Saturday, December 15, 2007

Indiana (#13) vs Western Carolina (NR) Game Preview

At 8:00pm tonight, the Hoosiers welcome the Western Carolina Catamounts to Assembly Hall. An early morning trip yesterday got the Cats to town just in time for some nasty Indiana wintry weather. WCU is 3-5 with wins against Bowling Green, Methodist, and North Carolina Central. I am still checking to see if North Carolina Central is a college or a high school. However, the Catamounts have not lost by more than 10 points in any game, and they have played Cincinnati and the College of Charleston to close finishes. They are led in scoring by freshman Michael Porrini (13.1 ppg) and sophomore Brandon Giles (12.3 ppg), both guards. They have four players that are 6'8" tall in Camden Miller, Blake Gallagher, Jake Robinson, and Richie Gordon, with Robinson and Gallagher seeing the bulk of playing time down low. Head coach Larry Hunter has a career record of 533-261, and has been head coach at Marietta College, Wittenberg University, and Ohio University. Prior to taking the HC job at WCU, Hunter was an assistant at NC State.

The Catamounts are a young team, with 7 of the 11 roster spots filled by freshman/sophomores. As noted above, they will look to get the bulk of their scoring from their guards in a fast-paced tempo and plenty of 3-point field goal attempts. They have taken 23 3-pointers per game so far this season on average, with the bulk of those from big man Jake Robinson. Their guards should look to get their shots from penetration, but may find that difficult against a strengthening Hoosier defense.

The Hoosier post-men could have a field day against the young Catamount front line. One thing that will be interesting to see is whether or not DJ White defends Robinson, or if that task will be left to one of the smaller perimeter guard/forwards such as Jamarcus Ellis. With Eric Gordon expected back, he and Jordan Crawford should match-up well defensively with the WCU backcourt. Armon Bassett will miss this game under suspension again, and no word as of yet whether or not AJ Ratliff has regained his eligibility. I personally do not expect to see AJ until next week, assuming he was successful academically in the fall semester, but he would be an added bonus to the backcourt for tonight's game, should he be already reinstated.

I look for IU to go down low early to establish DJ White. Expecting a fast paced tempo from WCU, I would not be surprised to see Lance Stemler get the start over Mike White or DeAndre Thomas. Stemler may be an option to defend perimeter big man Jake Robinson as well. If IU can get DJ started aggressively, the Cats will have no choice but to bring the double teams more quickly, opening things up further for Gordon and company outside. With the size disadvantage they will be up against, a 2-3 zone may be the defense of choice for WCU anyway.

I think that if WCU tries to push the tempo, they are going to find that the Hoosiers are certainly up to the task. But, they probably do not have a choice, as they are going to be outmatched in a half-court game as well. Some hot shooting may keep the Catamounts in this game early, but I feel confident that the Hoosiers are going to handle their initial surge and take this one going away. My prediction: IU 85 - WCU 59.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Pre-game update: Bassett and Gordon out for IU

Bassett apparently suspended and Gordon being sat because of the injury. Preview pretty much out the window at this point. Crawford is going to have to be a dependable guard and DJ is going to have to will this team to victory. Updated score prediction: IU 61 - UK 59. Going to be a toss-up with IU's guard depth in question.

Indiana (#15) vs Kentucky (NR) Game Preview

The Hoosiers (7-1) enter today's game with Kentucky (4-2) with many questions still to be answered. Is Eric Gordon healthy enough to lead IU to victory? Will Jordan Crawford's return have an impact on the Hoosiers' overall play? Can the veteran DJ White handle his business down low against a young and talented Patrick Patterson? How will the young UK team react to a raucous Assembly Hall? One can certainly make an argument for a blowout win by the Hoosiers. But, you could also argue the possibility of a close game that the Wildcats could win.

As for the first question, I do believe that Eric Gordon will start. However, I doubt we will see him top his average of 32 minutes/game. The Hoosiers will likely look to get Gordon off to a hot start, as nothing helps a player fight through pain like a good performance. When your game is on, pain can find a way to exit out the back window. I do expect Sampson to create more rest periods for EJ today, particularly with the return of Jordan Crawford.

Crawford comes back to the IU lineup today after a 3 game suspension. Ironically enough, he'll be squaring off against his older brother Joe, the Wildcats' top scorer and senior leader. The elder Crawford will need to be held in check by the IU defense. Averaging 18 points/game, Joe Crawford will look to hit the key shots and lead the UK scoring attack. If IU can keep him below his average and limit the easy opportunities down low, they should be able to win easily. It will be interesting to see how Jordan Crawford plays in this game considering the 3 games missed, going up against his big brother, and playing in the best Assembly Hall atmosphere to be seen so far this year. Earlier in the season he was forcing the issue a lot and playing out of control. Perhaps seeing things from the bench will give him a better perspective on how he should assert himself in the IU lineup.

