate Will Sheehey knows that hostility. He’s made two trips to Mackey Arena, with a 1-1 record to show for it.

What Evans and Hillman had to say, he said, was a plus.

“Those guys have been there, done that. They’re a huge part of this tradition. They have the wisdom because been there. They give us advice, and we make sure we listen. We have our plan. It’s icing on the cake for those guys talking to us.”

The No. 3 Hoosiers are eight- to 10-point favorites depending on where you look. They are 18-2 overall and tied with No. 1 Michigan for first in the Big Ten, with 6-1 records.

Purdue is trying to recover from a 7-6 non-conference record, a brutally difficult task given the strength of the Big Ten. The Boilers are 11-9 overall, 4-3 in the conference. They have won four of their last five games since going to a starting lineup that includes three freshmen -- Ronnie Johnson, A.J. Hammons and Rapheal Davis -- along with veterans Terone Johnson and D.J. Byrd.

But this game, Sheehey said, goes way beyond that.

“We all know it’s our biggest rival. The game will be tough, hard fought. It’s the same level of intensity every year.

“They’re a physical team. They rebound well. They like to pressure full court. Those are some things we’ve been working on. It’s just a tough game.”

Associate head coach Steve McClain did the scouting for this game. He knows, as well as anyone, the challenges IU faces.

“There’s no question they’re playing a lot of young guys,” he said, “and their veterans are also stepping it up and playing well.

“With Rapheal and Ronnie and Hammons starting and getting games under their belts, they’re getting better every time they play.

“Every team creates a different challenge. Terone Johnson is one of the better wings (in the Big Ten). Ronnie Johnson as a freshman point guard is doing a great job for them.”

McClain down played the fact many of the players on both teams are familiar with each other because they either played high school or travel ball against each other growing up.

For instance, Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston played on the same AAU team as Purdue forward D.J. Byrd, that Yogi Ferrell and Purdue’s Ronnie Johnson played with and against each other during their high school/travel ball days, that Hanner Perea played at La Lumiere in northern Indiana with Purdue’s Rapheal Davis and Jay Simpson, Cody Zeller’s Washington team beat Travis Carroll’s Danville squad in the semistate, and that Carroll and Donnie Hale played against Zeller and IU’s Austin Etherington in the Indiana senior-junior All-Star series.

“The kids probably think about it more, but once the game starts, I’m not sure who they played with in AAU ball has a lot to do with it.”

What does mean something is that the Hoosiers want to be 7-1 in the Big Ten entering Saturday night’s showdown with Michigan. ESPN has been hyping that game almost as hard as Ray Lewis denied performance enhancing drugs allegations.

Bottom line -- if IU wants to win a Big Ten championship, it has to win this game.


If you saw the latest rankings, you know IU’s recruiting class for 2013 remains outstanding.

Noah Vonley is the highest-rated player, at No. 7. Then comes No. 59 Stanford Robinson and No. 66 Troy Williams.

Monday, January 28, 2013

No Joke – IU Wills Itself To Big-Time Victory

Tom Crean will never rival, say, the Rodney Dangerfields of the world. He’s an intense guy with a serious mission – coach the best basketball he possible can.

Sometimes that leaves him grumpy. And sometimes, like after a REALLY significant victory, he jokes around.

Take, for instance, beating Michigan State.

The Spartans arrived at Assembly Hall as the Big Ten’s hottest team. They had beaten Ohio State and won at Wisconsin. They were physical and tough-minded and stifling on defense. They had also owned the Hoosiers in recent years, having won seven of the last nine meetings.

Beyond that, Tom Izzo is one of the nation’s top coaches. He’s built a perennial Big Ten and national title contender. He also was once Crean’s boss.

All those were factors in Crean’s good post-game mood, but the biggest was the fact IU had thrived in crunch time, making the plays it had to make to pull out a 75-70 victory.

Victor Oladipo was an all-over-the-court beast. Christian Watford battled. Yogi Ferrell showed grit and a rapidly improving offensive game. Will Sheehey was once again an off-the-bench factor. And even without his best offensive game, Cody Zeller was a major factor.

