What To Do About Jeremiah Rivers

Zachary OstermanCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2010

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 08:  Jeremiah Rivers #5 of the Indiana Hoosiers dribbles the ball against the Pitt Panthers during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 8, 2009 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

(Well, he's cut his hair since that picture was taken, so that's certainly a start.)

As we get set for our next lap around the sun, it's becoming apparent that the expectations surrounding the Indiana basketball team are finally coming (slowly) back to earth. Jeremiah Rivers can relate.

Both the Hoosiers and their point guard suffered from a moderate case of great expectations early this season, and many's the fan who let the world know of their disappointment at such unfulfilled hope.

Perhaps the bar was set too high.

For the Hoosiers as a whole, it came thanks to a train wreck of a 2008-09 season and a deep recruiting class.

Individually, Rivers mostly just suffered from being too much of what the Hoosiers lacked.

He was a natural point guard with good vision and distribution. He was a big, physical guard, the kind needed to defend the likes of Manny Harris and Evan Turner. He had played spotlight college basketball before, with two Big East seasons under his belt.

He had experience, maturity, leadership and toughness, all of which Tom Crean's first Indiana team lacked sorely.

Last season, the Georgetown transfer became the symbol of hope for a beleaguered program. He would step out onto the floor before games, high-five starters, dance around and generally play the role of next season's savior.

So imagine the surprise of the cream and crimson faithful at Rivers' per-game averages thus far—7.2 points, 4.5 assists, 5.6 rebounds. Neither modest nor earth-moving, Rivers is simply a solid player. But when you consider the full weight put on his shoulders and throw in some alarming stats, (like he's 53.4 percent free-throw shooting) then the criticism will come swiftly.

Not that it's fair. If we had taken a fair look at Doc Rivers' older son before this season, what we likely would have seen was a talented point guard that had never averaged 19 minutes a game or more than 2.5 point per game, always struggled to shoot free throws and could dish the ball with some real skill.

Rivers came to Indiana to play in an offense that would expand his opportunities, and and it's worked out. Outside the rigid Princeton offense employed at Georgetown, Rivers has been able to use his athleticism and quickness to get into the lane more often, making up for a poor shooting touch.

And while you'd hardly call him "lockdown," Rivers is certainly IU's best defender, and draws the Hoosiers' most important matchup just about every game. Manny Harris can tell you Rivers is no slouch.

Also remember that Rivers' production is, in many ways, contingent on that of those around him. It's hard, in Tom Crean's driving offense to run a pick-and-roll, for example, if the pick isn't always up to snuff.

And remember, it's not Rivers' job to score. (Or wasn't, until Maurice Creek got hurt.) Rivers isn't a natural scorer, he's a natural distributor, and fourth place in the Big Ten in assists says he's doing his job.

Jeremiah Rivers, like his team at large, is a work in progress, overrated once, improving all the time, slowly. He has his shortcomings, but he's certainly good enough to start at point guard in the Big Ten.

He brings desperately-needed experience, he brings defensive skill that no other Hoosier can match. Most important—and, I'll assume, unintentionally—he brings a sense of reality back to the program.

That might be needed most of all.