A New Perspective

Oh, young Hoosiers. You toy with my heart and mess with my head like no other group ever to wear the candy stripes.
Just when I feel like I know what to expect from you, you turn around to do something completely unexpected. I should know by now that you're young and unpredictable, but goddamn! You turn it around like few teams mine eyes (or Vegas') have ever seen.

But wait, did you really turn it around today, or were you this team all along? Was Iowa just an aberration? Come to think of it, I kind of like that notion: you really did turn a corner against Minnesota and then parlay your roll in Happy Valley. When I erase Iowa from my dissecting mind, you've actually grown up before my very eyes.

Just like the "bad Devan" likes to make occasional appearances, so too the "young Hoosiers" like to pop in every now and then and make everyone think they're too immature to finish a game without self-imploding.

Not today they didn't. Today was a day for the fightin' Hoosiers. Today was a day when young men would put their team on their shoulders and refuse to let the Illini run away from them. Today was a day that made the 6 days since Iowa seem like over a year ago.

The young Hoosiers don't pull down 35 boards to best Illinois' 31. The young Hoosiers don't shoot 86.2% from the line and hit 11 of 12 in the final 10 minutes...on the road. The young Hoosiers don't come back from a 13-point 1st half deficit. Only 13 turnovers, that's not how the young Hoosiers possess the ball. No, these were tomorrow's Hoosiers- in today's bodies, unfortunately.

We were at last tough, but it's too bad there's no "D" in "tough." At least, not as it relates to Demetri McCamey.

No matter, Thursday night just got a whole lot more interesting.

Game notes:

-Hulls' 8 points in the first 7 minutes prevented this one from becoming a run-away right out of the gates, ala last year's tilt.

-VJ3 is the motherfucking man. He, alone, refused to let his homecoming become another embarrassment, again. When he decides to turn it on, he leads these Hoosiers, on both ends of the court.

-Elston found his mojo, but the defensive match-ups & foul-related line-up shuffling made it tough to keep him on the court. His 5 points and 5 boards were humble, yet huge. Given more minutes, I can only imagine his role can expand as he gains more confidence in himself and from his coaches & teammates.

-Capo is beginning to show us why he was given the moniker "Vanilla Gorilla" prior to his arrival on campus. He isn't afraid of a fight or putting his large frame on the floor. With some more development on his footwork and offensive post moves, his contributions should grow exponentially.

-When Rivers stepped to the line with 22 seconds left and the game on the line, I must have done the best Judge Smails of my life. "Oh, Jeremiah. Jeremiah, Jeremiah, Jeremiah, Jeremiah. This is a biggie, Jeremiah. a70-68 Jeremiah." Danny Noonan didn't feel this good after the second free toss fell. "Hey, everybody! We're all going to get laid!!!"

-While Watford spent most of the game iced over, his clutch free throw shooting late in the game was impressive for the freshman.

-Pritchard continued to be Pritchard: lazy with his feet, often out of position, and unable to keep from benching himself with foul trouble.  He's well on his way to being relegated to only spelling Capo, Elston, and, dare I say, Tijan. 

-Team Africa combined for 12 minutes, 3 boards, and only 2 TOs & 1 foul. 

And despite the 600 words above, Ryan Corazza owned this game summary.  Korman's perspective shows it's all all making sense, as usual.  That is all.    

Turbulence Ahead

Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the fasten seat belts sign. We're expecting to hit some turbulence ahead. Please sit back, relax, and do your best to remain calm.

So much for clear skies through Iowa. It looks like the rough patch came a little earlier than expected. And based on the level of turbulence last weekend, the coming weeks could be brutal.

Not only does Pomeroy have us losing out to finish the season, his recent predictions have IU keeping it within single digits only twice in the next eleven predicted loses (Iowa & Northwestern).

And if the drubbing Iowa delivered to the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall has already escaped your memory (I actually wish it would leave mine), keep in mind our remaining home schedule features visits from: Purdue, Ohio St., Michigan St., Wisconsin, and Northwestern. So, yeah, it's not looking real good for our chances of feeling the home-town love and pulling off an upset. Shit, I'd only consider a home win over Northwestern a true upset; a win over any of the other teams would probably qualify as an outright fucking miracle.

I'd like to say our stop in Happy Valley provided me with some solace about our pending road stops, but I'm not quite ready to suspend my disbelief after all the gains of PSU and Minny were seemingly flushed down the tubes last weekend. With remaining tilts at Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Purdue, we may well stand better chances of stealing a road win than defending Assembly Hall (read: Iowa revenge and Assembly Hall North's (Northwestern) super support).

