Thursday, November 19, 2009

Have Tom Crean's Hoosiers Settled on a Rotation?

The Indiana University men's basketball team saw their undefeated season end tonight, as the Runnin' Rebels of Mississippi spotted the Hoosiers an early nine point lead before settling down and dominating in the schools' first round Puerto Rico Tipoff matchup.

Indiana led 20-11 at the 14:14 mark, but relinquished the lead just four minutes later and eventually fell 89-71.

At 2-1, Crean and the youthful Hoosiers have begun to settle into the grind of a major-conference schedule. As fans, we're starting to figure out who the stars are, and who will be relegated to a season spent wearing the candy-striped pants and chatting with assistant coaches.

Let's take a look at the Hoosiers' rotation as it stands today:

Point Guard: Jeremiah Rivers

Doc's kid has started all three games (Crean has gone with the same starting five thus far), but before Ole Miss he was pretty quiet on the stat sheet, totalling just eight points and a 9:8 Assist:Turnover ratio in heavy minutes. Tonight, we saw why Rivers, the 6'5", 210lb Georgetown transfer, is so highly regarded by his teammates.

In 27 minutes of action, largely limited by foul trouble, Jeremiah scored fourteen points on 6-6 shooting, and added seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals. His turnovers are still troubling (four tonight), but Rivers looked like a natural PG bringing the ball up and handling good defense from a high-major opponent.

His rebounding abilities may allow Crean to go smaller at the 2 as the season progresses, but he needs to improve his defense if he wants to stay out of foul trouble and on the floor for 30+ minutes a game.

Shooting Guard: Verdell Jones III

Ah, Verdell. As the Hoosiers wound down last year's 6-25 schedule, it was Jones that emerged as Indiana's star in the making. Last year, I called him "a joy to watch on defense and simply nerve-wracking to watch with the ball," and although the 6'5" SG has put on weight and made his mark as a slashing scorer and spot-up shooter, he's still a work in progress while, um, dribbling.

His turnovers are down this season since he's been able to move to the 2 and bring the ball up less, but he still has a tendency to get too flashy and, say, bounce the ball off his own foot and out of bounds. Or throw it over somebody's head.

Jones scored 17 tonight on 8-15 shooting, and gives the Hoosiers a legitimate threat from midrange and driving the ball. But he needs to accept a role as a catch-and-shoot (or drive) type of player if he wants to really help the offense grow.

His long-armed defense is still very good as long as he doesn't get caught in transition.

Swingman: Maurice Creek

The 6'5" true freshman from Maryland has stepped into the starting rotation and led the Hoosiers in scoring through three games, averaging almost 20ppg. He's an athletic player who seems to thrive as a scorer and can bang down low when needed.

In his first real test against Ole Miss, Creek turned the ball over four times. He had only one total turnover in the first two games. As Indiana's secondary ball-handler, Creek needs to be able to slow down and run the offense with confidence.

His obvious talent and poise makes Creek a virtual lock to hold down this position throughout the season, but the frosh still has a lot of growing up to do. He's going to have to guard a ton of good players as the year wears on, and needs to step up on the defensive end.

Forward: Christian Watford

Watford exploded for double-doubles in his first two games against Howard (14-11) and USC Upstate (17-10), but was held in check tonight, shooting 20% for a mere 5 points. Although his rebounds were also down (5 tonight), it should be noted that four of those were on the offensive glass.

Watford, at 6'8" and 220lbs, was recruited as a small forward-type. But undersized Indiana needs him to post up this year, playing the role that the since departed Nick Williams filled last season.

He can be a force on the glass and has good range (2-5 from outside the arc this year), making him a tough matchup for traditional power forwards. An important factor for Watford going forward is free throw shooting. He will be going to the line a lot this year, and needs to convert his opportunities.

Forward/Center: Tom Pritchard

Pritchard started his freshman year strong, averaging a double-double through the first third of the season before fading down the stretch. He was burdened with being the Hoosiers' sole legitimate big man, battling with the best of the Big Ten as an eighteen-year old.

The key for Pritchard this year? Consistency. He played just ten minutes against USC Upstate and struggled against their 7'3" center Nick Schneiders, racking up four quick fouls. Ole Miss was a better gauge of what Tom can bring to the table. He played a solid thirty minutes, chipping in eight points to go with eight rebounds (four offensive). His thunderous dunk early set the tone for the opening Hoosiers run.

