Indiana spent more weeks at #1 in the country in 2012-2013 than any other team. They then proceeded to exit in the Sweet 16, which really ended up setting the stage for the 2013-2014 season. The Hoosiers lost Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls, and Derek Elston. All of those players are now playing in the pros somewhere around the world with Oladipo one of the most likely candidates for NBA Rookie of the Year. However, Indiana had one of the top recruiting classes in the country coming in which was headed by Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams. While most around the program likely did not expect a deep tournament run this year, they certainly expected to make the NCAA Tournament. The talent was there as most would say this team was even more talented than last year's team which was ranked #1 for the majority of the year. Unfortunately, success isn't based solely on talent. There has to be a grit and culture of "work" in the program and I don't feel this year's Indiana team had that and worry that the story may be the same next year. There is no doubt that Will Sheehey works, but does anyone else on the team work like the Oladipo's and the Sheehey's of the world? There are various media members that sat behind the IU bench for the B1G tournament that have said this is the most dysfunctional team they have ever seen wearing the candy stripes. And while that might explain a lot of what happened this year, it still doesn't satisfy Hoosier Nation who is foaming at the mouth for another deep tournament run.
The nonconference season started with Chicago State and ended with Kennesaw State - and there wasn't much between there of note. As a fan of Indiana, I can't remember a nonconference schedule as porous as the 2013-2014 season. One could argue this is exactly what a young team needed to gain confidence heading into the B1G season. However, one could also argue this did not properly prepare the Hoosiers for the B1G season and that is what ultimately appeared to play out. Indiana did get a chance to play UConn in the championship of the 2K Sports Classic and actually played fairly well. The Hoosiers only lost by a point in what turned out to be an extremely close game which would eventually become one of the storylines of Indiana's season. The main cause of the loss? Try the 19 Hoosier turnovers which would become the main storyline of Indiana's season.
The next real basketball team the Hoosiers faced was Syracuse in the B1G / ACC challenge. This was to be a revenge game for the Orangeman ending what was supposed to be a National Championship the previous season for Indiana. The Hoosiers played a great first half and only trailed by 4 points - but the wheels simply fell off in the second half. Indiana came out of the locker room and acted like they were scared to even be in the Carrier Dome. The Hoosiers tallied 16 more turnovers in this one and lost in a blowout 69-52. Even with this loss, most fans still had hope for the rest of the season as Syracuse was on their way to becoming the #1 team in the country (and would stay there for most of the season).
The final high major team the Hoosiers faced was Notre Dame. This wasn't the Notre Dame that finished the season either. This Irish team still had its leading scorer in Jerian Grant and was 8-3 on the season. However, this game was played in Banker's Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and that should have been a sign from the beginning that the Hoosiers were doomed. Indiana draws tremendous crowds in Indianapolis, but for some reason can never deliver and that would be no different in this game. While they only had 13 turnovers (which would be near a season's best), the ball would just not go in the basket and Indiana lost 79-72 and rarely held the lead throughout the game. Grant had 23 points for Notre Dame and would be suspended for the rest of the season only a few days later which would completely derail the Irish season. Two wins later against cupcake teams - the Hoosiers would be 10-3 heading into the B1G with some semblance of hope still alive for the NCAA Tournament.
The conference season would begin with a similar feeling for Hoosier fans - frustration. Indiana opened at Illinois and would end up losing in overtime 83-80 despite Yogi Ferrell's 30 points. While it is never unexpected to lose a road game in the B1G, the Hoosiers had 23 turnovers, 22 fouls, and constantly had brain dead plays like Noah Vonleh committing a lane violation late in the 2nd half costing the Hoosiers a point (which would have won the game in regulation). But this was just the beginning of what would become one of the most frustrating seasons in recent memory for Hoosier fans. Indiana would go on to be one of the worst teams in the entire country as far as turnovers are concerned. They would constantly have the lead at halftime (sometimes a lead of double digits) only to lose the lead before the first television timeout of the second half. Yes, the Hoosiers did have big wins over Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State. However, they also lost to Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State at home as well as Purdue on the road.
