by Kent Sterling
Excuse me if you have heard this before, but the Indiana Hoosiers are a strange team.
If I told you before yesterday’s game that I believed the Hoosiers would score 93 points to beat the 20th ranked team in the country, but that Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh – the best two players on the team – would combine to score only 12 points, you would have correctly diagnosed me as a loon.
That’s what happened, so instead of falling into a five-way tie for last place, the 6-9 Hoosiers are now just two games out of fifth with three to play. If they had lost, Indiana would be 5-10 and completely out of any reasonable discussion for meaningful postseason play.
Will Sheehey and Stanford Robinson posted career highs (Sheehey 30, Robinson 17) to combine for 47, just over half the Hoosiers points, and Iowa appeared a step slower that the Hoosiers all night long. So the Hoosiers have life.
This level of weirdness is unprecedented over the past 30 years of Indiana Basketball. The Hoosiers have lost home games to two teams tied for the Big Ten’s cellar while beating the teams in first, third, and fifth.
The last three games regular season games are at home Sunday against Ohio State, Wednesday in Bloomington against Nebraska, and next Saturday at Michigan. Do you want to bet against the Hoosiers winning (or losing) all three? Not me.
With three straight wins, the bubble is suddenly something fans and ESPN Joe Lunardi would be talking about for Indiana, but a quick look at the schedule shows that Indiana has not only avoided winning three straight games in the 2014 Big Ten season, they haven’t been able to win two consecutive games. After all, teams don’t post a 6-9 league record because they win a bunch in a row.
Indiana is as capable of taking advantage of mistakes as they are of making them, and last night Iowa made a staggering number of mistakes the Hoosiers capitalized upon. The Hawkeyes didn’t get back on defense, so Indiana threw deep passes for easy conversions. They committed 26 fouls to Indiana’s 22, and turned the ball over one more time than did the Hoosiers. And instead of hitting their season average of 36% from beyond the arc, they settled for 21.1%.
Every time Indiana has a chance to muck the season, they find a reason to fight, and for all the criticism of Tom Crean as a coach for the Hoosiers, even his staunchest detractors are forced to admit that his teams have fought like hell game in and game out throughout each of his six seasons. Even in that first year when it took a magnificent shooting day from Matt Roth to notch the only Big Ten win of the season, the team kept showing up game after game, battling for 40 minutes.
There are obvious problems with this team – youth, sloppiness, and an inability to be exactly where they belong on either end, but somehow or another they have refused to cave in to a season’s inertia toward misery.
Fans who appear ready to talk about next year and the influx of shooters bound for Bloomington are forced to refocus to the present because the current Hoosiers keep finding a way to bring the spotlight back to their play. And those who have been looking forward to Sheehey’s graduation did some recalibrating 12 hours ago.
This team isn’t likely to raise a banner. You know, let me digress for a minute. The core value of this Indiana team is not necessarily in the shots that make or miss, but in the way their play rejects absolutes. I cannot count the number of times I have rewritten sentences like the first one in this paragraph. When I first wrote it, it was, “This team will never raise a banner.” I re-wrote it to allow for the possibility, because with this group everything what can truly be claimed as impossible?
Is Indiana like to win the next three? No. Is Indiana likely to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament? No. Are these Hoosiers likely to win the Big Ten Tournament? No. It would be shocking if any of those interconnected goals happened, but given wins against the best teams in the conference, it would be idiotic to reject the possibility.
Where there is hope, there is life. The Hoosiers still play hopeful basketball.