26 + 11 + 3 = 6
26 minutes of the most uninspired play I've ever seen in Assembly Hall
11 minutes of the most promising Hoosier run of the Crean era
3 minute of WTF
The 6, we'll get to that a little later on. Let's start from the beginning.
Fortuitously, we decided to have some drinks before the game. Otherwise, the 6 minute and 17 second draught that started the game would've left us all undressing ourselves in disdain, but probably less profanity laced. By the time Watford was finally able to sink IU's first bucket, the Hoosiers had posted 10 TOs, 5 missed shots, 4 fouls, and 15 points allowed. At the 10-minute mark, IU was on pace to put up 16 points on the night, and I was on pace to be asked to leave Assembly Hall by halftime.
The first 26 minutes of the game provided an unwelcomed reminder of how woefully ineffective our young squad can be and how eager they can be to get a jumpstart on Christmas vacation. On the one year anniversary of last season's reality check against Northeastern, IU once again demonstrated how a semester's worth of lessons can be quickly forgotten after finals have ended.
And no sooner than the Ghost of Christmas Past had visited me with a a reminder of how we only won one game after the solstice last season, the next 11 minutes proved to be the most inspired run ever seen in the Crean-era. Once Patsos decided to take the air out of the ball to protect his 20-pt. lead, the Hoosiers finally decided to bring it and took the game over. Playing with pride, determination, and guts, IU battled their way back into the game with stifling defensive pressure and relentless offensive attacks. During this stretch, the Hoosiers outscored Loyola 27-5, forced 7 TOs, and pulled down 13 boards, while committing only 5 fouls.
And right about the time I was ready to start dancing a Christmas miracle comeback jig, the wheels just fell off. The final 211 ticks saw IU score only 2 points, while missing 5 FGs, turning the ball over 3 times, and committing 4 fouls. The dagger in most Hoosiers' hearts, however, is without question Jeremiah Rivers' 4 consecutive misses from the free throw line. Having largely driven the Hoosiers' comeback effort, the leader of our young team inexplicably left his teammates hanging as he clanked shot after shot off the rim. Crean was correct in stating in his post-game presser that the comeback wouldn't have happened without Rivers, but the loss probably wouldn't have happened either if he steps up and knocks down the freebies in the clutch. There is no way to qualify how critical his first two misses were, as IU clung to a 2-point lead with about 2 minutes to go.
All this brings us back to that mysterious 6 which we began with. After watching the rollercoaster that was IU's December schedule, it has become clear that the Hoosiers' greatest obstacle may well be the 6 inches between their own ears. Without taking this variable into account, it is impossible to reconcile how this team can stay stride for stride with Kentucky for 20 minutes and lay a 4-point egg in the first 10 minutes against Loyola. There's no doubt this year's team is exponentially more talented and athletic than last year's, but it can be truly frightening to see how many similarities there can be when young, inexperienced players fail to properly focus their talents & efforts into the particular challenges of each game. Whatever it is that determines whether we see the 1st half Kentucky Hoosiers or the 1st half Loyola Hoosiers, it's squarely contained within the 6" between the Hoosiers' ears.
While their improved speed, athleticism, and strength may differientiate them from last year's historically horrible season, Tom Crean summized it best after the game, "that's a fragile group of guys in there." Indeed, Coach Crean, indeed.
However, I was able to pull the P.i.P. info from the IU box scores, and discerned some interesting info on some of my preconceived notions on our post play. The Hoosiers have outscored their opponents 287-276 on the season in the paint. (Huh, no shit, says I.)
Okay, we'll take out the powder-puffs (Howard, USC Upstate, & NW St.): IU- 166, Opponents- 208. Not quite the statistical prison raping I'd expected to see there either. Perhaps our startling, inside ineptitude against Kentucky (44-26), Maryland (38-18), and George Mason (42-20) has just burned that perception into my mind (giving up 50 in the paint to Ole' Miss was only marginally offset by putting up 42 ourselves).
Add into the mix the fact that we've been out-rebounded by more than 20 twice this season (UK-25 & Boston-20), and it's easy to see how some can feel as though our post play leaves us at a significant disadvantage (read: FUCT), particularly with the physical conference season right around the corner.
Since even the best of 'em can't coach tall (or teach Tijan to alley oop at least once a game), I'd suggest we work more dribble-drives & mid-range jumpers into the offense to create some more space for our bigs to operate in the paint. (A note on dribble-driving: if Jeremiah has the ball, every motherfucker on the court needs to be prepared to catch a pass. He'd drop more dimes than a chicken-wire change purse if dudes would just be prepared for the pass.)
One bright spot I noticed: we've outscored our opponents on points off turnovers 147-134 on the season. Even if you remove the softies from the mix, we're still ahead 86-80. Considering last year's pummelling in this category, I'd say there's hope for Crean's guard-driven philosophies.
