Pete DiPrimio, sports columnist and college beat writer for The News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Ind., takes his best shots on the world of Hoosier basketball.

Wednesday, November 29

Learning From Duke Loss

Kelvin Sampson isn't messing around with this Indiana basketball team. He's coached too long. He's won too many games. He wants guys who will run his stuff, who will take care of the ball, who are mentally tough enough to do what needs to be done.

He wants guys, it seems, such as Errek Suhr and Armon Bassett and Joey Shaw. What they might lack in size (Suhr) and experience (Bassett and Shaw) they make up for in effort and smarts and toughness. Case in point -- IU's 54-51 loss at No. 11 Duke.

Duke coach Mike Kryzyzewski sought out Suhr after the game for some special praise.

So when it came down to crunch time at Duke, and when you fall behind by 15 at Cameron Indoor Arena, it doesn't get much more crunching, those are the guys who played. Veterans A.J. Ratliff, Rod Wilmont and Earl Calloway sat and watched. Did they learn? We'll find that out in future games.

This was not a super Duke team, at least not yet. It is too inexperienced, too careless with the ball. The Blue Devils were beatable. If IU had played the whole game the way it played the second half (outscoring Duke 30-21) it would have won. If it had gotten the ball more to D.J. White (pictured), it might have won. If it had had a better assist to turnover ratio (8 to 16), it might have won.

If it learns from this, if it grows from this, the Hoosiers (3-2) might yet become Big Ten factors.

No matter what happens, Suhr, Bassett and Shaw will play big roles. And if that continues to put Ratliff, Wilmont and Calloway on the bench, well, this isn't about seniority. It's about production.

Tuesday, November 28

Duke Squeezes IU Early

So here we are at halftime of the Indiana-Duke game, and if you don't think the Hoosiers are missing Lance Stemler, then you don't know the Hoosiers.

Stemler is the sharp-shooting junior college transfer who has made an instant impact this season. How much of an impact? The guy is shooting 50 percent from three-point range and plays with a fearlessness coach Kelvin Sampson loves. That isn't helping tonight. Stemler is out with a concussion. IU could use his spark against a typically ferocious Duke defense.

Still, point guard Earl Calloway's running basket just before the halftime buzzer meant IU trailed 33-21 and got a little momentum entering the second half.

Will it be enough?

Only if the Hoosiers can solve the Blue Devils' pressure.

Saturday, November 25

Maybe IU Loss Wasn't So Bad

Hey, if you're an IU fan, you have to feel a little better now that Butler won the Preseason NIT, doing to Tennessee and Gonzaga what it did to the Hoosiers.

Maybe that loss wasn't so bad. Maybe it was more a matter of Bulldog excellence, as opposed to IU struggles.

Yes, it cost the Hoosiers a couple of games, but they can make up for that with a win at Duke on Tuesday. And even if that doesn't happen, look for a better IU team to show up, one that is more fluid on offense, more tenacious on defensive, more resilient in the second half.

IU-Duke reflects the kind of game you'd expect a college superpower to play. And, yes, the Hoosiers are a traditional superpower, and likely will return to that status now that Kelvin Sampson is running the show. If you don't see that at Duke, or even this season, you'll likely
see it before long.

Sunday, November 19

Good Lines in IU Win

Listen to Kelvin Sampson talk and you can't help but be impressed with some of his one-liners. Even in the heat of battle, and believe me, the IU coach battles, doesn't lose his sense of humor.

For instance, in the aftermath of Indiana's 90-69 victory over Chicago State, Sampson was talking about the difference between guards Armon Bassett and Rod Wilmont.

Bassett, a rapidly improving freshman, totaled 10 points, nine assists and four rebounds in his first career start.

Wilmont, coming off the bench for the first time this season, had 15 points and seven rebounds.

Sampson was talking about the decision making ability of both players.

"When Armon has the ball in the middle of the floor," he said, "I get the feeling something good is going to happen."

That feeling disappears when Wilmont gets the ball.

"When Rod has the ball in the middle of the floor, I look for a bunker," Sampson said. "He's the only guard I've ever had who I think, give it to a guard."

That's a pretty good line. And you know what? Wilmont has become a pretty good guard, regardless of his middle-of-the-floor skills.