So Crean kidded with a reporter for his soft-spoken questions. It wasn’t make-you-laugh-till-you-cry stuff, but that misses the point, which is Crean is pumped about where his team is right now.

Can you blame him?

The Hoosiers are tied with Michigan for first place in the Big Ten. Both are 6-1. If they sweep this week, they’ll be in first place alone and ready for what looms as the nation’s most brutal February schedule.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. IU has to win at rival Purdue on Wednesday night, and while the Boilers have struggled, they are rounding into dangerous form. Youth cost them in the non-conference season, but even with an 11-9 record, they have visions of a NCAA tourney berth with a strong Big Ten showing. They are 4-3 in the conference.

Then comes Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines will likely be the nation’s No. 1 team at that point. They are 19-1 overall and blessed with talent and, in Trey Burke, perhaps the Big Ten’s best point guard.

Beating Michigan State showed the Hoosiers (18-2) are ready. You do not beat the Spartans with finesse and good will to men. You win by being tough and nasty and ruthless (all within the rules, of course). You also do it by being smart, passionate and focused.

"This was a game of adjustments, and that's what it was the entire game," said Crean. “The one thing that never needed to be adjusted was our energy, our attitude towards winning and our spirit. They were high-level the entire way."

IU had to be. It never led by more than seven points in the second half.

"This is a big game; it's definitely going to help us down the road," Watford said. "I feel like Michigan State is a great team, they never stop fighting. That's definitely how it's going to be in the (NCAA) Tournament, the Big Ten Tournament; teams are definitely not going to give up. It was a great team win for us."

And now, in the relentless world of Big Ten basketball, the Hoosiers have to do it again.

“After the game with the CBS interview, Greg Anthony said that this game had the feel and the execution of a Final Four game,” Crean said. “And I hope he’s right, because I think (Michigan State is) really, really good. For us to get this win in this environment, for us to make the plays that we made, especially at the end, for us to make the defensive stops that we made to get the buckets that we needed to get, I thought that was huge.

“You’ve got to be in some fights. We’ll get better from this, and I’m certain Michigan State will get better from this. If you’re going to win over the long haul, you’ve got to find ways. Our guys had great will.”
And that’s no joke.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Is IU's Zeller Ready for Michigan State Bruising

Michigan State is coming to Assembly Hall and Cody Zeller is gonna have his hands full.

Is he up to it?

The odds say yes, but odds don’t equal guarantee.

Here’s what we know.

Zeller is listed as 7-foot and 240 pounds. He is coming off, by offensive standards, perhaps the worst game of his career. In 21 minutes against Penn State he was 0-for-4 from the field for two points. It was the first time in his two-year career that he didn’t make a field goal. He also was just 2-for-4 from the line. His four turnovers tied his season high.

That doesn’t mean Zeller didn’t make a positive impact. He had eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks. He also had a steal. He drew in as many as three Nittany Lions, which opened things up for the rest of the Hoosiers in what became an easy 72-49 victory.

For the season Zeller leads IU in scoring (16.4), rebounds (8.2) and blocks (27). No big man in the country runs the floor better than he does. Every defense has to account for him, often with double teams, which means somebody is open if Zeller can find him.

He usually does.

Here’s what else we know. Michigan State has as big, as strong and as physical a front court as there is in the Big Ten. It has the 1-2 combination of 6-9, 270-pound Derrick Nix and 6-10, 240-pound Adreian Payne. It has 6-6, 230-pound Branden Dawson. It can bring 6-9, 245-pound Alex Guana and 6-9, 245-pound Matt Costello off the bench.

The Spartans will try to pound Zeller into irrelevance in today’s Big Ten showdown. They tried it twice last year. The first time, an IU loss at the Breslin Center in what was Zeller’s Big Ten baptism of fire, he was held to four points and three rebounds in 23 mostly ineffective minutes. The second time, an IU win at Assembly Hall, he totaled 18 points and four rebounds.

In other words, he learned and adjusted.

Zeller understands what he’s up against, coach Tom Crean said, and how to counteract it.

“It’s movement,” Crean said. “He has to constantly move. We learned a lot from that game last year. That was his indoctrination into physical high-level basketball. He handled it well.”

