A Season on the Brink II

It's been 27 years since Indiana's last banner, and Hoosier Nation is getting restless. - Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The next nine days are going to determine the path of Indiana's future. Which way will they go?

No one in the Indiana program is going to deny that this has been a failure of a season in most respects thus far. And as fans, that is good as we want the coaches and players to always strive for greatness and not make constant excuses for failure.  This is Indiana after all - not some run of the mill mid-major basketball program. There is almost no chance left for the Hoosiers to make a run to the NCAA tournament after the debacle in West Lafayette last weekend. However, I did say "almost" which means there is still a glimmer of hope, albeit as faint a glimmer as science will allow. After a metal beam fell in The Assembly Hall on Tuesday, which postponed the Iowa game, the Hoosiers will now play 4 games in 9 days. Those games are not against the bottom of the B1G either which might be a good thing as that is where the Hoosiers have inconceivably struggled this season. Indiana takes on Northwestern (9th) in Evanston tonight, Wisconsin (4th) in Madison, Iowa (3rd) at home, and Ohio State (5th) at home.

But what if the Hoosiers win three of these four games? That would put them at 7-9 in the B1G heading into the final week of the season (Nebraska at home and Michigan on road). Would a record of 8-10 in the regular season and a 2-1 record in the B1G tournament get Indiana into the Big Dance? I think it might. It is unthinkable that the B1G would only get 5 teams in, and I am not on the Nebrasketball bandwagon just yet. Many teams have surged at different points of the year only to fall back where they belong (see Northwestern and Illinois), and I think Nebraska will be the latest victim in what has been one of the weirdest college basketball seasons on record. Obviously a key to this entire theory is Indiana beating Northwestern tonight as I don't see the Hoosiers even keeping it close against the Badgers in Madison. Then you have two home games against top flight teams, and everyone that follows college basketball closely knows what happens when top teams come into The Assembly Hall. The Hall can be fairly quiet and relaxed when teams like Penn State and Northwestern come to town which leads to unthinkable upsets, but when top teams enter - there is no arena in any sport on any level in the world that is louder and crazier. It is an experience that every college basketball fan should have at least one time in their lives. If this pattern holds true, Indiana could be the next Nebraska as far as surging teams which would get everyone off of Coach Crean for now.

On the flip side - what if Indiana loses three of these four games, or all four of these games? Many would argue this is the more likely scenario in the next 9 days. That would put the Hoosiers at 5-11 which would likely be last place in the B1G which is beyond unacceptable for any team wearing the candy stripes (save the theoretical death penalty teams at the beginning of Crean's tenure).  Many fans would be calling for Crean's head even though there is a less than zero percent chance a change would be made this offseason. His buyout is somewhere in the neighborhood of $12M after this season and he has done way too much for the program to boot him after one extremely disappointing year. However, this would set up what I will term "Season on the Brink II" which would be a description for next year. If Noah Vonleh does what many expect and leaves for the millions of dollars awaiting him, Indiana and Coach Crean would be put in an extremely tough spot next year. It would be hard to blame him for missing the tournament with no big men on the roster, but I really do not believe the Indiana faithful will have the kind of patience they displayed in the early part of his tenure. Even today, the pressure is clearly starting to build which would have been unfathomable at this time last year. Indiana fans want a National Championship and they want it now. And who can you blame them? It has been 27 years since the 5th banner was raised, and when you look at the fan support, the facilities, the campus, and the history of the program - it is really extraordinary that it has been that long. Fans of other schools might laugh at that, but I am telling you - those fans don't understand the religion that is Indiana Basketball. The only other school with the same type of cult following is Kentucky, and that is why those two fan bases despise each other.

In 9 short days, we'll know which of these paths will be followed by this Indiana team. And for Hoosier Nation's sake, I sure hope Indiana is standing at 7-9 at the end of that period. If not, things are going to get ugly in Bloomington and they are going to get ugly in a real hurry.

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