It seems like such a long time ago that Tom Crean and the Indiana Hoosiers were the Belle of the Big Ten.
The Hoosiers turned some heads in both directions with big wins and head-scratching losses. They were hit with untimely injuries, slowly sunk down the Big Ten standings and ended the season with an NIT bid rather than a spot in the Big Dance.
What happened? What’s going to happen?
Let’s look back at the 2016-17 Indiana Hoosiers.
Expectations were high for Indiana in the fall. Despite the loss of senior-leader Yogi Ferrell and flashy forward Troy Williams, the Hoosiers had plenty of young talent coming to Bloomington in 2016.
Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby bypassed the NBA Draft to improve their game through another season at Indiana. James Blackmon returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for most of the 2015-16 season.
Crean brought in the four- and three-star recruits, and transfer point guard Josh Newkirk was due to relieve the pressure lost from Ferrell at the position.
The results? Indiana was ranked No. 11 in the AP preseason polls and No. 12 in the coaches poll.
Tom Crean had jumped far from the hot seat after Indiana’s Sweet Sixteen run in March, and the returning players had the cream-and-crimson faithful excited for another potential run through the postseason.
If there was ever a way to kick off a season, the Hoosiers did it.
Indiana traveled to Hawaii to battle third-ranked Kansas in the Armed Forces Classic in the opening game of the year. Kansas’ athletic back court would be the perfect test for the post-Ferrell Hoosiers.
In what seemed an instant-classic at the time, the high-octane Hoosiers scored 103 points to beat the Jayhawks 103-99 in overtime. The Indiana starters scored 75 points; the Hoosiers shot 44 percent and 48 percent from 3-point range.
Expectations were met — even exceeded.
The Hoosiers suffered a surprising loss at Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne three games later, but it was overlooked when IU bounced back to knock off No. 3 North Carolina a week later in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
A loss to No. 18 Butler late in the non-conference season wasn’t much cause for concern, and the Hoosiers entered the Big Ten portion of the schedule with a 10-2 record and two wins over top-three teams.
The train quickly derailed when the familiar foes hit the Indiana schedule.
The Hoosiers opened the conference schedule with a home loss against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a team that hadn’t won in Bloomington in three years.
Indiana followed with another non-conference loss to No. 6 Louisville before getting back into conference play — another home loss to No. 13 Wisconsin.
The Hoosiers started the conference season 4-3. To make matters worse, starting forward and expected lottery pick OG Anunoby went down with a season-ending knee injury in a win over Penn State.
His coach’s tears were a sign of what the injury would mean for the rest of the Hoosiers’ season.
Indiana beat Michigan State in the game immediately following Anunoby’s injury, but a 30-point loss at Michigan had restless fans and college basketball analysts second guessing an Indiana team that knocked off two top-three teams just a couple months earlier. By week 10, Indiana was out of the top 10 after spending a majority of the first nine weeks in the top 15, even getting as high as No. 3 in Week 3.
The rest of the conference season was just as depressing for Indiana.
The Michigan blowout sparked a run of seven losses in eight games. Indiana finished the conference season with a 7-11 record, its worst since 2013-14.
More telling, Indiana went just 2-10 against the seven Big Ten teams that made the NCAA Tournament, the two wins against Michigan State and Northwestern.
The Hoosiers quickly dropped out of tournament talks. Even after a blowout win over Ohio State in the regular-season finale and another blowout of Iowa to open the Big Ten Tournament, all hope was lost when Wisconsin handled Indiana in the tournament quarterfinals.
The missed NCAA Tournament made it the fifth time the Hoosiers missed the Big Dance in nine season under Crean.
Indiana accepted a bid to the National Invitational Tournament, and they’ll play as a 3-seed against 6-seed Georgia Tech (17-15). The NIT opener will be played Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Maybe in the most defining moment of Indiana’s unmet expectations came in the Hoosiers opting out of a home game in Tuesday’s contest, as they were the higher seed and had the option.
Indiana’s played in the NIT four times with split results. The team was bounced in the first round twice, including their most recent trip in 2005. It made the finals twice, winning the tournament in 1979.
A win would advance the Hoosiers to play the winner of Belmont and Georgia. They could potentially meet Syracuse in the semifinals, a team many thought was snubbed from the NCAA Tournament — a tough road for the Hoosiers.
At the the end of the day, though, the fall from grace puts bigger questions in the minds of fans than how the Hoosiers will compete in the NIT.
Crean’s seat has teetered from ice cold to scorching hot throughout his tenure in Bloomington, perhaps a bad sign for the head coach. With the lackluster 2016-17 season and a buyout that drops from $4 million to $1 million July 1, along with the always busy rumor mill enticing fans, Crean’s job will be the focus within Indiana basketball buffs from here on out.
A long run in the NIT would put more appealing results fresh in people’s minds, but it may be too little, too late.
We’ll also soon find out what happens with Bryant, Anunoby and Blackmon, three guys whose names will get tossed around with NBA Draft talk.
The next few months will be very busy in Bloomington.