Zeller likely will have to handle it better to lead the No. 7 Hoosiers (17-2 overall, 5-1 in the Big Ten) to a victory over No. 13 Michigan State (16-3, 6-1).

“The key is movement and spacing,” Crean said. “It’s up to us to put him in some different situations, but it’s up to him to be very aggressive and keep building on what he’s doing.”

Zeller is a factor even when he’s not a factor, and if that sounds confusing, well, work with us.

Okay, work with Crean.

“Cody is impacting the game in so many diffent ways,” the coach says. “He leads (the Big Ten) in free throws attempted (140) and made (101).

“What about fouls drawn? He and Christian are up there. They have to be.”

For the record, IU sports information director J.D. Campbell indicated nobody keeps track of fouls drawn.

“Cody attracts a lot of attention in so many ways,” Crean said. “He’s helping get us in the bonus that much quicker. Look at the shots he’d be getting if there were not fouls. Our trick is to make sure we get him in space, get him moving and let him be the attack player he’s trying to be.”

The Hoosiers are trying to get separation from the rest of the Big Ten. Beating Michigan State would be a big step in that direction. Given that they are 10-point favorites -- what’s up with that considering the Spartans have won six straight games and have owned the Cream ‘m Crimson in recent years -- and have the Assembly Hall advantage, figure a strong IU performance.

Crean wants his players fresh for this game, and for the grueling five-games-in-13-days stretch that begins with the Spartans. That means dialing back all the non-stop practicing.

We cut back practice, physically,” Crean said. “We can’t cut it mentally in how you prepare. When you go to the film room, it’s not a taxing situation, but you’ve got to enjoy it while looking for those things. The best teams are doing that. Our mental approach has to be phenomenal, not just the physical approach. There are a lot of different things to look for. We analayze so many different things.”

Analyze is one thing. Execute and out-perform are another. There’s no reason the Hoosiers can’t do both, staring with Michigan Sttate.

No reason.


Trevon Bluiett remains a big target in IU’s Class of 2014 recruiting plans. He took yet another unofficial visit to Indiana by attending Wednesday’s win over Penn State along with many of his Indianapolis Park Tudor teammates.

The 6-5 forward is having a monster junior season for one of the best teams in the state. He averages 28.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.0 steals for Park Tudor, which is 14-1 and ranked No. 1 in Class 2A. It is the defending state champs, last year’s title coming courtesy of Yogi Ferrell, now a standout Hoosier freshman point guard.

As you can imagine, he’s got a ton of scholarship offers. Besides IU, Purdue, Notre Dame, Butler, Michigan, Louisville, Florida, Illinois, Kansas State, Iowa and more.

Since he won’t sign until next fall and won’t cut his final list until the summer, he has plenty of time to see a bunch of great games this season – for free and with great seats.

Yes, there are a lot of advantages to being an elite recruit.


This is the time of year when college football coaches sweat. Will their committed recruits stick to their word and actually sign? With the signing period set to begin Feb. 6, the drama builds.

It’s building more than usual for IU in the aftermath of Mark Hagen’s departure to Texas A&M. He was the Hoosiers’ defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, which means he had a major impact in many of the 16 committed players, especially defensive players.

There is a buzz that some of those commitments might reconsider now that Hagen is gone. For instance, Texas defensive tackle Jacobi Hunter has decided to visit California, which has caused Indiana to actively keep recruiting defensive tackles in case Hunter changes his mind.

Nothing is sure until the players sign that national letter of intent. In the end, you want a guy who is fully committed to your program.

On Feb. 6, we’ll know who those guys are for Indiana.


Remember basketball player Devan Dumes, who played in 2009 and 2010, averging 9.5 points in 57 games. The Indianapolis Star reported that the 25-year-old Dumes was charged with criminal recklessness and carrying a handgun without a license after firing multiple gunshots into a house where his 1-year-old nephew and brother were inside. The incident happened on Jan. 9 in Indianapolis.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

IU’s Sheehey Rises to Big Ten Challenge

This is the Will Sheehey we’ve come to expect – the off-the-bench difference maker, the sweet-shooting catalyst who can turn what has recently been an unproductive bench into a basketball force of nature.

