When asked if there was anything he'd like to share with our readers, Todd offered the following:
I'm in the midst of my seventh season. I have covered Indiana State since 2004 and there's never been a boring moment. ISU certainly hasn't been the winningest program by any stretch, but it is good for one truly oddball game or individual performance per year and I love that about them.
Just to ape some of my fellow beat writers, Omaha is my favorite destination in the MVC and I usually get a feta burger at Greek Islands restaurant when I'm in town. Koch Arena has the best atmosphere, though I confess to be perhaps the only beat writer who likes the catwalk and overhead view at Roberts Stadium.
Royce Waltman's damn-the-torpedoes farewell press conference in 2007 at the MVC Tournament is probably my favorite moment on the beat. A close second goes to an ISU student reporter who asked Dana Altman after a Creighton upset loss at Hulman Center during my first season how long Creighton has used its press defense.
Altman, already upset because Creighton had been schooled by ISU walk-on Brandon Ray, who did nothing before and little after that particular game, cringed, "We've been pressing for as long as I've been here, son." Press conference over. Trash can is heard meeting an unfortunate fate in Hulman Center hallway.
I'm writing on Christmas Day. My Christmas present was delivered by the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this week when they traded for Zack Greinke. I'm a Milwaukee native and diehard Brewers fan, so I'm geeked up. To any Royals fans reading this out there … you will like Lorenzo Cain. I hated to see him go, but for Greinke, I'll take it.
The offseason for Indiana State was interesting as former head coach
Kevin McKenna left Terre Haute to become an assistant with Dana Altman at
Oregon. How was that decision taken by Sycamore fans and players? How
much was the athletic department concerned about the perception of the
program when their head coach was willing to leave to become an assistant
A. I think fans were initially surprised ... to a point. McKenna-related rumors began circulating from the moment Dana Altman took the Oregon job. It was widely presumed that McKenna would seek out Altman's place at Creighton, and indeed, McKenna wanted the job and was disappointed to not get it.
I think that near-miss in late April prepared ISU fans for the fact that McKenna could, and probably would, go at some point. The fact that he could go to Oregon as an assistant was considered a possibility too -- I know I mentioned it in an article around that time and a few weeks before he left in my blog -- but most fans hoped it wouldn't happen.
But it did, so the move to Oregon was just a mild surprise. The timing of it was surprising, given that the recruiting period was less than two weeks away at the time. Some fans were angry, some were understanding of the fact that McKenna wanted to be at Oregon with Altman and that he was being paid better, many were ambivalent.
Same with the players. As you might imagine, those closer to McKenna were more bothered by it. Some players took it in stride. I think all of them presumed that Greg Lansing would take over, so no one thought there would be a massive change to get used to.
As for the perception part of McKenna's move, if there was any concern at all on ISU's part, it lasted the 24 hours it took to put Lansing in the head coaching position. Remember that Lansing was a very close second to McKenna during the 2007 coaching search. Because of that, the administration didn't feel like they were taking a step down.
They also know that whatever perception hit they took would be pretty fleeting in nature. Very few people, outside of MVC wonks like me and the fans who read this site, probably give much thought months after the fact to the ramifications of McKenna's departure. Life marches on.
The Sycamores have been ineffective at times running the motion
offense. Does Coach Greg Lansing have the players that he would like to
run his offense or what must happen to be more productive?
A. ISU had trouble with the motion early on, especially at the Loyola Tournament and a disastrous road loss at Ball State during the first week of the season.
Since then, I don't think the motion offense has been the problem. When ISU has been focused, they've ran it quite well.
But focus is the key. I've written about it recently here, but Dwayne Lathan and Jake Kelly -- ISU's best two players -- need to take a step back at times during games and try not to force the issue. They both want to be that go-to guy, but neither has exercised the judgment to pull it off. It doesn't mean they can't -- both players are excellent -- but too often, they try and take over all by themselves, the result being very low-percentage shots and turnovers.
The other thing ISU needs to do better is find its outside shooting groove. Jordan Printy has been injured for about half of the nonconference season, so that's hurt ISU's 3-point game, but other shooters like Aaron Carter and Koang Doluony haven't been on track and need to make shots to make ISU's offense run at its optimum. Carter seems to be coming out of his slump in recent games, however.
Indiana State has played several in state schools - Ball St, Notre
Dame, and Purdue - how important is it for the Sycamore program to play
against "local" teams? Do most fans support the idea of playing
"guarantee" games such as that against Notre Dame?