This, however, is the point of our journey where things get really bumpy. Crean could reasonably spend some portion of the remaining schedule preparing his team for future success, and not necessarily fielding the players which would keep his team closest to their competition. Because developing his future talent may be more valuable to Crean's rebuilding project than playing the best available players throughout the game, Crean may inevitably walk into a catch-22. Rancor could grow to a fever pitch if Crean is perceived to be tanking games for the benefit of giving a few guys (Capo, Elston, & Bawa) some quality minutes where they'll be supremely challenged. On the other hand, should Crean continue to try to scratch out wins by keeping Pritchard and Dumes' rotations around their average, he will likely be criticized for not using the opportunity to develop his future workhorses for their coming battles.

Granted, with Creek out at the #2 spot, there's certainly an argument to be made that Dumes' presence isn't stealing much time from any one player, and that his defense abilities give IU a net gain with him in the rotation. I'd counter this position by noting his propensity to derail the offense with his untimely shots and inconsistent will to drive the lane; VJ3 and Rivers seem to be far more predictable in these regards and more frequently fit within what Crean appears to want out of his offensive action. And on the defensive end, forcing Hulls & VJ3 into more difficult assignments now can only improve their ability to step up their D in the coming years.

And if my position needed further muddling, there's Tijan. The founding member of Team Africa never quite developed into the, um, defensive specialist many Hoosiers hoped he might become. But while his contributions to the box score have been anemic, his presence in fans' hearts has rivaled few others. Crean may face a tremendous obstacle in deciding how, if at all, to pepper in some Tijan-time throughout the remainder of the schedule. Personally, I'd like to see Tijan to return to his point position in the 1-3-1 zone for at least 5 defensive possessions a game.

Tomorrow's trip to Champaign should provide a good indicator as to how effective Crean & his staff have been in using the bye week to re-instill the fight in his young team. Playing in front of one of the most hostile crowds they'll see this year, IU's re-forged mettle will be put to the test. The results of which should give us an idea just how bumpy the path ahead is going to be. Moreover, we'll see how Crean plans to utilize the battles ahead to set the course for next year a little early.

*As an aside, does the Illinois rivalry really qualify as a rivalry if most Hoosiers fans could give a shit about the Illini? Sure, most all of us would agree that Bruce Weber is a classless, whiny fuckstick, but that's mainly our feelings about him, individually. The fact that he happens to coach a conference opponent only makes his team rivals by association. Further, the fact that most Hoosiers could really give a shit about Illinois (save their punk-ass coach) should completely disqualify them from being considered our rival. The truth is most Hoosiers only really care about beating Kentucky & Purdue on a regular basis. Sure, nobody wants to ever lose or be another team's perennial bitch, but a loss to Illinois does not a broken Hoosier heart make.  Now, when the shoe's on the other foot...

Our Turn

On a night when foul trouble could have easily substituted for free throws as our fatal flaw, IU turned on its swagger and turned off its youth.
After waiting for Vega's prophecy to come to bear (a late game melt-down after 35 minutes of decent ball), IU turned a page on the record books and likely a turned a corner in the Crean resurrection project. It was a veritable Hoosier trifecta: 1st true road win in almost 2 full years, a wire-to-wire lead (save 2 brief ties) that would have been surrendered on any other night before this, and a boost to 5th in the conference standings (forget the fact that it's just the 3rd week of conference play, we're in 5th-FUCKING-PLACE!!!). Oh, yeah. We also pissed on PSU's 3-game streak against IU.

This was big. Real big. I'd almost have sanctioned the road fans storming the Bryce Jordan court after this one (but I'll donkey punch anyone who ever tries to strom a PSU win at home). This win, however, has nothing to do with Penn St. (save the fact that their poor selection of basketball players to accompany Taylor Battle all but handed us this win).  This was all about what IU took and not what Penn St. gave us. 
IU took a sweeping turn for the better tonight.

This turn is where Crean has been dying to take his players and followers since he arrived.  For all his rah-rah tweets, Crean has been spot on about his young squad needing to learn to compete and using every small success as a stepping stone to its next challenge. Winning on the road and at least competing for something other than bottom of the conference is absolutely essential in building confidence in the program, inside and outside of it.

College Station marked the turning point where the Hoosiers started dictating pace and matching its opponent blow for blow after establishing a lead. The new direction revealed a team that played comfortably within the boundaries of its limitations and without its familiar, self-defeating tendencies (read: free throws, turnovers, & ill-advised shots at exactly the wrong moment).

