Thursday, December 4, 2008

Q&A With Some Knowledgeable Indiana Fans...

To get you all ready for the Gonzaga-Indiana match up, we have been talking back and forth with some guys from a couple Indiana Blogs. The Hoosier Report and Inside the Hall were nice enough to do a little question and answer session with us. This is a very new look Indiana team so this should be a good resource to try and learn as much as possible about the Hoosiers before the insanely early 10:30 AM tip off for us over here on the left coast.

1) What type of offensive system is Tom Crean trying to implement? How have the players responded to his system and coaching?

Hoosier Report: IU's roster has turned over almost entirely, so it's hard to say what we will see in the long run. He's known for a set offense with a focus on offensive rebounding, but with the guard heavy-roster that Crean inherited/cobbled together in the spring, I don't think we've seen much of it yet.

Inside the Hall: It's hard to say at this point. Crean is easing this team into things -- and rightfully so given the circumstances -- and it'll be a few seasons before he'll have the personnel to put his stamp on the program. The players (and fans) seem to geniunely like Crean. He's intense and demanding, but at the same time, he's a guy that really cares about his players and he's respected for that.

2) Obviously Indiana is forced to rely on the contributions of freshman and JC transfers. What newcomers have performed the best, and who has the most potential down the road?

HR: Virtually everyone is a newcomer. None of the returning players were recruited as scholarship players, and only two of Kelvin Sampson's recruits (Matt Roth and Tom Pritchard) actually joined the team. None of IU's seven top scorers had ever played a minute for IU until this season. Pritchard probably had stood out the most. He leads the team in scoring, is shooting 59 percent from the field, and has faced some tough matchups, most notably Notre Dame's Luke Harangody and Wake Forest's half-dozen big men. As bad as this team is, if Prtichard hadn't been able to step in and play reasonable, IU might be winless right now.

With the possible exception of juco big man Tijan Jobe, I don't think that any of IU's newcomers are stretches. I think all are capable of being good Big Ten players, but there isn't an Eric Gordon in the bunch. On a typical IU team, very few if any of these guys would be playing more than 20 minutes per game. I think that this experience will pay off for the program a couple of years from now, but it can be painful to watch right now.

ITH: As far as a consistent performer, freshman Tom Pritchard has been top dog. He's our big man down low and is averaging 14 points and 7.6 boards a game. But, in games against good, athletic bigs, he's struggled.

Other than that, junior college transfer Devan Dumes has shown some promise, and freshman Nick Williams – the Alabama Player of the Year last season in high school – has flashed some skill as well.

3) Where have you seen Indiana improve the most since the beginning of the season?

HR: It's tough to say. Last night's beating by Wake Forest was a step back, but was typical of every game IU has played against major competition. IU played well against Cornell last weekend, finally taking good care of the ball and shooting well, but that hasn't yet happened against a major opponent. Given IU's lack of size and depth in the frontcourt, perimeter shooting and ball handling have to be the strength of this team, but after some promise, IU took a step back.

ITH Omitted Question 3 from the discussion

4) What is the perception of the Zags among Indiana fans?

HR: I can only speak for myself, truly, but I think the vast majority of IU fans have great respect for what Gonzaga has done in the last decade. Of course, Indiana, long the home of a legendary one-class high school basketball tournament, loves a Cinderella story, and it's amazing and unpredictable what Gonzaga has been able to accomplish. If there is one knock, and I'm sure you have heard it before, it's that the Zags have never matched their 1999 tournament performance despite some high seeds. Nevertheless, that's a minor quibble.

ITH: Well, I think IU fans, like the rest of the country, know the Zags aren't some flash in the pan anymore. They are a consistently good basketball team year in and year out. There's no denying that. And this year, we're just looking at them as another very good team that's going to run us out of the gym. That's the reality we face in Crean's first year at the helm.

5) What type of defense has Indiana been playing primarily this season? Do they play a high pressure defense or press at all?

