News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

December 14, 2013

FROM THE PRESS BOX: Indiana State’s men’s basketball team is doing fine ... really

Kansas City, Mo. — Indiana State’s men’s basketball team is doing fine.

Really.

The Sycamores have a funny way of showing it. They keep teams beneath them in ability in games — like Alaska-Anchorage, Missouri-Kansas City ... should I go on? — long past the time they should. But the win-loss record doesn’t lie. The Sycamores are 7-2 and in a good position with three nonconference games left before Missouri Valley Conference play begins.

The Sycamores are fine. Seriously. What? You mean you need convincing?

It’s hard to blame you. I know it can be hard to believe. Sometimes I have a hard time believing it myself.

Especially when I look up at the Kansas City Muncipal Auditorium scoreboard and see a halftime deficit against a Kangaroos team that is several fathoms below ISU in ability.

I don’t know what power you believe in, but I believe in the unseen life force that keeps ISU playing to the ability of its opponent. Forget the Force from Star Wars, I believe in the power of the Play To The Level Of Your Opponent Force.

That force is strong in these Sycamores. Don’t believe it? If you’ve watched this season, I find your lack of faith disturbing.

That force works for ill and for good. It helps ISU against good teams. ISU looked good, sometimes dominant, against Notre Dame (who beat Indiana on Saturday) in Notre Dame’s house on Nov. 17. One game later, ISU can look very average in its own house against Division II Truman State.

The pattern played out Saturday in ISU’s languid first half against the Kangaroos on Saturday that saw the Sycamores trail by two at the break after being down as much as five in the opening half. This after ISU led 13-4 early in the contest.

It drives you nuts. It gives you moments when you say, “No! No! No!” during a game against a lesser foe as you expect the Sycamores to finally go too far with a lapse which careens them headlong into a bad loss.

Except, this year, they usually haven’t let it go that far. That’s why they’re 7-2. They may not be dominant, but they’re surviving and advancing.

Surviving and advancing doesn’t gain style points, it won’t gain huzzahs from the fans, but it gets the job done. Even if avoidance of sharp objects is recommended at times as you watch it unfold.

The good news is that the Sycamores aren’t satisfied merely with surviving and advancing. No one was in “a win is a win” mode after the 74-63 victory over the Kangaroos. ISU got its act together in the second half, but the Sycamores were disappointed it had to come to that.

“We’re definitely not where we want to be. We have spurts, but that’s all they are. We have to put spurts together,” ISU forward Justin Gant said.

“I feel good [about where the team is], but we have to get better. Those lapses we have, as a senior, we have to get ourselves and everyone else going. We can’t have those flat spurts that gets teams going,” ISU guard Dawon Cummings said.

Cummings’ comments feed into one theory Lansing had as to why ISU waxes and wanes.

“Coach Lou [Gudino, associate head coach] says it all of the time: coaching a veteran team of seniors is difficult. They’ve heard us talk so much about the same things. They know they’re a good team and they just play in spurts. We’re not as committed or locked in to each possession as we need to be to beat the rest of the teams on our schedule,” Lansing said.

The rest of the schedule will give ISU plenty of chances to prove itself and reach a level of its own instead of whomever it’s playing. Two of the three remaining nonconference games are against quality teams — Saint Louis (on Wednesday) and Belmont (at home on Dec. 28).

The MVC will richly test ISU’s ability to play above its opponents’ level because ISU is clearly better than all but a few MVC teams. Aside from Wichita State, Missouri State and maybe Northern Iowa (who got a nice win over VCU on Saturday), the rest of the MVC has struggled mightily so far.

There will be plenty of opportunity for ISU to throw off the tag of playing to the level of their opponent.

Until that day comes, just be resigned to the reality that it’s how these Sycamores roll. In the end, I think they’ll be fine. I think this team will figure it out and a special season is still very much in the cards. There’s too much talent in stock for it not to.

But until then? Just be patient and stock up on antacids as you wait for the Sycamores to get there. No one said it was going to be easy.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 208-2643 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.

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