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.

Saturday, December 30

No Choking -- IU Handles Ball State

For a while, the Indiana Hoosiers fell in love with the three-point shot against Ball State, and could you blame them?

The Cardinals went with what was basically a five-guard lineup, then packed the interior to prevent IU from getting the ball inside to D.J. White.

So the Hoosiers started jacking up three-pointers (14 in the first half) until coach Kelvin Sampson tapped into his inner Bob Knight.

He threatened to choke them if they didn’t stop shooting three-pointers (yes, he was joking -- sort of). The biggest culprits were Rod Wilmont, A.J. Ratliff and Armon Bassett, who were a combined 2-for-9 from behind the arc in the first half.

“Rod is a streak shooter,” Sampson said. “A.J. is a streak shooter. They were open. It’s hard to tell kids that, at some point, you have to balance that inside.

“If you give Rod a three, guess what, he’ll probably shoot it. He’ll say, ‘Coach, I’m open.’ It’s hard to argue with him. Basically it’s shoot it as long as you make them. If you miss some, throw it inside to D.J.”

IU (9-3) did that well enough to see White finish with 16 points in its 71-57 victory. Next up is Ohio State in Tuesday’s Big Ten opening debut, and with 7-foot Greg Oden prowling the paint, don’t be surprised if the Hoosiers resort to a lot of three-pointers.

Unless, of course, Sampson carries out his threat.

Friday, December 29

On Knight, IU And The Record

Wouldn’t it be the irony of ironies if Bob Knight, who so has grumpily reiterated his disdain for the coaching career victory record and for the questions regarding it, would be stuck on 879 for the rest of the season?

Wouldn’t it be poetic justice if a Higher Power, having observed from on high the many twists and turns of BK Theater, decided to have a little fun and see that Knight would have a year of enduring press conference questions regarding a record he could never break.

Yes, I know, some might find that mean or cruel or, well, vindictive. They might not appreciate the humor, but then, they probably never experienced Knight at his most difficult, which is to say, during his 29-year, doing-it-his-way-by-gosh run at Indiana.

Anyway, the Red Raiders’ loss to UNLV meant Rebels coach Lon Kruger continues to own Knight (8-2 in head-to-head meetings) and means Knight’s next chance to break a tie with Dean Smith will come Monday against New Mexico.

IU coach Kelvin Sampson, who has Knight’s former job, remembered his experiences with the General, which included their Big 12 rivalry while Sampson was the Oklahoma coach.

“There was a huge curiosity factor with all the (Big 12) schools when he came to the league,” Sampson said. “When he showed up it was a different Texas Tech. Before we wouldn’t sell out the Texas Tech game. When Coach Knight came, it was a sellout. I think he sold out every (Big 12) arena because of his persona. He has that presence about him.”

Sampson remembered the first time he met Knight while he was a grad assistant at Michigan State in 1979.

“He just had an incredible presence.”

That presence was evident during games.

“When you coach a game, sometimes you can feel that guy on the end, sometimes you can’t, but you always know when Coach Knight was there because of his presence.

“He’ll win as many games as he wants to win. He’ll put the mark wherever he wants it.”

Unless, of course, a Higher Power has another idea.

Thursday, December 28

Hoosiers Find Their Shooting Eyes

Remember when Indiana's offense was a series of missed opportunities, when no shot was too short or too open not to miss?

Well, the Hoosiers will enter Saturday's game against Ball State very much in a hot-shooting groove. They are shooting around 54 percent for their last 60 minutes of action. Not surprisingly, they've won two straight games over Western Michigan and IUPUI.

The reason for the improvement? Simple coach Kelvin Sampson says. Taking advantage of more fast-break opportunities, faster play and less half-court situations.

"It's a sign we're running more," Sampson says. "We're getting more comfortable with each other. Your offense is as good as your point guard. Earl Calloway is a much better point guard today than he was against Butler or Duke."

The point guard is the offensive catalyst in any system, and that's especially true for Sampson's approach. Calloway struggled to reign in his full-speed nature, much like a running back too impatient to wait on his blockers. Calloway has found that patience, and the good decision making that follows. So look for the senior and the rest of the Hoosiers to roll against Ball State. After that it's Big Ten thrills, with a trip to Ohio State up first on Tuesday. Then we'll really see how far this team has come.

Friday, December 22

A Good Start To Christmas Break

Yes, Indiana guard Earl Calloway had a big-time game against IUPUI with 21 points. But it was one of his two turnovers in the 86-57 victory that had coach Kelvin Sampson joking.

