Indiana’s season is over and it’s not man-bites-dog news. The Hoosiers faded down the stretch, treated the ball like a time bomb and lost their offensive way in Thursday night’s 73-58 loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten tourney.
That’s what happens in a 10-21 season.
Still, you see the way Derek Elston played (10 points, nine rebounds) and Verdell Jones thrived (20 points, six assists, four rebounds) and IU hustled. You recognize the youth and the prospects even while understanding how much effort it will take to get past this patsy phase.
The Hoosiers will get past it, by the way.
Yes, IU had beaten Northwestern five days earlier in overtime, but that was at Assembly Hall. This was a neutral court, although Conseco Fieldhouse’s ability to sap the accuracy from Wildcat shooters caused coach Bill Carmody to quip, “I just hate these rims. That’s why I always voted for Chicago (as the conference tourney site). It’s nothing about the city. It’s closer, collegiate, all that stuff. I just hate the rims.”
Indiana coach Tom Crean hates losing, and he has an off-season to devise ways to prevent it. Players will get stronger. He’ll recruit better players. Today’s mistakes will become tomorrow’s successes.
It’s not guaranteed, of course. There will certainly be more stumbles along the climb to the basketball mountaintop. But this is, in almost every way, the first year of Crean’s rebuilding project. And if he can land some impact big guys -- no projects, please! -- if the players use the struggles to fuel their fire, the program will be back. And then IU basketball will be fun again, and spring break will be reserved for NCAA tourney action and not, say, Florida beaches.