So, what’s it mean?

This is one saddened ape.

By now many of you are probably off drowning your sorrows at Nick’s or either of the Kilroy’s or in some musty frat basement. Maybe tomorrow as you shake it off you’ll begin to dissect what happened at Assembly Hall. Consider this your dose of two aspirins as you struggle down the path toward clearing your post-loss fog.

As I watch the pundits talking about Barack Obama’s somewhat surprising win in South Carolina I can’t help but think about defeat and what it means within the context of a long campaign.

Let me stop the metaphor before it goes too far, though. The Hoosiers are not Hillary Clinton. At least I don’t think they are.

It’s just that, like the Clinton corner, Indiana needs to learn something from today. That’s what Kelvin Sampson said after the game.

What surprised me was how dour D.J. White and Armon Bassett seemed as they sat at the podium. Sampson could say all he wanted that losses are expected and that his team must just move on and all that, but you could tell that the loss, or maybe the extent of the loss, shocked the players.

Which, ultimately, is probably a good thing. They shouldn’t have been feeling that this was a guaranteed win at all. Not when Connecticut has three big players that can play and a point guard just as good, if not better, than Bassett playing on an achy ankle.

So, Indiana learned that much. Don’t buy into your own ranking or your own winning streak or your own fans.

What the Hoosiers can’t possibly learn, though, is how to grow a couple of serviceable post players. That was Indiana’s glaring deficiency Saturday. Anything else it probably could have handled. And there’s a chance, now, that in the future Indiana will in fact deal with facing a bigger team. It will have to if it hopes to play deep into March.

Let’s delve into this thought, though.

Sampson said his team got “out-competed” and that by matching Connecticut’s efforts it would have done enough to be in a position to win.

For the sake of this discussion, let us assume that he was unhappy with the work of his three forwards not named D.J.

As I replay the game in my head, though, I can’t fault Mike White (who had three offensive rebounds and was 0-for-1 in 15 minutes). I suppose if he had been “tougher” or played with more “effort” he cold have had two more rebounds and UConn would have had just 11 offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points. But maybe not. He’s *listed* at 6-6.

As for Lance Stemler, he’s a hustle player who is conscientious on defense. That’s a nice way of saying he’s got an exceptional heart but he’s out-classed by players such as Jeff Adrien and Stanley Robinson (and, quite frankly, some of the guys UConn could bring off the bench.) Stemler played only 14 minutes and saw the bulk of his time late in the game when Sampson inserted him to shoot 3-pointers. He took and hit one. Stemler had what appeared to be a good look for another 3 but pulled it down and tried a jump shot from just inside the line, which missed.

DeAndre Thomas found himself in a difficult position, too, as the junior college transfer was inserted into the game early to try to take up room in the middle of a triangle of three athletic players. He managed to get good position several times but missed four shots — including an ill-advised turnaround jumper — and played only five minutes. Many of you will point out, and rightfully so, that a Division I scholarship basketball player needs to hit the lay-ins that Thomas missed. But for him those shots were anything but routine; since the calendar turned to 2008, he has attempted 15 shots in games. He is unseasoned.

Which might be a theme for this entire team. It seems to have more potential than it does wisdom.
It’s popular to be pointing out that Indiana’s 17-1 start was a mirage.

Duh.

But what was really hidden was not anything as serious as an innate inability for this team to compete at a high level. No. What we couldn’t fully see was this team’s inability to mature together and figure out the way it needs to play during the first two and a half months of the year. There were too many suspensions and injuries, and the schedule conspired to allow Indiana to get through all of those games, save for one, unscathed but also untested in ways it needed to be tested.

As a result, the process of Indiana really becoming a team — of forming an “identity” as Sampson so often likes to say — is still in the early stages.

If (when?) that happens, the Hoosiers will be able to do things to mitigate the disadvantages it had today. It will push the ball up the floor more so that a player like Hasheem Thabeet won’t have the chance to get back and be waiting. It will be more comfortable switching on defense or even, gasp!, showing a little bit of zone to force Connecticut into shooting from the perimeter. A.J. Ratliff will be able to jump into the game and hit 3s, and the offense will be structured toward putting Eric Gordon in position to score instead of expecting Eric Gordon to put himself in position to score.

All of that could still happen. Just as Hillary Clinton’s staff could still find a way to win big on Super Tuesday.

“Some days you don’t play good and you have to fix that,” Sampson said.

He won’t have much time for repairs: Indiana must face Wisconsin, another team with size (though different types of big men), on Thursday in Madison.

That’s the start of a 12-game stretch that should be seen not just as a drastic change from the breezy first 18 games of the year but as the time when these players finally get a chance to grow together.

11 comments

  1. Again, I saw a breakdown of guard defense. Too much penetration by UConn guards which allowed them to dump off or score at will. Coach is right on with the “out competed”. The same hunched over posture (press conference) was evident with approx. 7 minutes to go and down 7 and 9 points down. We showed intensity for first 5 minutes and then put it into cruise control. Good teams play hard for 40 minutes. UConn showed that. At times, we looked winded and they didnt. It is easy for a fan to criticize that, but my point is they were strong and we looked whipped. Where does that difference come from? Their quickness was a factor.

