I tried to be patient. In fact, I was patient all year long. The losses did not bother me (ok they bothered me a little bit), but I knew the program was going to get better. I knew these were good kids, learning under a top notch coach.
Tonight, against Northwestern, I reached my boiling point.
IU led early on, allowed Northwestern to get back into the game, and watched as a mediocre Northwestern team raced by them and eventually beat IU by 22 points. Sorry IU fans, this is not acceptable.
Everyone knew IU would struggle this year. I was prepared for that, and was, in a weird way, enjoying this team earlier in the season. Yes they committed an amazing amount of unforced turnovers. Yes they committed silly fouls, constantly putting teams in the bonus early in the half. But they worked their tails off and were proud to wear the Crimson and Cream.
IU, by all accounts, was lucky to have a young successful coach willing (albeit for a boatload of money) to take over the train wreck of a program left behind by one of the sport's all time weasels, Kelvin Sampson.
Losing at home to Northeastern was upsetting. Allowing Michigan and something called Lipscomb to rally from 20 points down to steal road wins was infuriating, but understandable. Watching Penn State win at IU for the first time caused me to bite my lip, but I could deal with it.
Not tonight. This was a game the Hoosiers had a chance to win. They played well in the first half, leading throughout much of it. They started to wilt, and when Northwestern continued to hit shots, IU decided it was better to cave in then to fight to possibly win a second Big Ten game.
Coming off a decent performance against a tough Purdue team, I truly believed IU could play spoiler, and defeat a Northwestern team looking for a rare NCAA tourney birth. Instead, I watch IU concede defeat to a team they played tooth and nail a few weeks back in a one point loss.
This game followed a similar pattern to the Wisconsin game last week; IU plays a good first half, comes out slow in the second half, and watches another undistinguished team race by them as if they were the mid 90's UNLV Rebels. Again, a second tier player (Luka Mirkovic) had the night of his life, following in the footsteps of Wisconsin's Joe Krabbenhoft and Purdue's E’Twaun Moore.
How can IU play Northwestern down to the wire and lose by one on the road, only to come back home and get destroyed? How can they play Wisconsin tight for a half, then get humiliated in the second half.
Look, we all knew this season was not going to end in the NCAA tourney, but all IU fans (as faithful a bunch as there is in sports) wanted to see this team hustle, work hard, and improve. Well, they do hustle. They are likeable. They work hard. You want to root for this team and this coach.
But they are not improving. They give the ball up as easily as any team I have ever seen at any level of basketball. They make stupid mistake after stupid mistake. I know they are historically young, but this is now the end of February, and this team is not showing any development.
Who knows what goes on behind closed doors, but I would like to see Tom Crean get upset after one of his players decides to simply throw the ball to the other team for the sixth time that night. I would like to see some repercussions after another guard simply dribbles off his leg for his fifth turnover of the night.
By all accounts, Crean is a good man and a good coach who will be able to show his stuff at a higher level when these current players get more experience, and when some more talented players arrive next year. I do believe in him, and think in time, the Hoosiers will be back where they belong, at the top of the Big Ten.
But as for this year, the record is about what I thought it would be, but I have to say I am disappointed in the lack of progress shown by these players and the team as a whole. I know I will get some flak, and some will say I am not a true fan, but other than senior Kyle Taber, who on this team could you honestly say is getting better as the season has rolled along?
Sure, some of that could be attributed to hitting the freshman wall, but this team should be coming out with a chip on their shoulder. Instead, it seems as if they are rolling over, content to play their pre-ordained role as Big Ten doormat.
It is a role they seemed to have perfected as the season has gone on. Hopefully, they can salvage some measure of respect over the last few games and perhaps in the Big Ten tourney. But from what I have seen, this season has been a disaster far beyond what the pathetic record will indicate.