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Fighting an overtime hangover

This is the first week of the conference season we have not played in the Tuesday night or Thursday night focused game. That could be a good thing because this team seems to fare better when it is out of the spotlight. Most people are handing Michigan State the Big Ten championship right now, and they probably are deserving of that. Unless we win out I don’t think anyone is going to catch them. At the very least we must win both games against them to have much of a chance right now. A split would leave us still two games behind.

What is disturbing is the pattern we have had this season. Should that pattern play out, we will win the next six games, then lose to Northwestern and Michigan State before winning the Big Ten Tournament in three games and advancing to the elite 8. The Northwestern loss will come in overtime. The Michigan State loss will come in a less than spectacular effort. The elite 8 loss will then be another overtime loss. That’s the way everything has been to this point. We run off a string of wins, then follow that with a tough overtime loss (Oklahoma, Illinois, Ohio State). We then proceed to play like crap in the next game because Hummel gets hurt (He got hurt against Duke originally) or he doesn’t play at all. The Oklahoma loss is the only loss in which Hummel was fully healthy, and it took a gigantic free throw discrepancy for that to be a loss.

Someone asked the question on the GBI boards today about why we struggle so much after overtime losses. Duke was somewhat understandable. They are a very good team, but after getting drilled by Clemson, losing to Michigan, and struggling in overtime against Miami I am convinced that game was more of a poor effort on our part. Against Penn State we were without Kramer and Hummel, but we recovered from a big early deficit and played well enough to win in the second half. The final five minutes of that game were just terrible and it came immediately after a very good stretch of play. Against Illinois the second time we just sucked. Hummel would not have made a difference healthy or not. Despite that, we have had a severe let down in each game following an overtime loss. We have started poorly, played flat, and basically packed it in when we discovered it wasn’t our night.

Part of it is the short bench. The obvious solution is to play more guys, but sadly a Ryne Smith or a Bobby Riddell don't fit in Hummel's spot. They would perfect to spell E'Twaun or Keaton, but not Robbie because of the size differential. I do think one or both should get at least a few minutes to spell other guys. Marcus Green needs to step up too after being all but invisible the last two games.

What I like about this team is that it can play with anyone in the country. The Oklahoma game is proof of that. They are well on their way to a number one seed and I think most of you will agree with me that it feels like we let that game get away. That is why I am not too concerned about our chances in the NCAA Tournament. Much of that is about getting hot at the right time and finding favorable matchups.

The latest ESPN Bracketology has us in the 5-12 game against a dangerous Siena team. Siena was a 13 last year and smoked fourth seeded Vanderbilt. Kansas State, Arizona, and BYU are projected as the other 12 seeds, but I view Siena as more dangerous. When you get a team like Siena as a 12 seed it is usually about as high of a seed as that school is ever going to get. That means they are very good and very dangerous.

Assuming we can get past such a game I like our chances against a four seed like Villanova. After that, you’re damn right I want another shot against Oklahoma. If this bracket were to continue to play out as it actually is we would then possibly have a Final Four berth on the line against Michigan State. That has the potential to be the fourth meeting in six weeks against the Spartans, so anything could go there.

What is critical for us is that we avoid teams that can go inside-out on us. If you look at all six losses the common theme is that they have come against teams that have both good interior games and good perimeter games. Defensively we are incapable of stopping both at the same time, especially if the big men in the post are good passers. Penn State is probably the worst team we have lost to, but they are still and NCAA Tournament team. They can cause those exact matchup difficulties we have faced in the past, so it will be interesting to see our response tomorrow night. So far we have followed each two game losing streak with dominant wins. The Duke follow-up was easy because Arkansas Pine Bluff is one of the worst teams in the country. Thumping Wisconsin after the Penn State loss was a very good win at the time.

This team has to find an answer as long as Hummel is sidelined. If he doesn’t come back until the Big Ten Tournament I am fine with that. This group can still win enough to at least secure an NCAA bid before then and that is all that matters if we aren’t going to win the conference. As long as we don’t lose to Iowa or Indiana we’ll be dancing. From there we can get a healthy Robbie Hummel and be a very tough middle seed to beat. I am confident we can beat anyone in this conference, but Illinois and Ohio State are tough for us to beat because it is such a poor matchup for us. Still, we should have beaten Oklahoma and that was a poor matchup as well.

Quick thoughts on the Ryne Smith/Donnie Hale saga

I normally don't get into rumors that much, especially on message boards, but this has been a hot topic for a couple of days. With our 2009 recruiting class full there is some speculation that there will be a transfer in order to get New Albany swingman Donnie Hale. Hale is a player in the mold of Robbie Hummel, and should we get him he would filled the voide left by Scott Martin's transfer. unfortunately, we would need to free up a scholarship to do so. Personally, I don't see why we went after him when Jeff Robinson is doing very little for Lawrence NOrth, but what do I know.

The unfortaunte casualty, according to the rumor mill, would be freshman shooting guard Ryne Smith. I like Smith, I really do. I think he is a good kid and should be seeing a little more playing time. He could develop into a dangerous 3-point shooting weapon off the bench. Since Keaton Grant is struggling with his shot why not give him a chance for a few minutes each night. unfortunately he has seen little outside of mop up duty since Big Ten play started.

