AJ had a post on the expectations of the Hoosier faithful just before the first OSU game, and whether the pre-season expectations should still apply, so I thought I'd follow up at what I hope is the lowest point of this Hoosier season.
OK. So IU lost at Nebraska. Nebraska, who didn't look like they belonged in the Big Ten for the first few games, until they got what are essentially two starters back from injury and boom! They take Illinois into the last minute before narrowly falling in Champaign and stomp an emerging Penn State team, and then made the most every advantage to upset IU by one point on their homecourt. So where is the Crean rebuilding project? Short answer: unless the Hoosiers go out and lose to Penn State at home, it's still a little ahead of where I thought it was, and exactly where it should be at this point. More thoughts below the jump:Losing in Lincoln isn't a disaster, this is a result I fretted about when I thought Nebraska was being terribly under-rated in the original Big Ten media poll. Turns out, Nebraska didn't quite come in with as many good weapons to conference play as I thought they would - their recruiting class has been totally unproductive, the bench got cleared a bit (Andre Almeida and Ray Gallegos have redshirted, and former IU recruit Eshaunte Jones transferred), and Diaz & Talley are just getting back to form after injuries. But predicting a possible loss back then at Nebraska seemed sensible. And lo and behold - that loss has come to pass. Right now, looking ahead at the schedule, the odds could favor a 9-9 finish in conference play, unless we can win at Iowa, Purdue, and/or Minnesota. I do think the Hoosiers can/should get at least one of those road wins, but this also means there must be no more slip-ups at home. We're starting to enter must-win territory, and in my mind, a loss against Penn State at home is pretty much full-on siren-panic mode. Still, if the Hoosiers come out with a conference record of 10-8, or really, even 9-9, I think they still slip into the NCAA tournament. And this is consistent with the arcs of other rebuilding projects, as thought out in this post from an old blog last spring:
"I went back and looked at the end of the Keady years and beginning of the Painter years, as a lot of woofing by Purdue sportsblogs about Crean started me thinking about the comparable situations. And I think this year [2010-2011 for IU] is very comparable to Painter's first year ('05-'06), which was also a 3-win, last-place conference season..... I don't think it is fair in any way to consider the two rebuilding efforts equal, or to compare to 2008 Purdue "Baby Boiler" team to any IU team until the 2012 class steps on campus.... If Crean is anywhere near the equal of Painter, we should see IU get to the NCAA tourney next season (or at least come close -PU was a bubble team in '07) and the following season bring in a stellar class that finally puts the Hoosiers back in contention for a Big Ten championship. Crean has a done a great job recruiting, and rebuilding program morale for the Hoosiers while trying to rebuild from a total demolition that has rarely, if ever, been seen in college hoops. Even Baylor didn't start from absolute zero like Crean did."
Crean is still on track to get the Hoosiers to the NCAA tournament this season, but the losing streak has to stop. The old NIT expectations shouldn't still apply - making the NIT should be a disappointment at this stage. What's especially hard about this season is that the difficulties and needs to adjust are coming during conference play during one of the most balanced slate of Big Ten teams that I can remember. And it's tough in the middle of a losing streak as it feels like it may never stop, but it probably will if Crean can merely get the Hoosiers to stop throwing the ball away and start hitting threes and free-throws down the stretch again, but any sort of renewed defensive intensity would sure be welcome, too.