The Hoosier dude who disappeared – offensively, at least – against Minnesota and Wisconsin is gone.
Indiana is, by far, better for it. That’s a very good thing going into Sunday’s smack down against Michigan State in a battle for Big Ten supremacy.

But first, though, let’s look at Sheehey.

In Wednesday night’s throttling of way-over-matched Penn State, Sheehey thrived. He had 12 points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal in 24 minutes. He went 3-for-3 from three-point range, which was a very big deal to Penn State coach Patrick Chambers, whose defensive strategy was predicated on Sheehey NOT doing that.

“Usually he’s a good middle-range jump shooter,” Chambers said. “(Indiana) has a lot of talent and you can’t take away everything. You have to pick your poison. Sheehey hit some threes to open everything up.”

Sheehey had been 0-for-4 from three-point range in his previous three games. In fact, he’d scored a total of 14 points in his last four games, and failed to score at all against Minnesota and Wisconsin, going a combined 0-for-7 from the field.

Did that weigh heavily on his mind?

Not a chance, he said.

“I never think about that. As long as I’m playing hard on the defensive end, it’s fine. If you ever see me not playing hard on the defensive end, that’s when you know something is wrong. That will never happen.”

For most of the season Sheehey has been a consistent offensive factor, which is reflected in his 10.4-point scoring average. He has scored in double figures 11 times this season, with a high of 19 (against Ball State and North Carolina).

He plays with confidence, relentlessness and an edgy aggression his teammates appreciate.

“It’s big for our team (when he plays like this),” Victor Oladipo said. “Ever since he came here he’s made an impact. It impacts winning when he comes off the bench like that. It impacts both ends of the floor. Hopefully he continues doing it.”

Sheehey has every intention of doing just that.

“The offense will come,” he said. “The ball finds movement. The ball finds activity. If I keep moving, these guys will find me. I’m not worried about it.”

Neither is coach Tom Crean.

“That’s who Will is. That’s what he brings. That’s his game -- his energy and passion. He was very good defensively. He was good on Sunday against Northwestern. Not a box score good, but it was a very strong game for him.”

For the record, Sheehey had six points and four rebounds in 19 minutes against Northwestern.

“He’s one of our best players,” Crean said. “He’s an excellent shooter. He reads the game well. That showed in the way he played (Wednesday night).”

 The Hoosiers are 17-2 overall and 5-1 in the Big Ten.That puts them a half-game behind No.13 Michigan State, which means they'll play for conference supremacy.

That will be a nationally televised (courtesy of CBS) showdown that will pit Crean against his former boss, Spartans coach Tom Izzo. We'll talk more about that in the coming days, but for now consider IU's five-game stretch over the next two weeks -- Michigan State, at Purdue, No. 2 Michigan, at Illinois, at No. 14 Ohio State.

That is absolutely brutal.

But then, that's life in the Big Ten.


In a previous post I had a question if anyone knew what old TV show the line, "submitted for your approval" came from. A reader nailed it -- it was the Twilight Zone courtesy of Rod Serling's opening monologue.

IU’s Ferrell Defends Beyond His Years; Football News

Yogi Ferrell as defensive stopper.

Could that be right?

When you think of Indiana’s freshman point guard, you think of offense. No, not scoring. He only averages 6.6 points on 34.9 percent shooting, just 24.2 percent on three-pointers.

But Ferrell runs the Hoosiers’ push-the-pace show as evidenced by his assists (86) and turnovers (36). He’s second in the Big Ten in assists per game (4.8 to Michigan’s Trey Burke’s 7.4) and sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Remember, he’s doing that as a freshman.

Still, he can play a mean form of defense, and while he can’t quite match teammate Victor Oladipo in that regard, don’t underestimate him.

For instance, he had a huge role in IU’s 74-51 win at Penn State earlier this month. He defended Nittany Lions guard D.J. Newbill into 3-for-15 shooting and eight points, while helping to force Newbill into five turnovers.

Newbill, by the way, is 6-4 while Ferell is a GENEROUS 6-foot.

