The face of a super-villain. - USA TODAY Sports
Into the belly of the beast.
What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? This week: John M at The Crimson Quarry, SB Nation's excellent blog for all things Hoosier.
1) I was ready to praise you grabbing the Big Ten by the scruff of its neck and cementing your position as the top dog in the league with wins over Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State... and then you went and lost to the Gophers. I mean, Iowa beat the Gophers by 20 points like two weeks ago! What happened there? Just a bad night? Or are their more ominous signs of trouble for Indiana based on that loss?
For the most part, I think it was just a bad night. There were some disturbing correlations between that loss and some of our other losses. IU had a comfortable lead and gave it back (same against Butler and Illinois). IU was vulnerable to a physical team that slowed down IU's transition game and pushed Zeller around inside (Butler, Wisconsin). I don't doubt that these are weaknesses for IU, but every team has weaknesses. It's better than giving up 33 points in ten minutes to Penn State. Plus, I don't think there is any doubt that the Gophers are capable of a much better record than they have. Remember, the Gophers played probably the best half of basketball that anyone has played against IU this season (the second half of IU's win in Bloomington). It was Minnesota's misfortune that it followed IU's best half of basketball of the decade. I'll admit it. I was looking ahead and was really, really, excited about the idea of clinching an outright Big Ten title on senior night. Still, thanks to Michigan's loss IU still can be the outright champ before heading to Ann Arbor without any crazy result (IU beats iowa and OSU; Michigan wins at home against MSU; MSU wins at home against Wisconsin). Given the quality of the conference I would have taken this situation happily at the beginning of the season.
2) Are you fully onboard the "Oladipo for Player of the Year" movement? is he hands down the best player on Indiana, or can you make a case for someone else?
Sure. Why not? He's been incredible. I haven't weighed his resume against that of everyone else in the country, but I've never seen an IU player improve so much from his freshman year. It was obvious from day one that Oladipo was going to be a fun and hard-working player, but the way he has developed as a shooter and ball handler is truly amazing. But yeah, as you imply, Cody Zeller is having a fantastic year, which is almost taken for granted. KenPom still has Zeller has his player of the year, and I think either would be deserving. But based on current public opinion my guess is that Oladipo is the only one from IU with a shot.
3) Dan Dakich: insufferable asshole or aggravating twit?
He can be an asshole. He's a basketball coach and a sports talk radio host, so that's nearly implied. I do like him as an in-game commentator, however. He has a good basketball mind and doesn't feel the need to talk down to the audience. In both football and basketball, I appreciate color commentators who don't talk down to their audience and will try to add to their understanding of the game by pointing out things that those of us without expertise don't necessarily see. I think my final answer is "sufferable asshole."
4) How are you feeling about Indiana's NCAA Tournament chances now? You're certainly a legitimate national title contender; are there any teams that make you especially nervous? Or are you thinking that as long as you play well, there really aren't any teams that can beat the Hoosiers?
I feel fine, but certainly realize that being the best team doesn't translate to winning the title even half the time. Teams that fit the Wisconsin/Butler profile are probably the biggest threat. I do think there is a good chance that IU's best game would beat anyone else's best game, but that isn't all that relevant, because no team is at 100 percent in every game.
5) Is there a sense that this is "the year" for Indiana? Obviously Tom Crean has been recruiting well and I'm sure there's talent in the pipeline, but the top four scorers on this team are either seniors (Watford, Hulls) or guys who might leave for the NBA (Zeller, Oladipo); it feels like there will be a pretty big changing of the guard next season (unless Zeller and Oladipo both end up staying, in which case it's probably "second verse, same as the first" next year). How much are you trying to savor this season?
I think to some extent that is the case. The future is very bright for this program, and the best way to win championships is to regularly contend for championships. I think IU is on that path, and I'm happy about it. But there definitely is a "title or bust" feel right now. It's been 26 years since IU won a title and 20 years since IU appeared to have a chance entering the Tournament. As you note, while IU brings in quite a bit of talent, the experience will be tough to replace next year. In addition, it would be great for some of the guys who were a part of the rebuilding season, guys who endured 20-loss seasons, to finish the . My head tells me that the NCAA Tournament is unpredictable. But it will be disappointing if IU does anything less than win it all.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
I have a feeling that the Hoosiers will bounce back in a big way tonight, although Iowa has been a tough game for IU over the past five years. Indiana 85, Iowa 69.
Thanks for being a good sport, John. You can check out John at The Crimson Quarry. You can also follow him on Twitter at @crimsonquarry. The Iowa-Indiana game is in Iowa City on Saturday, March 2 at 6:30pm CT, with television coverage from BTN.