Sunday, October 28, 2007

Deja Vu

If I had known that I would end up watching the exact same game for two days in a row, I wouldn't have turned on my TV this afternoon. Yesterday, the Indiana Hoosiers played soft defense, inept offense, and put up one score in a blowout road loss against the Wisconsin Badgers. As I type, the Washington Redskins are playing soft defense, inept offense, and have only put on one score in a beyond-blowout road loss to the New England Patriots. While the games are quite similar to each other, what happens down the road will be two entirely different things.

For the Hoosiers, the future is simple: the entire coaching staff should and will be liquidated and athletic director Rick Greenspan will make yet another amazing head coach hire (Bobby Petrino, if he decides to skip on the Atlanta Falcons). The Hoosiers' offense should stay essentially the same for next year, assuming James Hardy doesn't chase the money into the NFL Draft. Kellen Lewis will still be the quarterback, and most of the rest of the supporting cast will remain. The defense will have a slightly different look because Tracy Porter will be heading off to the pro level, but most of the other starters will remain the same.

The key difference for the Redskins is that, while IU has only three games remaining this season, the Redskins have 9 more games. There will be a lot of demoralized people in the Redskins' locker room after their 52-7 loss, but there will also be a lot of angry people. The first one is going to be the unofficial leader of the team, London Fletcher. Whenever this team needs a pep talk, he is the one to deliver it. I also think that, after watching his team throw up all over the field, Joe Gibbs will be angrier than he has ever been his life. It doesn't matter how good the Patriots might be, no NFL team should ever give up 52 points and provide absolutely no answer.

Maybe next week, with the Hoosiers playing Ball State and the Redskins playing the Jets, things will look a little nicer.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Why It's Good To Be A Catholic School

I found this little article from the Indianapolis Star's website mildly amusing, even if the experience might not have been so funny to the people involved:

Storm pummels USC team plane

In short, USC's football team nearly found itself as part of a pile of burning airplane because a thunderstorm hitting northern Indiana provided a huge amount of lightning and turbulence. Sounds like the students at Notre Dame (a Catholic school, if you weren't aware) sent a message to the Dean upstairs to let USC know who's boss tomorrow. Apparently, it's sometimes it's good to have God on your side...

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

We're talking about Indiana University's basketball program, which has gone through one of the most ridiculous weekends since Bob Knight was choking his bench players.

The Good

Friday night's Hoosier Hysteria event was an absolute blast for the fans and players alike. The players on both the men's and women's team were in great spirits and the crowd of 13,000 that showed up was pumped up beyond belief. When the lights died out for the introduction of the men's basketball team, the building shook in a way I haven't felt since the Hoosiers took down the #5 Wisconsin Badgers last season. On top of the amazing atmosphere, we learned some interesting things about the team.

First of all, this team is deep. In fact, it's beyond deep. Even walk-on Brett Finkelmeier showed some promise and he will be useful in the close-out stages of games. One thing that these Hoosiers don't have to worry about this time around is injuries to the front-court players. The list goes as follows: DJ White, Mike White, Lance Stemler, DeAndre Thomas, Eli Holman, Brandon McGee, Jamarcus Ellis, Kyle Taber. All of these guys except maybe Taber could conceivably start. If any of these guys goes down, someone will be there to take his place. The back-court has the same scenario, with Armon Bassett, Jordan Crawford, and Eric Gordon holding down the fort while Ellis, Stemler, and McGee can easily make the plays from the outside. Also, watch out when AJ Ratliff finds his way back onto the court in a couple of months.

Second, the size of that front-court is freakishly good. DJ White is still himself, and he will be backing down defenders and hitting his turnaround jumper all season. Eli Holman, who averaged a quadruple-double during his high school career, has a wingspan of 7'8", which will translate to big blocks and big rebounds. Mike White is still a bowling ball of a forward and he still plays some amazing defense. The highlight is DeAndre Thomas who, even after losing 57 pounds over the summer, still weighs 298. Despite his size, Thomas can dunk the ball and he put up some solid defense on DJ White during the Cream vs. Crimson scrimmage.