DJ White will need to be a beast down low today. UK went into the UNC game and attempted to be as physical as possible with Tyler Hansbrough in an effort to break the Tarheels mentally. UNC ended up shooting a lot of FTs and Patrick Patterson fouled out of the game. DJ White has the experience and the skill to do the same thing to Patterson. Along with getting Eric Gordon into the flow early, the Hoosiers need to be sure that White gets his touches early and often. If UK comes out with the same approach, we could see the Wildcats in early foul trouble which would mean only good things for IU. On the other end of the floor, White needs to be intelligently physical with Patterson and show him what it is like playing with the big boys. With his wingspan and footwork, DJ should be able to limit the number of good looks Patterson gets to the basket. Ultimately, the flow of this game could very well come down to these two players. The player with the most rebounds and the least fouls will likely be on the winning end of this battle.

I completely expect the crowd at Assembly Hall today to be out of this world. I was an usher at the IU-UNC game a few years ago when Sean May came back to town. And I was in the 2nd to last row of the balcony 2 years ago when Duke was in town for what was then considered the loudest AH has ever been. Today, I'll be in the 15th row of the student section helping to re-establish that date for best atmosphere in recent memory. IU fans harbor a particular animosity towards our neighbors to the south, and we are not the least bit ashamed to admit it. IU has rich basketball history, UK has a rich basketball history. Each team has been the the mountain-top on several occassions, although no player on either of these present squads have really tasted what it is like to be on top. Both schools have relatively new coaches that will rival each other in matchups on the court and in recruiting battles. There will be no love lost here. This is a border war. This is what Indiana basketball is all about. This is our game, and it is time to make a statement. It is time we take back what is rightfully ours. Today my friends, Indiana University puts themselves back on the map.

My score prediction: Hoosiers 77 - Wildcats 60

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Welcome to Kentucky, the state where education pays!!

This is what you read on the boards as you enter the state of Kentucky on the highway. It is a nice slogan, but I don't think they have caught up with all of their hopes and dreams just yet. Here is a little video (albeit an old one) displaying some of UK's finest students. Do they reek of talent? Or do they just reek? You be the judge.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Hoosiers to host Wildcats this weekend

The Indiana Basketball Hoosiers will be home this Saturday to face one of their fiercest rivals from that state to the south, the Kentucky Wildcats. Border wars are never pretty, and that is generally the case when these two teams match-up in their annual December battle. The IU-Kentucky game is typically played on a neutral court, with each team receiving an equal amount of tickets to distribute amongst their fans. Games would alternate between the RCA Dome in Indianapolis and Freedom Hall in Louisville. However, last season due to a scheduling conflict at Freedom Hall, the game had to be moved to Lexington. In an unpopular decision amongst Hoosier fans, the UK brass decided that they would only provide 100 tickets to IU as opposed to the standard 50/50 split. This season, to balance things out, the game will be played at Assembly Hall, and we are returning the favor. This game has been the hottest ticket in recent IU basketball memory, some selling in excess of $600 for a single seat. IU and UK have each made recent coaching changes with IU hiring Kelvin Sampson after the end of the 2005-06 season and UK hiring Billy Gillespie after last season. Gillespie earned himself a reputation as an excellent recruiter at his prior gig for Texas A&M, whereas Sampson landed the biggest in-state recruit in Eric Gordon that IU has kept home since perhaps the days of Calbert Cheaney. This game is more than just a number in the win-loss column. It is a battle for bragging rights amongst fans, as well as a bargaining piece used to recruit since many prime targets in the region will be sought after by both schools. After a few months of chasing after tickets to this game, I finally secured a pair this evening that will put me in row 15 of the student section in the main level. I can also proudly say that I paid less than $100 per ticket. Who says it doesn't pay to keep a student ID after you graduate? This is going to be an amazing atmosphere and I just can not wait for Saturday to get here. In anticipation of this game, I will provide a more in depth preview later in the week. Check back soon for the update!

Tempe, AZ Here We Come!!

