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Indiana 80, Michigan State 61.

Under tough circumstances, IU kept its Big Ten title hopes alive and all-but-officially eliminated preseason favorite Michigan State from the equation. It was a tough game to watch in many respects, even though IU controlled the last 30 minutes. While the various man-on-the-street interviews made clear that IU fans know what will be done and what has to be done, this game was a tease, a last image of what might have been if Sampson had kept his nose clean during probation. I just feel sick about the whole thing, for the players, the students, the fans and alumni, for Sampson and his family. It didn't have to happen. In any event, Sampson can enter his exile with something to smile about if he move the Hoosiers back into the driver's seat with a win over Purdue on Tuesday.
Before I talk about the game, I'm going to violate Big Ten Wonk's commandment and complain about announcers. I feel comfortable doing so because Mr. Gasaway violated his own commandment earlier in the season:

The announcing team working the game last night posed a constant and intractable obstacle between viewers and the game. Which, not to put too fine a point on it, is pretty much the precise opposite of what an announcing team is supposed to do.

I literally found myself leaning in toward the TV and squinting at the screen, as if that would help me follow what Gerald Henderson was doing while the announcers went happily and blissfully AWOL, addressing such pressing matters as Ronde Barber, the new College Basketball Experience in Kansas City and, inevitably, Jimmy V.

This announcing team has been tarred on occasion with the easy catch-all pejorative "ESPN," but let us be clear. It's not ESPN. Jay Bilas, Bill Raftery and Sean McDonough share a water cooler with these guys, yet they're consistently outstanding. No, it's simply that last night's announcing team has apparently been given free reign by someone in the organizational chart to ignore the game whenever they want. Which, as it happens, is very often. That's worse than annoying. It's unprofessional in the most literal sense of the term. Anyone else in the world is free to talk about whatever they want to talk about. Last night's announcing team, on the other hand, was paid specifically to talk about Wisconsin vs. Duke. They should have tried it from time to time.

Gasaway didn't mention the main culprit by name. Because he knows that his work is read mostly by avid college basketball fans, he didn't have to. I'm not so nice. Dick Vitale, once a solid commentator known for catch phrases inserted into actual analysis, has for at least a decade been a Saturday Night Live parody of himself. Sometime, on ESPN Classic or the Big Ten Network, watch a game called by Vitale from the early 1990s or before. He actually talks about the game transpiring before his eye! Now, the game is merely incidental. It merely provides Vitale with a platform from which he can say whatever pops in to his mind, and usually it's something that every serious college basketball fan has heard from Vitale dozens of times. He certainly does nothing to enlighten his audience about basketball. The most telling moment of last night's game was when he expressed surprise about IU's use of a zone defense. Vitale was correct that IU, historically and under Sampson, typically has played man defense. But is it unreasonable to expect a man who is paid millions of dollars to serve, ostensibly, as the "basketball expert" half of the announcing tandem might watch some film? In their last 130 minutes of basketball prior to the MSU game, the Hoosiers played probably 75-80 minutes of zone defense: about 30 minutes of the Illinois game, practically all of the OSU game, and a few minutes of the Wisconsin game. That moment was a perfect illustration of what Vitale brings to the table these days: nothing.
I should say that by all accounts, public and private, Vitale is a nice man, generous with his time and money and always considerate to fans that he meets. But the caliber of his work shows a certain level of laziness and narcissism. He believes that his non-game-related thoughts are more important than the game. And he doesn't do his homework even for the tired old material. For years after Knight was fired, Vitale droned on about how IU should name the basketball court after Knight, not realizing that the court already was named after IU's two-time NCAA champion coach Branch McCracken. After someone clued him in, he began clamoring for the naming of Assembly Hall after Knight. Now, I think that would be a great thing, but has Vitale ever done any legwork as to whether Knight would welcome such an honor or would even show up for the ceremony? All public indications are that Knight would not, but that doesn't deter Vitale, who said it twice in the first eight minutes of the game.
I understand that the Sampson story is news. But the ESPN Gameday crew broadcast two hours from Bloomington on Saturday, and handled it proportionately, even if I didn't agree with all of the analysis. After two hours of coverage of off-the-court stuff, it would have been nice if the announcers could have called the game, mostly. But again, that would require doing the sort of homework that most commentators do but that Dick Vitale outgrew years ago.
And now, back to the game. Here's the box score. While MSU hasn't lived up to expectations, this was IU's finest performance of the year, with no close competition. MSU shot only 46 percent from the field, and that was aided by an uncharacteristically good 7-14 performance from three. The Spartans shot only 45 percent from inside the arc, where they usually shoot 53 percent. While the zone provided MSU with some three point opportunities, the Spartans struggled in the areas where they usually excel. That IU maintained control of the game despite DJ White's (hopefully minor) knee injury was impressive. Perhaps I shouldn't be too hard on Dick Vitale--Izzo's charges seemed genuinely surprised by the zone, and turned the ball over 19 times in a 67 possession game (compared to 10 for IU), often on tipped passes. The Spartans, who per KJ's (of Spartans Weblog) comment to yesterday's preview post, MSU scores lots of points on offensive rebounding, but MSU corralled only 5 of its 27 misses yesterday. IU was much the same, but such scoring isn't IU's bread and butter. That's 18.7 OR percentage for a team that usually grabs 41 percent of its own misses. Again, considering that IU played much of the game without DJ White and in a zone defense, that's simply outstanding.
The individuals:
  • Gordon was Gordon, 28 points on 15 shots.
  • Jamarcus Ellis was great, 12 points on 7 shots plus his usual good play.
  • Armon Bassett didn't shoot well but managed five assists and one turnover.
  • Jordan Crawford scored well, 12 points on 10 shots, but the turnovers (3) are back.
  • Deandre Thomas provided some much needed offense: 10 points on nine shots, but he still committed 3 fouls in 16 minutes. That will have to improve next year.
  • Kyle Taber's mistake free ball continues: 2 points, no FG attempts, 2 rebounds, 0 turnovers, 1 steal.

It speaks well of these players and Sampson that the team remained focused and didn't panic after falling behind early. Now, it's time to prepare for the biggest IU-Purdue game since the early 1990s. IU will need DJ, as I don't think the zone will work, at least not for the entire game, against Purdue's various three point threats. It should be fun, at least.