About a month and a half ago, the Indiana Hoosiers were coming off a thrilling blow-out victory over #13 Maryland in The Assembly Hall. They stood at 5-1 in the conference and were tied for first place and many thought the toughest stretch of the schedule was in the past. Many in Hoosier Nation were starting to think about a deep run in the NCAA tournament and some (well me actually) were talking about Coach Crean as a potential B1G COY candidate. Forty days later – there is a much different picture to paint. The Hoosiers have struggled to a 4-6 record in their last ten games (widely viewed as the easiest stretch of schedule in conference play) including two losses to in-state rival Purdue and a loss to lowly Northwestern on the road. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi now has Indiana as a #10 seed and with only 6 teams separating the Hoosiers from the NIT.
That only paints part of the picture of what was on the line tonight in The Assembly Hall. This game was a must win. Plain and simple. The fan base was starting to crack at the seams again after the loss to Northwestern last week and if you read any Indiana message board, it was starting to feel like some Indiana fans were rooting for the team to lose out and miss the tournament. This of course is because that part of the fan base continues to believe Brad Stevens is on the horizon – which simply isn’t true - at least not this off-season. There certainly are easier "must win games." Iowa was as hot as any team in the conference winning 4 straight and 6 of their last 8 games. They were also one of the three teams one game ahead of the Hoosiers in the conference standings and all fighting for that 4th place spot earning a double bye in the B1G Tournament.
So the scene was set for a raucous environment in which the crowd would will the team on to victory at all costs right?
Well... the picture from Jeff Rabjohns of the IU Student section with under 10 minutes before tip tells a different story. And it didn't get much better as the game started. This has been a trend in The Assembly Hall all year long which has left many wondering what the problem is. Even when this team won 6 games in Tom Crean's first season - this place sold out with a high frequency. Former Hoosier Dan Dakich called the game for ESPN tonight and said beforehand "I've never seen Assembly Hall this empty 4 minutes before a game."
Tom Crean had spent the previous few days imploring fans to show up and be loud and has spent the majority of the season doing just that. So far - it hasn't helped and the Hoosiers came out just as flat in the first half committing 9 turnovers, shooting 35%, and consistently looking lost again against the zone defense played by the taller Hawkeyes. Iowa took a 32-28 lead into the half as boos rained down from the Assembly Hall faithful for a good portion of the final minute.
The second half got even worse for Indiana. Gabriel Olaseni and Aaron White were too much for the smallish front line of Indiana and they dominated both ends of the court. The Hoosiers continued to miss shots and got absolutely no help from the crowd who continued to rain down boos for portions of the second half. I have attended many games in Assembly Hall over the years and I have never heard as lifeless a crowd as I heard tonight in the second half. Part of that was certainly the way Indiana was playing, but part of it seems to be a sort of apathy for Indiana Hoosier basketball that many never thought was possible. I certainly didn’t.
The Hoosiers hadn’t lost back to back games at home since 2011 – and they are going to have a tough one in the finale against Michigan State as well. At noon on Saturday, I find it hard to believe the crowd will be any better – but if Hoosier fans want this team to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament – they better show up. Otherwise, things are going to get real interesting in Bloomington. And at this point – maybe the Hoosier faithful simply don’t care. That is a shame if so, but it is what it is at this point.