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A little basketball, a little football

In yesterday's posting I forgot to give a prediction of last night's game, but I think it was obvious in my pre-game analysis that I expected a close contest that would be decided only at the end. We were going to a place where historically we have struggled to win (remember the 1996 team losing there at the end of the season, but still gaining a #1 seed in the NCAA's) and facing a team that was going to make us earn every inch of floor space for 40 minutes. That is what has me so delighted with this win, and confident that we can snag road wins at Michigan, Penn State, Illinois, and Northwestern down the road. In watching the game on ESPN's gametracker last night I was very concerned we gave up a 12-0 run during a near 6 minute scoring drought, but we responded with 12 quick points of our own to go on top for good. Much like me at the Neon Cactus (circa 2001-02) at 10:30 on a Thursday night, the seal has been broken. We know we can win on the road now, and another hurdle has been passed for this young team.

Positives from the Iowa game:

Keaton Grant – I could not be more pleased with his play this year, as he has kept us alive and allowed the freshmen to have their natural growing pains. Both he and Green have proven they can be go-to guys if necessary and their leadership both the rest of this year and next year will be immeasurable in the development of this team. Both are certainly more than the role players I envisioned them as coming into the year. Now they are getting attention instead of being unnoticed in the background, which is good because it's just two more guys for teams to worry about. Since we're going 9 deep and all nine are capable of having a 20 point night that is huge.

E'Twaun Moore – Cold-blooded killa. That's how I describe his late three with the shot clock winding down. You get the sense that Moore is starting to heat up a little and find his shooting touch. His average has now crept into double figures and we cannot have enough shooters if we're going to compete in this league. I like the fact that, unlike Eric Gordon, E'Twaun has championship experience and knows how to win games and championships with his teammates. The Indianapolis Star started a Gordon Gauge this week to track his progress as the most prolific scoring freshman in Big Ten history. I have your tracker right here. It reads Moore 1, Gordon 0 in terms of the most important thing: championships won in a career. And by the way, that one came against Gordon in last year's state championship game.

Free Throws – They win ballgames. You can't ask for more than a perfect night from the line, especially since many came at such critical points of the second half. We shot less than 70% from the line against Ohio State and I asked for improvement. Thank you for delivering!

3-point shooting – I honestly did not expect this to be much of a weapon for us coming into the season, but so far it has gone very well for us. I can't remember the last time we hit 11 threes in a game, and the best part is they are coming from multiple sources instead of just one specialist. Calasan got in on the act last night by knocking down a pair of treys, and we know Green, Moore, Hummel, Martin, Grant, and Kramer can shoot the three as well. I don't want to get to the point where we live and die by it like Butler, but it is a very nice weapon to have.

Things to work on:

Scoring lulls – This is nitpicking, but we cannot have 6 minute scoring lulls against better teams. This killed us in the previous three road games and almost got us last night. Iowa is a team that has had more trouble scoring than a 50-year old guy in a college bar this season, and we let them run off a 12-0 run that nearly lost the game for us. I like our scoring balance, but we can't afford to take five minutes off at a time.

Inside play – Our two biggest inside threats, Johnson and Calasan, had 6 points combined last night. None of those came in the paint as they came on Calasan's two 3-pointers. We're going to need more from them in the paint if we want to have a chance against Wisconsin, Michigan State, or Indiana later this year. We also got out-rebounded by one of the worst rebounding teams in the league.

Terrance Crump – His ankle injury is starting to show, and we need to get him healthy. I like what he brings to the table when he is healthy because he is one of our few players that can change the pace of our offense when necessary. We don't really have another slashing player that can get inside quickly and either score or draw the defense to him for the dish off. Even when he does get healthy he needs to stop turning the ball over and get more assists.

Field Goal shooting – Part of it was cold shooting, but part of our struggles last night from the field came from the fact that Iowa is a good defensive team. Still, 38% from the field is pretty bad. Thankfully we had the 3-point shots falling. We hit 11 triples to their five and won the game by five points when almost everything else was even. At least we hit the big shots when it mattered most down the stretch.

On to football:

College Football News published its way too early rankings of all 120 Division 1-A teams for the 2008 season and I will say this: We won't get accused of playing a weak schedule according to them. Purdue came in ranked 56th. This a little bit lower than I expected considering we will have one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the league returning, but with the questions of offensive line, receivers, and defense it's understandable. I can actually see our defense improving further than expected if we can settle on some linebackers early. I think the receivers will sort themselves out as well, even though the biggest loss will be Keller at tight end. There is also the "win one for Joe" factor that will be bigger than some teams think. Here is how the rest of our schedule stacks up according to their rankings, and my thoughts on the rankings themselves.

