Maybe we got spoiled last year, having a senior-led crew with two top 5 NBA picks and a talented freshman at the point. Though they ended up with only a Sweet 16 appearance, it was obvious to everyone that that team had talent, and could have gone far if they didn't have to face Syracuse. Sure, there were the usual whispers about Coach Crean not having the ability to lead us further on, but with a top class of freshman coming in, they were safely ignored.
Fast forward to the last week. Most of last year's prime contributors are gone. Yogi Ferrell is still in the ascendancy, but still makes a few too many cute passes each games that become turnovers. Will Sheehey, the team's lone true senior, has gone from 6th man to starter, and has only shown brief flashes of the player he was last year. Jeremy Hollowell, though improved from last year, is still not living up to his high school billing just yet. Everyone else is either young, new to the program this year, both, or not a major contributing factor. And in addition to the team not fully getting it together yet, the morning before we begin Big Ten play at Illinois, Luke Fischer decides that playing for Indiana is no longer for him. The team went on to play Illinois close, but ultimately fall in overtime.
Coming into the year, it seems like most of us felt that this would be a top team in the Big Ten, and an easy NCAA berth was likely. We figured that the overwhelming talent and potential of the team would make it competitive by default, regardless of 80% of the starting lineup turning over. We hoped that Coach Crean would figure out how to get the most out of this team, and that would be enough. Is it possible that we assumed too much? That we overlooked too much?
Many pundits (and forever skeptical fans) have automatically blamed Crean for not doing enough to make this team play like last year's squad. I'm not sure that John Wooden could have made this team play like last year's squad. After coming from the absolute bottom, maybe we expected too much too fast. The best Hoosier teams are built on mostly veteran leadership with a few talented newcomers, not the other way around. While it would be disappointing to fall back in the conference pecking order, especially having been down so long beforehand, maybe this is the year we need to get ready to run for a title in 2015.
By no means am I suggesting that we should just punt on this year. That would be a serious disservice to Will Sheehey, Evan Gordon, Jeff Howard, and Taylor Wayer, among others. What we may need to do, though, is tone down the expectations. Maybe instead of an easy NCAA bid, we sneak in under the wire, or are even a top NIT seed. Things have rarely come easy for the Hoosiers in the last few years, so perhaps we should just take this team as it comes, and not try to force them to become last year's squad all over again.