We've all heard of the "Michigan left turn," but IU seemed to have taken the "Minnesota right" after Sunday's overtime win. Suddenly we're heading towards a 3-game conference streak and a plus .500 record past the mid-way point of the season.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not seeing a mirage of post-season play & conference relevance, but let's savor the view for just a moment before we resume what could soon be another 10 or 11-game losing streak. No matter what the road ahead may hold for our Hoosiers, we'll never again speak of Crean's 1st IU road win. We'll never again see a 1 or 2 win conference season. We'll never lack a positive reference point when the game's on the line, the crowd and the refs are against us, and our opponent's on the ropes.

All those things are in the rear view mirror now. We've turned that corner. Hopefully, Crean's Tom-Tom knows the fasted route to the next turn.

Love on the Rocks

Another loss, another reason for the message boards to ignite with inflammatory opinions on the fitness of Coach Crean to lead the Hoosiers.

It appears as though the honeymoon is officially over for Tom Crean & the Indiana faithful.  And while the marriage is nowhere near splitsville yet, the time has arrived for some newlywed counseling.  Being one who is deeply enamored with both parties, I will take it upon myself to try to mediate this dispute.

To the Faithful:
To begin, we need to clear the air about a few things.  Let's acknowledge that you've brought some baggage into the relationship.  Lots of it, actually.  You're clearly still recovering from 3 recent divorces in the last 10 years.  It's understandable that you're a little bitter with coaches following all the pain caused by your prior, failed relationships.  Coach Kinght was your long-time steady, but was abusive, insensitive, and known to toss your shit around when he got mad.  Coach Davis was there for you on the rebound and swept you off your feet when he took you dancing, but he was aloof & uncomfortable in your presence.  Coach Sampson...well, you knew he was a bad boy when you started with him, but he told you everything you wanted to hear at the time and then turned around and cheated on you...a lot.

So, you've now found your prince charming, and you were sure this would be the one.  But faster than the ink can dry on your nuptials, you're already upset with the direction things are going.  Specifically, you're unhappy with the kids your new coach has brought into the relationship.  (Actually, they're your kids, too, and they bear your name.)  And while you did a good job dealing with them as infants last season, your tolerance has all but disappeared now that they're toddlers. 

This is most disappointing.  I understand you're excited to get back to the glory days, but you need to keep things in perspective.  There's only 10 teams in the country with less D-1 experience this season.  It's going to take some time (and an influx of more talent) to turn things around.  Besides, if banners were that easy to hang, Purdue would already have a couple (but they don't!!!)   

Worse yet, you're bitching to anyone who'll listen about the job Crean is doing in raising these boys.  Sure, I'll admit I'm often frustrated at the seeming lack of coordinated offense, but I know this isn't the way Crean would ideally run his offense.  Until he gets the proper pieces, he's gonna have to play the hand he's been dealt as best as he can.

In sum, you need to come to grips with the fact that that you're in this thing for the long haul.  There are no magic bullets to make a 6th banner miraculously appear.  It's going to take some time and a heckuva lot more patience on your end.  Moreover, you need to stop being so damn high-maintenance about this thing.  Everybody knows you're not happy with 6-win seasons or 20+ turnover games.  I promise you Crean isn't either.  But the more you piss and moan about it, the harder you're making it on everybody else.  Continuing to publicaly rant about our family struggles only makes the family look more dysfunctional.  Because while you can't choose your family, they're the only one you've got.  Love it for what it is and embrace it.  The sooner you come to grips with this, the soon your beloved family may once again be at the pinnacle of success and stability. 

To Coach Crean:
I've gotta believe that you knew exactly what you were getting into after your whirlwind courtship.  You said so much when you said, "It's Indiana."  And because it's Indiana, you know the expectations are high (if not impossible). 

And while you've wholly embraced the challenges of this particular relationship, you've got to know there's certain things which come being the man of the house Hall.  Just as graduating players and running a clean program are expected of you, so, too, discipline, determination, and effort are not negotiable, under any circumstances. 

Now, nobodys saying you personally lack these traits, but your boys are a direct reflection upon you.  Their faults are vicariously your faults.  Nobody ever said it was fair, but it is what it is and it's been very difficult to watch.  I'm not saying you don't know this already (you're anything if not acutely aware, I'm sure), but understand it's not just about wins and losses.  It's how you win and lose.

