Thursday, January 31, 2008

Time to Warm Up The Hot Seat

Once again, after a blistering start to the season, the Indiana Hoosiers are doing what they always do: losing in the Big Ten. Kelvin Sampson showed up last year with his big recruiting pickup and the promise of turning things around and hanging more championship banners in Assembly Hall. for the first half of last season, the Hoosiers lost several close games to very good teams on the road, won some other good games, and competed in the Big Ten. However, IU was never really an ultra-strong team, and they lost in ugly fashion to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament and to UCLA in the NCAA Tournament.

This season, however, things looked to turn around. A talented recruiting class, led by Eric Gordon, was added to some fine veterans, including DJ White. The Hoosiers were expected to compete with Michigan State for the Big Ten title and they were expected to easily exceed 20 wins. The thing that is really annoying is that this actually looks to be the way the season is going to turn out. Unfortunately, the Hoosiers, like they've done in so many years past, seem to be mailing it in during the most important part of the season.

Don't get me wrong, the Hoosiers are 6-1 in the conference and 17-3 overall, which is much better than they have been doing in the past 10 years or so. However, if you've actually watched the games, you are seeing something troubling. The Hoosiers have been disgustingly weak on defense this year, despite playing for a coach who prides himself on his defensive game. After beating Minnesota on the road, easily their best victory this season, the Hoosiers have fallen to pieces on offense as well. They still score a fine number of points, but they've looked shaky while doing it.

The game before the trip to Minnesota, a home tilt against Illinois, the Hoosiers struggled a bit, finally winning by four points. People, myself included, seemed to chalk that down to the emotions of the Illini, who were facing their favorite former recruit. Then IU struggled for a half against Penn State, looking none too good while giving up the lead several times to the Nittany Lions. Later on, the Hoosiers played Iowa and put up another weak first half showing. After that, everything fell apart. IU put up something slightly above zero effort and allowed Connecticut to walk all over them in Indiana's first home loss in two years. Then the Hoosiers went on the road to Wisconsin and found a way to put up an even worse effort in a nasty loss to the Badgers.

The bottom line is that, despite what Kelvin Sampson may have dome so far for this program, this program is not performing to its potential. In pro basketball, it's easy to blame such things on the players, but the only people responsible in college are the coaches. A team with two Naismith Award candidates and some of the best players you may not have heard of should not be playing with the lack of coherence and passion that this team is showing. IU's record should be 19-1 or 20-0 at this point, given what they have taking the floor each game. Kelvin Sampson, if he cannot get this team playing at the level that it should be playing, will be squarely upon the hot seat with Indiana fans.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Who Needs Consistency?

In many ways, this year's Indiana Basketball team is very much the same as it has been for the past 15 years or so. In every game, there seems to be one aspect of the team that just goes wrong and causes the team to falter. Sometimes it's a lack of defense, or shots are not falling, or there are too many mental errors. The key difference here is what happens at the end of games.

In those past years, that inconsistency would cost the Hoosiers the game. It's the reason that the Hoosiers have been so lackluster since the 1992 trip to the Final Four. This year, however, the scores have nearly always gone down in favor of IU, the Xavier game being the one exception. For some reason, when IU manages to throw one aspect of their game out for the evening, the other aspects step up and pick up the slack. This is allowed the Hoosiers to pull out several tough wins this season.

Last night, the mental errors were running rampant for the fellows wearing crimson in Minnesota's Williams Arena. On most nights, with most teams, twenty-six turnovers would spell immediate and certain doom. On top of that, having the conference's leading scorer sit for nearly the entire first half and one of the best rebounders in the country pick up his fourth foul about 14 minutes into the second half would kill a team. Indiana, however, picked up the scoring with Gordon on the bench. led by a very inconsistent Jordan Crawford, and found a way to just hold on when DJ White was on the bench. It was a very telling, but very good team victory for IU in front of a very loud and active crowd in The Barn.

