Tom Crean ought to be petitioning the Big Ten today: let's play every home game at 9pm on a Thursday.
Loud. Buzzing. Boozy. Last night, there was kinetic energy in the outdated gym on 17th not seen since Christian Watford pronounced the Hoosiers "BACK" with a kick-out, buzzer-beating three in 2011. A full balcony, corner to corner. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Assembly Hall reminded the nation why it is truly one of the nation's toughest places (if not toughest) to get a road win -- when fans are engaged. And they even sing in tune.
There was an indescribable "buzz" in the building, long before tip. An aura of positivity filling the seats, filtering right on down to the floor, long before Collin Hartman poured in ten quick points in the opening five minutes, before Indiana shot the lights out of the gym -- converting at a rate of over 68% from long range. It's one of those sports things you can't put a finger on. A positivity. A vibrance. For fans, a true belief that we are going to win this game.
Indiana basketball's playing with house money. And it's time to enjoy the ride.
This was a basketball team that was expected to still be one year away. The team lacks a much-discussed post-presence, could use some size in the backcourt, and couldn't defend at a level high enough to challenge the upper echelon of the Big Ten. Remember? I expected this team to start the Big Ten THREE AND SEVEN. They're now 5-1, and other than a weaker-than-usual Big Ten, I have little-to-no explanation for that.
Columns will be written that it's time for Indiana to revise expectations for this season. Because, bahgawd, it's Indiana! Indiana should challenge for a Big Ten title every year! Indiana shouldn't get excited about beating Maryland! It's that really where this program is nowadays! THIS IS ALL TOM'S FAULT HE'S LOWERED THE STANDARDS OF OUR PROGRAM. THIS IS WHY HE NEEDS TO GO. CREAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN. Someone will use this line of logic, somewhere. Buy that person a beer, and promptly break it over their face. Do not clean or tend to any wounds you inflict, as the sepsis may kill off possibly-defective brain cells.
Indiana fans: Sit down, shut up, and hold on. Enjoy this ride without formulating increased expectations created out of delusions of post-big-win grandeur.
Despite the obvious flaws, Tom Crean has managed put together one of the most fun-to-watch college basketball in recent memory. They're athletic, play an attractive, up-tempo, fun-and-run-and-gun style, and score points in bunches. Is it overly dependent on three-point shooting? Yes. Could they use a big-man down low? Absolutely. But, when it's working, is there another team across the country that's more fun to watch? I don't think so. If some Indiana fans get their wish and BRAD THE APOSTLE returns to his home state, remember these games when he and Tony Bennett set offensive basketball back forty years in the 2019 B1G/ACC Challenge. BUT GRIT AND DEFENSE THAT'S HOOSIER STUFF. Please repeat above listed steps, and insert the glass shards into your eyeballs.
Indiana will lose another basketball game this season, probably as soon as Sunday in Value City Arena. Winning in the Big Ten is difficult. Teams don't shoot 68% from 3 every night. Heck, there's a strong possibility they'll lose a game by 20, 30 points. Such is life when you have a team that is almost wholly dependent on long-range shooting. And that's undoubtedly a problem. But, damn, when it's working, it's a pretty fun problem to have.
Indiana's fanbase, traditionally, places crippling pressure and expectations on teams. And many fans will feel that it's time to revise expectations now -- talk of Big Ten championships, NCAA tournament runs, and such. And with every article proclaiming the Hoosiers a DARKHORSE final four pick, you'll watch games with more mounting anxiety -- and by mid-February reaching for the Wild Turkey as a second-half coping mechanism rather than in celebration.
That's not fun, and will likely only lead to inevitable disappointment in following a high-ceiling-but-still-young-and-flawed basketball team that's sure to have a cold-shooting night or two on the road in conference play. You'll sit in contempt of Tom Crean's offense as the Hoosiers should 1-of-18 from long-range in Piscataway and head to the message boards afterward to write your whiskey-fueled, anti-Crean opus, forgetting the feeling of that late Thursday night in Assembly Hall just a month earlier.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy this basketball team for what it is, without creating false expectations. For once, enjoy an overachiever -- something not all that familiar to those in south-central Indiana.
Because, if nothing else, a drink tastes much better in celebration.