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) Maybe it's just my Hawkeye perspective clouding things, but it feels like our programs have been pretty closely linked over the last 15 years or so, going back to when Iowa hired former Indiana legend Steve Alford in 1999. Iowa-Indiana games always seemed like a huge event while he was here, even if the "Alford coaching against his alma mater" angle got tired after roughly the second Iowa-Indiana game. But the programs seemed tied together even after he left; as you bottomed out in the aftermath of Kelvin Sampson's tenure, we fell apart under Todd Lickliter (sidenote: we're not hiring any more coaches from Indiana anytime soon). And then, more recently, both teams have been building themselves back up at the same time (although you guys are certainly much further along that path at the moment). Does it feel that way to you at all? Or is Iowa just another Big Ten opponent for you?
I hadn't really thought of it in those terms, but what you say makes sense. My main feeling with regard to Iowa's program has been consternation. As you note, the Alford-against-IU theme was beyond tiresome, but I knew that every IU loss to Iowa in those days would and did lead to handwringing about how he should be IU's coach. Once he was gone, and Lickliter was even worse, IU still couldn't do a thing at Carver Hawkeye. And even during the Crean era, the Hawkeyes have been a thorn in IU's side. In 2010, IU was 3-3 in the Big Ten and seemed to have turned a corner before getting stomped at home by a pretty horrific Iowa team in the first loss of what became an eleven-game losing streak. In 2011, in Bloomington, IU controlled the first 35 minutes and then utterly collapsed, and didn't win another game all year. Last season, the road trip to IC was one of IU's worst performances of the year. And I haven't even mentioned Luke Recker. It's enough to make me want to throw an inbounds pass directly into Jacob Jaacks's ugly mug.
2) So... Butler. What went wrong in that game for Indiana? Is there anything from that performance that Iowa can draw inspiration from?
I thought Butler played harder and took advantage of what has long been a thorn in IU's side, perimeter defense, and lit the Hoosiers up from three point range. Butler also took the Hoosiers out of their game offensively for most of the day. For all that, IU had a four point lead in OT and couldn't finish them off. It was just the usual Butler thing--they stuck around and took advantage. As for whether Iowa can draw inspiration, well, IU gave up a bunch of three pointers last night to one of the worst teams in the country, so don't be deterred by the fact that the Hawkeyes don't shoot the three particularly well. I love IU's team and starting lineup, but having two undersized guards (Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell) in the lineup is probably the Hoosiers' main flaw on defense. I think it's worth it, but it's a problem that can be exploited.
3) It seems like there's a little disappointment with Cody Zeller this season, at least among national observers. He certainly hasn't been bad this season -- 16.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 63% FG is a pretty nice stat line. Is it because he hasn't improved on his numbers from last year all that much -- 15.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 62% FG? Is there anything you'd like to see him improve on?
It sounds a bit sportswriter-cliche, but I would like to see him demand the ball a bit more. He is by no means a soft player--just ask Meyers Leonard--but in some ways I think he is unselfish to a fault. He needs to touch the ball more. On the other hand, it's impossible to overrate how much his presence matters. Regardless of whether he touches the ball, he has to be accounted for by the opponent.
4) Outside of Zeller, who are the guys on this team that Iowa fans need to be particularly wary of? Or is it just a total team effort thing? I notice that Indiana has a whopping five guys averaging double figures in scoring, which is pretty frightening.
Victor Oladipo is the obvious answer. He has steadily improved during his career and really caught fire about halfway through the Big Ten season last year. This season, he is shooting 68 percent from the field--as a guard. There are only 7 guards in the top 100 among qualified leaders, and none of the others is shooting over 60 percent. He is great at taking the ball to the rim, and while he isn't a great perimeter shooter, he is now up to 45 percent from three point range, so he is at least good enough that he can't be allowed wide open looks. This is a very unselfish team, and guys like Christian Watford, Jordan Hills, and Will Sheehey are dangerous as well, but Oladipo is the key.
5) Speaking of scoring... is there any chance this game isn't a track meet? Indiana's the highest-scoring team in the Big Ten (and the country) and Iowa's the third highest-scoring team in the league. Both teams like to run and play at a pretty fast pace... this is gonna be a shootout, isn't it?
It sure seems like it. Both teams defy the Big Ten stereotype in their desire to push the tempo, and given IU's defensive woes on the road, it's fair to say that Bo Ryan should avert his eyes from this one.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
I will say Indiana 88, Iowa 84. This isn't a high confidence pick. I'm about 47 percent sure that I'm going to be grumpy on New Year's Day. IU hasn't played a true road game and Butler is IU's only live competition since the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. It would be nice if IU could show that the road woes of recent years are over, but I'm far from convinced.
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 Monday, December 31 at 3:00pm CT, with television coverage from ESPN2.