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2006-2007 Indiana Hoosiers

by Chris Mackinder | March 1st, 2007

You remember that kid in high school who, no matter who hit him, would retaliate? Think of Indiana as that team that doesn’t hesitate to retaliate. Regardless of the foe, Indiana won’t stop trading blows until the clock strikes 0:00.Much of that identity is new to Bloomington, and it came with the arrival of coach Kelvin Sampson. At Oklahoma, Sampson’s teams always played physical and would do anything it took to win. That style is what has made Sampson successful at all of his coaching stops (Oklahoma, Washington State and Montana Tech).

Few know that Sampson was on the Michigan State coaching staff as a graduate assistant coach in 1979-1980 along with current Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. Once someone has that information, it’s interesting to see how Sampson and Izzo mold their teams in a similar way: they don’t necessarily throw a bunch of superstars on the floor—maybe have one or two at most—and they fill the rest of the positions with tough workhorses that might not have all the talent in the world but they make up for it with effort.

Biggest Games: One game remains in Indiana’s conference schedule, a “can’t miss” home game against Penn State. (I hope you caught the sarcasm). It looks like, assuming Indiana holds serve at Assembly Hall against the Nittany Lions, that it will grab the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That, until further notice, will be the biggest game of the season for the Hoosiers.

Once thought of as a possible protected seed, Indiana has fallen into the 7-10 seed range depending on how things play out the rest of the season. If Indiana gets locked in as the No. 3 seed, it would have a first round bye and then take on the winner of the 6-11 game. It looks like either Michigan State, Iowa or Michigan will hold the No 6 seed and all of those teams should be able to knock off whichever teams finishes as the conference doormat (Penn State or Northwestern).

If Indiana slips down to the No. 4 seed, it still will get a bye but will play in the dreaded 4-5 game. For the first five years of the Big Ten Tournament, the No. 4 seed was undefeated in the game, but it has gone 0-for-4 in the past four seasons. It also usually pits two teams fighting fiercely for their NCAA Tournament lives. While Indiana is in the Big Dance regardless, whatever team gets the No. 5 seed might need one more win to secure a berth. <!– D(["mb","

nAt this point, Indiana just needs to win. A few losses won't kill Indiana's tourney hopes, but it'll drop them down a seed line or two. Two, even three wins could do plenty to help the Hoosiers' chances of advancing deep in March by giving them a nicer seed.n

nHas to be on the floor: D.J. White. When I sat down and talked with some Indiana players last season following a loss to Michigan State, they all said something similar that caught my eye: "We feel with nD.J. White healthy, we're a top 5 team." Now, I know that was last year (the team did lose Marco Killingsworth, Robert Vaden and Marshall Strickland) but they all believed White, when healthy, was a difference maker like none in the country.n

nWatching White against Michigan State last weekend in person, I saw what they saw. When White gets the ball in the post, he will score (A team's best chance would be to foul him and take advantage of his 67 percent free throw shooting). Because of his presence, opposing teams collapse on him more than an average big man, leaving deadly long-range shooters Roderick Wilmont, nA.J. Ratliff and Armon Bassett wide open for 3-point attempts. When White is on the floor, he changes the game.   

nCrunchtime crutch: Scoring droughts. Every team has them but Indiana is a team that has droughts at the worst possible times. Against Michigan State last week, Indiana held a 39-28 lead early in the second half. With a little help from Indiana's inability to score and the super-human Drew Neitzel, the Spartans led 42-39 just five minutes later.n

nGood teams have to find ways to stop a run before it starts. Teams will undoubtedly surrender 5-0, 6-0 and 7-0 runs during games, but that is where they have to end. Allowing a team that had no business being in the game to score 14 unanswered points is a recipe for disaster. We're 30 games into the season and IU still hasn't figured out the answer to this problem. That could be a bigger problem come tournament time.n",1] ); //–>

At this point, Indiana just needs to win. A few losses won’t kill Indiana’s tourney hopes, but it’ll drop them down a seed line or two. Two or three wins would do plenty to help the Hoosiers’ chances of advancing deep in March by giving them a nicer seed.