And when I say "how you lose," you might think I'm talking about those losses to Northeastern, Lipscomb, Michigan, Boston, Loyola, et al.  I'm not.  (Well, kind of, but not in the way you think.)  It's not so much as the lowly caliber of the teams that have beaten us or the leads we've surrendered in the process, but rather the way in which you've gracefully taken it all in stride.  Don't get me wrong, I deeply admire your composure and respect you a ton because of it.  As far as I can tell, however, your greatest personal flaw seems to be a one-year Diet Coke binge (and possibly a crippling aversion to recruiting capable big men). 

But here's the rub: we're used to accepting flawed characters as our coach.  After a lifetime dealing with emotionally unstable men in this position, we've kind of grown to become dependent on our coaches' personal shortcomings to reflect our own emotional instabilities over the declining status of our beloved program.  Following a decade and a half of diminishing prominence, we've become quite insecure about our family's shortcomings these days.  And when we post a historically horrible record, blow a 20-point lead against Lipscomb at home, or take a giant shit in the clutch of a Big Ten game which we should have won, the Hoosier Faithful begin to flip shit.  Big time. 

You on the other hand, manage to take it all in stride, barely waivering from the predictable objectiveness which has become the hallmark of your public comments.  Sure you pace from the coach's box to the end of bench like a caged beast, but your composure compels you to keep from berating the refs over their obvious disrespect for your team.  And while you tweet your less-than-ambiguous criticisms like the best of 'em, you steadfastly avoid throwing any players under the bus for their bumblefuckedness.

Please don't take these examples as suggesting that you're probably not doing the "right thing" by treating the refs with respect and protecting your players' fragile psyches.  You unquestionably are.  But you've got to understand that your partner in this relationship, the Faithful, sometimes need some not-too-subtle reminders that you feel their pain, that you agonize over their plight (like I said, they're high-maintenance).

Thus, let me offer a few suggestions for you to show a little empathy.  The next time your team is blatantly getting buttfucked by the zebras, light one of those blind bastards up and take a T (I know you've previously said your stature and salary demand more of you, but trust me on this one- the place will go fucking bananas). 

When the boys fail to get off the bus for the next embarrassing road loss, leak a little locker room audio of you reaming some ass (and if you wanted to mention that Pritchard needs to wipe his vagina before putting on the candy stripes, that'd be pretty cool, too). 

When Korman needles you about the next "what exactly was ______ all about" in next post-game presser, unleash a profanity laden tirade about exactly what the fuck that was and how you're gonna stomp that shit out before the next time they take the court. 

You see, we've seen some pretty crazy shit from our coaches around here.  And while most outsiders view this kind of behavior as anti-social and unbecoming of a major D-1 coach, we've actually learned to love seeing our coaches' passion reflect that of our own and, just like we ourselves tend to do, lose control a little bit on occasion.  Though the bar has been set pretty high, we need you to reach for it every now and then.  Just to let us know you feel our pain.

In addition to some of our emotional needs, there's some other things festering under the surface here.  After nearly 3 decades watching some of the most disciplined teams ever to take the court, the past several years have been rather difficult, to say the least.  Watching Coach Knight's motion offense was like listening to Motzart conduct.  And while running pure motion offense is about as popular as Motzart with today's players, that doesn't make it any easier watching poorly executed NBA sets at Assembly Hall.  Don't get me wrong, you shouldn't have to change who you are or what philosophies you subscribe to, but some effective screaning would be a welcome sight and probably free up some looks (Capo seems to relish this role).

Also, we need to talk about your charitable efforts.  Charity has always been a hallmark of the Indiana family, specifically our efforts at the charity stripe.  You even discussed so much after Ill-annoy.  We've always made more free throws than our opponents attempted.  This fact has about as much to do with those conference championship banners as anything.  Call it Hoosier sensibility if you will: they're called "FREE" throws because they're free, you might as well fucking make them.  Most Faithful would sooner see Gene Keady take a grumpy at center court than watch the Hoosiers shoot 66% from the line

Lastly, something needs to be said about your house Hall work.  Assembly Hall isn't just a gym, it's a national basketball cathedral.  Your efforts to re-fill the stands, while well-intentioned, have bordered on the blasphemous.  It's one thing pump a little rock and roll over the speakers.  It's an entirely different sin to turn the student section into a caricature of a passionate student body.  And ever since the big heads have come out, refuckingdiculous costumes have skyrocketed.  To add insult to injury, other sinners are beginning to take notice.  Let's work a little more on winning games, and less on gimmicking it up, and the Hall will be full and rockin' again, I promise you.

