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On the Skids Lacking talent and scoring, Indiana is searching for answers


What has happened to Indiana? Two years after going to the
national championship game, the Hoosiers were 7-6 (1-1 in the Big
Ten) and in danger of having their first losing season in 34
years. They had lost three games by 30 or more points this season
and were ranked last or next-to-last in the conference in nine
statistical categories. In losses earlier this month to Temple
and Wisconsin, they scored just 19 and 15 first-half points,
respectively, and finished with 50 or fewer points in
back-to-back games for the first time since 1949.

Still, Hoosiers coach Mike Davis, an optimist by nature, is
convinced that his team can turn things around, and on Sunday,
Indiana showed some signs of life with a 59-57 win at Michigan.
"If we were executing well and doing everything right and were
still getting beat badly, then I'd say, Man, it's going to be a
long year," Davis says. "But we just haven't executed like we do
in practice. We've had moments in games when we've played well,
so it's just a matter of putting it all together."

In order for Indiana to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the
first time since the 1984-85 season, it must shoot better. The
Hoosiers were hitting just 39.5% of their shots from the field at
week's end, and aside from sophomore guard Bracey Wright (20.2
points a game), they didn't have another consistent scoring

How did the talent pool get so dry? Jared Jeffries departed for
the NBA following his sophomore season two years ago, and another
member of that class, 6'4" guard Andre Owens, transferred to
Houston, where he was Conference USA's second-leading scorer
through Sunday (18.3 points a game). After a loss to Kentucky on
Dec. 22, 2001, Davis memorably proclaimed that "help is on the
way," but that recruiting class has not panned out beyond Wright.
Sophomore point guard Marshall Strickland was another highly
touted recruit, but he was averaging just 9.3 points a game and
had almost as many turnovers (31) as assists (34). A knee injury
to 6'11" junior center George Leach, who returned to the lineup
on Sunday after a nine-game absence, left Patrick Ewing Jr., a
6'8" freshman, as Indiana's most effective big man.

After several misses last year--Davis came close to landing Luol
Deng (who signed with Duke), Kris Humphries (Minnesota) and
Charlie Villanueva (UConn)--the fourth-year coach has put
together one of the top classes in the nation for next year,
including 6'9" forward D.J. White, whom Davis says could average
14 points per game on this year's team. However, the most highly
regarded of the Hoosiers' recruits, 6'9" forward Josh Smith, is
widely expected to enter the NBA draft, even though Davis is
optimistic that Smith will make it to Bloomington. "People say
he's 100 percent gone, but that's not what Josh and his parents
have told me," Davis says. "Why wouldn't he want to come here and
win a national championship like Carmelo Anthony did?"

Though Indiana appears to be a long way from contending for a
national title, athletic director Terry Clapacs says that Davis's
job is safe. Still, Davis knows that Hoosiers fans can be
impatient. "It's tough to see your team fall apart in games, but
as the coach it's my responsibility to keep that from happening,"
Davis says. "If the blame is going to be put on anyone, it's got
to be put on me."

COLOR PHOTO: MORRY GASH/AP If Sean Kline (center) and the Hoosiers don't improve, they couldmiss the NCAAs for the first time in 19 years.