Anyway, Ferrell likely will get that assignment again tonight when Penn State (8-10 overall, 0-6 in the Big Ten) arrives in Assembly Hall. And Oladipo, at least, expects Ferrell to once again deliver defensively.

“He’s gotta do that not only against Penn State, but for the rest of the year. When he plays like that, it helps us. It slows down their guard, their point guard. It makes it tough for them to run their sets. We’re going to need him not only against Newbill, but for the rest of the year as well.”

Is that asking too much of Ferrell? Not if you believe IU assistant coach Kenny Johnson.

“Yogi is a very good defensive player,” Johnson said. “His defensive prowess is going to bare out as we go further and further into this season. Especially where we’re trying to go.

“His ability to pick up where our philosophy is on defense and his ability to dive into the scouting report, and if not take away his opponents strengths, limit them or force them into a high volume of shots to get their numbers, is very important for us.

“Yogi is someone who works at it each and every day. He has that great ability to move on to the next play very quickly, whether it be a good play or a bad play. He’s shown a maturity beyond his years as far as his willingness to take on the opponents, on certain nights the best player on the team.”

The No. 7 Hoosiers (16-2 overall, 4-1 in the Big Ten) need a victory tonight to keep pace with No. 13 Michigan State (6-1 in the conference) heading into Sunday’s showdown at Assembly Hall.

Figure they’ll cruise to a victory. After what happened the last time they played at home, last week’s loss to Wisconsin, there’s no way they don’t win, and win big.


It's WAY earlier, but ESPN's Joe Lunardi has come up with his NCAA tourney predictions. For now, he has IU as the No. 2 seed in the South Regional opening against Long Beach State in Lexington. He has Kansas as the No. 1 seed in that regional.

The other No. 1 seeds are Duke, Syracuse and Michigan.

Of course, a lot could happen in the next six weeks or so to move the Hoosiers up or down in the tournament.

But it's always interesting to think about.


Could IU defensive tackles coach Mark Hagen be headed to Texas A&M?

If you believe reports, he is.

While nothing official from IU has been released,’s Texas A&M’s site has reported Hagen is going to be the linebackers coach at Texas A&M.

If true, that means Hagen is leaving a struggling Hoosier program in a yes, struggling Big Ten, for a SEC powerhouse that includes Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel. (EDITOR'S NOTE: This post originally had CHARLIE Manziel because of massive lack of sleep generated by the announcement that Manti Te'o's girlfriend didn't actually exist. Or, perhaps, because of stupidity. We're too sleepy to tell the difference)

Texas A&M is likely to contend for a national title next season. Let’s just say, Indiana will not.

Anyway, Hagen is a former standout linebacker at IU who has coached on Kevin Wilson’s staff the last two years. His duties also included special teams and recruiting coordinator. Before that he coached at Purdue.

It almost certainly would be a step up in salary and opportunity.


IU released a football video with Kevin Wilson talking with assistant athletic director Jeremy Gray about a variety of topics. The Hoosiers are in the middle of winter conditioning and preparing for spring practice.

IU returns 19 starters from a team that won four games last season, and could easily have won two more to become bowl eligible. Fourteen of those starters, by the way, are freshmen or sophomores.

The Hoosiers also have 16 recruiting commitments with signing day looming on Feb. 6.

Wilson talked about recruiting on the IU video. While he couldn’t get into specifics, he did provide insight into how the Hoosiers will approach these final couple of weeks. He said they could sign between 20 and 25 players by the time everything wraps up.

“We’ve got a good class on paper,” he said. I think we’re really be able to upgrade our roster with recruiting.

“We’re being a little selective,” he said. “You’ve got to be smart down the stretch and make sure you’re not being sold a bill of goods. Is he a good enough player? Academically does he fit? Is he a good fit for you? We’ve got a very good class on paper if holds true. We believe it will.”

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tom Crean, Star Trek and Grumpy Times

Tom Crean was grumpy. Or was he provoked? Or, well, does it matter?

Ah, these are the questions of our lives in an era in which girlfriends sometimes don’t exist, Tour de France champs can be frauds and the only thing we know for sure is that one Crean-related family, the Harbaughs, are Super Bowl bound.

