I’ve struggled a bit to write about this season, something I’m sure you’ve noticed with the decrease in my contribution to the dialogue and here’s why.
I want to be right.
Now, I think I’ve accomplished that. Go back and look at everything I’ve posted during the Big Ten season. I pretty much nailed it.
James Blackmon Jr’s injury wasn’t going to hurt us. – Check
We could easily got 7-0 in conference and possibly not crack the top 20. – Check
At 7-0 no one would really know if we were any good or not. – Check
At a certain point, it wouldn’t matter how weak our schedule had been because winning the Big Ten would sort the seeding out all on its own. – Check
So, I’ve been right, but I’ve been tentative. And I think that’s because I want to be right long-term, not just right today. But this team has been a tough one to nail down for right long-term.
Until recently that is.
Here are some things I know about the 2016 Big Ten Champs.
Not to Worry
I know this one in my head, but more importantly, I know it in my gut. When this team gets down 10-2 to start a game, I don’t worry. I know they’re going to straighten it out and get back in it. It may be gradual, or it may be a 10-point run, or it may be a really big run that lasts 15 minutes and continues after half time, but it’s going to happen. And it’s 100% to do with defense.
With the exception of the top-down post-double, which doesn’t seem to be super effective, this team defends really well. Opposing teams very rarely get the easy shot they want and OG and Juwan started out as good help-side and pick and roll defenders and are quickly becoming great.
This team, unlike even the 2013 team, can and does dictate tempo. They want to run and they run. They slow the other team down on defense and force difficult late-shot-clock situations. When you can score fast, but your opponent has to score slow, that is a powerful position to be in. And this IU team is in that position a lot.
Remember when the 2013 season started and everyone was crowing about how deep our team was, largely based on youtube videos of Hanner, I think? That team was never that deep. When guys came in off the bench, we lost something. Either they weren’t as good a shooter, or they were a lesser defender, or they were more prone to mental errors. It was something.
This team doesn’t change appreciably when the subs come in. The ability to shoot certainly isn’t hurt. Max can come in and score in the post (and sure he scores in the post like the 55-year old guy at the Y with the thick greying back hair who insists on playing shirtless mostly so you won’t want to guard him too closely, but he scores). OG and Juwan make us better on defense. And any number of players who come in off the bench are steady, calming influences.
And did I mention that everyone can shoot. Even Thomas Bryant is making step back three pointers now. We’ve never had a big man who could do that. Never.
We just won our final two Big Ten games against ranked opponents with something to play for with one of our starting guards out injured. We secured an outright Big Ten title by two games with 2/3 of our October back court in street clothes.
I actively don’t care who our starters are.
I think this what I like the most about this team right now. Let’s look at Yogi for an example. Yogi can’t just be guarded to prevent his outside shooting, because he can drive the ball very effectively. And when he drives, he can score, get fouled, or pass to one of four open shooters. Remember last year when no one helped off our shooters because even when we drove there was no chance we were actually going to try to score? That’s not the case this year. Every possession provides us with multiple options.
You want to run a post action? Great! Thomas or Max can post up. You want to bring everyone high and open driving lanes? Awesome! Thomas and Max are both shooting over 40% from three. You need a guy to hit three-threes in a row? Ok? Could I interest you in Yogi, Rob, Max, Nick, or Colin? All of them can do it.
One of the big criticisms that Crean has faced over the years that’s not related to his hair cut, clapping, or substitution patterns, has been about how his teams seem to lose steam toward the end of the year. They just wear down.
Not this year. To hear it told, Crean has changed his approach and is practicing the guys less and for shorter periods of time. As a result, the kids know what they’re supposed to be doing and they have the legs to do it. In 2013, I felt like the team had to hang on to secure the title. This year, I feel like the team is surging. They’re playing better now than at any point in the season.
That is exciting.
It Still Might Collapse
All of what I said is true. And this team could beat anyone. And not just given the right circumstances. This team could flat out beat anyone on any day on any court. There’s no reason to think they won’t.
But they might not.
The NCAA is filled with luck. You remember our last title? Come-from-behind wins against everyone except UNLV and Fairfield and last second game winners against LSU and Syracuse. It’s gonna take some luck, good match ups, and breaks to go our way to make it to Houston, so don’t go in EXPECTING it to happen. Because it might not and that wouldn’t make this team any more of a treasure.
Enjoy what’s coming because it could be special. But realize that what has happened until now already has been.