Has to be on the floor: D.J. White. When I sat down and talked with some Indiana players last season following a loss to Michigan State, they all said something similar that caught my eye: “We feel with D.J. White healthy, we’re a top 5 team.” Now, I know that was last year (the team did lose Marco Killingsworth, Robert Vaden, and Marshall Strickland), but they all believed White, when healthy, was a difference maker like none in the country.

Watching White against Michigan State last weekend in person, I saw what they saw. When White gets the ball in the post, he will score (a team’s best chance would be to foul him and take advantage of his 67 percent free throw shooting). Because of his presence, opposing teams collapse on him more than an average big man, leaving deadly long-range shooters Roderick Wilmont, A.J. Ratliff, and Armon Bassett wide open for 3-point attempts. When White is on the floor, he changes the game.

Crunchtime crutch: Scoring droughts. Every team has them but Indiana is a team that has droughts at the worst possible times. Against Michigan State last week, Indiana held a 39-28 lead early in the second half. With a little help from Indiana’s inability to score and the super-human Drew Neitzel, the Spartans led 42-39 just five minutes later.

Good teams have to find ways to stop a run before it starts. Teams will undoubtedly surrender 5-0, 6-0 and 7-0 runs during games, but that is where they have to end. Allowing a team that has no business being in the game to score 14 unanswered points is a recipe for disaster. We are 30 games into the season and IU still hasn’t figured out the answer to this problem. That problem would be a downright disaster come tournament time. <!– D(["mb","

nLast shot: If I were a Hoosier fan, there would be two players I wouldn't mind seeing with the ball in their hands as the clock ticks down – Wilmont and Ratliff. Both have the ability to create off the dribble, either drawing contact on the way to the rim or making a tough runner in traffic. Wilmont, however, is slightly more consistent (he also takes about five more shots per game) and is a senior leader.n

nTied, down by one, down by two, down by three? It doesn't matter. Wilmont has the skills to drain a jumper of any length if need be. 

nStraw that stirs the drink: Ironically, there is no starter that seems to be the glue-guy that holds the team together. All the starters and most of the bench work so harmoniously that substitutions and different lineups don't seem to phase any of the Hoosiers.n

nOne guy – Errek Suhr – is undoubtedly the team's spark plug. Suhr was a walk-on his first two years at Indiana, but through hard work and a steady improvement in his game, Suhr earned a scholarship. That hasn't stopped him from working as if each game is his last. Suhr is like that kid in the gym at a pickup game that takes everything so seriously. He dives for loose balls, will run out of bounds to make an impossible save and, if needed, will take a shot in the clutch if he can get it off. When he gets going, the Indiana motor is running on full power.n

nImpact newcomer: Though he was not a highly touted recruit – he was a 3-star recruit rated the 26th best point guard by rivals.com – Bassett has looked like one of the top 10 freshman in the country at times. He torched Michigan State with a career-high 25 points and has scored in double figures in eight conference games.n

nHe's also learning how to be a great point guard in the Big Ten and, over time, will only get better. Bassett isn't the difference between a Sweet 16 appearance and a Final Four spot, but he is the player that, if he gets hot, could carry Indiana on his back in a big-time game.n",1] ); //–>

Last shot: If I was a Hoosier fan, there would be two players I wouldn’t mind seeing with the ball in their hands as the clock ticks down: Wilmont and Ratliff. Both have the ability to create off the dribble, either drawing contact on the way to the rim or making a tough runner in traffic. Wilmont, however, is slightly more consistent (he also takes about five more shots per game) and is a senior leader.

Tied, down by one, down by two, down by three? It doesn’t matter. Wilmont has the skills to drain a jumper of any length.

Straw that stirs the drink: Ironically, there is no starter that seems to be the glue-guy that holds the team together. All the starters and most of the bench work so harmoniously that substitutions and different lineups don’t seem to faze any of the Hoosiers.

