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Blog exchange with Hawg Blog.

I have exchanged some questions and answers with Hawg Blog, which as the name would suggest is an Arkansas blog, as a prelude to tomorrow night's matchup. Below is the first half of the exchange, and Hawg Blog has published the second half.
HR: Hawgblog, introduce us to your team. What players should IU fans fear, what are your strengths and weak spots, and how did your season turn out compared to preseason expectations in year one of the Pelphrey era?
HB: If I were the Hoosiers I'd be afraid of Arkansas Guard Patrick Beverly getting a hot hand on the perimeter. That will pull the defense away from the basket and allow Charles Thomas and Darrien Townes to dominate inside. The problem is Beverly, and the rest of the team for that matter, is streaky at best. Arkansas tends to get mentally lazy sometimes and you wouldn't expect it out of a team with this many seniors. But when there on their game they can beat anyone in the country (see victories over Tennessee and Vanderbilt), when they're not it gets ugly fast (see loss to Appalachian St). As far as Pelphrey goes I give the man a solid B+. He coached as well as can be expected with players who were recruited to play a more Big Ten style of basketball. I thought we'd finish with between 18 and 21 wins and sneak into the tourney before the season started. So, I guess I got about what I expected. Looking forward, when Pelphrey gets a couple of recruiting classes under his belt, I see a bright future ahead.
For those of us who haven't been following IU basketball, what exactly happened with Kelvin Sampson? The Hoosiers were ranked in the top ten, looking at a possible Final Four run, and it looks like it's fallen apart. Are you surprised how the team has reacted to his resignation?

HR: Well, the short story is that when IU hired Sampson in 2006, he was under investigation for improper phone calls at Oklahoma. In October 2007, IU self-reported to the NCAA that Sampson's staff had committed violations and included him in three way calls, in violation of NCAA rules and of Sampson's probation, but supposedly without Sampson's knowledge. In February, the NCAA enforcement staff issued its report, which concluded that Sampson knew he was involved in three way calls and had lied to IU and to the NCAA about it. After a short investigation by IU, Sampson "resigned" and took a pennies-on-the-dollar buyout. It's all pretty ugly. Just two years after our first true coaching search in 35 years, our once-pristine basketball program is without a coach and headed for probation.

I'm not sure if I'm surprised about the team's play. I really didn't know what to expect, because when has a team as highly ranked as IU was ever lost its coach a month before the NCAA Tournament? There's just no precedent. It does seem that there is some dissension on the team and not much rapport between interim coach Dan Dakich and many of the players. While I'm disappointed that the team hasn't been mentally stronger, I wish those who are sulking, if anyone, realize they are only hurting themselves. While IU hasn't played well since the resignation of Sampson, IU's biggest problem has been Eric Gordon's shooting slump. From the Purdue game (Sampson's last game) to present, Gordon is 33-96 from the field (34%) and 8-47 (17%) from three point range. He may have aggravated a wrist injury from earlier in the season, but for all the strife and sulking and subpar play, if Gordon were shooting just a bit closer to his ability we would have won a couple more games in the last three weeks.

If there's any basketball program that rivals IU for soap opera stuff, it's Arkansas. Like IU and Bob Knight, Arkansas and the great Nolan Richardson are on the outs. And then there was the whole Dana Altman episode. How do Arkansas fans regard Richardson and his legacy today? Are the fans divided about him or is there consensus? Any hope for reconciliation?

HB: Last March I figured if Stan Heath didn't pull thru and win at least a game in the NCAA's he'd be done and ol' Frank Broyles still had one good firing in him. Sure enough Stan was gone after the loss to USC and the search was on. The thing was this...Frank was sure he could get Billy Gillispie to come to Fayetteville from Texas A&M. What Frank didn't count on was the Kentucky job opening up and Gillispie passing him over. Which left Arkansas scrambling to fill it's vacancy. Enter Altman from Creighton...and Exit Altman. This left so much egg on Broyles' face that he gave up the search to a search firm where we were extremely lucky to land Pelphrey.That's the funny think about Broyles, it was always hard for him to let things go. Which leads me to Richardson. Most of the wounds are healing around the state in regards to Nolan. It took longer than it should have since Richardson sued the University for discrimination and wrongful termination. But now most regard him as a great basketball coach who let his personal political feelings get in the way. Although, most who wanted him gone now recognize how good he was. Richardson and 9 members of the '94 championship squad were recognized at a Northwest Arkansas Tip-Off Club meeting last month. New Arkansas AD Jeff Long was in attendance and met Richardson for the first time. Media reports from the meeting stated that there is a possibility of a ceremony recognizing the 15th anniversary of the '94 title team being set for next season and that Long and Richardson planned to talk more at a later date. This was all before Richardson flirted with the Arkansas State head coaching job last week. So, we'll see what happens.
With IU announcing that they've formed a search committee to fill your head coaching vacancy, who do you think would be a good fit as a head coach at IU? Can IU still draw a big name with the sanctions hanging above the program?
HR: That's nice to hear about Richardson. I hope that IU and Knight can make some progress some day, but I'm not holding my breath.

There seem to be two schools of thought on the issue. Some think that IU will attempt to hit a home run and will attempt to land someone like Bruce Pearl of Tennessee or Rick Barnes of Texas, guys who are doing well where they are but who will never be "the king" in the way that a basketball coach is at IU (Sampson to IU and Gillispie to Kentucky fit this general pattern). The other school of thought is that IU, particularly given the sanctions issue, might be a better fit for a young up-and-comer. The most common names mentioned from that category are Tony Bennett of Washington State (Wisconsin native with strong midwestern ties), Sean Miller of Xavier (recruits Indiana well, humiliated IU in a preseason tournament), and Brad Brownell of Wright State (Indiana native who has taken two mid-major programs to the NCAA Tournament).

One thing that IU fans have learned in recent years is to distrust information from those who claim to be in the know. When current AD Rick Greenspan hired the late Terry Hoeppner to coach the football team, news didn't leak until Hep told his players at Miami. During the last basketball search, Sampson's name didn't leak until Andy Katz broke the story hours before the introductory press conference. Whether the involvement of a more high-profile search committee will result in more leaks, I don't know. But just to be clear, all of the above is speculation. If history is any guide, IU will hire someone not on the list.

As for the sanctions, I really don't know. I'm not sure that successful coaches are terribly intimidated by such things. While I think it's unlikely that IU will face a postseason ban, unfortunately, IU is in uncharted water. IU has never had a major violation in basketball and hasn't had one in any sport since the late 1950s. While that would normally work in IU's favor, on the other hand, IU hired a coach who was in NCAA trouble and he and his staff committed the similar offenses at IU. So, will the NCAA treat IU as a repeat offender even though we technically are not? Will we get brownie points for self-reporting and an aggressive investigation? Those are the big questions, and any new coach is going to have to accept some short-term uncertainty. I tend to think that the prestige of the IU job along with some ongoing facilities improvements will allow IU to hire a very good coach, but it may dissuade some of the household names from considering the job.
Again, be sure to check in with Hawg Blog for the second half of our discussion.