“One of those turnovers was the worst pass I’ve ever seen,” Sampson said. “You talk about wide right. It was a curve ball that didn’t break.”

Meanwhile, nothing came easy for the Jaguars, which wasn’t a surprise considering the Hoosiers’ season-long defensive ferocity. IUPUI’s only hope was that IU continued its season-long poor shooting. Instead, the Hoosiers duplicated their 58-percent second half effort against Western Michigan with a 58-percent first half performance against IUPUI. The result was a 48-28 halftime lead.

IU (8-3) finished with a season-best 51.8 percent shooting.

If you want a Christmas break worry, consider forward D.J. White managed just eight points on 3 of 10 shooting, which is not want you’d expect from your best player in 27 minutes of a lopsided game.

That’s just nitpicking. White had eight rebounds, three blocks and a career-high five assists while taking what the defense gave him.

Anyway, the Hoosiers have a week to address it before their next game (Dec. 30 against Ball State), and if some of that time will be spent on a holiday break, they’ll still figure it out.

Wednesday, December 20

Allen Close To Returning

More good news for Indiana in the wake of its 77-69 victory over Western Michigan -- forward Ben Allen is close to returning after a bout with mononucleosis.

Allen, who has missed the last three games, did some practicing on Tuesday, although he still isn't allowed to have any contact. Coach Kelvin Sampson said Allen did some shooting and working out on his own, and if he's able to practice Thursday, he might get to play in Friday night's game against IUPUI at Conseco Fieldhouse.

If Allen does play, he'll be leaner, if not meaner. Sampson said the 6-11 Australian native has lost some weight.

The Hoosiers (7-3) don't need Allen for IUPUI or for Ball State next week. They will need him for their Big Ten opener, which is Jan. 2 at No. 3 Ohio State. The sooner he gets some action, the better for the Hoosiers.

Sunday, December 17

For Calloway, Ratliff, It's All About Effort

The numbers suggest Earl Calloway had a sub-par game in Indiana’s 57-47 victory over Southern Illinois.

The numbers are wrong.

Calloway’s fierce defense against super-quick guard Jamaal Tatum was huge. Tatum finished with 17 points, but had just four in the second half.

So what that Calloway finished with just five points and fouled out. He had three assists and no turnovers to go along with that relentless, in-your-face defense. It was a follow-up to what coach Kelvin Sampson said was a strong effort at Kentucky.

“Earl had his best back to back games,” Sampsonn said. “He was really good (against SIU). That’s what I’ve been looking for, some consistency. How hard is he competing?”

Sampson had the same question about A.J. Ratliff, who came off the bench for 14 points, plus added three steals.

“This was the hardest AJ has played,” Sampson said. “His challenge will be putting back to back good performances together.

“Can Earl do it a third time? Can A.J. do it twice?

“A.J.’s M.O is he’s good one night; he’s in the witness protection program the next night. Does he step up or do we to get the hounds after him?”

We’ll find out Wednesday, when IU hosts Western Michigan.

Thursday, December 14

Allen Out; IU Eyes SIU

Don't expect to see Ben Allen playing for a while. The IU sophomore forward is out indefinitely with mononucleosis. He missed last Saturday's Kentucky game and coach Kelvin Sampson said he doesn't know when Allen will return.

Sampson, meanwhile, is optimistic about the Hoosiers' progress. Yes, the 5-3 record might have you worrying, but Sampson doesn't spend much time thinking about you. IU is defending well and hustling well and rebounding well. It went on the road and took Duke and Kentucky down to the wire.

Shooting was a problem at Kentucky (30.5 percent, just 54 points), but at least the Hoosiers got plenty of good looks. Eventually, Sampson suggested, those looks will translate into made baskets. Eventually, the end-of-game struggles will become end-of-game successes.

"The toughest thing to control in basketball is made shots," he said. "But if you look at everything else we did in that game, what didn't we do good? Don't ever confuse playing good with shooting good."

Of course, if shooting good and playing good happen at the same time, say Sunday night against Southern Illinois, all the better.

Wednesday, December 13

IU Works On Offense

As you can imagine following Indiana's abysmal shooting performance from the Kentucky game, the Hoosiers have worked hard on offense in general, shooting in particular. They can't win many games shooting just 30 percent from the field. UK's defense certainly was a factor, but IU still missed far too many open shots.

That's why the early part of this week was spent emphasizing more consistency in this area. That is, when players weren't studying for finals.

"Coach (Kelvin Sampson) wants us focusing on grades now," guard Joey Shaw said.