Third, "Er-ic Gor-don" (clap clap clapclapclap). I hadn't really gotten a look at Eric Gordon's play before Hoosier Hysteria, but I know now what the big deal was about. Even though his first play in front of an Assembly Hall crowd was a missed dunk, he showed such a great shooting touch and some amazing athleticism while electrifying the crowd. The only downside to all of this is that after this season, he probably won't be wearing an Indiana uniform.

The Bad

Barely a day after they sent his name thundering down from the seats at Assembly Hall, members of the most reactionary fan base this side of Lexington, KY, are calling for Kelvin Sampson's head. Much as it was last summer, the topic du jour is Coach Sampson's telephone. This time around, it was determined that a collection of 10 three-way phone calls between Sampson, one of his assistants, and recruits were made. Sampson has said that he was unaware that nine of the calls were conference calls, but he did know that one of them had two people on the other end of the line. Since three-way calls of this type have been deemed illegal by the NCAA, Sampson got a self-imposed pay cut for next season and an extension of his telephone restrictions by the IU Athletic Department.

The other issue here -- one that doesn't involve Coach Sampson in any way, for the record -- was a collection of 35 phone calls apparently made by assistant coach Rob Senderhoff. Senderhoff was disciplined by the Athletic Department by being put under what is essentially house arrest. He cannot talk to recruits and he cannot go on the road to visit the recruits. If he gets caught breaking these rules again, you would have to expect that he would be fired outright.

What really annoys me about this whole situation is the reaction from the fans and the media around this program. When you look at the evidence, Kelvin Sampson was involved in only a few of the impermissible calls and the Athletic Department reacted properly. Some people around here, under the leadership of The Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz (I won't share my opinion of him with you because, in the end, I would like to retain some journalistic integrity), want Sampson and Athletic Director Rick Greenspan fired immediately for these transgressions. These so-called "fans" who just want Bob Knight, who is supposedly a perfect human being, to return to Bloomington cannot accept the fact that there is a different coach in town.

This, of course, is absolutely insane. We went through the same process when Mike Davis, who did better here than Bob Knight would have ever done between 2000 and 2006, was sent packing by fans after two poor seasons. All of these people trumpet the integrity of the program under Knight's stewardship as the reason that we need to return to the good old days (like 1982, a.k.a. the "season on the brink). While there may not have been much in the way of recruiting violations in those days, but I would say that verbally and physically attacking players and coaches on both benches does not do much for the integrity of the program either.

I believe that, despite the fact that there definitely needs to be some better book-keeping in the basketball offices, this is an honest mistake on Sampson's part. Sampson made no outgoing calls on his personal phone during this period, and the conference calls were all set up by the assistant coaches. As for Senderhoff's 35 illegal calls, those fall on his head and his alone. One might say that the head coach should be responsible for the actions of his assistants, but how do we know that Senderhoff may not have been doing this in secret himself. If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you haven't done something against the rules at work while the boss wasn't looking, I would call you a liar anyway. The bottom line is that Sampson, after taking a huge pay cut for next season and having his sanctions extended, will come out of this cleanly.

The Ugly

Apart from all of this bunk about phone calls, the ugly part of the 07-08 basketball season will be the scoreboard at the end of a lot of these games. This team is so incredibly strong that there are only a few opponents that can really give them a run for their money. The Hoosiers will need to watch out for Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Michigan State, but I don't think there is anyone out there beyond those three that can really scare this team.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Indiana in the Top 25...And Not in Basketball

In the two weeks since I last wrote my opinion (somewhat vociferously) on this page, a few things have changed in the 50,000-seat concrete bowl across the street. With the campus and alumni in shock after the thorough drubbing of the Hoosiers by Illinois, grumblings began to come up of how we're looking at the old Indiana football team. That was the one who would beat up on a mediocre non-conference schedule, maybe win one Big Ten game, and cruise through the season until everyone left Memorial Stadium for some basketball. Losing a game to Illinois, a team which regularly muddles around at the bottom of the standings, seemed like the end of the world for the fans that believed this was the year.

