What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: JustAJ at The Crimson Quarry, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Indiana.
1) It's fair to say that this season has not gone the way you (or anyone) anticipated, I suspect. Have there been one or two key reasons for Indiana's decline this year or have there been a wide variety of explanations for their struggles?
There are a bevy of explanations, but as I tweeted at Tom Dienhart at the BTN, the biggest issues are a roster imbalance and low basketball IQ. The only guy that could be considered a shooter on this team is the PG (Yogi Ferrell). So teams are more than capable of just sinking into the paint and daring us to shoot from distance. Add in a lower collective basketball IQ than last year and this team isn't capable of running Tom Crean's infamous hundred play playbook. They run 2 to 3 sets and they don't even do that very well.
2) What does Iowa need to do to beat Indiana tonight? Should they focus on slowing down Yogi Ferrell or would they be wise to let him get his points but try to contain everyone else? What about Noah Vonleh -- how have teams been effective at slowing him down this season?
Iowa needs to be disciplined on defense. That's what clobbered Wisconsin and it usually is what Indiana capitalizes on in their wins. It seems very counter-intuitive to college basketball players to not immediately jump at the ball on the perimeter. With Indiana you have to avoid that. Give them space and make them beat you on the dribble. Yogi is likely going to get his, either because Iowa is failing defensively or they're successful enough that only Ferrell is capable of scoring from distance. Just go ahead and assume 17 points from him. Vonleh on the other hand can be very iffy on offense. He's big and he's physically imposing, but he's weak in the post. Vonleh has the second highest usage % on this squad but you wouldn't know it. He struggles to establish and hold position down low. If your bigs can stay physical with him and force him to catch the ball 8+ feet from the basket you've already won the battle.
3) Assembly Hall hasn't exactly been a fortress this year, given your home losses to Northwestern and Penn State. But you did manage to knock off Michigan and Wisconsin at home, so clearly the Hoosiers are capable of playing at a high level on their home floor. Which Indiana team do you think shows up tonight -- the one that lost to the Wildcats and Nittany Lions or the one that beat the Wolverines and Badgers?
The one that beat the Wolverines and Badgers. I don't know if this is a youth thing, but the Hoosiers tend to be much more focused against squads we know are good. The only good team that we completely wilted against was Michigan State in their second Big Ten game. After that they've traded punches with all the big dogs. They seem to maintain focus when they know the competition is stiff. If only they could hold it for the "cupcakes" on the schedule.
4) Tom Crean isn't REALLY on any sort of hot seat, is he? He did have Indiana ranked #1 and Big Ten champions just a year ago. I assume Indiana fans are upset with this season, but still willing to give him some time to turn things around -- is that pretty accurate?
Hot seat? No. Indiana fans are livid with this season, but I've never been one to say we're a reasonable fan base. The problem with Tom Crean is his coaching ability has become a meme. Whether it's true or not, people just eat it up as a talking point. No one in a decision making position is putting him on the hot seat yet. His team is young and you can look at a game closely and see that there are some issues with the raw material. But ultimately this is the roster he's responsible for and fans are flipping out. Not necessarily in a super informed sense but in a "I've got to get mad at somebody" sense.
5) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
You have no idea how badly I want to take Indiana. They're just a different team when they face tough competition. But I'm going to guess that this season is more spiraling out of control than a process of righting the ship. Iowa wins by 6.
Thanks for being a good sport, AJ, although I still hope your team loses by 50 tomorrow. You can check out JustAJ and the rest of the TCQ crew at The Crimson Quarry. You can also follow TCQ at @crimsonquarry. The Iowa-Indiana game is in Bloomington, IN on Tuesday, February 18, and is scheduled to start at 8:00 pm CT, with television coverage from ESPN.