The Penn State loss may have been the tipping point of the entire season. Most of Assembly Hall had cleared out with three minutes to play. The Hoosiers led 64-53, and most fans were worried about getting back to Indianapolis to get at least some sleep before getting up for work Thursday morning. Surely there was no way Penn State, of all teams, would find a way to come back from this type of deficit in The Assembly Hall right? D.J. Newbill canned a three ball (after an Indiana turnover) followed by a couple Tim Frazier free throws and then Brandon Taylor drained a three ball (after another Indiana turnover). All the sudden it was 65-63 with one minute remaining. Evan Gordon turned it over trying to get the ball inbounds. Then with only 14 seconds left and still up 65-63, senior Will Sheehey couldn't get the ball inbounds and turned it over. Ross Travis made 1 of 2 free throws to cut the lead to one point. The Hoosiers called timeout to design an inbounds play with Noah Vonleh as the inbounder. The designed play didn't exactly work as Vonleh threw the ball in to D.J. Newbill. The Nittany Lions called timeout and designed a play for themselves - which worked as Tim Frazier easily got to the basket for a layup to take a 66-65 lead. With only 6 seconds left, the Hoosiers did get the ball inbounds to Yogi Ferrell, but he couldn't deliver and Indiana fell at home to Penn State. This was when most of Hoosier Nation realized the season was a lost cause.
The season went into free fall three days later in West Lafayette as the Hoosiers got shellacked 82-64 by the Boilermakers who would eventually finish in last place. At one point early in the second half, Indiana had missed around 20 straight shots in what was one of the most abysmal performances in a long time from an Indiana team. Three days later in Bloomington - the sky was literally falling in The Assembly Hall:
Indiana would go on to beat Northwestern, Iowa, and Ohio State in three of the next four games which again gave the Hoosier faithful hope for the NCAA Tournament. But then the sky came crashing down again with losses to Nebraska at home and Michigan on the road to end the regular season. With those losses, there was only one thing that could be done to make the tournament - win the B1G Tournament.
The Hoosiers faced #9 Illinois in the 8/9 game and this game would turn into the complete summary of Indiana's season. If you watched nothing but this game, you will still understand the type of team Indiana had been all year. They turned the ball over 16 times. They shot 35% from the field and shot 30% from three after hitting 6 of their first 10 three balls. They threw the ball into the stands constantly down the stretch and finally ended up losing 64-54 after being down only two points at halftime. The loss left Indiana at 17-15 on the season and kept the Hoosiers on the bubble for the NIT given the pathetic non-conference schedule which led to 10 of those 17 wins.
In the latest NIT brackets (apparently people actually take the time to predict this), the Hoosiers are slated as a #6 seed which means they will be on the road in the first round. Honestly, being on the road is probably a blessing because there would not be any more than 5,000 fans in The Assembly Hall if a game were to be held in Bloomington. While Coach Crean may look forward to his freshman gaining more experience, the fan base views the NIT as a complete failure and will have no interest in following the team during this tournament. If the Hoosiers don't make the NIT? Well, I hope they would decline any bid to the CBI or CIT, but they would probably accept which would be a further embarrassment to the program.
Outlook for Next Season
The outlook all comes down to the future of Noah Vonleh. If Vonleh leaves, the Hoosiers will be left with Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin as the big men on the roster which is not going to result in anything successful next season. If Vonleh comes back, most would likely rank the Hoosiers in the Top 10 to start next season and they will be a serious Final Four contender again and certainly one of favorites to win the B1G. Coach Crean's future could also be tied to that of Noah Vonleh. If the Hoosiers struggle again next year, Crean could and should be on the hot seat. I'm not sure Fred Glass would make the move to get rid of Crean after next season if it has a similar result, but the fan base would almost certainly start to push Glass in that direction. Even after this season, there are already rumors starting about Mike Woodson taking over, which are completely unfounded, but it shows where this story may be headed with another disappointing year. Imagine if Brad Stevens has another bad year in Boston next season? While not 100% known for sure, it is believed that Stevens has always coveted the Hoosier job and most Indiana fans have coveted his services since taking Butler to back to back championship games. With another NIT bid next year- Stevens in Bloomington may become a real possibility.