The svelte and swanky Evan set me up to interview Eamonn Breannan. Eamonn is a co-founder of Inside The Hall, an independent IU basketball blog. He also writes at Yahoo! Sports, NBC Chicago, MOUTHPIECE Sports, and at his personal blog, eamonnbrennan.com. Inside The Hall is a very high class blog; they secured the H-L’s John Clay for an interview concerning the Wildcats.
My esteemed thanks to Eamonn to take time out of busy schedule for my juvenile questions. At least I omitted asking him if he remembered that time when Bobby Knight threw that chair. (That was awesome!)
TFGM: I’m sure you don’t want to talk about him. (In the spirit world, he is referred to as “He Who Cheated Then Cheated Again”.) Given that it appears he mislead the compliance and athletic officials at Indiana, and he was summarily forced out, do you feel that three years of probation for the Indiana program was justified?
EB: I felt the punishment was mostly justified, yes. Did Indiana make a huge mistake in hiring Sampson? Yes. Did they take a risk in ignoring his past crimes? Yes. But previously, throughout his career, Sampson had had a clean record, so there’s some wiggle room there. I think what the NCAA saw was IU’s diligence in not only reporting the violations but firing the coach and the assistant immediately and punishing itself as an institution. It’s hard to argue that Indiana didn’t take serious measures before the NCAA hearing. To punish Tom Crean and his band of misfit toys after the fact would be pretty blind, and isn’t there some saying about how justice has 20/20 vision? No? Someone help me out here.
TFGM: Given the mass exodus of Sampson’s scholarship players, clearly the expectations of this season’s team have been dramatically reduced. I think it would be fair to say that Hoosier fans want hard play and determination but don’t expect a 20-win season. It seems that the players brought in by Coach Crean are fighting hard for their coach. So, perhaps it was for the best that Indiana’s roster emptied? Is this a blessing in disguise?
EB: I don’t know that it’s a blessing, per se, to have a really bad season, but I do think what it’s done is cleansed everybody’s palette. No one wants to have a dirty program. Maybe some fans don’t care all that much and just want to win, but even more than that, I think people want to be able to root for their school. That’s why the whole homegrown talent thing is such a big deal; fans, college fans especially, want to root for players that represent them on a basketball court. It’s sort of naive, but there it is. So no, no one’s expecting anything this year, but it is nice to be able to root for hustle again, even if condescending stuff like “they sure play hard!” gets really, really old. It’s nice to feel good about watching basketball again, I guess. A few wins would be nice, too. I admit it.
TFGM: Against Gonzaga, your co-writer Ryan said, “This is two games in a row now the general consensus was the other team – Wake, Gonzaga – played bad. Perhaps this is a trend.” Do you think Indiana’s defense is capable of taking teams out of their plans?
EB: I think those teams having played bad has much, much more to do with those teams than it does with IU. Sure, Indiana plays hard, and they defend OK, and they take charges, that sort of stuff. But when you’re a hyper-athletic guy like Patrick Patterson, and the only thing between you and the rim is Tom Pritchard and Kyle Taber … I don’t know if Patterson sees “disruptive.” Maybe, but I doubt it.
TFGM: It sounds like Indiana suffers from the same disease Kentucky suffers from: turnovers. Through Monday, the Hoosiers average 20.3 turnovers a game, and the Wildcats average 20.2. Are the Hoosiers, like Kentucky, having difficulty with point guards setting up the offense?
EB: That’s part of the problem. The other part is unfamiliarity. There are tons of possessions that end in turnovers where it was clear, for whatever reason, that two guys weren’t on the same page. It happens. I think IU will improve in that category, honestly, once they get some more time together. It is impossible to understate how new all of these guys are.
TFGM: As our first game of the season proved, Kentucky is not exceptional at defending the 3 point shot. Which Indiana players should we be hoping will be cold as ice?
EB: Matt Roth. Right now, shooting three’s is about all Roth can do, but he’s not streaky or hot/cold. He’s always on. Keep an eye on Devan Dumes, too. He actually is streaky, but he can shoot it. Also, heads up for Tijan Jobe. Kid can stroke it. Kidding. I don’t know if Tijan has ever shot a basketball from that far away before.
TFGM: Some of our younger readers grew up with Pitino’s and Tubby’s dominance of the Hoosiers, and don’t see this as much of a “rivarly” anymore. Personally, how much does this rivalry mean to you? Do you still hate the Wildcats as much (or as little) as you have in the past?
EB: Eh, I don’t have any hatred or dislike or whatever for Kentucky specifically. The fans occasionally frighten me. For example: When I was working an IU-UK game for the Indiana Daily Student a couple of years ago at Rupp, some old guy with no teeth shouted at me to “put that on my ‘puter, boy.” He wasn’t joking or messing with me; he seemed genuinely menacing. Everyone in his section was scary, actually, and I never want to go back, nor do I understand the notion of taunting an ostensibly unbiased journalist. I’d love to spend a day in that guy’s head.
Overall, though, no. This is not a super-heated rivalry to me either on the court or off. If I lived in Louisville, I’d probably feel differently. Big Blue Nation doesn’t really rep it up here in Chicago.
TFGM: How much will a win against Kentucky mean to the Hoosiers season?
EB: Emotionally, it’d be great. It’d be that one win that would momentarily redeem whatever horrible basketball came after it, the one time this year we’d be able to be happy about winning — not just happy about the team’s work ethic, but about winning. That would be nice.
Realistically, or practically, it would mean less than nothing. Obviously we’re not going to the NCAA tournament here. No illusions there. So beyond the momentary joy I’d feel for the players and Coach Crean, it wouldn’t be much more important than beating, say, TCU.
TFGM: Your prediction for the game?
EB: Indiana 100, Kentucky 2. Unless Ditka plays for Indiana, in which case, the score would be so high as to be incalcuable by any human mathematical standards. Ditka!
I don’t know, you guys will probably win. Just take it easy on us, k?