An interesting tweet showed up on our feed the other night:
For IU fans steaming about basketball struggles, consider the softball team is off to the best start in program history (13-0), the women's swim team won a Big Ten title, the men's and women's track teams each finished second in conference meet, and men's tennis beat Purdue.— Pete DiPrimio (@pdiprimio) February 24, 2019
On the surface, it’s good to be reminded that yes, Indiana has 24 varsity athletics teams, and many of them are doing great. I’m especially excited about softball’s undefeated start. But at the same time, this tweet acknowledges the elephant in the room: men’s basketball is still king in Bloomington, and IU fans are getting restless in the midst of a third straight season in which the team is missing the NCAA Tournament.
Everything that’s transpired over this past month with basketball has been one frustration after another, including the losing streaks, the absurd blow-up about profane chants, and the shifting of the goalposts regarding the basketball team.
But more than anything, Indiana basketball needs to learn how to win again.
The play on the court for IU basketball reached its nadir in a 23-point road loss to Minnesota back on the 16th. The same Minnesota team, of course, has lost the other six of its past seven games. In the past two games, Indiana has been praised for playing tough in close losses to Purdue and Iowa.
But the fact is, this isn’t the type of praise you want to give to a team that was ranked throughout the early parts of the season. This type of talk is reserved for teams that have all too often struggled in the B1G, not ones with a potential lottery pick and a star senior and several high-end recruits.
We know IU can win these types of games. They did it with Marquette and Louisville. A team that started the season 12-2 isn’t suddenly in a “serious rebuild” a few weeks later. The goalposts have shifted, and it’s unfair to the players and to the fans.
After the Purdue game last week — a frustrating 48-46 loss that cemented five out of six seasons without a victory over the Boilermakers — the narrative quickly shifted away from the game itself, and onto a vulgar chant that IU fans were overheard saying to Matt Haarms during the game. The story quickly got blown out of proportion, and the blow-up felt like a distraction from the game itself, as well as the fact that over the past half-decade, Purdue has been the more dominant program in the rivalry. Fred Glass didn’t need to give into pressure and reprimand the students; he should instead be thanking them for their continued support during a brutal stretch of losses that rival any IU football season of the past 20 years.
Then on Friday night, Indiana lost 76-70 in overtime, blowing a six-point lead late in the game and falling victim to some ridiculous shotmaking from Jordan Bohannon. You could be encouraged that hey, at least Indiana kept it close againstIowa. But hey, so did Rutgers and Northwestern! Rutgers did that a couple weekends ago. Rutgers, coincidentally, has a better record in the B1G than Indiana, and has beaten the Hoosiers both this season and last. Northwestern also blew a 15-point late lead to Iowa recently. Guess what? Northwestern beat the Hoosiers convincingly this season too! Yes, I know it’s been a tough season, but “played hard in a loss” should not be our baseline for the flagship athletic program at the university.
Tonight, Indiana hosts Wisconsin, who’s been a tough foe to vanquish even in the good years, at Assembly Hall at 9pm. It’s the first of four games to close out the regular season, three of which will be at home. With no real postseason hope at this point, the rest of this season is about a post-Morgan and Langford future for the Hoosiers.
So what do I want in these last four games, starting tonight against Wisconsin? I don’t want to just see tangible progress on the court. I want this team to learn how to win in the Big Ten again. Get me at least a couple victories in the final few games. Ultimately, this IU team needs more than just a good effort to make me optimistic about the future under Archie Miller.
Otherwise? We’re nothing more than Rutgers or Northwestern with a few extra banners.