Then, that same Illinois team posted huge upsets of Penn State and Wisconsin, who were supposed to be the conference favorites this year. At the same time, Indiana traveled to Iowa and pasted the Hawkeyes to Kinnick Stadium's brick walls, then welcomed Minnesota into The Rock for yesterday's 40-20 drubbing. Instead of a demoralizing loss to the worst team in the conference, the Illinois game was a tough loss to a great team that served as the springboard to greater things. Now, Indiana is sitting on 5-1 for the first time since 1994, which was the last time the football Hoosiers were eligible for a post-season bowl.

Another interesting thing that has come out of the Hoosiers' recent run of success is a collection of top 25 votes in both major polls. After beating Iowa, Indiana picked up its first top 25 vote in years in the Coaches' Poll. After following up the road win with the defeat of Minnesota, the Hoosiers now have 30 votes in the Coaches' Poll and 40 votes in the AP Poll. That puts the Hoosiers in the "Also Receiving Votes" category in both polls, but is equivalent to 29th in the AP Poll and 33rd in the Coaches' Poll. Just for kicks, let's have a look at the teams that are sitting in between the Hoosiers and the magical top 25.

AP #25 Tennessee (3-2): Tennessee found its way into the 25th spot (despite the poor record) after absolutely crushing a tough Georgia team. A trip to Mississippi State should end up in the win column, but a subsequent trip to Alabama will trip Tennessee up.

Coaches' #25 Auburn (4-2): Auburn found its way past Florida for the second straight year to hit the top 25. However, their next two games are at Arkansas, which will be tough, and a trip to the Bayou to take on #1 LSU. Look for a drop from Auburn.

Texas A&M (5-1): The Aggies are only 5-1 because of a terribly weak schedule. Their one loss is to a mediocre Miami team and a trip in two weeks to Nebraska will burn the Aggies.

Purdue (5-1): Purdue may have been exposed as a fraud by Ohio State. The Buckeyes showed that the Boilers big-time offense can be stopped and that Purdue can be beat. Purdue is very much IU's equal and the Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket will be a great game.

Colorado (4-2): The Buffs are a very solid team and could be in the hunt for the Big 12 North this year. Colorado has a huge win over Oklahoma to hang its hat on and they could easily break the top 25.

Virginia (5-1): After a terrible loss at Wyoming, the Cavs have rolled through their schedule for five straight wins. A game at Maryland in two weeks could trip UVA, but they seem to be on the up-and-up.

Texas Tech (5-1): The Rebels don't really have a big win to put on its resumé, and there are three games (Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma) that could easily catch Texas Tech out.

Rutgers (3-2): The Scarlet Knights are nowhere near the level they were last season, but they are still a good team. That said, they have lost two straight, and they have games against South Florida and West Virginia coming. Look for a drop by the Knights.

Boise State (4-1): The Broncos still have one of the nation's best backs and can win a lot of games. However, they did not come through in big games this year the same way they did last year. The weak schedule will hurt the Broncos in the polls.

Connecticut (5-0): Don't look now, but the football Huskies are undefeated. Of course they do have tough games coming up against South Florida, Cincinnati, and West Virginia. Connecticut might make bowl eligibility, but they probably won't find the top 25.

Indiana, while in a similar situation as some of the teams on this list, has an advantage over these teams in several categories. The Hoosiers are sitting 25th in the nation in total offense and 49th in total defense. The most important statistic, though is that Indiana is ranked first in the nation in sacks with 29, three clear of second-place Georgia Tech. Defensive ends Greg Middleton and Jamie Kirlew and Linebacker Will Patterson have been tearing up offenses all season long and don't look to be slowing down anytime soon.

The Hoosiers have some very pivotal games coming up in the next three weeks. The next one is against a Michigan State team that has looked nearly invincible on the field this year. Or, at least, they did until losing at home to a very beatable Northwestern team. The Hoosiers' offensive attack, which is an evolved form of Northwestern's spread could very well give the Spartans trouble. I won't go so far as to say the Hoosiers will win on Saturday, but they have a good chance at taking down the Spartans and holding onto the Old Brass Spittoon.