  2. I think the best way to understand this loss is put it in context with the rest of the season. When’s the last legitimate good team Indiana faced? Xavier. How similar were those two games? In my mind, they were pretty close because Indiana was outplayed in both of them the entire contest.

    Sampson’s right about this team needing to find it’s “identity.” They’ll need it in that brutal month of February coming up.

  3. It means Sampson is not only dishonest, but also a poor coach. This team has not played up to potential all year. NCAA violations and/or a poor finish this year might be enough for us to fire him.

  4. One of the frustrating things about being an IU fan and a realist at the same time is the overwhelming current of optimism among many of the fans.

    I want IU to win as much as anybody, but many fans had this team christened BigTen champ and NCAA final four bound before a single conference game was played! And if Chris had written any of this before hand he would have been branded a ‘hater’ or worse yet, a “boiler”.

    Yesterday was simply an untested IU team being tested (finally) and not passing. DJ has a huge heart, and has been and will be “the man” for this entire season, but he needs a lot more help. Some of our guys appear to be pretty good when they are “biggest” but not otherwise.

    This team has to learn to play together. That’s lacking as yesterday showed, thank goodness its not March and we’re not all sitting around wondering what happened to the glory season! There is time yet for this thing to be fixed. I agree with WW and Zak above, and the answers to the questions lays with coach. That’s why he gets the money. After the game yesterday, he said on the radio postgame, that nobody for IU played well yesterday. I would disagree a little bit with that, although I understand his disappointment at losing in the Hall. I would have appreciated his comments a bit more though if he would have accepted some of the blame yesterday for the coaching staff as well. I thought IU was out-played and out-coached as well. But that’s just my opinion, and reasonable people might disagree.

    “Some days you don’t play good and you have to fix that,” Sampson said.

    Then fix it.
    Please.

  5. Can we drive the lane? Set screens with a MOVING offense?
    Keep DJ under the basket more for rebounds? Stop standing
    around so that we are an easy target to guard?
    If we can, we might win another game or two in the big ten.
    If we can’t, I hate to see what the future holds.

  6. KevinK and IUfan…….Good points. Pete….why so negative? Coaches are allowed to grow also. I agree that Coach Sam should have accepted some ownership to the loss, but there is no reason to execute him. I would guess that most FANS would like to see him improve the weak spots and learn from mistakes. I sure hope my peers and supervisors don’t give up on me for one mistake.

  7. WW, Pete is not even a fan. He’s what’s called a mole. His type of threads aren’t relevant to anything or anybody and since no one in his personal life could care less about what he says, this is his outlet. 17-2 and 6-0 and he makes a comment like that. You play who you play. Last I looked, we didn’t have control over the conference scheduling. And sorry UK, SIU and GT weren’t as good as they have been in the past. Guess that’s CKS fault too. Guess 27 wins in a row at home isn’t enough.
    GOIU.

  8. WW,I agree with you to a degree. It’s always easier to push the blame onto others. From what I saw Saturday we were just taken out of our game once the outside shots didn’t fall. We were exposed in the middle with only one true post player. I don’t think we will go very far in the tournament unless we establish another post player besides DJ, espeically if the perimeter game is off like Saturday. We will find out Thursday what we have in terms of a ‘gritty’ team, I hope that we are up for the challange, with Wisconsin being smacked by PU they will be looking a nice rebound game too…

  9. Big Daddy….you got it! I posted on another site about the slumped shoulders of our guys with about 7 minutes to go on Sat. That was not “Gritty” and you are right…Thursday night will show a lot about how we bounce back. The Badgers will be plenty motivated. A defeat may result, but I sure hope we show grit and effort during the entire game. I am still behind you Hoosiers. It would be stupid of me to say you guys aren’t working your tails off. There are lots of good teams out there. We are one of them. Good luck Thursday.

  10. Yes I am fan-a realistic one. We have too many shortcomings on this team to make a deep tourney run. Most noteable, out interior D is horrible.
    How many dunks did Uconn get? At best, we’ll be 3rd in the Big Ten and sweet 16-at best.

  11. “One of the frustrating things about being an IU fan and a realist at the same time is the overwhelming current of optimism among many of the fans.”

    I would say the exact opposite. Ever visit Peegs message board? After a win there are a few posts discussing the game. After a loss there are 100 random posters coming out of the woodwork to piss and moan about Sampson and the rest of the team. Some even resort to calling out players and reaming them. It’s pretty ridiculous. I just remind myself that we are 17-2, 6-0 in the Big Ten. People can talk about the weakness of schedule all day long, but you can’t do anything about it. They can only play the games they’re supposed to play. People say they play down to competition…well at times, but how many times have they lost a game they no doubt should have won. I would say the UConn game would fit that bill but that is it.

    Let the season play out, and when it’s all said and done we will know what type of team we have heading into March. The next couple weeks should provide a great deal. I’m looking forward to it.

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