Indiana's 2013-2014 season has now officially wrapped up 25 games. It was probably too early before last week's game against Penn State, but it's now time to make some important statements about Indiana. Whatever happens in the next 7-10 games, it's now become hard to view this season as anything except a failure. The team has more than failed to meet expectations. What this means for Tom Crean and the program is unknown, but the implications for this season are clear.
So why is the season a failure? With the potential for 6 regular season and 4 conference tournament games remaining, how can we possibility clarify this season as a failure? The answer is relatively simple, but it's most easily described through three ways: (1) the reality of the team's situation; (2) the team and program expectations; and (3) the limited impact of a late season surge. Let's take a look at each of these factors.
Reality of the Team's Situation
The first thing that Hoosier fans are going to have to accept over the next few days is the reality of the situation. Indiana may be an ok team or even a decent team, but they are most definitely not a good team. The Hoosier rank #75 on KenPom and 8th in the Big Ten. The Big Ten is easily one of the nation's top two conferences, but you are still looking at a team rated in the bottom half of a league with 12 teams. Indiana is below Nebraska and really not too far ahead of teams like Illinois and Penn State.. Indiana also ranks behind Dayton, Louisiana Tech, LSU, and Texas Tech. These are not exactly Final Four caliber teams.
Along with the general rank of the team, at this point in the season, we can take a step back and look at Indiana's resume and frankly, it's pretty unimpressive. Indiana is 14-11 and 4-8(!!!) in the Big Ten. Maybe that record could slide if Indiana was playing a murderer's row, but Indiana has already lost to the teams in 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th, and 12th in the Big Ten standings. Indiana is currently in 10th place in the conference, so they've already lost the 6 other lowest teams in the conference. In fact, outside of the Michigan and Wisconsin wins this season, the Hoosiers have done pretty much nothing that argues that they are worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid. This team may be ok or even decent, but they are not good and fans need to start realizing this.
Team and Program Expectations
Even if Indiana is only decent, it's important that this is put into context. We're not talking about a program like Nebraska, Northwestern, or even Penn State. This is Indiana. Fans have not only grown to expect more out of the Hoosiers, but they rightfully should expect more. This is a program where a bid to the NCAA Tournament isn't something that should be a major accomplishment. It should be an expectation.
Even this season, with the loss of 4 starters, expectations were pretty high. Not only were the Hoosiers ranked in the preseason Top 25, but they had plenty of talent. Maybe the team was young. Maybe the team was not perfectly composed. Maybe it wasn't even that great. But there was still plenty of talent. According to 247Sports, Indiana currently starts two 5* recruits, two 4* recruits, and a 3* recruit. Among those players are a senior, a sophomore, and three true freshmen. That is undoubtedly a young lineup, but there's still plenty of talent there.
Look at Michigan's starting lineup for comparison: one 5* recruit, two 4* recruits, and two 3* recruits. Their lineup features one senior, three sophomores, and a true freshman. Sure, Michigan has more experience than IU, but IU also starts a 5* in place the 3* that Michigan stars. Michigan is currently tied for 1st in the Big Ten while Indiana is sitting 10th in the conference standings. Sure, this is just one comparison, but the statement remains true: this program, this team, and this roster should demand a lot more than a spot below Dayton in KenPom and a 10th place Big Ten finish.
Limited Impact of a Late Season Surge
There is clearly one major question related to this article and it involves the 7-10 remaining games for Indiana. What if the Hoosiers manage to turn things around on the court and start reeling off wins. The first thing fans have to realize is that even if Indiana goes undefeated for the remainder of the regular season, it's still going to be a longshot to get a bid. They get 4 big opponents left (Iowa, Michigan, OSU, Wisconsin), but the team already has a lot of losses and an undefeated run would barely get them above .500 in conference. Considering that the Hoosiers have no marquee non-conference wins, it would still be tight for a tourney bid and this is assuming an undefeated run. Obviously, the Big Ten Tournament is the wildcard since they could get an auto-bid, but that's also a pretty longshot considering that IU will have a very tough road to get there.
The other general point that fans at least need to address is the fact that this team should not even need a late season surge to get on the bubble. We have already talked about the team's precarious bubble situation and both the team and program expectations, but the fact that they have been embarrassed by teams like Northwestern, Penn State, and Purdue is pretty telling. Things have not went well and would a very late win streak be able to mask those problems? Perhaps the general public would view it that way, but in reality, it would simply be a band-aid on a team that has been plagued with issues since the beginning of the season.
Indiana's team still has a fringe opportunity to make some noise, but in all reality, this season has been a failure due to the measures set by both this team and Indiana's program. Who knows what the implications of this season will have for the players, Tom Crean, and the program's future, but one thing is for sure. This season has not went well for Indiana and it's time to finally call it what it has become. A failure.