Bloomington, Ind. – Kelvin Sampson has plenty of things that concern him, but Indiana's 5-3 record isn't one of them.
The first-year Hoosier coach is more worried about limiting turnovers, getting rebounds, and figuring out a way to get his team to the free-throw line on a more consistent basis. Sampson is interested in getting Joey Shaw to be better at containing his man off the dribble, and figuring out a way to utilize fleet-footed point guard Earl Calloway out in the open floor and creating more transition opportunities.
But his team's record is well down the list of the things that worry him the most.
"Our record could be 8-0 with a different schedule," Sampson said.
Indiana's three losses have come away from home and against the nation's sixth-ranked team (Duke), the 18th-ranked squad (Butler) and a Kentucky team that started the year ranked in the nation's top 25. The result has been a less-than-glamorous 5-3 record that has IU with nary a vote in the AP's most recent Top 25 poll and sitting in ninth in the Big Ten based on non-conference record.
"You learn more from mistakes than you learn from doing good," Sampson said. "That's why playing on the road at Kentucky and Duke has helped us. There may not be another team in the country that's had to do that thus far."
Sampson has a point. Top-ranked UCLA has yet to play a true road game. Third-ranked North Carolina, fourth-ranked Ohio State, fifth-ranked Florida and ninth-ranked Alabama have each played only one road game - and each lost that contest.
The only team in the top 10 that can rival Indiana's pair of tough road contests is seventh-ranked Wichita State, which won at No. 6 LSU and No. 14 Syracuse earlier this season.
"That's why I don't worry about what our record is," Sampson said. "I know who we've played. A lot of teams that are 7-0 or 8-0, they haven't played at a Duke or at a Kentucky."
One of the things that Sampson is concerned about is getting his team to play harder on the offensive end of the floor. Indiana has been very good on the defensive end, limiting its foes 38.3 percent shooting and 58.9 points/game, but it has been inconsistent offensively, particularly when it plays away from Assembly Hall.
"We've been exposed in some areas that we have to improve on," Sampson said. "For instance, we're learning to play hard on defense, but I think we play harder on defense than we do on offense. We've got to learn to play just as hard offensively."
More than anything, that means trying to create some more easy opportunities on the offensive end. Whether that's converting some defensive stops into fastbreak opportunities or getting some more trips to the free-throw line by attacking the rim, Sampson doesn't want to see his team rely almost exclusively on its halfcourt sets.
"The improvement I'd like to see us make it to get easier baskets – don't feel like we need to wait on D.J. (White) every possession," Sampson said.
White continues to be the team's leading scorer, averaging 13.9 points and 7.9 rebounds. Although Sampson said he's noticed White has gotten much better at running the floor than he was when he first arrived in Bloomington two years ago, he'd still like to see his guards be a little more aggressive in trying to push the pace and attack the rim when they have numbers.
"You've got to go get a steal and get a lay-up," Sampson said. "Give us a 3-point attempt and if we can get a long rebound and go score on that. All of a sudden you look up and you've got five lay-ups, well that's 5-for-5. If somebody contests of your shots and you're 0-for-5 in the half court offense, your shooting percentage is 50 percent."
Without those kind of easy scores sprinkled in throughout a game, Sampson says a team's shooting percentage is always going to be sub-par. Indiana hasn't generated a great deal of fastbreak opportunities thus far, and as a result is shooting 44.8 percent from the field, which ranks eighth in the Big Ten.
"We've got to get easier baskets," Sampson said. "That's where I think Earl (Calloway) can help us and get us to run ahead of the ball and find a way to get D.J. down there faster."
IU's Record of Little Concern to Sampson
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