Listen, what Indiana basketball ultimately did this year is unacceptable. Ultimately were they a team with a resume to qualify for the NIT. Yes, but a group of guys in a room decided they didn't want them. Whatever, not a big deal. Play in the loser's tournament or don't. It doesn't really matter. However, the fact that Indiana was in a position for the NIT to tell them know is concerning. However, these things happen. And they happen to the best programs in the nation. It turns out, replacing 70+% of production is a lot harder than even I was prepared for and I'm captain optimism.
Everyone in Hoosier Nation knows and understands what we lost last year. 2 top 5 draft picks and 4 total 1000 point scorers. Now some of those guys being 1000 point scorers were more a product of the context they played in early so the 1000 standard probably isn't quite as impressive. Averaging 10 points per game over a career is great, but it isn't out of this world production. No, more of what we lost from last year wasn't necessarily the volume of production but the brains and experience that knows how to go out and get that production. Even when it wasn't their night, Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo knew how to go get theirs. This year's team struggled mightily at discovering how to do that.
But for everyone out there freaking out about it. This isn't out of the norm. Even great programs that we would love to have Indiana mentioned in the same sentence have these type of years. The key is that they don't let these lulls in loss of experience run very long. Most blue bloods have down years where they go to the NIT and struggle to perform all throughout the season. Indiana is not any different.
The first squad that came to mind when discussing current elite programs that have showed a lot of struggle in select years is North Carolina. They're probably the most consistent program reset team of all of the elite. In 2001 after coming off a Final Four and the retirement of Bill Guthridge, they hired Matt Doherty who proceeded to show a lot of struggles even for a blue blood school. NCAA Rd 2 exit, no playoffs, NIT were his three years in North Carolina. Now with the kind of talent he had on his squad 2 straight no tournament years should have been unacceptable. He was rightfully canned for it. Obviously if Indiana craps out again next year that is something that Indiana should consider with Tom Crean.
However, North Carolina continues to show their inconsistencies. After Roy Williams came on board they went 2nd round, championship, 2 round, E8, Final Four, Champion, NIT. A run of great play at the back end there (with Tyler Hansbrough at the helm) was followed by a 20-17 season (16-16 regular season was worse than IU this year) and NIT appearance. The North Carolina fandom was restless that season, but the results were to be expected. The key is that the Tar Heels and Roy Williams made sure to make that an afterthought.
North Carolina did something similar last year too. After back to back E8 appearances the Tar Heels were once again a bit of a dumpster fire. After sitting at 22-9 in the regular season, they had to scramble to play their way off the bubble and sneak into the tournament as an #8 seed. Luckily for them a win against #9 Villanova before a loss against Kansas took some sting off of the season. But they were sitting pretty much right where Indiana was in late February. They just took care of business, but once again the season was nowhere near what it should of been, even though it was salvaged.
Next on the list of elite programs crapping the bed after losing veteran talent is the easiest target, the Florida Gators.The Gators since the turn of the century possess a National Championship defeat and back to back National Championships in the span of 8 years. However after losing that loaded starting five from 2006 and 2007 what happened to Florida? They missed the tournament two straight seasons before fighting their way back into the tournament in 2010, only to squeak in as a 10 seed and get punched in the mouth by Jimmer Fredette in round 1.
Pretty much every program is vulnerable to off years following very strong teams and a lot of overturn. Even Duke (2006-2007 after losing JJ Reddick and Shelden Williams) and Kentucky (this year and last losing everybody all the time) have had recent struggles trying to replace production. The only squad that I could find among the elite programs that is seemingly immune to garbage years is Kansas. They're the pinnacle of continuity. So good on them, but they're the exception and not the rule. All great programs go through unacceptably poor seasons. Some still find ways to make the tournament and not seem so bad and some don't. But all make sure to not make a habit of it.
Ultimately, this season sucked. It wasn't good. All we can do at this point is look at history and see this isn't out of the norm, even for the elite. So we can still be an elite program (or on our way back to it) even with this year. It happens. The key is to look Tom Crean, Yogi Ferrell and company in the face and tell them to not let it happen again. Knowing the work ethic of the team's leadership and the talent of their batterymates, I can't imagine it will.