Season Begins Now?

Dan Dakich noticed a lull during the shootaround schedule Thursday, so Indiana's interim coach had a little fun: He invited a few dozen young fans onto the court, placed them in the lane and knocked down free throws over their screams and waving hands.

Then, during the Hoosiers' practice, a manager walked along the lines, slapping high-fives while urging the players, ``Let's have fun with this.''

As rough as the past month has been at Indiana, why not?

Allegations of NCAA recruiting violations, a midseason coaching change, a threatened player boycott and a quick exit from the Big Ten tournament have made Indiana's high national ranking and legitimate Final Four expectations disappear as quickly as a dropped phone call. Now, all that's left for the eighth-seeded Hoosiers is to somehow salvage their once-promising season, beginning Friday night against No. 9 seed Arkansas in the first round of the East Regional.

``We look at it like it's a new season, new beginning,'' forward D.J. White said. ``We struggled a little bit in the past, but there's nothing we can do about it. We can't dwell on what happened behind us. All we can do now is try to get better.''

The Hoosiers (25-7) once were considered among the favorites to contend for their first Final Four in six years and a legitimate threat for their first national title in more than two decades.

``We got seeded at No. 8, but we feel like we're a team that if we're playing good, we can beat anybody in the country,'' guard Armon Bassett said.

Perhaps, but those performances came during Indiana's 16-1 start - well before the emergence of those distractions that unraveled the season.

They included: Kelvin Sampson's abrupt resignation; Dakich's promotion to interim coach and finishing 3-3 under him; losing three of its last four, capped by Minnesota's buzzer-beating shot in the Big Ten quarterfinals; and the schools' recent announcement that a committee would search the nation for the next coach.

``I have had no problems with their mindframe going into games,'' Dakich said. ``They have prepared. They have put themselves in positions to win every basketball game that I've been the head coach of. ... That's the fine line of winning and losing.''

Both schools made the tournament for the third straight year, though neither team is still coached by the man who guided them to the previous two bids. The Razorbacks players say they empathize with the Hoosiers' situation after Arkansas replaced Stan Heath with South Alabama's John Pelphrey.

``I know it's very tough for them. We had to go through a similar situation, with losing our coach and getting another one,'' swingman Sonny Weems said. ``They fought through it. We fought through it.''

It hasn't been easy for Indiana, and that has led to some inconsistent play down the stretch.

The Hoosiers won tight ones against teams that failed to make the NCAA tournament field (Northwestern and Ohio State), were routed by 29 points on Michigan State's Senior Day, lost in overtime to a Penn State team that's going nowhere and beat Minnesota roughly a week before the Gophers rebounded to send them home early from the Big Ten tournament.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Indiana -2 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 54% of bets for this game have been placed on Arkansas +2 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

Pelphrey insists he won't be fooled, especially after Arkansas (22-11) lost to an adversity-tested Georgia team in the Southeastern Conference title game. This time he expects nothing less than Indiana's A-game, and vowed not to look ahead toward a possible second-round matchup with No. 1 North Carolina.

``We fully anticipate getting Indiana's best shot,'' Pelphrey said. ``They'd be tough for our guys in any league we play in. ... We fully anticipate them playing their best game tomorrow.''

Even that might not be enough for Indiana if the run-and-gun Razorbacks can dictate the tempo and force the Hoosiers to keep up.

``We're going to play our brand of basketball, because that's what we do best,'' Arkansas guard Stefan Welsh said. ``We're not going to change anything we do. We're going to press. We're going to read pick-and-rolls. We're going to take open 3s. We're going to get the ball inside.''

A month after Sampson's departure, the Hoosiers say they've moved on. They credit Dakich for steadying the situation, keeping the game plan similar and maintaining a comfortable atmosphere for the players.

What the Hoosiers lack, of course, is a memorable victory under Dakich.

Sampson's departure ``took (something) out of us, our whole team, and what we had to do those six games is stay together and play as a team, and don't let the season go down,'' White said.

``So far, we have our ups and downs, and we still think we can play well throughout this tournament.''

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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