HR: With the caveat that I'm not much of an x's and o's guy, it seems to me to be a very basic defense. IU hasn't pressed much, if at all, and the man defense that IU has been playing strikes me as very man-oriented: in other words, defenders sticking close to their man rather than a lot of switching and playing the ball. It's understandable, given the attrition. These guys are playing hard, but Gonzaga fans shouldn't lose any sleep over the threat of a disruptive IU defense.

ITH: They've mixed it up quite a bit defensively depending on the matchup. In Wednesday's game with Wake Forest, they went mostly zone because of Wake's size up front. They're not a team that presses and the defense to this point can hardly be characterized as high pressure -- IU is giving up 73 points a game on 46 percent shooting.

6) What do you feel is this teams greatest strength and greatest weakness at this point?

HR: Well, the weaknesses are well documented: lack of size, lack of depth, inexperience, turnover problems, inconsistent shooting, spotty foul shooting. The strengths at this point are that IU plays hard, and hasn't dropped a game to a less talented team.

ITH: Strength: Pritchard. He's a Kelvin Sampson recruit that opted to honor his commitment and he's playing as well as any freshman in the Big Ten. He's not a guy that does anything spectacular, but he's fairly polished offensively and he's Indiana's best rebounder and interior defender by default.

Weakness: Turnovers. It's been the theme thus far. The Hoosiers have 20+ turnovers in five of their seven games and as the competition picks up, it's not going to get any easier. The problem is that IU has been forced to play two freshmen (one is a walk-on) primarily at point guard and mistakes are common place with that type of youth running the show.

7) Give us your prediction for the game. What are you hoping to see from the Hoosiers?

HR: I wish I had any optimism about this game, but I don't. I expect Gonzaga to win by 30-35 points. We aren't used to moral victories at Indiana, but I would be thrilled if IU stayed within about 10 points for the whole game. The thing I would most like to see from this team is a low number of turnovers. IU simply can't afford to give away possessions, but we've been doing it constantly.

ITH: Considering we just got dropped by 25 points to a team ranked lower than Gonzaga (Wake Forest), if we keep it under 20 it will be a success. Anywhere in the 20-35 point range on the loss scale will be about expected. Did I mention we were bad? Because we're bad.

8) What expectations do Indiana fans for the Tom Crean era? Would you describe the fanbase as nervous, excited, cautious, ready to implode, etc?

HR: I think the IU fanbase has the right perspective about this team. Most fans have absolutely no win-loss expectations for this team, but most expect to see improvement as the season progresses, and there might be some grumbling if that doesn't happen. Overall, I don't know a single IU fan who wasn't thrilled about the Crean hire. He's already an accomplished coach with a Final Four on his resume, but at 42 years old can be at IU for a long time. He has an impeccable reputation for ethical conduct, he has ties to the Midwest and Big Ten, and he's a protege of Tom Izzo, the Big Ten's most successful coach of the last 20 years. He's a great recruiter. IU fans have very high expectations. Our historical resume is comparable to that of Kentucky, North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, and Kansas, and we expect Crean to return IU to that level in the long run.

ITH: Tom Crean has preached patience with this program, and by and large, the fanbase has really responded to that. Considering there's only one scholarship player back from last year, and he was a role player, you can't expect much out of this year. Fans know this. We're just looking at this bunch now to play hard, to not give up and to develop as the year goes on – regardless of the score at the end of the game. (It's corny, but it's true.) Even though it's going to get ugly, we have these guys' back.

We're confident Crean can turn the program around, can build it up again. Look no further than in his first real year of recruiting he wrangled in the No. 6 class in the nation according to Rivals for 2009. We'll be better next year, and we'll be better the year after. We have new basketball facilities going in that will help immensely; we have the Indiana name and a coach that actually is invested in bringing in kids that will graduate and will fit the "Indiana" mold.

We're confident we can be IU again. We just have to realize it isn't going to happen overnight.

1 comment:

Zag84 said...

Nice work guys. For the first time in my life I feel for Indiana as a basketball team. Hopefully Crean can instill the winning back to IU and do it with a little more class than some of his predecessors.