With the traditional holiday turkeys coming into the Hall over break, I'm not expecting much in the way of statistically significant outcomes. However, I'd recommend keeping a close eye on the P.i.P. stats once the Big 10 starts to determine whether or not our lack of contributing bigs will continue to haunt us for the foreseeable future. And with that, I'm off to catch up with some dear, old IU friends for the weekend in the region & plan on doing my part to keep John Jameson & Sons well capitalized throughout the holidays.
In my hunt for some stats about points in the paint today, I happened to stumble across one of Pomeroy's jewels and nearly shit myself = Indiana 0.89 (338) .
0.89, you ask? That's the average number of years of college experience for our young Hoosiers this season, the 10th least-experienced team in the nation.
We all knew last year's team as about as wet behind the ears & inexperienced as any team ever fielded, 0.66 (2nd youngest in the nation), but, despite our large class of frosh this year, the improvements in our youthful blunders have been immense.
Take for example our turnover %:
26.4% last season (#342 nationally, 3rd worst in the country)
20.8% this year (#155 nationally)
13.5% last season (next to last in the nation)
9.7% this year (#164 nationally)
54.6% last season (#334 nationally)
46.8% this year (#121 nationally)
These improvements are staggering, considering how we remain one of the youngest teams in the country, yet again. (Consider this, however, Kentucky ranks #332 in experience this season. While that may explain their their abysmal TO% (23.5%), their speed, length, and athleticism more than compensates for their youth (see: 4th in offensive boards, 3rd in blocks, 7th in height, & 14th in 2pt FG defense) The lesson of the day: athleticism > youth (& Blue Jesus is flat fucking amazing!)).
Shot selection, though, appears to remain as one of our greatest youth-related liabilities. Consider our opponents' block %:
14.3% last season (absolute worst in the nation)
13.4% this year (#325 nationally)
We're clearly not passing the ball as often as we're shooting contested shots (primarily in the lane). Considering the increased depth of shooters on the court this year, I can only chalk this up to youth (and a glaring lack of potent, post scoring- we may not need sumo wrestlers, Coach Crean, but we could surely use some better inside scoring options (read: NOT PRITCHARD)).
In sum, it seems Crean & Co. have quickly began turning our boys into men. They've learned to value the ball, defend their basket, and stop dribbling the ball off their fucking feet at every opportunity. How quickly they learn to attack zone defenses, defend the baseline, crash the boards & own the paint remains to be seen. Unfortunately, the recruiting horizon doesn't seem to offer much hope in the way of supplying the bigs needed to compensate for some of these liabilities. Thus, it seems Elston, Capobianco, Muniru, and, gulp, Jobe must cram in the necessary lessons in order to keep the conference season from tanking our grade this season. (Yes, I've completely given up hope on Pritchard and soon expect him to experience the same tragic welcome once reserved for Sean Kline.)
For a second there, I had to wipe my eyes and remind myself I wasn't at Memorial Stadium. (Aside from the banners, the packed & raucous crowd, and competent coaching) It seemed as though the basketball team had taken on the identity of the football Hoosiers: an unbelievably effective 1st half performance followed by a tremendous, and predictable, letdown in the 2nd half.
If nothing else, Mo Creek picked a helluva occasion to make his coming out party. On an afternoon that everyone expected to be owned by Blue Jesus, it was Creek that shined the brightest. Sure, Bledsoe was largely the deciding player in the game, but without Creek, IU would've looked about as fit for the Cats as it did last year. Had Creek shot his season avg. going into the game, it'd been a 30+ point blow-out. He was HUGE.
Other points of interest:
-Game-day traffic was a bad as I've seen it in a long time around Assembly Hall: about 35 minutes from the time I first hit the breaks until I finally pulled into my spot. Glass should take a look at that as he did with football. While football draws far more people, at least their arrival times are more dispersed due to tailgating.
-Another thing, the costumes have gotten out of control. Throw in the big heads, and it's like a complete fucking circus in the student section. It's like they can't decide if they're going to a basketball game or a masquerade ball. If nothing else, at least try to tie in something IU-related in the costumes. Otherwise, you just look like an attention-whoring asshole preening for your 4 seconds on the fan cam.
-From the way the Hoosiers came out of the gate, it's clear to see that: a) Crean & his staff game plan with the best in the nation; b) the team is buying into what the coaches are selling; and c) we can compete with some damn good teams when we're motivated and properly focused (just not quite yet for 40 minutes).
-After his 3rd 3-ball, I kept waiting for this to happen every time Creek shot the ball. The kid was en fuego. When the 3's are falling, we can get away with being inept inside. Problem is, few team can shoot that way the entire game. Once Kentucky began defending the 3-line, the shots dried up. And without any meaningful penetration to kick out from, we just don't have the sets to create good looks from the arch.
-I'm pretty sure I've seen better boxing out in paraplegic leagues than I did today. Seriously. It was atrocious. You'd think that anyone who's played with Dumes for more than a week would be ready to rebound.
-I'm at a loss to understand why Pritchard starts. His box score reads like he's the 3rd guy off the bench- though he does lead the team in fouls. If his only role is to hack away at the other teams' bigs, why not let Tijan or Bawa fill in to goon it up? At least they'd get the crowd into it and maybe scare the shit out of some people. How much longer can he keep Elston from stealing his spot?
