Sunday, January 13, 2013

How Good Are the Indiana Hoosiers?

Are you like us? Did you have a sleepless night agonizing over the biggest sports question of the 21st Century:

How in the bleep did the Denver Broncos lose to the dark-side-of-the-force Baltimore Ravens?

Sorry. We lost focus -- just like the second-half Hoosiers.

Anyway, in the aftermath of the victory over very, very, very good Minnesota, where are we with Indiana?

Is this truly a national title contending team or does it lack, despite all the work, talent and tenacity, the true killer spirit necessary for great things?

It’s hard to know.

The Hoosiers played one of the great halfs of the season and turned around to play one of the worst.

Yes, it happens. It’s human nature, despite all the talk, to let up, to lose the edge when a halftime lead is so large that it’s almost beyond belief it could be lost, especially at Assembly Hall.

IU almost did. And if not for some great hustle by Cody Zeller to tip Jordan Hulls’ third straight missed crunch-time free throw back to Hulls, who was fouled and hit the clinching free throws, Minnesota might have claimed one of the best rallies in Big Ten history.

This is the second straight game the Hoosiers have botched the opening of the second half after a kick-rump first. Last Monday at Penn State they had a Keystone Cop run where the only thing they did well was screw up.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Yes, we know the Keystone Cop references a Silent Movie era-symbol of incompetence. No, it does not mean we were alive when the cops were at their popular peak (1912-17).

Anyway, maybe it’s time for a new halftime locker room presentation. Our suggestion -- pump Tiny Tim singing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” into the locker room. Tell the players, in so many words, that if they don’t play solid ball in the first five minutes of the second half Tiny Tim will become mandatory mood music at all practices for the rest of the season.

IMPORTANT QUESTION: Isn’t that cruel and unusual punishment, and just plain wrong?

IMPORTANT ANSWER: Yes. Now get your candy-rumps going!

Anyway, IU had one assist in the second half compared to 11 turnovers. Much of that was due to the way it stumbled against Minnesota’s press. Bet the house other Big Ten teams will take note. So what was the problem?

We didn't attack it correctly,” coach Tom Crean said. “We got caught up a little bit in getting it down the court rather than how we were going to get it down the court.

“They were aggressive. We knew that. We practiced for that. I just think that we didn't do a great job with our spacing. We didn't do a great job with the in-bounds. I'll blame myself for not having enough screening, because they were very physical. A couple times it was hard to get open. We may need to put a few more screening options in our zone like we did later in the game.”

Okay, enough of the negativity. Indiana did beat one of the hottest teams in America because it played a first half for the ages. It turned Minnesota into Central Connecticut State. It shot well, defended great, and displayed all the things Crean wants in a basketball team.

In so many ways, it’s basketball as art. The Hoosiers display the kind of balance that no team can defend.

Look at these halftime numbers against one of America’s best teams: Christian Watford had 10 points and five rebounds; Victor Oladipo had 13 points, two assists and two steals; Hulls had 12 points on 4-for-5 three-point shooting; Yogi Ferrell had eight points and seven assists.

IU shot 65.6 percent from the field, had 13 assists against four turnovers, had seven steals and forced 12 Minnesota turnovers, had a 13-12 rebound edge.

In the end, Watford finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. Zeller had 18 and nine. Oladipo had 20 and six. Hulls had 19 and four. Ferrell had 13 and eight assists.

That’s impressive balance.

“I think there is balance for a reason,” Crean said. “Our guys aren't dominating the Big Ten Player of the Week, Big Ten Freshman of the Week mantels because it's rare that it's going to be one guy with major points. We have got a lot of balance scoring. Today was another day like that.

“I think they are really understanding two things. Everybody is going to score the more points we score. But it doesn't happen if we don't defend and score off our defense, and it doesn't happen if we don't rebound.

“When you're working as hard as you are on defense, you're rarely going to come down and take a bad shot or force something when you've got other teammates working that hard with you defensively. I think we're a good example of that now.

“Yogi has got a lot to do with how the ball moves. Jordan does. There might be somebody as good as passing the ball from the forward position, but I've never seen anybody pass it better than Cody. He is tremendous at that. A key for us is our reversals. Those guys are buying into the percentages of what happens when we reverse it two or three times. Those numbers don't lie."

Here’s what else doesn’t lie -- IU can’t have any more low-level second halfs. It’s not realistic to expect to build a 23-point halftime lead against Big Ten competition the rest of the way. It almost certainly won’t happen Tuesday night against dangerous Wisconsin, which is 3-0 in league play along with the Hoosiers and Michigan.

The Badgers stumbled a bit in non-conference play while adjusting to key injuries and player losses from last year, but they’ve won six straight and just flattened No. 12 Illinois at the Kohl Center.

Indiana has to play tough, focused, 40-minute ball. If it does that, it cruises. If not, it will have no one to blame but itself.

And that leads to the last question -- who the bleep is Tiny Tim?

You ask too many questions.


I want to thank all the readers who provided the kind words of support in an earlier post. They very much helped. I'm still wrestling with the idea of writing something about it. So we'll see.

No comments:

Post a Comment