Errek Suhr, however, is undoubtedly the team’s spark plug. He was a walk-on his first two years at Indiana, but through hard work and a steady improvement in his game, Suhr earned a scholarship. That hasn’t stopped him from working as if each game is his last. Suhr is like that kid in the gym at a pickup game that takes everything so seriously. He dives for loose balls, will run out of bounds to make an impossible save and, if needed, will take a shot in the clutch if he can get it off. When he gets going, the Indiana motor is running on full power.

Impact newcomer: Though he was not a highly touted out of high school (3-star recruit and rated the 26th best point guard by Rivals), Bassett has looked like one of the top 10 freshman in the country at times. He torched MichiganState with a career-high 25 points and has scored in double figures in eight conference games.

Bassett is also learning how to be a great point guard in the Big Ten and, over time, will only get better. He isn’t the difference between a Sweet 16 appearance and a Final Four spot, but he is the player that, if he gets hot, could carry Indiana on his back in a big-time game. <!– D(["mb","

n Potential pitfall: Earl Calloway. This is one player whose absence on a very talented NCAA Tournament team that hasn't been reported much – at least outside of Bloomington. Calloway, a 6-foot-3 senior guard that transferred to Indiana from Georgia Perimeter Junior College before the 2005-06 season, is more of a weapon than most realize. However, Calloway hasn't been able to play for the past three games. He did see some action against Northwestern on Wednesday, but wasn't very effective.n

nSampson said it best after the game: "Anytime you lose your senior point guard in the last month of the season, it hurts your team. … He'll get better as he goes." Indiana went 1-2 in Calloway's absence and almost blew a good-sized lead against the Wildcats. Once he gets back into the swing of things, Indiana should play like the team that was thought of as being dangerous in January. The only question is whether Calloway will find the swing before it's too late.n

nHow to reach Sweet 16: Forget about February. If Indiana does that – a month where it was just 3-4 – and rekindles the magic it had in games against Southern Illinois in December and at Connecticut and vs. Wisconsin in January, the team will realize how special it really is. There is plenty of senior leadership wearing Crimson and Cream.n

nCouple the leadership with athletic ability and Indiana's hard-nosed defense and it'll tough to be an IU team that is clicking. Given the right matchups, a healthy Calloway and maybe a few more lights-out shooting nights from Wilmont (31 points, including an Indiana-record nine 3-pointers against Northwestern) and there is no telling how far Indiana can go in the tournament.n

n-- Chris Mackinder
-- ***************************** Christopher M. Mackinder Sports Reporter STATS, LLC CollegeFootballChannel.com ",1] ); //–>

Potential pitfall: Earl Calloway. This is one player whose absence on a very talented NCAA Tournament team that has not been emphasized, at least not outside of Bloomington. Calloway, a 6-foot-3 senior guard that transferred to Indiana from Georgia Perimeter Junior College before the 2005-06 season, is more of a weapon than most realize. However, Calloway hasn’t been able to play for the past three games. He did see some action against Northwestern on Wednesday, but wasn’t very effective.

Sampson said it best after the game: “Anytime you lose your senior point guard in the last month of the season, it hurts your team.… He’ll get better as he goes.” Indiana went 1-2 in Calloway’s absence and almost blew a good-sized lead against the Wildcats. Once he gets back into the swing of things, Indiana should play like the team that was thought of as being dangerous in January. The only question is whether Calloway will find the swing before it’s too late.

How to reach Sweet 16: Forget about February, as the Hoosiers went 3-4 for the month. If Indiana does that and rekindles the magic it had in games against Southern Illinois in December and at Connecticut and against Wisconsin in January, the team will realize how special it really is.

There is plenty of senior leadership wearing Crimson and Cream. Couple the leadership with athletic ability and Indiana’s hard-nosed defense, and it’ll tough to beat an IU team that is clicking. Given the right matchups, a healthy Calloway and maybe a few more lights-out shooting nights from Wilmont (31 points, including an Indiana-record nine 3-pointers against Northwestern), and there is no telling how far Indiana can go in the tournament.

–Chris Mackinder

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