IU learning even from a mismatch

It’s a slow holiday week for Indiana basketball with eight days between last night’s IUPUI game and the Dec. 30 game against Ball State. But we’ll try to keep some Hoosier basketball news here throughout the week, so grab some egg nog, maybe ditch the relatives for a few minutes and come visit with us for awhile.

Here’s my column from today’s H-T:

By Doug Wilson
H-T Columnist
December 23, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS — Friday night’s 29-point win over IUPUI doesn’t tell you much about Indiana’s team.

Even Ron Hunter, coach of the 5-6 Jaguars, sounded like he didn’t think his team was good enough to compete with the Hoosiers.

The Jaguars had already shown their inability to play with a Big Ten team in an 87-59 loss at Illinois on Dec. 6.

Just taking the court against Indiana for the first time was a huge event for IUPUI, said Hunter, who explained that he begged former IU coach Mike Davis for the opportunity.

What you can say about Indiana’s performance Friday night is that the Hoosiers rebounded from a sub-par effort against Western Michigan to play with intensity you often don’t see against an inferior opponent.

After getting outhustled and outrebounded two days earlier, Indiana dominated those areas against IUPUI.

The conventional wisdom is that former Indiana All-Stars who didn’t get recruited by Indiana — like IUPUI’s David Barlow (Pike), Austin Montgomery (Perry Meridian) and Gary Patterson (Hammond Noll) — will outwork the Hoosiers to prove they belonged at IU.

But that didn’t happen. Lance Stemler, Earl Calloway and Armon Bassett looked like the guys with something to prove.

One thing IUPUI has done well this season is rebound, holding a five-board per game advantage.

But the Hoosiers grabbed almost every rebound early Friday night, holding a 20-4 advantage at one point. They finished with a 43-23 margin on the boards.

Indiana’s largest previous rebounding advantage was 15 against Chicago State.

Hunter said he thinks the Hoosiers are the best defensive team in the country. That’s an exaggeration, but when is the last time you can remember anybody saying anything remotely like that about Indiana.
Offensively, the Hoosiers, who raced out to a 15-2 lead in barely five minutes, had the kind of success against IUPUI they won’t have against upcoming opponents like Ohio State and Purdue. But it was a night to develop confidence that will help them against good defensive teams.

As Stemler broke out of his shooting slump with a 7-of-10 night, you could see his confidence swell after his first 3-point try fell through the net. On his second attempt, also a swish, he looked for the first time since the Kentucky game like he knew it would go in.

Stemler also tied Rod Wilmont for game-high rebounding honors with nine. The junior college transfer still needs to prove he can hit the big shots against an Ohio State, but he’s already showing that beyond his shooting he can contribute with hustle that puts him near the ball much of the time.

And how about Earl Calloway? After losing his starting job temporarily, he has responded this week with games of 20 and 21 points (in just 24 minutes Friday on 6-of-7 shooting).

Freshman Armon Bassett, who was hitting just 36 percent from the field before the IUPUI game, has drilled 12-of-17 shots this week, scoring 12 points against Western Michigan and 20 against IUPUI.

The real season for the Hoosiers won’t get underway until after the holidays, when they travel to Ohio State for a nationally televised game against Greg Oden and the No. 3 Buckeyes.

But the most encouraging present for Indiana fans right now is that it looks like Kelvin Sampson is correct in saying the Hoosiers will keep improving all season.