There’s no sense in sugar coating this.
The Indiana Hoosiers are poised to blow a very good thing.
They’ve lost three straight games, and you get the sense it will get worse before it gets better, if it gets better at all.
Because the previous three years this is where everything tanked. Because, and again there’s no point in sugar coating this, the guard play isn’t nearly good enough.
If you saw the 70-69 loss at Nebraska, you know this.
IU had an 11-point lead with 6:38 and collapsed. It had turnovers and made decisions coach Tom Crean described as “bone headed.” Its offense lost its way –- one basket in the final six minutes. It’s defense, well, it has become the Big Ten’s worst defense, and it’s not even close.
The Cornhuskers outscored Indiana 18-6 down the stretch. These Cornhuskers entered the game 1-5 in the Big Ten. Yes, they had lost some close games, but they hadn’t proven they could win in crunch time.
Now, they have.
That made IU 2-29 on the Big Ten road under Crean. Both wins have come at Penn State, and given the fact the Hoosiers have already played at State College this season, well, the road prospects the rest of the way ain’t good.
In the aftermath of the Nebraska loss Crean asked fans not to “panic,” that the Hoosiers have regained their “edge,” that the players were “disappointed,” but not “discourarged,” that their quality of character and resolve are there to get things turned around.
He might be absolutely right, but the Hoosiers have to prove it, and do it fast. These are the same guys who beat Kentucky, Ohio State and Michigan. Lack of talent is not a problem.
Confidence and sheer toughness might be.
Good guard play certainly is.
Penn State comes to Assembly Hall on Sunday and Crean wants a fired up crowd to spur the team on. He’ll almost certainly get it. Will that be enough to inspire a victory?
It has to be. The schedule really gets nasty after that.
IU plays at Wisconsin, at Michigan and at Purdue in the next few weeks. It hosts an Iowa team that has won at Wisconsin. It hosts an Illinois team that has beaten Ohio State.
The Big Ten is tough. Parity is everywhere. From top to bottom it’s likely the best conference in the country. Nothing is sure except if the Hoosiers don’t rise to the challenge, they will pay the price.
They are 15-4 and still have the look of a NCAA tourney team, but that is not etched in stone. Suddenly you look at the schedule and you’re not sure where more victories will come other than North Carolina Central in the final non-conference game on Feb. 22.
There is still time to turn things around. IU has seven more home games. If it just wins those, it finishes 22-9 and makes the NCAA tourney field with room to spare.
It starts Sunday against Penn State. Let’s just hope it doesn’t end there.