Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, November 03, 2005
A talk with Terry Hutchens
Terry Hutchens covers the Indiana Hoosiers for the Indianapolis Star. His excellent and far-ranging "Ask the Expert" Q&A column is required reading for anyone wanting to stay current on IU hoops.

Q. Terry, are the Indiana players and coaches excited that they don't have to repeat last year's murderous non-conference schedule?

A. I think IU has a good schedule and they’re happy with the way it will play out. They open the season with Nicholls State, Florida A&M and Western Illinois, before playing Duke. Then they get Eastern Michigan and Indiana State before playing Kentucky. That’s a much better set-up than what last year’s schedule looked like.

Some IU fans have complained about playing Connecticut in February but it’s better than what the alternative would have been. The only open slot on Connecticut’s schedule where they were putting it all together would have called for IU to play Duke, Connecticut and Kentucky in succession. And the Hoosiers learned from their mistake and simply didn’t want to do it again. Probably a good move.

Q. Indiana has a lot of new faces this year. Who's stood out in your eyes thus far just watching practices?

A. Most people would answer this question by talking about Marco Killingsworth and the immediate impact he’s going to have with this Indiana team. And don’t get me wrong, I think Killingsworth will have a big year and have the potential to average a double-double for the Hoosiers.

But if I had to talk about one new face that's stood out for me, I’d talk about Ben Allen, the big Aussie freshman. I think before the season is over he’s going to be a big-time impact player. He can post you up if he has to, but he has great range from the perimeter, too. I’ve heard some people around the IU program claim that he will be their best outside shooter.

I also like both of IU’s options at the point, either Lewis Monroe or Earl Calloway. Both are experienced, both can push the ball up the floor and both are good at getting the ball in the right players’ hands.

Q. If there were a game tonight, who'd be the starting five?

A. Right now I would go with Lewis Monroe at the point, Marshall Strickland at the shooting guard, Robert Vaden at the three, with D.J. White and Marco Killingsworth inside. I would look at Ben Allen as the first player off the bench, and then either Roderick Wilmont or Earl Calloway. Cem Dinc will get some time, as will Sean Kline, and eventually James Hardy. When A.J. Ratliff bounces back from his broken thumb, I think he’ll be one of the first two guys off the bench.

Q. Terry, I'll be honest: something about hearing the words "Marshall Strickland," "shooting guard," and "starting" all in the same sentence puzzles me. The guy put up miserable numbers from beyond the arc last year. What's the deal?

A. There’s no question Strickland has struggled with his shot when operating from the point, but when those duties are no longer his to worry about I think he’ll be a pretty good spot up shooting guard. He’s actually a pretty good shooter, but I’ve always said I thought he was playing out of position at the point and I still believe that.

Even when A.J. Ratliff was healthy, I was predicting that IU would start the season with Strickland at the two, mostly because he was a senior and he had the experience. Now, with Ratliff possibly not returning until early December, the pressure is going to be on Strickland to do a job at the two. If that doesn’t work, then Roderick Wilmont probably gets the next shot followed by either Robert Vaden, Lewis Monroe, or Cem Dinc.

Q. Cem Dinc? He's 6-10. Did he really say he wants to play shooting guard?

A. You heard him correctly. He said a lot of things before getting here and I think in some ways he’s experienced a little culture shock seeing the level of play here. I’m not saying he won’t contribute, because I think he will, but I think his progress may be slowed a little bit. I would think by the time the Big Ten season rolls around, he’s one of those players who could be ready to contribute. Right now he needs to focus on the three or the four and finding some minutes there.

Q. The numbers tell me that IU's defense last year was not as good as its offense. Is that Coach Davis's sense, as well, and, if so, what's the plan for this year's D?

A. I think with more big bodies on the floor and a guy like Vaden not having to play the four and guard guys who were significantly bigger than him that will be a much better situation for IU. Also, they have an instant upgrade in point guard defense in both Monroe and Calloway.

The question mark in my mind would be Strickland at this point until Ratliff can get in there. When A.J. is healthy, with that incredible wingspan he has, he has the potential to be IU’s best defender.

