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Home is where the hurt is

Indiana has always used Assembly Hall to its advantage. What happens when that vanishes?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, Gus Johnson began the FS1 broadcast saying that they were live from “The Carnegie Hall of College Basketball,” better known to IU fans as Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

But for most of the game, there wasn’t much to sing about.

Last night’s 69-46 loss to Michigan was as devastating as they come, but the fact that it happened at home — the first home game in 11 days and only the second one since January 3 — really makes the loss sting. And the 17-0 start for the Wolverines felt like karmic payback for IU’s 28-0 run in Crisler three years ago.

Throughout its existence, Assembly Hall has always been a neutralizing factor for Indiana. A home court advantage that makes even the toughest opponents seem beatable. So while Michigan was a top-5 opponent and I wasn’t at all optimistic beforehand, there was the glimmer of hope that Assembly Hall’s home court advantage would aid Indiana, as it had many times before.

And to be fair, the crowd did show up to this one. Jim Delany’s wheeling and dealing has led to unusual scheduling quirks like last night’s 6:30pm start time, which makes for a new experience for longtime fans. So this one isn’t on the crowd, or the students, or any other spectators last night.

It’s on the team.

Indiana’s performances at Assembly Hall have been what’s made or broken this team in past years. In 2016, the Hoosiers went undefeated in Bloomington, setting up a Big Ten title run. The previous year, however, an ugly home loss to Iowa exemplified the frustrations throughout the season. In Crean’s final season, the Hoosiers lost a mid-February home game to Michigan in which they never really had a chance. And of course last season, there were the pair of losses at home to Indiana State and Fort Wayne.

But even a close loss to a good team in some of the tougher years for IU hoops has been encouraging. Last season, the Hoosiers played Duke close in Assembly Hall but couldn’t quite pull it off. Last season also featured a heartbreaker to Michigan State at home. Even after the aforementioned Iowa game in 2015, IU pulled it together for the last game of the season but still left with a heartbreaking loss — again to Michigan State.

So, that’s what makes the loss last night to Michigan — and the loss earlier this month to Nebraska, for that matter — so discouraging. These weren’t wire to wire games where the Hoosiers had a legitimate chance of winning. In both games, Indiana started out slow, letting the opponents build a comfortable lead on its own home court. And from there, it never really was a contest. And you can’t really make it one, when you only score 51 and 46 points in the last two home games, respectively.

Indiana might not be a fixable team right now. These six losses have revealed a lot of issues with what was once a top-25 team, and the Hoosiers are on the verge of being knocked out of tournament contention, despite the strong early Marquette and Louisville victories last season. But the lack of fight in front of the home crowd might be the most distressing aspect of all, especially in a conference where home court advantage has always been a huge part of the equation of who wins the Big Ten title.

The Hoosiers have two more games on the road next week, then will finish with six of their final nine games at Assembly Hall. If they can’t get up for these home games, then what will they get up for?