Pritchard needs to stay out of foul trouble. He is the best of IU's big men at running the pick-and-roll sets that make up so much of Crean's offense, and is crucial to Indiana's scoring potential in the half court game. With much of last year's weight off his shoulders, the 6'8" Pritchard has to continue to work hard on both ends of the court, or he risks losing minutes to Indiana's other big men.

Key Reserves:

Senior ju-co transfer Devan Dumes was Indiana's most reliable scorer last year and one of their best deep threats. He is still coming back from an offseason injury, and has yet to find his shot, going 2-10 from deep in the first three games. If he can get healthy, I expect Dumes to play a lot of minutes at SG, especially alongside Rivers, who has the size to make up for Devan's 6'2", 192lb frame. Dumes can also handle the ball and plays competent defense on the opposing point guard, making him the top option off of the IU bench.

Derek Elston, the true frosh from tiny Tipton, Indiana, has made a big impact in his first three games. At 6'9" and 220lbs with the frame to add more bulk, Elston is athletic and tough on the inside. He has played an average of 17 minutes so far this year and put up some major numbers in limited time, averaging over 9 points, 5 rebounds, and a steal per game. He is more athletic than Pritchard and nearly as much of an offensive threat as Watford. Expect Elston to play around twenty minutes a game as the #3 big man.

Jordan Hulls, Indiana's Mr. Basketball and the leader of Bloomington South's state championship team last year, has a problem. He is barely six feet tall. Against inferior competition, this isn't so much of a problem, and Hulls gave Indiana good minutes against Howard and Upstate spelling Jeremiah Rivers. But against the larger players of Ole Miss, Hulls looked lost running the offense, and was harassed into three turnovers and an 0-3 shooting performance in twelve minutes. Hulls is going to have to work on his outside shot and his confidence if he wants to survive the Big Ten grind.

Bench Contributors:

Matt Roth is the Hoosiers' token gunner, the Steve Kerr of the team if you will. The sophomore needs to accept fewer minutes this season and be ready to come off the bench and provide instant offense.

Bobby Capobianco, the freshman from Loveland, Ohio, looks like he is a grade or two below Watford, Pritchard, and Elston as a big man. In eighteen total minutes so far, he has yet to score or make an impact on the glass. Frankly, I expected more from Capobianco, and hopefully he will develop as the season goes on, since IU needs more than a three-man 4/5 rotation.

Tijan Jobe is seven feet tall. He is also slow and can't shoot. Jobe got dominated by Upstate's Nick Schnediers, the 7'3" German.

An undersized jitterbug from Carmel, Daniel Moore is another guy who will have to make the best of his spot minutes. He has better speed than Hulls, but lags behind his fellow PG elsewhere. On the upside, he has gotten a couple of rebounds so far this year, which shows some toughness.

Bawa Muniru was cleared to play later than most of his fellow freshmen, but Indiana could really use him as a backup center. At 6'11" and 242lbs, Muniru has excellent size and athleticism. He has made a few plays (a block and two points vs. Howard, three rebounds vs. Upstate) in his handful of minutes, but is buried on Tom Crean's bench until he learns the schemes.

Brett Finklemeier, Stephen Gambles, and Kory Barnett round out the roster. One of them must emerge as Indiana's lead cheerleader and the first man off the bench and high-fiving at timeout time. None figure to get much time this year.

Breakdown: Here's what I hope for the Hoosiers to accomplish this year.

Rivers: 27 mpg, improve A:TO ratio, stay active on the boards.
Hulls: 10 mpg, run the offense when Rivers sits.
Moore: 3 mpg, be an energy and fastbreak threat guy.

Jones: 23 mpg, score around 14ppg, don't turn it over, be smart off the ball.
Creek: 25 mpg, keep scoring, help run offense as secondary ball-handler.
Dumes: 22 mpg, be a threat off the bench, push Jones for a starting spot.
Roth: 10 mpg, spread the floor as a 3pt threat.

Watford: 25 mpg, continue to develop as post-up force, work on defense.
Pritchard: 25 mpg, be consistent on the boards! Stay out of foul trouble.
Elston: 20 mpg, bring energy off the bench, crash the boards and score a bunch off the bench.
Muniru: 7 mpg, guard dominant big men for stretches. Continue growth.
Capobianco/Jobe: 3 mpg, give the top three some rest without much of a fall-off.

Hoosiers in Puerto Rico - You Don't Need Your Passport!