Northern Colorado – unranked – They are Division 1-AA fodder and the guarantee Joe will tie Mollenkopf. Just watch out for their slashing punter. We lose this game and we shouldn't even bother the rest of the way.

Oregon -- #16 – I think this is a little high as they looked like crap without Dixon except in the bowl game. The reason for that bowl game, Stewart, is heading to the NFL. This may be a team we're thankful for getting early instead of late.

Central Michigan -- #66 – Too low. This is a dangerous, dangerous team that if it can ever find a defense will take someone big down. They know they can compete with us, and they will be very familiar. Don't be surprised if the Chips beat us, but from previous experience they will need to hold us under 40 to do so.

Notre Dame -- #45 – Too high. They had better go earn it because if Charlie's great recruiting classes led by Jimmy Montana have another losing season there will be rioting in the streets of South Bend. If the Irish ever get improvement from their offensive line they can get better quickly. I won't believe it though until Chuckles delivers. They're going to have earn any respect from me.

Penn State -- #11 – Too high. I would never rank a team this high that is going to be breaking in a new quarterback. Still, we know Penn State has talent so it is possible. It could be the final year for JoePa as well since he is in the last year of his contract, and what better way to say farewell to him. We know they can always play defense.

Ohio State -- #1 – Slightly too high.
The Bucknuts will be very good next year and they didn't have a ton of defections.
CFN's rationale is that this was supposed to be a rebuilding year and they still went 11-1 to reach the title game. The nature of the system is that they can go unbeaten and win the Big ten to get back to the title game regardless of the past two years. They also have a tailor-made schedule building game at USC.

Northwestern -- #64 – Too low. Lake the Posts has been preaching that this could be another Northwestern once-in-four-years run where they surprise some teams in the Big Ten. I tend to agree, and the trip to Evanston could be a trap game for us. The Wildcats had an up and down year this year, but really weren't that far from an 8-4 bowl season.

Minnesota -- #74 – Too low. Last season they were like Central Michigan with a worse offense and a worse defense. They were already the worst defense in the country, so they can only go up from there. Surprisingly they had quite a few close games this year, so ANY defense could cause a huge jump.dsr

Michigan -- #21 – Too high. This is probably one of the more overrated teams in the country going into next season. They lose all their seniors plus their good juniors declared for the draft. They are breaking in an entirely new system on top of bringing in a quarterback that will have never played a down of college football before. Not only that, they are coached by a guy that choked away a national title game bid, at home, to Dave Wannstedt. Michigan has talent (they always will) but 2008 will be a rough year.

Michigan State -- #32 – Slightly too low. This is a team I am afraid of now. I fear we can easily start a long losing streak to them because once they learn how to win close games they will only get better. Dantonio has them pointed in the right direction and I wouldn't be surprised if they had an Illinois like year in 2008.

Iowa -- #38 – Unbelievably too high.
Seriously, what was so inspiring about this team the past two seasons and what pictures does the Iowa staff have of everyone in the media? They choked away a bowl game to Western Michigan on senior day!!!!!

Indiana -- #52 – Way too high. If I am Joe Tiller I post this ranking in the locker room with the explanation CFN gives and also put a copy right in the dust ring where the bucket should be in the Mollenkopf. Middleton is a stud we let go and Lewis is shifty, but look at their bowl game: An Oklahoma State team that got blown out by Troy at home took away Hardy and beat the crap out of them. Hardy took himself away, and Thigpen is supposed to be this great back because of one good game in two years. That only happened because our defense acted like they had never seen a halfback draw before and were stunned it was a legal play. With all the emotion of it being Tiller's final home game there is no freaking way we will lose the bucket game this year, so IU had better hope they get some wins elsewhere to make a bowl.

That means we are ranked ahead of only four teams on our 2008 schedule, so we're going to need some "upsets" to make Joe's final season a good one. Based on emotion, returning talent, and improvements from what we have I can see us winning 8-9 games, but I can also see us losing that many if things . I still point to that Oregon game as huge because with a win we can be 4-0 before the conference starts, but a loss could mean 1-3.