Friday, November 17

IU Survives a Scare

Somewhere, you figure, Mike Davis is chuckling.

The specter of Indiana losing to Butler and Indiana State in the span of four days would have made for a most miserable Thanksgiving week, and Davis, the former IU coach now at Alabama-Birmingham, knows all about miserable weeks.

The Hoosiers (2-1) survived it by surviving Indiana State, 73-66, in a performance certain to give coach Kelvin Sampson plenty of practice fuel.

IU built a 20-point lead early in the second half, then weathered a furious Indiana State rally that cut the margin to two points. Lance Stemler’s three-pointer finally put the Hoosiers over the top, but this much is certain -– if they don’t start playing better, they’ll get killed at Duke.

Indiana has over a week to prepare for that Cameron Arena encounter, and you figure Sampson, who has a period of newcomer grace Davis never really had, will maximize his opportunity. Still, the offense is a concern, especially in the second half.

Let’s face it. Butler and Indiana State can’t defend like Duke. And that’s no joke.

Wednesday, November 15

IU Wraps Up Recruiting Class

It looks like Indiana has wrapped up its fall basketball recruiting with the commitments of 6-4 guard Jordan Crawford of Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia and 6-4 guard Eshaunte Jones of North Side.

Crawford will be part of the five-man class for 2007 that also includes Indianapolis North Central's Eric Gordon. The others are guard Jamarcus Ellis, center Eli Holman and forward Brandon McGee.

Jones will attend prep school next year and be part of the 2008 class.

Will Practice Make Perfect?

Can you believe the Indiana Hoosiers are undefeated and coming off an impressive victory and looking to add more...

Oops. That's the women's team. The men's team, the one that was so close to earning a trip to New York City next week, those guys are in for a long week of practice.

Blowing a late 12-point lead and losing to mid-major Butler isn't shock-the-world huge, but it is a big disappointment for a program looking to make an early statement under new coach Kelvin Sampson.

Losing in the second round of the Preseason NIT means the Hoosiers won't advance to next week's Final Four at Madison Square Garden. Instead of getting to test themselves against Tennessee and, most likely, North Carolina, they get a week of practice. Instead of getting a little sightseeing in around Times Square, they get a week of practice.

In the long run, D.J. White (pictured) and the gang might be better off. In the short run, well, we'll get back to you after Friday's Indiana State game.

Tuesday, November 14

Teams Show Up, Fans Don't

You might have figured the debut of the Kelvin Sampson era would have made for must-see live viewing for Indiana basketball fans. You might have figured a four-team grouping that also included Notre Dame and Butler would have left Conseco Fieldhouse bursting at the seams.

You'd have figured wrong.

Monday night's doubleheader -- which had IU beating Lafayette and Butler surprising Notre Dame -- drew just 8,037. That's less than half the capacity of Conseco Fieldhouse.

Price might have had something to do with it. Courtside tickets for a two-night package were $100 each. It was $30 for the balcony.

Prices cost half as much tonight, when Notre Dame plays Lafayette in the consolation game (does anybody really care) and Indiana plays Butler for the right to advance to New York's Madison Square Garden.

Maybe fans had a premonition about the season opener. The IU-Lafayette game featured 52 fouls, 42 free throws and 44 turnovers. That's tough to take, even for the biggest fan.

Closer Than You Might Think

If you missed the game and saw the score, you’d think Indiana rolled over Lafayette in the Preseason NIT.

You couldn’t be more wrong.

The Leopards (1-1) pushed the Hoosiers (1-0) to the limit before losing 91-66. Only a closing 28-6 run made the score so lopsided.

“They’re a big, physical team and we’re not,” Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon said. “Physically and mentally we were spent at the end. We kind of lost our poise.”

The Hoosiers did not and you can credit the play of Rod Wilmont (24 points, five steals), Earl Calloway (22 points, nine assists), Lance Stemler (10 points) and Mike White (10 points).

With forward D.J. White in foul trouble (he played only eight minutes), Wilmont took over the offense. He was 6-for-11 from three-point range, 9-for-14 overall.

