Sending the Wrong Message

Mike Davis' message this week was heard loud and clear.

Unfortunately, Mike Davis' message this week was heard loud and clear.

Three days ago, IU's head coach got a make-or-break week for his IU basketball team started in the worst of ways. It wasn't D.J. White's foot or Marco Killingsworth's back or even Marshall Strickland's knee that got the week started off wrong.

Instead, it was Davis' words, and more specifically what he had to say during his Big Ten weekly teleconference.

"Hopefully we can split this week," Davis said to a handful of reporters when discussing upcoming road contests to Iowa and Minnesota.

Indiana, a top-15 team nationally that had won seven of eight, is hoping it can somehow avoid getting swept by a Minnesota team that now stands 0-6 in the Big Ten and an Iowa team that it had beaten two of the last three times they had met in Iowa City.

That wouldn't exactly qualify as shooting for the moon and landing among the stars.

Of course, after the whipping the Hoosiers took in Iowa City Tuesday night, a split is the best the Hoosiers can hope for. With the exception of the 26-point effort from Robert Vaden and some spirited play from a couple of bench players, Indiana showed up in Iowa City primed to get shown up by its hosts. Indiana arrived in Carver-Hawkeye Arena looking like a team that had already determined which game it hoped to win during the two-game road swing.

And it wasn't the one played in Iowa City.

While Davis' comments were ill-advised, the logic behind them was obvious. Winning on the road in the Big Ten has likely never been more difficult than it has and will be this season. The top seven teams in the conference standings are a combined 18-1 at home in league games. Iowa hasn't been beaten at home all season, and "The Barn" in Minneapolis has always been a venomous venue for Indiana teams.

Davis likely also knew Strickland would be unable to go against Iowa, removing one of the league's most prolific 3-point shooters and one of the conference's most experienced players from the IU lineup.

That might be the case, but with those six words Davis handed his team an excuse to not dive for a loose ball or fight for a rebound. He provided the players with a reason to think that scratching and clawing and fighting to overcome a double-digit deficit might not be necessary.

It also could have planted a seed of doubt on the team as well. Despite fielding arguably the Big Ten's most talented team, one with Big Ten title and Final Four aspirations, Davis seemed to have his fingers crossed his team won't go 0-fer the week.

The message was that Indiana could lose by 13 to Iowa and live to fight on another day.

After his team's less-than-stellar outing at Iowa, Davis was noticeably frustrated with his team's performance, calling into question some of his players' effort. But the path was paved for that kind of outing on Monday, when Davis suggested that a loss this week was not only acceptable, but expected.

Instead of viewing the week away from home as an opportunity to win a couple of road games and seize control of the Big Ten title chase, Davis was saying publicly that he was just hoping to avoid getting swept.

If that's the goal, then it's one Davis should have kept to himself. Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but a split shouldn't be the goal of a team with Big Ten championship aspirations.

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