Who says hot sports stories only come in the heart of the NFL season?
The Hoosiers, Butler Bulldogs, and Indiana Pacers have made this a memorable winter and spring promises to be just as entertaining.
This week hasn’t been great for the Hoosiers. The Minnesota Golden Gophers got the better of the nation’s top-team thanks to physical play and a level of desperation and intensity that the Hoosiers couldn’t match.
That’s one of the reasons I didn’t view Tuesday’s loss as a big deal. Sure a “lack of toughness” has been a theme in each of Indiana’s losses…but haven’t they won physical games this season? Haven’t we seen enough of Indiana to know what they’re capable of on the big stage? By the way…would you rather be Indiana after losing to a Minnesota team trying to avoid the NCAA Tournament bubble or Michigan after losing to…*drum roll please*…Penn State???
Indiana has to make sure they’re ready to match the physicality of their opponent the rest of the season and through the tournament. If they do that, they’ll be fine…if not, they could suffer an early exit during March Madness.
The other storyline from Tuesday’s game came with 27 seconds left. Will Sheehey flopped on a phantom elbow from Minnesota’s Andre Hollins - trying to draw an offensive foul, or perhaps even a flagrant. Replay showed there was no contact whatsoever, and Sheehey grabbing his eye and falling on the ground in agony was all an act. Prior to the play there was video of Indiana coach Tom Crean demonstrating for his players how the inbound recipient might move his arms to protect the ball by swinging elbows.
It’s kind of easy to put 2-&-2 together and assume that Sheehey’s flop was encouraged during the timeout. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Indiana was down five, and by simply fouling, you put Minnesota at the line to extend the lead to seven. However, by faking contact and drawing a flagrant…there’s a chance Indiana would get free throws to cut the lead to three AND get the basketball.
I get it…I get it…it makes sense…but I hated it.
That kind of play should not be apart of the game. It’s weak, and shows poor sportsmanship.
Minnesota had played their hearts out for the better part of 40 minutes, and you’re going to try to put yourself in position to steal the game (as far fetched as it may sound) thanks to flopping on a play where there was no contact? Had Indiana been in front and Minnesota pulled such a play off successfully, IU fans would have burned down the NCAA offices at White River State Park AND the Big Ten offices in Chicago.
There’s no place for it…and the Hoosiers are better than that. The top team in the country should not be developing a reputation for flopping or bush league antics.
The Pacers also made headlines this week for a shoving match that was characterized as much more than that by the national media.
Apparently these are rough times for outlets like ESPN, USA Today, and others – when they have to describe a shoving match as a “Bench Clearing Brawl!” Truth is, it was a physical moment in the game that got out of hand. No punches were thrown…a “light skinned guy” (as Roy described him) was tossed around a bit…but in no way was that a brawl, fight, or any other word you’d associate with mayhem.
The frustrating part was that it temporarily over-shadowed Indiana’s great play lately…and that it added fuel to the fire of casual fans who simply refuse to believe that it’s not 2004.
Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star has repeatedly called this group the best team he’s been around since he started covering the team nearly a decade ago. These are all great guys, they care for one another, they sacrifice for one another, and they truly care about making the fan base proud.
And they’ve done that so far this season. They have the second-best record in the conference, and they’re widely considered the only team in the East that has a chance at knocking off the defending NBA Champs.
Things are going so well, that Danny Granger…the team’s leading scorer for the past five seasons…may remain on the BENCH the rest of the year if the starting five continues to roll the way they have lately.
Think about that for a moment.
Lance Stephenson…LANCE STEPHENSON…has been playing so well this season that the coaching staff may not be able to justify moving him back to the second-unit.
Lance has been an “Energizer Bunny” (to use a throw back term)…who ignites fast breaks, and makes the kind of plays that electrifies the crowd and gives an energy boost to his teammates. He helps set the tone for the game by pushing the tempo and staying aggressive. Even when Danny gets his shooting touch back, the starting unit will become noticeably slower if he was to be reinserted into the starting lineup. It’s a tough situation for sure…but it is a good problem to have. Being deep should be a dilemma for no one.
So, other than the “shoving match” it’s been a pretty solid week for the Blue and Gold…however, the same cannot be said for some of the athletes who were in Indianapolis this week for the combine. Some improved their stock…while others still have question marks surrounding them.
Particularly, Manti Te’o.
The passion for Te’o and his story is inadvertently pushing him into ‘Tim Tebow territory’. Some love him…some dislike him…but everyone has an opinion.
The ‘Lennay Kekua’ story was an embarrassing one, and he’s taking his lumps, but there are some in the national media who feel so sorry for the kid, that they’re losing all objectivity when analyzing his workouts.
Manti lost 15 pounds for the combine…15! And STILL ran a 4.81 40-yard dash. What would he have ran if he didn’t lose the weight?
Afterwards he blamed the slow time on the fact that it’s been a stressful and exhausting week. This is a young man who is auditioning for a chance to play in the NFL…where every week is stressful and exhausting. You don’t think coaches and scouts have noticed that Manti has under-performed twice in high-profile, pressure situations (the first being in the national championship game)??
Look, the Combine isn’t everything. It’s not a 100% accurate predictor of whether or not a player will excel at the next level…but it is a measuring stick. Players step into Indianapolis knowing that it’s a big deal. Manti knew that…he didn’t have to add the extra pressure of talking to the media…but he chose to. Then he blamed stress for his subpar performance.
Now he has the added pressure of putting on a show at his Pro Day in late March. He can silence a lot of critics with a solid showing, but if he doesn’t...we don’t want to hear any more excuses. Manti may be a great guy…but this isn’t a personality contest, which is why it’s bothersome that draft analysts keep bringing up how nice he is.
Teams just want one question answered: Can you be a playmaker in the NFL.
Manti has the game tape at Notre Dame to prove it, but he’s going to need a great effort in his pro day to solidify it.
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