During the waning moments of Indiana?s 73?58 loss to No. 10 Kentucky last Saturday, Wildcats coach Tubby Smith told Hoosiers guard Bracey Wright that he thought Indiana was going to have a successful season. ?That made me feel good,? Wright, a 6'3" junior, said later. ?We?re competing hard as a team. We still think we?re going to have a good season.?
That assessment seemed overly optimistic in the wake of yet another woeful offensive performance by Indiana (2?4), which shot less than 40% from the field for the fifth straight game and has yet to score 70 points this season. But the Hoosiers? biggest problem these days isn?t how they?re playing but whom. The Kentucky game concluded a brutal four-game stretch that included losses to North Carolina (which was No. 9 at the time), UConn (No. 7) and Notre Dame. That slate would test a veteran team, much less one that starts two freshmen and is coming off a 14?15 season.
Indiana?s masochistic scheduling has been an annual source of frustration for Mike Davis, who is working for his fourth athletic director since becoming head coach in the fall of 2000. ?I don?t mind playing good teams, but why are we playing five or six in a row?? says Davis, whose Hoosiers next face Missouri and Charlotte. ?I?ve been complaining every year. Last year they finally said, ?Don?t complain anymore.?? Davis says he also raised objections last summer during the Big Ten meetings in Chicago after he learned that the Hoosiers were being paired with North Carolina in the ACC? Big Ten Challenge; Indiana was picked by league writers to finish sixth in the Big Ten, while North Carolina was picked second in the ACC. ?I was told it all came down to what was good for TV,? Davis says.
In the meantime Indiana has seen flashes of potential from its two freshman starters, 6'5" guard Robert Vaden (11.2 points and 5.7 rebounds a game) and 6'9" forward D.J. White (8.8 points and 3.8 boards), but the team has suffered from a lack of inside scoring. Against Kentucky the Hoosiers were outscored in the paint 38?10. Things might have been different had Indiana not lost two of its prized recruits, 6'9" forward Josh Smith, who was drafted 17th overall by the Atlanta Hawks, and 7'1" center Robert Rothbart, who is playing professionally in Europe.
In its four losses Indiana launched 44% of its field goal attempts from behind the three-point line, converting just 32%. During a somber 90-minute team meeting last Thursday, Davis was especially critical of Wright?s six-point performance against Notre Dame?s 2?3 zone the night before. ?We have one zone play,? Wright had said after that loss. ?That?s all we ran all night. When it didn?t work, we were stuck.?
Davis believes Indiana?s new athletic director, Rick Greenspan, who meets with Davis for an hour every Tuesday, shares his concern about the need to dial back the scheduling in the future. Still, the coach is under enormous pressure to produce results, and neither he nor his players can afford to wait until next year to reverse their fortunes. ?I told my guys, you have to decide how you want to be remembered,? Davis says. ?These people around here, they don?t care about our schedule. They just want us to win.?