by Kent Sterling
The lead of Zach Osterman’s Indianapolis Star piece on Indiana’s road loss last night to Michigan State Spartans reads, “Indiana should leave the Breslin Center happy with its performance, even in a loss, to No. 3 Michigan State.” Has Indiana fallen so far that losses to a good team that played poorly (minus the 20-point in 18 second half minutes heroism of Gary Harris) are worthy of happily leaving an arena?
I’ve never read a piece by a beat writer than suggested a smile should accompany a loss for a defending Big Ten Champion, but the rest of Zach’s story is right down the middle in reporting how the Spartans won and Indiana couldn’t finish the deal.
The point isn’t to critique Zach’s writing. He’s a hard working guy who covers the Hoosiers well. The point is that the suggestion that a team should be pleased with itself on its way out of the Breslin Center is ludicrous.
IU coach Tom Crean was a little more sanguine than I would expect from a coach paid to win games, not find the silver lining, “I’m proud of the way my team played, to be honest with you.” Proud is different than pleased, happy, or worst of all satisfied, so I can. Not to go all Vince Lombardi here, but show me a coach who is satisfied after losing, and I’ll show you a loser.
Indiana is 2-4 in the Big Ten, and coaches are a lot less likely to go scorched earth in the middle of January when staring at an additional 12 conference games, and Crean is working the long con with this team, not trying to rev them up for the Illinois game on Sunday.
Destroying them in the media in the immediate aftermath of a game where progress was made over the effort made Saturday afternoon in Assembly Hall against Northwestern would have been the act of a self-indulgent and self-immersed mope, and Crean is smarter than that.
Michigan State is a good team with a couple of important pieces knicked or missing, and were ripe for the picking last night. As was the case with Wisconsin during the win that caused the students to quietly rain onto Branch McCracken Court, Michigan State looked a little slow during the first half. In the second half, Harris put on his truss and carried his teammates across the finish line.
Indiana’s answers were insufficient to mount a successful effort to claw back from a 62-52 deficit.
Did the Hoosiers play hard? Sure. Did they defend reasonably well? Sure. Did they turn the ball over a bunch? Yes, 18 is double what’s acceptable. Did they miss the looks they earned through trying to attack the rim? Yes, 16 times they missed shots tight to the bucket.
They continue to dribble into trouble, but Stanford Robinson appears to be adroit in getting to the rim, and Troy Williams played his best game since the non-conference schedule against nine versions of (perpetual Harlem Globetrotters patsies) the Washington Generals.
Is that enough to feel happy? The question isn’t whether the response should be glee or sorrow, but what will prod the Hoosiers toward improvement in effort and execution for the final 13 (minimum) games of the 2013-2014 season. Hopefully, the players were furious with yet another opportunity lost. The coaches need to take a long hard look at their own work as they assess the problems causing these losses. And the media and fans can think whatever the hell they want. We are completely inconsequential in the equation that leads to the success or failure of any team.
A segment of the people calling themselves Indiana fans are still not sure about Crean. Another thinks he’s doing a wonderful job. And a third group of deeply disturbed fanatics believe it’s still 1981, and Bob Knight would be a salve for all wounds. For me, I think he has been better this season than in the past two. He looks more in control; not quite as super amped up about everything during games. Teaching seems to be his focus, and that’s the way I like coaches.
I just hope Crean wasn’t happy, as Zach suggested, or as proud as he suggested he was after the game. I hope he’s driven to clean up the mess that caused this potential win to become a loss, and that his players are apt and unsatisfied students.