-Our response to zone defense is frighteningly perplexed. Without any capable attackers or designed action (read: MOVEMENT) we will see it every game when we're starting to build some offensive momentum. Points off turnovers may bridge some of the gap, but we've got to learn to break down the zone. As my brother loves to point out, most players learned the basic concepts of this counter-offense around 6th grade, & I'm still at a loss to understand why Crean and his staff haven't come up with some action to counter it yet.
A funny thing happened on the way to the worst season in Hoosier history. After spending a lifetime living and breathing IU basketball, I decided to start a blog. And a nice little streak I went on. But not 40 days after launching this little shit show, I could no longer take it. It became too much for this Hoosier to bear. It's not that I stopped attending the games or talking about them incessantly with anyone who'd listen, I was as dutiful as ever. Rather, by penning the Chronicles I somehow was forced to confront those musings and accept them as my most honest expressions and feelings about IU basketball.
Truth is, it fucking hurt, BAD. And despite my daily bantering about the unprecedented nature of Crean's resurrection project and how it wouldn't be long before we were back on track, watching the clusterfuck that was last season burned my eyes and wrenched my heart. It came to feel as though Miles Brand had taken a giant shit on my soul. As much as I quickly came to enjoy the feeble little forum I'd created, I sooner realized that my words had to be true to my feelings, and they weren't pretty.
Thus, I had to shut it down. It's one thing to be cut, but it's an entirely different matter to be the asshole pouring salt in your own wounds. Worse yet, the posts rapidly became desperate and overly melodramatic. (Hey, what can I say? There's only so many ways one can describe excruciating pain.) However, I digress.
And while the pain of last year has numbed but not disappeared, the healing of this year's progress has stirred my inner scribe again. Coupled with a career change during this same period that's left me writing far less, I'm ready to dive back into the Chronicles anew.
Call it a revival of sorts. With Crean's squad displaying shades of recognizable Hoosier basketball, hope has been resurrected. So, too, my need to say some shit can no longer be denied. I can't promise much in the way of regular content (or cohesive, cognisant thought for that matter), but I'm fairly certain this season will provide plenty angles to explore.
Sooo.....keep checking back, and I'll try to keep dropping whatever's on my mind. I'm also going to spend some time updating the gadgets & page stuff that, hopefully, makes this spot worth an occasional visit.
For Tom Crean, there's no such thing as "moral victories." Conversely, there can be no such thing as "moral devastation" for his young Hoosiers, either.
For IU fans, however, both have become our new realities. Last night's game against Michigan provided fans with exactly 20 minutes of each. (Those 5 bonus minutes at the end don't count in either category. Rather, they only served to give the team a lifetime's worth of motivation to perform at the free throw line in the future.)
Instead of devoting an entire post to the devastating and dichotomous tendencies of this young team, I'll reduce it to 4 words, the very same words I'd utter to any teenager participating in unprotected sex just before the final horn is about to blow: PULL IT OUT, SON!!!!!
Oh, Devan. Like the Duggar family, you've just got to learn when to pull it out.
Nope, there's no need to get into the gut-twisting events of last night. No need to bitch about swallowed whistles, 28 foot 3's, or consecutive 20-point-leads blown at home.
Instead, I'm going to share a story about a guy I met in the concessions line at halftime. While I never got his name, we both shared a look of exuberance and anxiety while waiting in line for some snacks next to one another. Upon seeing his expression and feeling the same way he looked, I asked if he was at the Hall for the Lipscomb game.
He responded in the negative, and said this was the first game he'd been to in a long time. He explained that, earlier in the summer, he'd seen an article in the Star which mentioned that Crean receives 60 tickets per game as part of his contract.
My friend of the foot-longs explained to me that he then wrote Crean a letter, welcoming him to IU, thanking him for his energy and optimism, and asking for consideration if Crean should ever find himself holding on to a couple of extra tickets.
As it turns out, the guy's phone rang Tuesday. The caller was Tom Crean, and he wondered if one day's notice was too short to come down to Bloomington and catch the conference home opener.
My popcorn pal said he'd have been out the door and in the car had Crean called 20 minutes before tip. The extra time, he said, allowed him to bring his daughter with him.
The elderly gentleman never indicated where his seats were, but I noticed him return to the gym through the Section J tunnel and proceed downwards. Half-court seats, below the tunnels, not too shabby for some postal pandering.
With every game, press conference, and interview, Crean gives me something to make me respect him even more.
As if last night's opening half, and the pre-game preparations it reflected, weren't enough, this man's story left me with enough respect for Crean to last the entire season.
On the way out of the lobby, I saw my friend again. He noticed the look of apparent devastation on my face, smiled, and said, "You know that's the same team that beat UCLA and Duke this season? We almost had 'em, didn't we?"
Begrudgingly, I concurred, "Yes we did. Almost had 'em."
Looking back, we may have lost the game, but there's no doubt in my mind that Crean won a fan for life last night.
Make that 2 fans.