I don’t know what the collective feeling of IU Nation is today after another well-deserved loss in the Big Ten tournament last night. Assuming that a great number of Hoosier fans are disappointed with the game and the season, I thought I’d work in a little explanation as to why I’m not, and you shouldn’t be either. (Clarification: I am disappointed FOR the kids, but I am not disappointed IN them for reasons I’ll explain below.)
I spent the better part of the first half of the Big Ten season feeling disappointed in the way we were playing. I wore myself thin focusing on poor shot selection, lack of offensive movement, poor help-side defense, and generally bad basketball. I spent games watching us struggle at the most basic of tasks and was outright disgusted that for two seasons in a row, most trips down the floor we run our offense for the sake of saying we’re running our offense, not to get a good open look or making an improvisational move where better teams would to exploit a glaring breakdown by our opponent. My head was so muddled with these problems that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Then, sometime in the 2nd half of our game against Purdue, it hit me. I became as enlightened as The Dude in post-coital contemplation. And a wonderful sense of calm and peace came over me. Here’s what I realized:
We were not any good.
Oh sure, you think I am exhibiting a mastery of the obvious here, but it’s deeper than that. See, during that Purdue game, I noticed something in a single possession that makes my statement in the previous paragraph more thoughtful than it first appears. I looked at each matchup on the floor, 1-2-2-3-4 to 1-2-2-3-4 and noticed this: The Boilers were better than us at every position. And I’m not talking about better decision-makers or better executors or better fundamental gamesmen. I’m telling you they were better basketball players, period. And in a few cases, MUCH better. And that’s all you need to know. Better basketball players are SUPPOSED to be beat inferior talent. And the same comparison to Purdue holds true for at least 6 other Big Ten teams, and for those where the comparison doesn’t hold, they had at least one unreal guard or big man threat for which we had no answer.
(I’m leaving Mo out of the following statement, because while he’s shown great potential at times, he’s still an unknown quantity relative to the Big Ten talent). At best, we had six guys who would play at another Big Ten school. I have a long-held opinion not to throw college kids under the bus. And especially not these kids, because as far as I can tell they’re really good kids who played hard and never showed signs of not being together as a team (many times, they were all-too-together in their badness). So, that said, I’ll let you decide who is who based on the following descriptions. One of those is a sophomore who is at best an 8 or 9 man on the top 5 conference squads. One is a phenomenally improved guard that was our offensive glue this year who if he improves as much this year to next as in the previous season is going to be a dynamite show, but still will lack the size necessary to become any type of threat as a shutdown defender. The other sophomore, who led the team in scoring, is so very talented and yet I don’t believe has any idea of his potential or how much harder he needs to work to reach it. Our junior guard is perhaps our most steady offensive force on the floor and may be one of the best drive shooters in the conference, if not the country, yet also lacks any real defensive presence.1 And the other two were freshmen. (Good luck figuring all their identities with that vagueness.)
Don’t mistake me. There were plenty of moments (read: Big Ten season) where we were not playing up to our potential, and making bad basketball decisions. And then the Illinois game last Saturday where we didn’t even show up. And, I’m not happy about us being less talented than most teams in the league. But here’s my point, Dude. For all the flaws in this team in the way we played this year (and there were many, believe you me), I don’t know that we lost more than 3-4 games this year that we weren’t supposed to lose based on our level of talent. And, at the end of the day, is anyone going to argue that we’d feel all that much better about 15-17 than 12-20? Therefore, I can’t claim to be disappointed without being irrational, and I always strive to be rational.
1To the VJIII naysayers, and I sense there are more than a few out there, I say this to you: You don’t know what you’re talking about. I won’t get to it here, but there is a book full of reasons why he wasn’t the problem this year where you thought he was.