The Hoosiers are headed to the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Arizona to face the Oklahoma State Cowboys. My flight is booked and it appears as if we have an awesome hotel to stay at from December 29th until January 2nd. IU football and New Year's at the Fiesta Bowl Block Party (one of the top 10 places to bring in the New Year in the US)!!! It is going to be one great time and I can't wait for the day to come. As the date gets closer, I'll be sure to preview the game as well as come up with an itinerary for the trip. For now, I'm just excited for the Hoosiers to be in a warm weather bowl game with a chance to test themselves against a quality team. And don't worry, I'll be sure to get a poke or two in on OSU's most popular target, Mike Gundy.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

BCS and Big Ten Bowl Projections (prior to Championship Saturday) with my first blog I am going to tackle the impossible. I have been wracking my brain and throwing ideas off my friends trying to figure out how things are going to end up and where IU will go for their first bowl game since 1993. I will attempt to explain why I think certain teams will be where, but feel free to comment with your own opinions or questions. As we all know, the Big Ten has 7 bowl tie-ins with the Motor City, Champs Sports, Alamo, Insight, Outback, Capitol One, and presumably the Rose. As things currently stand within the BCS Rankings, Ohio State will represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. As you'll see, I'm not totally sold on that happening. Also, there are 10 BCS slots available for which the BCS bowl committees will choose their participants. They will choose from a pool of 14, or perhaps 18 if necessary, teams that make up the top 14-18 in the BCS Rankings. BCS rules state that a single conference can not send more than 2 teams to BCS bowls. Currently in the top 14 there are 4 SEC teams (Georgia, LSU, Florida, Tennessee), 3 Big 12 teams (Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma), 1 Big 10 team (Ohio State), 2 Pac-10 teams (USC, Arizona State), 2 ACC teams (Virginia Tech, Boston College), 1 Big East team (West Virginia), and 1 WAC team (Hawaii). Current teams 15-18 are Illinois, Clemson, Oregon and Wisconsin. To make things even more interesting, the majority of the teams in the top 14 still have 1 more game to play this weekend. Crucial matchups include Virginia Tech vs Boston College (ACC Championship), Tennessee vs LSU (SEC Championship), Missouri vs Oklahoma (Big 12 Championship), UCLA vs USC, Pittsburgh vs West Virginia, Arizona vs Arizona State, and Washington vs Hawaii. 10 of the top 14 teams in action and some key losses could affect the bowl situation for our Hoosiers. How so? Those oh-so-annoying Illinois Fighting Illini could still sneak in the back door to the Rose Bowl. Here is how I'm breaking it down based on my predictions for this weekend's games (perhaps more hopeful than realistic).

Oklahoma defeats Missouri for Big 12 Championship, knocking the Tigers out of the BCS Championship.

West Virginia routs Pitt in the Backyard Brawl, setting up a WVU blow-out of Ohio State in the national championship game.

Virginia Tech defeats Boston College (as they should of done in the regular season), knocking BC out of the top 14 in the BCS standings, and more importantly--below Illinois.

I see USC, Hawaii, and Arizona State all winning which keeps them all in the hunt.

LSU defeats Tennessee for the SEC Championship, dropping UT out of the BCS pool.

So, with these results I am projecting the following for the BCS bowls:

BCS Championship: West Virginia vs Ohio State

Sugar Bowl: LSU vs Hawaii

Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech vs Georgia

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs Arizona State

Rose Bowl: Illinois vs USC

I know that one can find many faults with these projections, but like I said, these are more full of hopes for improving the Hoosier bowl situation. Assuming the games this Saturday go as I stated, we could still see Hawaii omitted in favor of Missouri or Kansas. Either of those Big 12 teams could also replace the Illini in the Rose Bowl. I sort of feel bad for Buckeye fans, as I fear that their matchup with WVU could be a 2nd straight embarrassment in the title game.

Now, assuming Illinois does sneak into the Rose Bowl, here is how I see the rest of the Big Ten bowls shaping up:

Capitol One Bowl: Michigan

Outback Bowl: Wisconsin (already accepted)

Alamo Bowl: Penn State

Champs Sports: Indiana

Insight: Michigan State

Motor City: Purdue

Las Vegas: Iowa (not enough Pac-10 teams to fill their tie-in)

If the Illinois situation doesn't work out in the BCS, each team moves down one on the tree and Iowa gets squeezed out of the picture. I for one would love to go to Florida for an IU bowl game, and I know that it may not be financially as feasible to fly out to Tempe for the Insight Bowl should we end up there. My preferences would rank in this order: Champs Sports, Las Vegas, Motor City, Insight...from a purely selfish perspective. I also think that the fact that the Insight Bowl is televised only on the NFL Network would hurt IU from the exposure standpoint. Hard to boost your program status if 60% of the country can't watch your bowl game on TV. So for the Hoosiers sake, and for that of many of the rest of us, I'd like us all to be rooting for Oklahoma, VaTech, UCLA, Washington, and Arizona this weekend. Here's to a warm holiday season for our Hoosiers!

Check back on Sunday for the official bowl schedule.