by Kent Sterling
Indiana beats #3 Wisconsin, loses to heralded bottom feeding Northwestern, and then rises up to take the #3 ranked Michigan State Spartans to the wire in East Lansing.
Will the real Hoo-Hoosiers please stand up, please stand up!
The lead for Indiana got as high as five points at 46-41 with a chance to take it to seven, but a Noah Vonleh turnover ended the 10-2 Hoosiers run and led to a Michigan State 11-2 run that Indiana couldn’t overcome.
Indiana tried to close a late 10-point gap to get to within a single possession, but fell short.
In the end, Indiana just wasn’t poised enough to beat the third-best team in the country on their own court. Too many turnovers (18) and too few assists (9), although given the Hoosiers poor jump shooting assists are going to be tough to come by.
Vonleh posted a Munster with 13 points and 13 rebounds (for those of you unacquainted with the 1960s sitcom “The Munsters”, they lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane – any combination of stats that total 13 is a Munster), and Yogi Ferrell scored well with 19 points on 4-13 shooting.
The Spartans were led by the former Mr. Basketball who Indiana fans sure would have enjoyed seeing in an Indiana jersey. After scoring a career high 26 in the first contest between Indiana and Michigan State at Assembly Hall, Harris dropped 24 tonight with 20 in the second half.
Not sure whether Harris still resents being asked to wait until the late signing period to commit to Indiana (as was reported at the time), or whether he enjoys playing his ass off against former Indiana All-Star teammates and northeast side of Indianapolis rivals like Evan Gordon, Austin Etherington, Jeremy Hollowell, and Yogi Ferrell, but whatever his motivation, Tom Crean would sure appreciate it if he let bygones be bygones.
Indiana now sits at 2-4 in the Big Ten with four tough tests ahead (vs. Illinois, January 26 – @ Nebraska, January 30 – vs. Michigan – February 2, and @ Minnesota – February 8).
Depending upon which Indiana team shows up, they could be 6-4 or 2-8 as they make their way home from the Twin Cities.
This inconsistency makes watching Indiana a psychological challenge. The cup half full people expect the best, and are disappointed roughly half the time, and the cup half empties feel very smart half the time.
Both types of people felt cheated tonight as Indiana competed well enough to have a chance, but not well enough to get the win. The pessimists were proven wrong, but the optimists weren’t validated.
For those who think that Crean is overpaid at $3+ million per year, he’s earning it be trying to forge a team out of these oddly ill-fitting pieces.
Crean battled gallantly through the adversity of having no players when he accepted the job at Indiana, but that was no match for the challenge of coaching this group that boasts two players who appear confident in their roles (Vonleh and Ferrell) and others who try to do to much, are comfortable not doing enough, or don’t appear to have any idea what they are supposed to do.
Whether Indiana finds a path to success this season depends upon the development of players not named after a cartoon bear or the architect and captain of a boat 300 cubits long.
In two months we’ll know if the the trip through these hills and valleys yielded enough wins to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and the ride is likely to test the patience of the fans, coaches, and players.
If Crean learned anything from 2008-2011, it was how to get his team to continue to fight; and if fans learned anything, it was the tolerance needed to enjoy watching a team develop.
With this group, no dream is too big, and no nightmare too horrible.