Wait, so you don't need a passport? Why didn't I make this trip? Damn our low Armchair Superstar travel budget. We blew it all on IU Football?? What were we thinking?

Indiana was looking great in the first five minutes of the Ole Miss game today. They seemed to catch the Runnin' Rebels off guard with their athleticism and intensity, but this has settled down into a much closer game at a pace that favors the Rebs. They are doing a nice job at forcing IU into the halfcourt offense where we struggle when denied the pick and roll.

It looks like turnovers are going to be an issue again this year - Jordan Hulls is getting treated like the little white kid playing on the front court at the HPER, and Verdell needs to stop trying to dribble behind his back and off his foot. 11 turnovers at the 8:14 mark in the first half. Ouch. Still down just six, but need to stop the bleeding.

That said, Jeremiah Rivers has looked a lot better this game than I have seen him before - calm, confident, and with solid moves to the basket. He might be our primary point guard by the time the Big Ten season rolls around.

I'm floating some stuff around for my next Featured Columnist article at B/R (and here, of course), so please let me know today if you have any must write ideas! I'm trying to get one posted tonight while I'm at the library writing yet another history essay.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Big Ten Bowls

So the Big Ten has 7 teams bowl eligible, 3 teams that will not be bowl eligible this year (IU, Illinois and Purdue) and Michigan with an outside shot. To fill the 8 bids the Big Ten is likely to receive, we will assume Michigan beats Ohio State

Before I go through the projections, a quick explanation of how the Big Ten receives it’s bowl berths. As a member of BCS, the Big Ten champion receives an automatic berth with a tie-in to the Rose Bowl. There is a possibility that a second Big Ten team gets selected to the BCS as at-large bid. As for the non-BCS bowls that the Big Ten is affiliated with, the Bowls are not obligated to choose their teams in exact order of standings. For example Big Ten #3 does not mean the team that finished 3rd, in the Big Ten, but has the 3rd choice of all Big Ten teams available. A bowl can only select a 6-6 team from a conference if no 7-5 from that conference are still available.

Rose (Big Ten Champion): Ohio State

Date: January 1st

Ohio State’s victory over Iowa and Penn State the past two weeks guarantees them the Big Ten Championship and a spot in the Rose Bowl. Even if they do fall to Michigan this week, they own the tie-breakers for the championship. After another crazy weekend in the Pac-10, Oregon remains in the driver seat towards a Pac-10 championship and will most likely be the team that faces Ohio State. Oregon vs Ohio State should be a good match-up between teams that have been up and down this season.

Fiesta Bowl (BCS At-large): Iowa

Date: January 4th

This has been the big topic of debate, which Big Ten team will get selected and where will they go. Stewart Mandel has it leaning this way, but warns if the Fiesta Bowl picks TCU, the Orange would probably grab Penn State. This article does a pretty good job summing up the possibilities of how the BCS will breakdown. In my own opinion I think Boise State should play in this game, but would not be surprised if Oklahoma State is chosen as Iowa’s opponent. I would like to see Iowa play Boise to see Boise play against another power conference school. Boise would try to recreate the magic from their last appearance here when they shocked Oklahoma. Oklahoma State would be a good game as well, even if they are playing without their best WR. Zac Johnson is a duel threat Quarterback who has been playing well all year.

Capital One Bowl: (Big Ten #2) Penn State vs (SEC #2)

Date: January 1st

Penn State is likely to play LSU in this game. It would be a match-up between the two third place finishers in their conference. I’d be concerned with Penn State’s weak offensive line against LSU usually stingy defense. LSU’s offense has been underwhelming this year. I could see this game going either way.

Outback Bowl: (Big Ten #3) Wisconsin vs (SEC)
Date: January 1st

Champs Sports: (Big Ten #4) Northwestern vs (ACC #4)
Date: January 1st

Alamo Bowl: (Big Ten #5) Michigan vs (Big 12 #4)
Date: January 2nd

Insight Bowl: (Big Ten #6) Minnesota vs (Big 12 #6)
Date: December 31st

Little Ceasers: (Big Ten #7) Michigan State vs (MAC)
Date: December 26th

Trivia: First to win X Number of Super Bowls

Can you name the first team to win 1 Super Bowl? 2 Super Bowls? 3 Super Bowls? 4 Super Bowls? 5 Super Bowls? 6 Super Bowls?

Answers will be in the comments later in the week.