IU had Sunday off, then spent Monday in individual sessions. Practice resumed Tuesday with specific preparations for Sunday's game against Southern Illinois expected to start Thursday.

"We worked on a lot of shooting, a lot of shooting drills, a lot of dribbling drills and coming off screens," Shaw said.

If the Hoosiers can get their offense down, they should win out the rest of the month considering how strong and consistent their defense and rebounding have been. But as anyone who has seen them knows, that's a big offensive "if."

Saturday, December 9

Kentucky Edges Indiana

So who stole Lance Stemler's three-point shot? How can Stemler, Armon Bassett, A.J. Ratliff and Earl Calloway combine for 0-for-14 behind the arc and Indiana still almost pulled out a victory at Kentucky?

The easy answer is rebounding and defense. The Hoosiers out-rebounded the Wildcats 42-39 and grabbed 22 offensive boards, a big reason why they had 23 more shots. IU also forced 17 turnovers and harrassed Kentucky shooters all day.

But a season-low 30.6 percent shooting, including a miserable 4-for-25 from the three-point line, was too much to overcome.

The result was a 59-54 loss that represented another missed opportunity. IU's three losses have come by a total of 13 points. Someday the Hoosiers might get to the point where they can win the close games. For now, we'll see if they can learn from them.

Friday, December 8

Finals And IU-UK Rivalry

You might be focused on Saturday’s Indiana-Kentucky basketball rivalry, but the Hoosiers have another priority -– finals.

While next week is officially IU’s finals week, some professors held theirs on Thursday and Friday, and yes, that affected several Hoosier players.

That’s why several players met with their tutors shortly after Wednesday night’s victory over Western Illinois.

“We live in a basketball world,” coach Kelvin Sampson said, “but these kids still have school.”

If they don’t do well in school, they won’t be eligible to play, which is why you might see a few distracted Hoosiers on Saturday.

“(Freshman guard) Armon Bassett passing that final,” Sampson said, “is a lot more important than attacking a matchup zone.”

In an ideal Cream ‘n Crimson world, IU players ace their finals and then whip the Wildcats. We’ll have to see how close to ideal they get.


Thursday, December 7

Suhr Makes Impact

If you look at the numbers from Indiana's 92-40 throttling of Western Illinois, you'd think guard Errek Suhr made minimal impact. He had just three points and one assist in 12 minutes. But numbers don't reflect the effect this 5-9 (that's being generous) hustler has on the game. He understands Sampson's offense. He gets the ball where it needs to be. He swarms on defense and chases on missed shots, which is why he grabbed four rebounds, which is three more than 6-11 Ben Allen.

Suhr actually could have had at least five, and maybe six points, but he lost a spectacular basket when coach Kelvin Sampson called a timeout seconds before.

Fellow Hoosier Lance Stemler had just taken an elbow to the jaw. Given Stemler's recent concussion (it was bad enough that his jaw had swelled) and the fact Stemler was asking to come out, Sampson immediately called timeout. It was at that moment Suhr drove to the basket and was fouled hard enough to floor a lesser player, yet still managed to toss in a basket.

Officials ruled the timeout came before the basket. Sampson joked about it afterward.

With IU set to play at Kentucky Saturday, joking didn't last. It's time to get serious, which means veterans such as Rod Wilmont (pictured) have to step up.

If the Hoosiers win this game, they'll roll through the rest of December, getting a lot of steam entering their intriguing Big Ten opener at Ohio State.

Of course, when it comes to Indiana basketball, you can't get enough intrigue.

Wednesday, December 6

Searching For IU Answers

If you can’t wait to see if Indiana is building toward Big Ten title contention, you won’t find an answer tonight from a mediocre Western Illinois team. The Hoosiers should roll by 20 or more.

Playing at Kentucky on Saturday will be a good test, but remember, these are not the power Wildcats of old. They have plenty of vulnerability for IU to exploit.

After that, Southern Illinois is the only real challenge left on the non-conference schedule until Big Ten play begins. IU does play at Connecticut, but that’s not until Jan. 20.

In the meantime, if you’re worried about why the Hoosiers aren’t dominating, at least on offense, relax. There’s plenty of time for improvement.

“We’re improving,” coach Kelvin Sampson says. “It’s important to be better Jan. 2 than we are today and I think we will as long as these kids come to practice and work and compete.

“This is not a destination for us. We’re learning how to compete. We’re a work in progress. Defensively we’re better. Rebounding we’re better. Offensively we’ll get better.”

Of course, you’d expect Sampson to say that, but that’s not just coach-speak. IU might not win the Big Ten, but it certainly should be a factor.