Anyway, Crean was not the happiest coach in America in the wake of his Hooisers’ 67-59 victory over Northwestern. He was a bit edgy, perhaps because his team didn’t play like a juggernaut, perhaps because of some of the criticism directed his way, and that of his players, after last week’s Wisconsin defeat.

Or, perhaps, because he’s an intense guy and if you’ve seen Big Ten action this season, you know how intense that can be, and in the few minutes after a game it’s hard for that intensity to cool off.

Anyway, IU is 16-2, and spent a big part of the season ranked No. 1, but those two losses weigh heavily on fans’ minds. They see half-court vulnerability, poor second-half adjustments and coaching weakness. Some anger is directed toward Crean, who before the Butler loss could walk on water and who now, after the Wisconsin loss, is seen as mortal.

There is a famous Star Trek line – “Behold, the god who bleeds!” – that reflects this kind of thinking, but we don’t want anyone to think we base ALL our philosophy on a 1960s Sci-Fi TV episode.

Anyway, elite coaching is rewarding for a number of reasons, including the mega-million-dollar salaries, but with it comes off-the-charts pressure. Lose once and you’re a bum. Lose twice and, well, reap Kim Kardashian notoriety. Sometimes not even winning is enough. In 2002 Ohio State went undefeated and won the national football championship, but won a lot of close games, in part because of a great defense and mediocre offense. Fans grumbled about the failings of then coach Jim Tressel right up until the time the Buckeyes claimed the national title trophy.

With that in mind, and submitted for your approval (yes, that’s a reference to another 1960s’ Sci-Fi TV show – do you know which one?), is an excerpt from Crean’s Sunday post-game press conference. The Hoosiers held Northwestern to 30.4 percent first-half shooting to build a 14-point halftime lead, more than enough, as it turned out, to secure their third straight Big Ten road win.

Here’s one part of Crean’s press conference:

Our key is that we've just got to stay locked in to what we're doing, and try to stay away from all of the clutter and noise and all those things that can distract you from…and there is so much of it…you just have to stay locked in to what's important, and that is how do you improve and how do you make your teammates better…and what is your recipe for winning. Our guys have done a really good job the last couple days of really understanding that again. They've been very locked in to this game, and I think it showed in our defense.”

The “clutter and noise,” we assume, is all the griping on the message boards and from some media analysts.

Then there was this from the same press conference:

I thought our guys really defended…I think…one thing I had to remind them of, because they never read about it or hear about it, is that they are in the top 10 in field goal percentage defense…and they are in the top 10 in field goal percentage defense and offense…and nationally. I think they needed to be reminded when we do those things we're pretty good.”

And then a young reporter from a college publication tried this question:

“Coach, against Minnesota you guys scored I think 52 points in the first half and then you fell back in the second half. It was kind of a similar thing today but maybe not to the same degree.. Northwestern was able to claw back in the second half. Was there any similarities?”

Crean: "What's your point? I don't get it. Claw back? What do you mean?"

They were able to narrow the deficit in the second half.”

Crean: “Well, they played pretty well…those teams played well. We actually…we won both of those games…make sure that you write that, too.”

And then, well, Indiana has another intriguing week, which is what Big Ten basketball is all about. On Wednesday struggling Penn State comes to Assembly Hall and the Hoosiers figure to win decisively. Then Michigan State, which leads the Big Ten with a 5-1 record, comes to town next Sunday. That will be a real chance for IU to show its championship mettle.

Win both and Crean might be, for a few minutes, back to walking on water. But as we know from the early Big Ten season, nothing is sure except nobody walks above the rest for long.

Captain Kirk couldn’t have said it any better.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Indiana Ready for Big Ten Road

Fear the Big Ten road?

Not Victor Oladipo.

Indiana’s junior guard and defensive juggernaut embraces the challenges opposing gyms bring -- hostile crowds, hyped home teams, calls that don’t always go the Cream ‘n Crimson way.

The Hoosiers will get all of that on Sunday when they head to suddenly dangerous Northwestern, which is coming off a stunning 14-point victory AT No. 22 Illinois.

