News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 17, 2008

Given to Fly: Wrapping up a crazy week of college hoops around the state

Craig Pearson

TERRE HAUTE — This past week was definitely a news-filled week in the world of Indiana (particularly in Bloomington) and Wabash Valley basketball.

Consider this column a clearing of my actual notebook in addition to the virtual notebook in my head.

• Here in Terre Haute, the Indiana State women’s basketball team was simply overmatched Friday by Illinois State (20-3, 10-2), a team probably deserving of being in the AP Top 25 even though it has less victories against ranked teams this season than Indiana State (10-12, 4-8 MVC).

The Sycamores were able to beat Vanderbilt (19-6), who is now ranked No. 25 and played Sunday against No. 1 Tennessee. The Commodores were No. 20 when ISU defeated them 77-72 in overtime on Nov. 14, which was 93 days prior to ISU’s 91-56 loss to the Redbirds.

I also asked coach Jim Wiedie if he saw any similarities between his 2005-06 Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champion team and this year’s Illilnois State team.

“Yeah, I think so,” he responded. “They’ve got a lot of depth.”

“We had a lot of depth. They’ve got more kids that can score than we do [now]. Or at least they’ve shown that. When you’ve got such a strong inside-outside game like they have and you’ve got the best point guard in the league, that’s a pretty good combination. If they continue to play the way that they’re playing, there’s no telling how many more games they can win the rest of the season and where they can go in the postseason.”

Another similarity is the lack of a tough non-conference schedule that will spell doom for the Redbirds if they don’t win the MVC Tournament at St. Charles, Mo.

When asked if her team has any weaknesses, Illinois State coach Robin Pingeton admitted it does, but “I’m not telling you what they are,” she said.

The Redbirds are a team that could compete with some of the nation’s top programs, but for some reason Pingeton’s schedule hasn’t given them a chance to do so.

Pingeton’s team ranks 38th on collegerpi.com, and that just won’t cut it if you’re looking for an at-large berth and you’re best win is a home win against Wisconsin-Green Bay.

The Redbirds played Depaul at home and lost 85-70. An article in the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph that outlined Illinois State’s NCAA resume stated that the Depaul loss “doesn’t hurt” the team’s chances of an at-large berth. But it does not help their chances either, and as Doug Hamm states later in his piece, the team is best served to win the MVC Tournament.

If the NCAA Committee couldn’t put an Indiana State team in the tournament that went 26-5 and had a win against a Chattanooga team that ranked 33rd in the RPI, then it’s not logical for them to find room for a team whose best victory is against Wisconsin-Green Bay (No. 42 in collegerpi.com.).

Pingeton, who will have much of her team back next year, has another year to make up for it. She may have to schedule games on the road at tough places to win. But veteran mid-major programs must play — in my opinion four or five Top-30 caliber opponents — high-caliber teams in hopes of getting a couple quality wins that catch the commitee’s attention.

• Kudos to the 3,994 fans in Hulman Center for “Think Pink” night and for those loyal to the women’s basketball team.

Unless the Sycamores catch lightning in a bottle for the MVC Tournament, which isn’t entirely out of the question, there will be no postseason for the second straight season.

• In the great reasons to read read fan forums department, a post on www.illiniloyalty.com is titled “If we win out, do we make the tournament?”

As a lifelong Cubs fan, I admire that kind of optimism, but geesh, what a waste of time (the post got the attention of 442 forum readers who apparently have as many real friends as the Illini do Big Ten victories this year — that’s three in case you’re not counting).

The fan made his post many hours before the Fighting Illini lost to powerful Penn State on Saturday, but that’s about as silly as the demented fan who threw the cup of ice water at Eric Gordon’s mother.

Times have been so hard for Illinois fans the past few years, I know.

Bruce Weber has averaged — yes averaged — 28 wins in his four years at Illinois.

• According to the Lincoln (Ill.) Courier, one Chicago man actually offered $10,000 to Illinois to put toward buying out Weber’s contract. Congratulations to Director of Athletics Ron Guenther for not even responding to this buffoon’s e-mail.

If Indiana (21-4) wins 28 games this year, it will be fortunate to do so, and the Hoosiers have not won that many games since the 1992-93 season when they went 31-4.

• More coach talk — Despite his Illinois coaching record of 123-43, Weber is no Bob Knight. He’ll never approach Knight’s all-time win total, mostly because Knight’s career began at age 24 at Army and Weber spent years next to Gene Keady at Purdue.

Matt Painter, on the other hand, will have a very long and storied career at Purdue.

If Sampson does in fact get fired at IU, Painter and Sampson’s replacement should have many great matchups.

But, for the sake of the present tense, Tuesday’s matchup between IU and Purdue should be as classic as they get.

• As a journalist who likes to see all the Indiana college basketball programs succeed, Purdue is impressive and deserves every bit of attention it has received recently. Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore, Chris Kramer are all hard-nosed players that are fun to watch.

But A.J. Graves of Butler is the guy in the state I’d rather watch than anyone right now. Yes, IU fans, I’d rather watch Graves play than Eric Gordon, whose high-flying, NBA 3-point bombing game is definitely enjoyable, but Graves’ mastery of the mental aspect of the game is a lot of fun.



Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at craig.pearson@tribstar.com or by phone at (812) 231-4357.