Once again, going back to the rumor mill, some are saying he is being pressured to transfer to open a spot for Hale. if this is true it is a pretty shitty move by our coaching staff's part and it would leave me very disappointed. I know one lamentation at the moment is that we didn't get Matt Howard, who is tearing up at Butler, instead of Scott Martin. In that situation we simply made a choice and got burned. We had four open scholarships and five targets. Howard ended up being hte odd man out. now we're in the same situation and we're trying to force the issue? There is no guarantee Hale is going to become a player of Howard's caliber, while Smith is already here and could be a valuable asset in a year or two.

I really doubt this is true, but the other issue is that we have had numerous players, both good and bad, transfer since coach Painter took over. I have no idea what goes on behind closed doors, but I do see trends. Chris Lutz, Dan Vanderviernen, Nate Minnoy, Korey Spates, Jon Uchendu, and Scott Martin are far from isolated incidents. It scares me ever more to think that E'Twaun is one of the players listed as a transfer risk too.

Non-Conference opponents update:

Detroit (7-16, 2-11 Horizon league)
– The Titans have been playing better of late, winning two of their last three in league play. They also took Butler to the brink before losing at home by five. They remain in last place, but they did top Valpo by one in their last game. They really haven’t been that far away, as only three of the 11 conference losses have been by more than ten.

Eastern Michigan (3-20, 1-8 MAC) – For a team that was supposed to compete for the MAC title this year they are truly abysmal. Ironically, they played a better game at Illinois than we did, losing by only nine. Central Michigan is the only Division I team they have beaten, and they have lost seven straight by double digit margins since.

Loyola (IL) (12-13, 4-9 Horizon League) – Until a few weeks ago they were showing signs of being a decent team. They’ve now lost four straight by double digit margins to the middle of the league and are below .500 overall for the first time since November.

Coppin State (8-16, 5-5 MEAC) – the Eagles have been playing well of late, winning five of their last six. In a league as bad as the MEAC they could be a threat to steal the auto-bid, but that is the only way they are going anywhere.

Boston College (18-7, 6-4 ACC) – These Eagles continue to do exactly what we need them to do in ACC play. With just two wins in their final six games they will likely lock up a bid and be a very good win for us. This year’s ACC is pretty brutal, so I can’t see them being left out if they finish even .500 in league play.

Oklahoma (23-1, 9-0 Big 12) – They just keep rolling along. This team is going to be a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and could easily be the #1 team in the country before too long. As mentioned before, we really let one get away there. Other than the loss to Arkansas we are the only team to even take them to overtime.

Duke (20-3, 7-2 ACC) – This will likely get me banned as a college basketball writing, but I really don’t give a crap about tomorrow’s UNC-Duke game. North Carolina has so much talent they should be unbeaten, but they look like a team that is going to choke an early NCAA game away. Duke got drilled at Clemson and should have lost at home to Miami Saturday. Mrs. T-Mill was especially upset with that last one.

Arkansas Pine Bluff (8-14, 7-4 SWAC) – The Golden Lions are cementing themselves as the third best team in their conference, but that’s like being the third best Spice Girl or member of 98 degrees. They might be a threat to win the league’s auto-bid and could at least be at .500 overall by the end of the season.

Ball State (10-11, 5-4 MAC) – I got a chance to see one of Ball State’s top recruits Friday night in Jauwan Scaife. They could sue him this year, as they ‘ve lost two straight. I was more interested in his sophomore teammate Jeremiah Davis, who is one of our 2011 targets. Davis is a solid player that could be a very good outside shooter and replacement for E’Twaun Moore when he graduates.

Indiana State (5-19, 3-10 Missouri Valley) – Indiana State is the epitome of a team that plays up to the competition. Illinois State is 19-5 with the best overall record of Valley teams, but has a pair of overtime losses now to the Trees after last weekend. Indiana State is actually 3-0 in overtime in the Valley, beating its two best teams, but is winless in the rest of its games.

Davidson (20-4, 13-1 Southern) – The Wildcats are unbeaten no more in SoCon play. College of Charleston grabbed a 77-75 over them on Saturday to break a 43 game conference winning streak. That streak was one short of the league record, set by West Virginia when they had some guy named Jerry West back in the 50’s. Who knows what happened to that guy. Davidson is still probably a safe bet to make the NCAA tournament even if they lose in the conference tourney. College of Charleston is the only team even remotely close to them in that conference.

IPFW (10-14, 5-8 Summit) – The Mastodons got probably their biggest victory on Saturday since joining the Summit league when they beat defending champ Oral Roberts 74-65. North Dakota State is still this league’s likely tournament team, as they have the best record by far at 18-5, 12-1 in league play.

Valparaiso (6-18, 3-10 Horizon) – The Crusaders have now lost seven of their last eight and one of those was to last place Detroit. They have the worst overall record in the Horizon League.

Composite record: 150-156 (70-66 conference record)

Notable crossing of paths: Duke 79, Davidson 67
Boston College 57, Iowa 55
Oklahoma 82, Davidson 78 (this prevented a second Davidson game for us)
Duke at Boston College (this coming Sunday)