See, doesn't everyone feel better now that we've had a chance to talk about some of our needs, wants, and differences?  I sure do.  If we can work a little harder on communicating, meeting each others emotional needs, and focusing on our shared visions, there's no reason this marriage shouldn't last a lifetime.  And with a little luck, we'll once again renew our vows and exchange rings real soon. 

Well, That Blows

The Ilini Whistle Stop Tour blew threw Assembly Hall (the one with the banners, that is, not the space ship) tonight like the shuddering winds that Bloomington has grown accustomed to lately. 

And man was it cold. 

Not cold like the 8 degree temps outside, but cold like a 27.4%  drop off field goal percentage in the second half.  Cold like being 55.6% from the charity stripe (20% in the final 5 minutes).  Cold like 28 whistles against IU to Illinois 17.  Cold like 19 2nd half points.  Burrrrrr

Following a half spent watching some of IU's most inspired play this season, it seemed inevitable that winds of fortune were going to change direction when play resumed.  And just as surely as you can count on Bruce Weber making an ass out of himself on the bench, IU's luck slowly froze up in the critical final minutes of the game. 

Gone were the grit and toughness Tom Crean had all but begged for following the embarrassment that was the OSU game.  Gone was the team ball on both ends of the court that propelled IU to a 13 point halftime lead.  Gone was our ability to keep Illinois from exploiting Tisdale & McCamey's inside-out effectiveness against our undersized squad.  In the end, we were left only with a magnet for whistles tied around our necks, a recurring paralysis at the free throw line, and a healthy serving of some vintage Bruce Weber whine. 

And without resorting to the moral victory trap which Tom Crean avoids at all costs, there were some promising signs in tonight's performance.  Bobby Capobianco earned his first start and repaied the honor by plastering his body against any Illini within his reach and pulling down a couple boards, while keeping several more alive off his tips.  Though his 2 points came off of the only field goal attempted, it's not a stretch to imagine him filling in more in place of Tom Bitchard, who in almost as many minutes as Capo was able to pull down 3 boards, 0 points, and 4 impressive fouls.

Hulls not only continues to display more confidence in his jumper, but the team increasingly feeds off of his leadership.  The ball rotation that led to his open looks was tremendous.  Similarly, the communication on defense also seemed to peak during this period. 

Rivers, likewise, seemed to find his stroke a bit and let his defense fuel his offense.  (For the life of me, however, I will never understand how a guard who's dad is a fucking NBA coach can be so abysmal from the line.  Seriously.  It's beyond comprehension.)

Having no idea what in the hell is going on in practices, save the absence of shoulder pads this week (wtf, Weber?), I'm left wondering what's driven a wedge between Elston and his prior playing time.  Reduced to Danny Moore minutes tonight, Elston seemed to bring the inside toughness Crean has been lacking.  I'm just not sure what gives there.

Bitchard, you're possibly the biggest pussy ever to dawn an Indiana jersey.  Dude, you're 6'9", 250 lbs.  Fucking do something with that big ass body to justify your minutes, if not also your scholarship.  Play with some pride and find a way to contribute something to your team.  It appears Crean is squarely referring to you in most of his disgruntled comments about lazy bullshit.  Get it together or get to looking for a place to transfer.

If there's any cold comfort to take away from this game, nay this season, it seems few teams are as capable as the Hoosiers in beating IU.  We simply seem to lose more games on our own than the other teams beat us.  And while that's correctable, well, that still blows. 

The Relapse

relapse, noun
-Middle English, from Medieval Latin relapsus, from Latin relabi to slide back, from re- + labi to slide 1 : the act or an instance of backsliding, worsening, or subsiding
2 : a recurrence of symptoms of a disease after a period of improvement

24 turnovers, 9 assists, 34% from the field, 46.2% fga allowed, and a defense that guards beyond the arc like France defends its borders.  It was like '08-'09 redux. (and if you believe the official box score that OSU didn't block us, I've got some ocean-front property to sell you.)

Considering IU came into the game averaging 15.6 TOs, 15 assists, 74.6 pts/gm, 44% fg, and 40.8% fga, it's amazing how fragile progress can be, especially on the road. 

So much for the exuberance following the Michigan victory, it's gonna be a long fucking season

And as though the pains of watching IU take a shit at OSU weren't bad enough, BTN has to pour Shon Morris into my wounds. At this point I'm ready to amputate my ears.  I'm dumber for having to listen to his mindless babble.  Note to the BTN: Shon is not good at: talking, talking about basketball, or talking about things even tenuously related to basketball.  Come to think of it, it appears as though he pretty much sucks at life.