A. Indiana State is lucky among MVC schools in that it has a large number of in-state mid-majors it plays on a regular basis. With few exceptions, ISU has been playing Ball State since the Pleistocene Age. Evansville was an annual foe before the Aces joined the MVC. Butler was too … until the Bulldogs dropped the Sycamores a few years ago. That really rankles ISU fans, rightfully so, considering ISU beat Butler in three of its last four matchups, knocking Butler from the ranks of the unbeaten back in 2006.
It's not as easy to play the state's BCS conference schools. This year's game against Notre Dame was the first since 1948. ISU has played Purdue in four of the last five years, but didn't play at all prior to that since the early 1990s. Indiana was a frequent foe in the late 90s and 2000s -- the Sycamores beat them three out of six meetings -- but IU is considered off-limits so long as Tom Crean is coaching there.
Bottom line … it's always at the whim of the coaches at those respective schools whether ISU plays them or not.
I think Lansing's philosophy is going to be similar to that of Waltman's when he was here -- when the big state schools want to play, you play them, even if it means taking a 2-for-1 or a one-off like the Notre Dame game was. It energizes the fanbase and there's really not much to lose from ISU's standpoint.
As for guarantee games, I think fans support those that are exciting to them. Playing Notre Dame is exciting. Playing IU or Purdue is exciting. Playing Illinois, which is closer to Terre Haute than Notre Dame or Purdue, would be exciting. However, if ISU decided to play a guarantee game at a school that they have no geographic link, take Mizzou for example, then I think fans would balk at it.
Keep in mind that ISU can't pay guarantee games in its own right. So unlike the Creighton's and Wichita State's of the conference, they're handicapped in that regard.
Junior Dwayne Lathan is performing at an all-MVC level in the early
going. How has he developed his game and why has he been so successful?
Is this becoming his team or who are the leaders on and off the court?
A. Lathan is an excellent player, it's too bad most of the MVC fans didn't see him last year due to injuries. He is relentless in getting to the basket and his athleticism allows him to get shots off that most can't in traffic. He's like a bigger version of Harry Marshall in that regard. He also has a decent outside shot, and more so than any other player I've covered at ISU, has an above-the-rim game that's electrifying. Because of his leaping ability, he's also a good rebounder.
Of course, as I mentioned above, his strengths feed into his weakness … he thinks he can take over a game and hasn't honed the ability to know when he has to take over or when he's drawing a double-team and needs to get his teammates involved. Its hurt ISU, such as an eight-turnover performance against Purdue in a game that was close until the final five minutes or so.
I do think Lathan can be the leader of this team, but he's not quite there yet and neither is anyone else on this team, which doesn't have a true leader right now.
I do think Lathan will develop into that leader. I think he will be successful in that role when he trusts his teammates on the floor and picks his own spots better. I also think he's beginning to realize this and will tailor his game accordingly.
The Sycamores have been a bit inconsistent in the non-conference,
losing badly to Wyoming (81-51) and then returning home to hammer DePaul
(73-51), for example. I watched the Sycs battle Top 20 Purdue and was
impressed. Where did you expect the team would finish in the MVC when the
season started and have you changed your expectations?
A. I had ISU pegged fifth in the conference. I still think that's about right.
ISU just didn't take the route I expected to get there. They struggled against, frankly, some really bad teams early on, but they've played very well at times against some really good teams.
The effort ISU had in losses to Notre Dame and Purdue would win most Valley games, home or away. The effort ISU had in losses to Eastern Kentucky (a bad team that was missing its top scorer), Ball State and Wyoming, wouldn't beat any MVC team, home or away. You just never know which ISU team will show up.
They've been a mixed bag … just like a lot of other MVC teams. Every MVC team is about what I expected, save Bradley, as it has been decimated by injuries. Bradley is really the only team I expect to slide. Everyone else is who I thought they were, so I expect Wichita State to win it, with Northern Iowa a close second.
Thanks again to Todd for participating in our team by team MVC Q&A. Previous Q&A's can be found in the MVC links section of the forum.
Dec 13 - Drake Bulldogs - Mark Emmert
Dec 16 - Jim Benson - Illinois State
Dec 18 - Paul Suellentrop - Wichita State
Dec 20 - Steve Pivovar - Creighton
Dec 22 - Kelly Beaton - Northern Iowa
Dec 24 - Todd Hefferman - Southern Illinois
Dec 26 - Randy Beard - Evansville
Dec 27 - Todd Golden - Indiana State
Dec 29 - Kirk Wessler - Bradley