I love writing this blog. I enjoy the writing itself, the feedback I get from readers via comments and e-mails, and interaction (both friendly and contentious) with writers and fans affiliated with other teams. It's great that I am able to do this, that some decent number of people bother to read it, and that I even make a few bucks with it. The disadvantage? If yesterday's game had happened four years ago, I could have separated myself from the horror by stepping back for a few days. After yesterday's game, I really wished I had the option of pretending, until the Illinois game tips at 9 p.m. Thursday, that Indiana University basketball doesn't exist. It's not just the outcome of the game and the way IU played yesterday, although that's a big part of it. It's the whole snakebitten spectacle. In my post of a couple of weeks ago, discussing IU's roster and the limitations of the current squad, the picture was grim enough. Only two top 100 players on the roster. Only one top 150 player in the junior or senior class. Now, we're down one of the top 100 guys (Maurice Creek, apparently done for the year), and the only top 150 upperclassman (Verdell Jones III), is now out with a knee injury, "indefinitely." Creek wasn't playing like the guy we saw in November and December 2009, but he was the #4 scorer on this team and is a decent defender. Jones, a flawed balllhandler, is essentially is the only guard on this team who can create his own shot and also a relatively good defender, and he is the latest casualty. Jones is the second-leading scorer on the team this year and the loss of Creek and Jones means that as young as this team was already, we are now without our top two scorers from last year's team (by per-game average, although Creek didn't play for the entire season). Every team faces injuries, and no team's season ever plays out exactly as expected. Still, at a certain point it becomes ridiculous.
None of that excuses the ridiculously awful defensive performance against Iowa. Unquestionably, talent and youth play a role, but most of the guys look lost out there. I don't know enough about Crean's scheme or defensive schemes in general to offer much explanation, but I'm reasonably sure that moving away from one's man when he has the ball is not optimal. Iowa scored 1.14 points per possession, its second-highest total of the season. The likes of Idaho, Louisiana-Monroe, and South Dakota State presented more of a defensive challenge to Iowa than the Hoosiers did. The talent excuse isn't an excuse, but to the extent it flies, it doesn't fly against an Iowa team that has less experience than IU, little elite talent, and is learning a new system under a new coach. Certainly, as the coach, Crean is responsible. But again, while I don't want to look like an apologist, look at the guy's record at Marquette. His last Marquette team ranked #10 in the nation with an adjusted defensive efficiency of .878 points per possession. In 2007, they were #31 at .91. In 2006, they were #54 at .94. Again, Crean ultimately will be judged by what he does at Indiana and I don't mean to undercut this. But the guy didn't forget how to coach defense. He's not found a way to reach these guys, and that's always on the coach in part, but some of it has to fall on the players, based on talent, intensity, intelligence, effort, whatever. I'm rambling.
In any event, it's a shame that the defense was so bad and that Jordan Hulls, suffering from the stomach flu and vomiting in the locker room until tipoff, had his worst shooting performance of the year, because Iowa had no answer for Christian Watford, who scored a career-high 30 points on 10-20 from the field, 7-7 from the line, and 3-7 from long range. That was the sort of game we have hoped for from Watford since he arrived, but it went for naught. IU was strong on the offensive boards and was in the black on turnovers, but this was a game that came down to shooting percentage. IU's was poor, and Iowa's, aided by some matador defense by IU, was excellent. At present, IU's defensive trademark is three point plays, as far as I can tell. I literally lost count. If you are going to foul under the basket, then put somebody on the floor.
Other individual performances:
Derek Elston scored 10 points, and had 12 rebounds, but was a defensive liability. He also took a nasty elbow from Matt Gatens, but seemed to be okay.
- As noted above, Hulls wasn't himself, shooting 1-8 from the field, 1-5 from long range, and with 3 turnovers.
- After playing within himself all season, Jeremiah Rivers was 2-7 from the field and made up for VJIII's absence by producing 3 turnovers of his own.
- Matt Roth had his best performance since his freshman year, scoring 14 on 4-12 from behind the arc.