Q. He's injured now, of course, but speaking just of last season: why did Ratliff get so few minutes? Is he a defensive liability? He hit nearly 44 percent of his threes last year. Can you keep a guy like that off the court?

A. Who says Ratliff gets so few minutes?

Q. Um, I guess I do.

A. He averaged 21 minutes per game overall and nearly 25 minutes in Big Ten play. I think the days of having multiple IU players finish with 35 minutes or more are behind us.

Q. Well, actually I was thinking more in terms of, say, 30.

A. I think if Ratliff could get 28-30 minutes per game that would perfect. He can shoot the ball and he started looking for his three-point shot a lot more last year once Big Ten play rolled around. He had 55 attempts on the season, including 44 in conference play. He made nearly 48 percent of his three-pointers in Big Ten play.

Q. About 18 percentage points better than Bracey Wright's number in-conference.

A. Right. So, it will be tough to keep him off the court. The only thing that can do that right now is his thumb injury.

Q. D.J. White and Marco Killingsworth: sounds formidable. What will we see from these two guys?

A. I think they’ll feed off each other because they are both players who could demand a double team and opposing teams are going to have to make some decisions about how they guard IU inside.

Coach Davis said the first look on every offensive set this year will be inside. He said he hopes the days of standing around and jacking up 25-footers late in the shot clock are over. IU fans will be happy to hear that, too.

Q. Why does Indiana play at such a slow pace? What is Davis's thinking? Do you think that will change this year?

A. With a point guard that couldn’t get the ball up quickly, no solid one-two punch on the inside, and a bunch of guys who thought they were much better three-point shooters than they actually were, the 2004-05 Hoosiers were a recipe for disaster.

This team, at least on paper, looks to be dramatically different. The biggest reason is Lewis Monroe and Earl Calloway, two point guards who can push the ball up quickly and get IU in their sets. And with a strong inside game, Indiana isn't going to have to rely as heavily on the three-point shot. So I think there will be a lot less standing around and going deep into the shot clock.

Q. Terry, I want to ask you a question and I realize that sportswriters aren't always comfortable talking about this particular topic. So I want you to know going in that I'll respect you whatever your answer is. Did you...let's see, how do I phrase this....Did you vote for Bracey Wright for first-team all-Big Ten last year?

A. I did not.

Q. (suddenly relieved) I knew you couldn't have. I couldn't believe that about you, Terry.

A. How can you vote for a guy who made just 30 percent of his threes and 39 percent of his field goal attempts in Big Ten play? And he went through some unbelievable dry slumps. Beginning with the Kentucky game and going deep into the conference season, Wright had a stretch where he missed 22 consecutive three-point shots away from Assembly Hall. Against Minnesota on Jan. 26, Wright missed all 10 of his three-point shots. Numbers like that just didn’t add up for me in terms of first team all-Big Ten accolades.

Q. One last question as long as we're talking old business. It's now been five years since Bob Knight and IU parted ways, shall we say. Have the Knight supporters among Hoosier fans at long last accepted that?

A. There's a faction of IU fans that will never accept it. They didn’t like the way a legendary coach was treated at the end, and it’s hard to blame them for that. They didn’t like the chain of events that led to Mike Davis and John Treloar getting the job on an interim basis, and they didn’t agree with Clarence Doninger’s decision to name Davis the permanent coach.

And they clearly think someone with IU ties--preferably someone who played for Knight like Steve Alford, Keith Smart, or Randy Wittman--should be the guy roaming the Assembly Hall sidelines.

Unfortunately, I think the healing process is still a ways away. I don’t see IU doing anything to embrace Bob Knight or his accomplishments at the university any time soon. It’s still an open wound on both sides and it’s going take more time. Will it take 10 years, 15 years, 20 years--who knows for sure, but I can say this with conviction: a good number of IU fans have never accepted Knight’s firing and most of them never will.

I still think there’s more Bob Knight fans among the IU fan base today than there were the season before he was let go. Time seems to heal a lot of wounds. The same people who were saying they were tired of coach Knight’s act and were ready to move on, are now some of his biggest supporters. If the university had handled the whole situation better, it never would have turned this ugly. But the way Knight was fired turned more people against IU than against coach Knight.

Q. Thanks, Terry.

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