(NOTE: Our author recommends either this or this as listening accompaniment to the article.)
I'll admit, this article may have been more fitting a week ago, when Duke's historically great offensive performance against the Indiana Hoosiers was forcing many in Hoosier Nation to slam their collective fists down onto the panic button. Truth be told, I haven't exactly the best when it comes to meeting deadlines, so you folks are getting this now.
Last Wednesday fueled by the Tom Crean and Indiana Hoosiers' naysayers as Duke exposed the still-lingering issues for IU on the defensive end of the floor. In addition, as has been documented with video evidence, at times it appeared Indiana was set in two different defenses simultaneously on multiple possession. This of course gives credence to those who like to draw from the "Crean gets out-coached" well.
Yes, the Hoosiers have since bounced back and returned to form on the offensive side of the ball. But holding Morehead State and IPFW to 59 and 65 points respectively likely speaks more to the offensive ineptitude of those squads rather than the Hoosiers righting of the ship defensively in just a week's time, (IPFW currently ranks 184th in adjusted offensive efficiency according to Kenpom, while Morehead State is 200th).
Now with just two games left in the non-conference, the preseason top-15 Hoosiers have all but wasted a quality strength of schedule in the non-conference. A one-win McNeese State enters Assembly Hall on Saturday night before Indiana closes out the non-conference slate against Notre Dame in Indianapolis next Saturday. The Irish have been good, not great, so far this season, making hard to see if this will be considered a quality win when it comes time to start comparing resumes. And that is a large assumption that Indiana will defeat Notre Dame and get to 9 wins before Big Ten play starts.
Looking ahead, Indiana will have to thrive in conference play to not have to sweat out Selection Sunday. Say the Hoosiers win their next two, and go .500 in the Big Ten. Would anyone feel comfortable about a 19-12 being a shoo-in to make the field of 68? People in Bloomington certainly did not feel that way just last season when the Hoosiers entered the Big Ten Tournament with that exact record.
While the Hoosiers' conference schedule sets up quite favorably, the final third of it features the current consensus top-3 in the conference; Michigan State, Purdue, and finally Maryland. This means that Indiana must avoid another late-season collapse, which has plagued the Hoosiers the past two years.
The level of optimism certainly appears to have dropped drastically from the preseason hype of what could have been, (and obviously still could be if Indiana gets hot in the next couple of months) to where it is now. The crowds at Assembly Hall haven't exactly been great, with a lot of empty seats evident, especially on Wednesday night. It is not just the balconies that appear to be empty either. The south court bleachers, which are typically considered the top student tickets, have had large empty spots throughout the non-conference. Even the alumni section has had empty spots, though some may contribute that to the road construction between Indianapolis and Bloomington.
However, there is a sense that Indiana fans are looking for a reason to boo and point fingers at the man in charge, Tom Crean. The mood is almost reminiscent of Mike Davis' final days at the helm of Indiana, when a large conglomerate of the fanbase tried to organize a "black out" for a home game in protest of Davis' position as head coach. Certainly Crean is aware that the pressure is on and that the temperature of his seat has been rising steadily since late January. Hell, many fans want to talk Indiana football right now more than they want to hear about the basketball team, and that's gotta be a first since the Bob Knight era started at IU.
Maybe the most intriguing part of Indiana's loss to Duke was the reaction of some media members to Crean's post-game antics following a crushing loss, which has become a norm for those that cover the IU beat. That being the waiting game that the media is forced to play while Crean takes his sweet time making it to the press room. The situation was briefly chronicled by Ben Swain, who has some sort of relationship with our mother site. Certainly, appeasing the media is likely not high on most coaches to-do list, but as stuff becomes ever closer to hitting the fan in Hoosier land, one will be hard-pressed to find articles claiming that Crean has found peace, such as we saw in the preseason.
It might be fitting then, that I sit down to write this on the fourth anniversary of the "Watshot," which, as the guys over at Crimson Quarry pointed out, now serves as a reminded of the unfulfilled promise of the "The Movement". When all is said and done, Indiana fans should look back and appreciate Crean for being the one to take over a program with a grand total of one scholarship player and bring it back to any sort of relevancy. But the here and now is that Indiana has under-performed for three and a half seasons, and that simply will not do for a program that is forced to grasp on to titles from three decades ago and a regular season from four years ago.