Kiss the NIT goodbye.
Is that right? Can we really say that just three days after Christmas?
Yes, we can.
Does it have to come true?
No, but something has to change.
Losing at home to Penn State, as Indiana did 69-60 Monday night in its Big Ten opener, has all sorts of implications, none of them good, except this one -- it had a chance at the end.
Okay, that’s the positive bone we’ll throw.
This was exactly what IU needed -- a cliffhanger ending that demanded crunch-time toughness. It got exactly what it didn’t need -- another soft-minded loss.
That’s three straight defeats, five overall, all with the Hoosiers within minutes of victory.
Can’t somebody make a game-deciding play?
“We have to hold each other accountable,” guard Jordan Hulls says. “We have players who can go one on one, but in some situations it’s not the best time to do that. When we move the ball and play good defense, that’s when we’re at our best. If people try to be the hero, the team chemistry isn’t as good. We have to play a full 40 minutes.”
How bad was this defeat?
You don’t need us to tell you, but we will with this thought:
Second-ranked Ohio State comes to Assembly Hall Friday, which is New Year’s Eve.
“Three in a row can become a snowball effect for us,” guard Jeremiah Rivers says. “It’s not the way we wanted to start (the Big Ten). We can’t hang our heads and get down about it. We don’t have time.”
Penn State was, by most non-conference measures, the Big Ten’s worst team. Given this might be the toughest conference in America, that designation was misleading.
Given Monday night’s performance, it’s also wrong.
The Hoosiers have earned that status. Other than maybe Iowa at Assembly Hall, IU won’t play a game as the favorite the rest of the season. It lacks a strong inside presence. Its guard play has been inconsistent. It has borrowed about 10 pages from Hoosier football’s can’t-finish playbook.
Does any team in America give up more wide open 3s than IU? The short answer is -- no. The long answer is -- absolutely no.
Nittany Lion forward David Jackson came in as a 27.6 percent three-pointer shooter and went 3-for-4. Penn State was 8-for-17 beyond the arc, 47.1 percent. It entered the game as the Big Ten’s worst three-point shooting team, at 31.8 percent.
Penn State also was the Big Ten’s worst-shooting team overall, at 41.7 percent. It shot 53.8 percent against the Hoosiers.
What does that tell you? IU is a mediocre -- at best -- defensive team. Yeah, it throttles the SIU-Edwardsvilles of the world. So what? It’s played five decent to good teams and lost them all.
Early on against Penn State Assembly Hall was as noisy as a library, as energized as a poetry reading. You can blame the students being on break, but that’s just an excuse. The Hoosiers didn’t give fans anything to cheer about. Penn State pushed to a series of 14-point leads.
That Nittany Lions forwards Jeff Brooks and Jackson scored in double figures wasn’t surprising. They average double figures. The fact they needed just 12 minutes to do it (about three times faster than normal) was surprising. They boosted Penn State to a 34-25 halftime lead.
It was a game that screamed for a fast second-half start and the Hoosiers delivered to take a 48-47 lead. They had momentum and the crowd. Did they have the toughness to take advantage?
You know that answer.
“There has to be pride individually” Rivers says. “Pride as a team. That’s where it starts.”
IU is 9-5 and needs seven Big Ten wins to be positioned for a NIT bid. Do you see that happening? Performance says no. Results scream it. And yet, the talent suggests, maybe.
The truth hurts. It also motivates. What will it do for the Hoosiers? Friday’s Ohio State game will let us know, one way or the other.