“Rod is going to shoot it regardless,” coach Kelvin Sampson said. “If he ever hurts his left wrist or hurt his fingers and couldn’t shoot, he’d have to quit.”

Wilmont won’t quit and neither, it seems, will the Hoosiers. They place Butler tonight with the winner advancing to next week’s Preseason NIT Final Four.

Monday, November 13

Win A Trip To Hawaii -- Sort Of

Hey, how would you like to win a trip to Hawaii or a new Ferrari or the next spot on Dancing With The Stars? All you have to do is correctly predict Indiana's Big Ten basketball finish, number of victories and average elapsed time in which Kelvin Sampson first takes off his blue suit coat and the News-Sentinel will award you with...

Sorry. Got carried away. The News-Sentinel WILL NOT have any awards at this time, although we can always hope. Still, the Sampson era is set to begin tonight with Lafayette (1-0) in the Preseason NIT and all things are possible. Really.

The Hoosiers have talent with plays such as D.J. White, Earl Calloway (pictured) and Rod Wilmont. They have focus and determination and a coach who knows how to maximize potential. Wisconsin, with four returning starters, is the Big Ten favorite. Ohio State, if Greg Oden recovers in time from wrist surgery, will be a major factor. After that, it's anybody's race unless you're, say, Northwestern.

But this isn't about the struggling Wildcats. It's about IU's prospects for the season. Tell us what you think (victories and Big Ten finish) and we'll tabulate it all and let you know the results. It might not lead to Hawaii, but then, do you really want to go to Hawaii when there are so many reasons to enjoy a Hoosier winter?

Okay, don't answer that.

Friday, November 10

IU's Exhibition Win Gets A Guy Thinking

Some random thoughts in the aftermath of Indiana’s 83-46 exhibition victory over Indianapolis.

First, junior college transfer Lance Stemler is going to be good. No, not change the program good, but he buys into coach Kelvin Sampson’s sacrifice-your-body approach. He’ll make a difference.

Oh, yes. He’s a heck of an outside shooter (16 points, 4-for-7 from three-point range).

Second, D.J. White has to improve his passing out of a double team (Sampson nearly collapsed onto the padded scorer’s table after watching one botched attempt). That will come (or Sampson will have to go heavy on the antacids).

White finished with one assist and six turnovers. He played 31 minutes because Sampson wanted to get him more court time to overcome the rust from missing most of last season because of injury.

Third, Sampson means it when he emphasizes defense. Early in the first half, A.J. Ratliff and Rod Wilmont didn’t quite meet Sampson’s expectations. When they combined to give up a three-pointer to Indianapolis’ Tyke Cockerham, he had enough.

“Sit down!” he told them.

Okay, it was a little stronger than that, but you get the drift. Out they came. In came Joey Shaw and Armon Bassett.

Ratliff and Wilmont eventually returned. Yes, their defense improved. Bassett looked good for the second straight exhibition (10 assists).

Finally, Sampson isn’t interested in walking the ball up the court. He constantly shouted at Earl Calloway and Bassett to push the pace and when they didn’t, well, he wasn’t shy about expressing his displeasure. When they did, he didn’t hesitate to praise.

Are you seeking the deeper meaning about what all this means? Forget it. Exhibitions are for experimentation. Starting Monday, when the games count, experimentation ends. And then we’ll really have some random thoughts.

Looking For Basketball Answers

Admit it. You're busting at the seams to see what this Indiana basketball team can do against some real competition. Is Kelvin Sampson the answer to championship prayers? Will D.J. White play like an All-American? Can A.J. Ratliff tap into his inner beast and start playing to his potential?

So many questions, so few answers. Tonight the Hoosiers host Indianapolis in an exhibition and that will offer a hint of what is to come. But we won't really get a taste of Sampson ball until IU opens against Lafayette on Monday for the Preseason NIT. It's a new format with four sites around the country. This site is at Conseco Fieldhouse and will also feature Notre Dame and Butler.

Everybody plays Monday night. The winners play Tuesday night. The losers play Tuesday night. Everybody is guaranteed two games. And if you win both games, you get to go to New York City and Madison Square Garden for a pair of games.

Bet the house that the Hoosiers make the trip to New York. How do we know? How else do you think we got this blog.