All of this does make me think, however: what happens when this team clicks on all aspects of the game? It's a frightening thought for those who might oppose the Hoosiers this season, especially fellow Big Ten contenders Michigan State and Wisconsin. Winning games at MSU's Breslin Center or UW's Kohl Center is a rather tough proposition for the visiting team, and it has been a long while since IU has taken victory in either arena. However, given that IU has found ways to win at both Iowa and Minnesota over the last few weeks, victory against the Big Ten's upper teams in their own houses seems a lot more likely. I feel that, should the Hoosiers find a way to click in every aspect of the game -- defense, shooting, and mental -- for at least 30 minutes, they could easily beat anyone in the Big Ten, and possibly even teams like Kansas, Memphis, and North Carolina. I think Kelvin Sampson knows this and, seeing as IU has a trip to Wisconsin upcoming, he will be coaching his team especially hard. If everything clicks right, Indiana could conceivably run the table right through the Final Four.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Spelling Bee

Well, I was entirely wrong about Ohio State this year, as they proved exactly how consistent they are by scoring the first ten points and allowing LSU the next 31. Needless to say, Tressel and his crew of misfits couldn't bounce back from that. At least this time, their star player didn't bust his leg celebrating his big touchdown (though Beanie Wells' 65-yard touchdown was easily as spectacular as Ted Ginn's 98-yard kick return last year).

One has to ponder, though: were there any indications or omens that might have led us to believe that Ohio State was not fully prepared for this match?

Obviously, the cheerleaders haven't been taking their English classes...or any classes at al, it would seem.

My final bowl prediction record: 19-13. Thank god I can focus on basketball now.

Monday, January 7, 2008

It's Almost Over...

As Ohio State jumps out to the quick lead (how about the speed of that LSU defense with Chris Wells taking off up the middle?), let's take a look at my record for the other 31 games that we were treated to this post-season.

Okay, it turns out I am not good at picking these BCS games and the morons running some of these bowls were proven very right. Kansas turned out to be a much better choice than everyone thought they would be. However, I would say that, were Missouri to be in the game, the score would have been even more lopsided. Hawai'i, it turns out, totally had no answer for Georgia's defense and going into next season, the Bulldogs are sure to be highly-ranked. Finally, the West Virginia Mountaineers gave a metaphorical finger to Rich Rodriguez and went on to win the Fiesta Bowl without him.

In BCS games that I've gotten right, Illinois was ridden out of the Los Angeles area by the hometown USC Trojans in another game that was totally lopsided. It's always difficult to pick against the Trojans in the Rose Bowl and they proved me correct on this one.

My bowl prediction record up to the BCS Championship: 19-12. A winning record, for sure, but not nearly as good as it could be. Maybe I'll be better when basketball's post-season rolls around.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

January Bowl Time

Well, I was planning on putting up some BCS bowl predictions from the Philadelphia airport, but then I couldn't get onto their wireless internet. So you know, I was going to pick USC anyway for the Rose Bowl. But I was also going to pick Hawai'i to beat Georgia because I thought their offense would show up, and I am being proven wrong. As for the other BCS Bowls...

January 2
Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, AZ
University of Oklahoma vs. West Virginia University

Oklahoma is a bit mad since they thought they deserved to be in the national championship game (which isn't true), but they are indeed a fine team. If they hadn't given up really poor losses to Colorado and Texas Tech, they would most certainly be playing for the big prize. West Virginia was a chic choice for national champion with a week left in the season. But then they lost to Pitt. And then their coach abandoned them to go to Michigan. This WVU team is emotionally a mess and, despite having one of the best QB-RB combos in the nation, they are not going to be a match for Oklahoma. Boomer Sooner.

January 3
Orange Bowl, Miami, FL
Virginia Tech vs. University of Kansas

Ok, I'm not going to actually break down this game in any way for personal reasons. The reason is that Kansas does not deserve to be in this game and, as unfair as this may be, I hate them for being in this game over Mizzou. Now, if Mizzou had been in this game, this would be a pretty good game. However, Kansas doesn't deserve this game, the game will be a blowout, and the fat idiots who run the Orange Bowl will still be wallowing around in their money. Virginia Tech wins by a multitude of points.

January 7
BCS National Championship, New Orleans, LA
Louisiana State University vs. Ohio State University

A lot of people around the nation are calling this one over already "the Big Ten is weak". Oh wait, Michigan beat Florida earlier today, proving exactly how weak the Big Ten must be. Ohio State has the #1 defense in the nation, and they have a pretty darn good offensive attack. Now, I'm not calling LSU weak or anything -- their defense is right behind Ohio State's, and they have a great offense with a crazy, scheming coach behind it. This will be a great struggle of a game, but I think Ohio State will have a little extra motivation given what happened to them in last year's championship game. Look for the Buckeyes to knock out the Tigers in LSU's own backyard.

Well, there you go. I only picked 30 of the games, but we'll blame Philadelphia's airport for the two missing ones. Like I said, I was going to pick USC and Hawai'i in today's games, so those will be my official predictions. I'll tally up how right or wrong I was about this year's bowl season later.