“(Going on the road) brings us together because that’s what you have to be in order to win on the road in the Big Ten. We’re looking forward to it. We’re definitely looking forward to playing at a high level and playing at Indiana basketball.”

Indiana basketball, or at least the perception of it, took a hit with the Assembly Hall loss to Wisconsin. If the No. 2 Hoosiers (15-2 overall, 3-1 in the Big Ten) are no longer unbeatable at one of the most intimidating arenas in college sports, does this mean they’re vulnerable elsewhere?

Not necessarily, but IU has to pick up its level of play, especially in the second half. The last couple of days of practice, Oladipo said, were designed to reinforce that.

“We’ve been emphasizing a lot of things. Getting back on track and playing Indiana basketball. The last couple of games we’ve been losing that. We’re getting back into the groove of things and doing a great job.”

Senior guard Jordan Hulls said practices reflect that emphasis.

“It’s been really competitive with a different edge. We’re trying to build back that mindset that we need in order to win. Focus on defense and rebounding.”

Unlike Assembly Hall, Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena is small and intimidate, but it can get loud. Still, given the large number of IU fans in the Chicago area, it wouldn’t be surprising that a lot of them attend the game.

“It’s a little bit of a different environment,” Hulls said. “It’s a smaller gym, but it gets pretty rowdy. You have to have the same mindset that you have when you play in every other gym. Play together, communicate and make sure we’re doing all the things we can to win.”

Northwestern (11-7 overall, 2-3 in the Big Ten) has adjusted to the loss of standout guard Drew Crawford behind guards Reggie Hearn (14.1 points, 4.9 rebounds) and Dave Sobolewski (11.5 points, 76 assists against 32 turnovers). It thrives with a patient Princeton offense and trapping defense.

“I think anytime you play a Northwestern team, you understand their system, what their system brings to the game,” associate head coach Steve McClain said. “This is a team that continues to get better. They’ve had to go through the injury phase and new guys getting into the system. There’s no question, they showed at Illinois the other night that this group looks like they’re getting more and more comfortable in the system and running the system to what it gives them to each individual.

“They are a team that’s coming off a big win at Illinois. You look at their wins on the road – at Illinois, at Baylor – they’ve been to some tough places and came away with wins, so going to their place, we know it’s a game where you’ve got to go in and be sharp defensively.”
McClain understands the challenges present by Hearn and Sobolewski.

“Hearn is a guy who’s a veteran. He’s a veteran in the system. You saw a year ago when they have five veterans out there running that system, it creates unbelievable problems. Reggie is a guy who is a senior and feels like it’s time to step up and he definitely did that the other night at Illinois and has shown the ability to step up and have big games.

“(Sobolewski) played a lot of minutes last year, so he got a year of understanding and running the Northwestern system, so he can direct everyone. He can tell people when they are in the wrong spot and he’s such a good driver, he’s a good reader and he finds a way to get to that rim. So you’ve got to do a great job on him or he can have a big night.”

One of the biggest challenges when playing Northwestern is dealing with all the backdoor cuts. Lose your focus for just a second and you give up a layup.

“They have a lot of back doors that we have to be aware of,” Hulls said. “They can all shoot, so they definitely make it a little bit different in that regard, just different than most teams in the style of play that they run in transition.”

Added Oladipo: “It’s hard because they are a very good team, especially on their home court. They run that offense where they move a lot and they won’t stop moving, so we have to come with our defensive hats on and be prepared and stay focused on both ends of the floor.”

IU’s relatively light schedule, where it basically just played one game a week, is over. It will basically be two games a week the rest of the way. That’s good, McClain said.

“You can prepare both mentally and physically for it. It helps your players. I think the other side of it is that this league has already shown that playing at home isn’t a given that you’re going to win, and going on the road doesn’t mean you can’t win. I think that’s what this league has always been about and we’ve got enough guys that should understand that every team is one big win from feeling good about themselves and Northwestern is coming off a big road win at Illinois, feeling good about themselves coming home.

“I know this, our veteran guys will be prepared to go in and know that you’re going to be at your best in this game.”