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...